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10 Jan

The Problem With Donating Your Clothes to Charity

So you’re faced with the paradox of never having anything to wear, all while battling an overflowing wardrobe that somehow continues to snowball in defiance of the fact that you haven’t been shopping in six months. It’s the dreaded ‘mound’: the ill-fitting, ill-advised fashion of yesteryear you can barely remember liking, let alone buying. It’s a familiar scene for a lot of us.

It’s time for a wardrobe purge. But what to do with the piles of newly-orphaned clothing?

If you’re anything like the average consumer, you’ll probably donate it to one of the thousands of clothing bins or charity shops across the globe. But is this really the most sustainable option, or could your generosity be doing more harm than good?

It’s been reported that just ten countries dominate the market for retail purchasing, with China in the lead and the US not far behind. This dubious honour is even more concerning given that the textile industry is one of the most polluting in the world—and that our main method of textile disposal is landfill. But how is this possible, if so many of us recycle unwanted clothing via donation?

The golden rule of clothing donation is this: if items aren’t fit for you to wear, they’re often not fit for anyone else. Charity stores have massive problems with receiving soiled, torn, or otherwise unsuitable textiles that can’t be sold or given away. In some cases, charities are even forced to spend money sorting and disposing of this material, of which an estimated 25% goes directly to landfill. An additional 40-50% is exported into the problematic global second hand clothing trade, where it swamps the local textile market of countries such as Ghana. Exported textile donations even end up being buried or burned in such countries.

Of course, we aren’t suggesting you stop donating clothing to charities entirely—when textiles are successfully recycled by organisations like the Red Cross and Goodwill, we not only avoid adding to landfill, but save the large amount of energy and water that goes into the production of new garments. The key is how and what we donate, so always check charity donation guidelines before giving if you’re feeling iffy. You can be sure your donations will get a second life by being more selective, for example by taking them directly to your local women’s shelter or finding garment-specific charities to take, say, that old formal gown you wore once off your hands.

As well as being mindful with your donations, there are numerous things you can do to get more mileage out of your clothing and make sustainable, slow fashion choices. For example, why not get on board with:

Mending your own clothing

Why spend money on vintage ripped denim when all the tools to rescue your own are right in front of you? Charity clothing stores usually don’t accept ripped or damaged clothes, so these are prime culprits for becoming landfill. So save your money and the planet by having damaged clothing mended or repaired, or better yet, learn to do it yourself! See this helpful article by 1 Million Women for tips on how to go about this and more.


Take D.I.Y fashion a step further and release your inner designer with upcycling. Upcycling has been embraced by artisans, fashion companies, and individuals alike, and involves taking an unwearable garment and refashioning a new product out of it. For inspiration, check out some of our favourite upcycling labels like Article 22, The Social Studio, and Les Récupérables, and see these 7 creative ways to upcycle your old clothes!


Rated: Good

Every piece of ARTICLE22 jewellery is locally handcrafted in Laos using recycled materials from Vietnam War bombs, plane parts, military hardware, and other aluminium scraps. The brand embodies the innovation that the fashion industry needs more of—using recycled materials to produce beautiful globally marketable products, while equipping local artisans with new skill sets and providing them with a sustainable source of income. ARTICLE22 gives back to clear more unexploded bombs in Laos, supports traditional artisans, and donates a proportion of profit to community development for workers.

The range is available in sizes S-XL.

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The Social Studio

Rated: Great

The Social Studio is a fashion school, a designer clothing label, a café, and a community space created from the style and skills of young people from new migrant and refugee communities.

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Shop the Social Studio.

Les Récupérables

Rated: Good

Les Récupérables is a young more responsible fashion brand, made in France. The driving force behind the business is not creating new waste, but rather reusing what has already been produced, hence the name - “The Recoverables”. By embodying this “circular economy”, the brand’s environmental impact is greatly reduced.

Find the collection in sizes S-L.

See the rating.

Shop Les Récupérables.

Quality over quantity

Resist the siren call of cheap impulse buys and think long term when making clothes purchases. We promise it’s worth it—not only does investing in a capsule wardrobe make you feel more organised, you’ll also save money by investing in high quality items you really need and will treasure long after your purchase high wears off. This kind of mindful shopping benefits the environment right up to the end of the garment’s life cycle, as higher quality clothing is usually less likely to contain the cheap synthetic fabrics that are difficult to recycle and non-biodegradable. Some ethical brands make it their mission to spread the word about minimising purchases and trying out capsule, and our favourites have to be VETTA and Dorsu.


Rated: Good

VETTA's capsule wardrobe essentials are made in the USA from eco-friendly fabrics.

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Rated: Great
Someone wearing a white collared shirt, a black jumpsuit, and cardigan by Dorsu.

Based in Cambodia, Dorsu creates everyday basics and key signature favourites that form the core of any conscious wardrobe.

You can find the full range in XS-XL.

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Shop Dorsu.

Shop Dorsu @ Wearwell.

Making environmentally conscious fashion choices can be easy. Download the Good On You app on Apple or Android for brand ratings in the palm of your hand, or check if your favourite brands make the cut on the Directory.

Editor's note

feature image via Unsplash. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offers code or affiliate links.

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