Clothing Donation – Is just the start Laura Russell

Ever since the rise of throw away fashion I have been interested to learn what the effect the clothing we send to charity shops has on the developing world. In an apparent ‘win–win’ situation shoppers can donate their unwanted clothing charity enabling them to buy new clothes to replace them and at the same time raising money for charity. But the story is more complex; this weekend at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, London an exhibition called ‘Everything Must Go’ took visitors through the final stages of a garments life once it has been donated to charity.

 As a keen charity-shop shopper I have become increasingly disheartened by the quality of clothing over recent years as I see charity shops full of the same ‘cheap’ brands. Items donated to charity will be kept for a set number of weeks before being sent for recycling. Only half of the stock sent for recycling is of high enough quality to be sold on in its current form, the other half is sent abroad for fibre reclamation.   

 The film ‘Unravel’ by Meghna Gupta follows the story of garments sent for recycling to India. Garments arrive in large bales. The clothes are sorted by colour and slashed to stop people stealing them to sell on in the lucrative second hand clothing markets. The next stage is for the buttons and zips to be shaved off. The fabric left is sent through a rag machine to cut into smaller pieces. Then the scraps of fabric are soaked in oil to loosen the fibres and sent through a teasing machine to loosen the fibres. Fibres are then treated in a similar way to new cotton or wool by which they are carded, spun and the resulting yarn used for weaving into blankets. These blankets are of a very low quality and sold from 50p – £3 to the poor, prisons, hospital or as emergency aid blankets. Working in this environment is very dusty and unhealthy and works earn less than £1.50 per day.

 Frip Ethique, is an initiative from Oxfam which sends clothing to Senegal, West Africa to sell to local second hand clothing merchants. During my first year of university I volunteered in an Oxfam shop and was able to visit the Wastesaver operations in Huddersfield. Here they sort textiles into different qualities and make into bales for export. The poorer grades would be sent for recycling into rags or filling.

 With all this said it doesn’t mean giving to charity is bad thing. Far from it, those garments which are in good condition raise money for the charity and go on to be worn again by someone new. Textiles sent for recycling raises money by the tonne and generate income for both the charity and the overseas country. So next time you decide to discard your worn t-shirt to charity think where it may end up…


 Laura Russell

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