Whither castoffs?
March 7, 2009 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What happens to donated clothes?

I'll be bringing a batch lightly used and/or never worn clothes to the Goodwill store in town today, clean and folded. Do you know what will happen to them? Will they be shipped to Africa or the Carribean? Sold Locally? Shredded for insulation? I'm just curious.
posted by longsleeves to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This article from 2002 is relevant to your question, I think, although it's been awhile since I last read it.
posted by MadamM at 10:55 AM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Indeed, this documentary a couple years ago enlightened me on a whole different form of third world dumping that I wasn't aware of.

I'm sure that's not the only thing that happens to them, just providing some background.
posted by intermod at 10:56 AM on March 7, 2009

Check out this previous FPP on the topic and the discussion of the controversial group Planet Aid, etc. There's also a related AskMe thread on the subject.
posted by ericb at 11:09 AM on March 7, 2009

A recent article on the economic impacts as well. not sure how much I buy, but interesting nonetheless.
posted by Think_Long at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2009

I frequently see my own donations on the racks at the thrift stores I frequent, so not everything gets sent away.
posted by padraigin at 12:59 PM on March 7, 2009

When it comes to clothes for kids, the law recently changed and now Goodwill has to dispose of them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:29 PM on March 7, 2009

Best answer: I used to work at a small charity that ran a thrift store. We got donations from individuals, but most of our clothes came from Buffalo Exchange and other local resale stores We took the clothes they either hadn't sold, or hadn't accepted when people brought them in to trade for cash or store credit. Many of *those* clothes, in turn, had come from the cheaper thrift stores (people bought them and took them to Buffalo Exchange, hoping to turn a profit) - including the local Goodwill "bins," vast industrial dumping grounds where Goodwill put unsorted donations and sold them by the pound.

We sorted our donations. The ones my boss deemed unacceptable for selling in the store to raise funds, or giving away to local low-income teenagers, were given to a guy who ran another small charity that sent clothes to Third World nations. Our unsold clothes went to him as well. The best stuff went on eBay, where we hoped it would raise more money than if sold in the store; many of those things sold to repeat customers who ran slightly more upscale resale stores in other cities, and made a small but consistent profit by buying things from us and marking them up.

I haven't checked out the links above yet, and am sure they will fill in the picture a lot more (especially with regard to what happens to clothes when they are given to the major, less idiosyncratic charities) - but that's my own snapshot of the donation and resale economy in a smallish American city. It always fascinated me that donated clothes could literally go through Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, us, eBay and another store, with most parties making a little bit of money, before they reached their final owners - at least for the few years until those owners got tired of them, and started the whole process over.
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:37 PM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I lived in South Korea for a few months, I was flabbergasted to run into a teenager wearing a t-shirt from a high school near wear I grew up, that had the names of some people from a team on the back, and I knew one of the people on his shirt. I got really excited, asked him if he knew the person I knew, and when he had visited my area.

He looked at me like I was an alien. And also, didn't speak any English. And had never been to the USA. I later found out that a common practice is for people to bring back great big loads of clothing from American thrift stores and sell them at amazing markups to naive Korean kids who thought they were getting the latest American fashions.

So that's one place they end up, at least. Korea.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:10 PM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

So, you're getting the picture. There is no one answer. When I give stuff away, I try to research what is actually done with it--resale? bundling and shipping overseas? true donation?
posted by modal_citizen at 6:28 PM on March 7, 2009

I frequently see my own donations on the racks at the thrift stores I frequent, so not everything gets sent away.

padraigin: Me too. It always catches my eye, "Hey, this looks pretty good.....oh, mine."
posted by typewriter at 7:07 PM on March 7, 2009

Best answer: After some research, I was able to locate a local church in my area who holds a "no questions asked" clothes closet event one day every week, and I now take my donations there. Folks can come in, take what they need at no charge, and I'm almost 100% confident that totally unusable stuff ends up as rags used to clean the church rather than being cycled on through the process. I also know they take some items directly to a local battered women's shelter as "emergency" kits. Its kind of a PITA to get stuff to the church, but I've also made it a point to stop by the church office on days when the closet is open and have seen for myself the many families they help.

Beats Goodwill by a mile, if you ask me.
posted by anastasiav at 8:13 PM on March 7, 2009

I had a similar story to BuddhaInABucket. Once going through a very trendy used clothing store in Tokyo I found a T-shirt from my sister's 4-H club (from a small township in Iowa). It was going for around $40. They also had obviously authentic, used shirts from things like small American town fund raisers, rotary clubs, fire houses, tiny concert tour shirts, high school reunions and other obscure places that blew my mind. I asked the owner where this stuff came from, he didn't know the full trail, he bought them from a supplier in Tokyo who said he got them "from America". When I asked him if he'd buy my old shirts he laughed and said, no it was easier to get them in bulk from his supplier, who is probably one of the people in thesmallmachine's ..uh.. machine, as long as the shirts were a men's small or smaller.

There was a time not so long ago that real used Levis would go for over $100 in Tokyo.
posted by Ookseer at 11:05 PM on March 7, 2009

Best answer: Goodwill wants to maximize their return, so your nice clothes will be sold locally or at another Goodwill store. Clothes in poor condition, outdated, dirty, way out of season or otherwise unsaleable, may get bundled and sold in bulk. Some all-cotton discards may be made into shop rags. The money is used to train disabled people, often people with mental retardation.

Giving stuff to Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc., is a great form of recycling. Sure, somebody may buy stuff at Goodwill to sell on ebay, but you're giving that person a job. Everybody wins.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on March 9, 2009

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