#EverydayActivism Feature: Associate Director Heather Novak

#EverydayActivism Feature: Associate Director Heather Novak

For the #EVERYDAYACTIVISM challenge, I spent the last six months with one focus:  purchase only recycled clothing. It is estimated that Americans buy more than 80 billion new items of clothing each year, and we are throwing away 13 million tons of textiles or about 4 trash bags worth of clothes, per person, per year.  What happens to that clothing? It winds up in landfills, recycled into other items, or resold either by piece or by the pound.

If you have never heard of buying recycled clothing here is a primer:

  • There are garage sales/flea markets where people sell what they have direct to you.  The bonus here is that things are pretty cheap, and you can get a great deal. The cons include that most people want cash, the condition of the clothing can be spotty, and you have to search for these places.  Facebook, Craigslist and the local paper classifieds are good places to start.
  • Consignment shops are where people bring their “like new” clothing to the shop owner, the owner picks the pieces they think will sell, prices them, and puts them out on the floor. The seller and the consignment shop split the percentage of the sale (usually 50/50).  There are now several online consignment shops you can sell to/buy from as well.  Here you get better quality in both condition and brand (name brands), but you pay more.
  • Thrifts store are full of people’s donated goods, and here those goods are sold to the public.    There are thrift shops that can be as big as a traditional store, or a small shop run by a hospital, nonprofit or religious organization.   The bonus of these shops are the variety, the volume, and the turnover.  The cons include shopping at a place that might not reflect your point of view (i.e. an organization that thinks homosexuality is a sin, for example), or that you can get lost in the sheer amount of clothing they carry (think about going through racks and racks, to find something you like).

Buying recycled clothing can sound sketchy to a newbie. Isn’t going through people’s used clothing gross? You would be surprised at the condition of most items at these shops.   Stuff that smells or has a stain/rip is very rare. That stuff doesn’t sell, so you it would be the exception, not the rule. Isn’t wearing someone else’s clothes gross?  If you have access to a washer/dryer, and ever borrowed something to wear from a friend, I don’t think there is much of a difference. I found all sorts of used brand name clothing from Anthropologie, Betsey Johnson, and Gap, all for under 10 bucks a piece. I also found a vintage sequin dress with the $300 price tag attached, purchased for 20 bucks. Score!

There are many social and ethical considerations regarding textiles.   There is the rise of “fast fashion”, clothing made cheaply for quick sale, which not only encourages sweatshop labor, but makes items you buy seem easily disposable. Perhaps you are one those kind-hearted people who drops a bag of clothing off to your local clothing bin. Did you know a large majority of companies who own those bins sell and ship off to developing countries where your used clothing can offset markets trying to sell local goods? Google the name of the company before you dump your clothes into a random bin.  You will be surprised.

I am going to make this an ongoing commitment and hope that you try it out and/or learn more about this issue. It has been a great experience.