The Cost of Charity Shopping

Are we absolving our guilt over fast fashion with faster clothing purges?

I, with incredible trepidation, decided to broach the subject of charity shop donations and purchases. I know what you’re thinking, what monster would discourage charities from earning money and buying clothes that might have been tossed away?! Well, me, I guess.

Fret not readers, I have an offering of what charity shopping could (and in my opinion) should look like as sustainable thinking increases.

We can all picture the scene, you step through the door of a charity shop and are greeted with a terrifying array of clothes. You are faced with a mountain of unwanted poorly made clothes, walls lined with the discarded garments from our single-use impulse buys. Rail after rail of shabby synthetics marketed at bargain prices which will last about as long as they took to make.

With charity shops inundated with ‘donations’ some of which are not fit to be sold on, clothes can end up in a landfill, which stomps out any good intention you may have had in giving them away.

For the most part, our clothes are made of fabrics that cannot be recycled and cannot be resold, so what happens to our clothes if they don’t make it to the second-hand shelves? Our clothes get shipped out to developing countries to be resold or given away. This sounds great on paper but our clothing being sent over by the tonne is causing huge problems for the local economies. There are numerous accounts of local manufacturers and sellers being run out of business by our poor quality clothing coming in vast volumes.

Our donations have earned themselves some sobering names across the world. In Nigeria, our donations are referred to as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity) in Mozambique.

Well, that was a tough read. Want some good news?

Charity shops are not the problem, the issue is how we value clothes and by extension giving away what we don’t value. Globally we cannot sustain the volumes of clothes produced and thrown away. The repercussions of our relationship with clothing is dramatically affecting our environment and the world economy, affecting those most vulnerable first. Charity shops are a bid for clothes to last longer but this method of repurposing is not sustainable if we keep buying at the rate we do.

The real solution is buying better, buying less but not necessarily buying nothing. When we love a good quality item, we get more use out of it and our dubious sweatshop replacements are eradicated.

With this thinking, anything you no longer want to wear truly can have a second life, sold through a charitable organisation. So the next person to pick up an outfit you’ve bought ethically and cared for will get as many wears out of it as you did.

The fashion industry is not something to be stopped, it’s something that does need drastic improvement. We could create well-paying jobs, agricultural opportunities and contribute to environmental progress, all through choosing to shop well in the first place.

So ditch the Primark t-shirt you know will tear, sack the New Look dress you’ll only wear once and donate. Choose well, love your clothes and if you need to, give a good garment a second life with someone else (after at least 30 wears of course).


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