Fashionable used retro clothing has been the ‘go-to’ choice of the young and trendy for decades, but very few people know that it comes with an environmental price.
According to one respected waste and recycling company, many of the items in those achingly sharp boutiques have probably travelled thousands of miles to get to the shelves.
UK waste management company BusinessWaste.co.uk tells the story of how a hipster’s favourite retro designer shirt travels from the UK on a global mystery tour before ending up back where is started.
“It’s a crazy tale of the lunacy of global markets,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, “the supply chain is stretched out endlessly for no good reason whatsoever.”
“What a waste of resources.” So, you’ve had a clear-out at home, and you’ve got a big bag of clothes you no longer wear. Being a good responsible citizen, you take it to the car park by your local supermarket and dump it in the charity clothes bin.
Well done – you’ve done nothing wrong. This is recycling at its finest.
The contents of these bins are sold by the bins’ management companies by the tonne, with the proceeds going to the charity. The rags are often exported – usually to Africa or to South East Asia. And here’s where it goes mad.
Once the baled textiles arrive, they’re sorted, and anything that has cash value is pulled out for resale. This includes designer wear, and the sorters are taught to recognise valuable labels and to avoid cheap fakes.
These suddenly valuable items are then sold on to suppliers, and – guess what? – they’re more than likely to end up back in the UK on the shelves of your favourite retro clothes shop. A round trip of thousands of miles for no good reason.
“It’s profit for everybody concerned,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk’s Mark Hall, “except for the customer who is paying the mark-up and shipping fees. And paying the greater price is the planet for all the CO2 emissions carrying second-hand clothing around the planet.”
All to keep the local hipster community on the cutting edge of fashion.
It would, says BusinessWaste.co.uk, probably work out better value for the companies that operate clothes banks for charities to do this kind of sorting in the UK, while still turning a tidy profit.
There’s one simple solution to this that you can do next time you have a clothing clear-out. Put anything you think is valuable to one side, and take it to a charity shop, making it clear to the staff that what they have holds extra value.
That way, it’s more likely to end up on the racks in the shop, or sold on their online store without the need for it to buzz around the world first. Of course, you could sell it online yourself, but we’re going to assume you either don’t have the motivation to go through the process of listing, selling and posting the goods; or you are a particularly saintly person, determined to see your favourite charity reaping the rewards.
And while we can’t knock the thriving retro wear industry for doing a great job of keeping old items in circulation when they could easily end up in a bin, there are other alternatives, including well-run charity shops that know bargain designer wear when they see it.
For example: “You’ll be amazed at the cool and decidedly fashionable stuff you’ll find at your local car boot sale,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk’s Mark Hall. “But – to use a Del Boy term – avoid the hooky stuff, of which there is loads.”
But the purest and most sure place to pick up a trendy bargain is a church hall or scout hut jumble sale. Once you’ve elbowed all the grannies out of the way, the world is your oyster, says Hall. “It’s at one of these bun fights that I got my genuine 1980s Adidas shoulder bag, you know. I use it to carry my imported Slovenian mineral water every time I’m out on my penny-farthing.”