Responding to a previous Eye on the Environment column, Mary Fickerson of Santa Paula called and told me how she reduces waste by buying only high-quality, long-lasting clothing. She wears it out, then turns the remains into rags. On rare occasions when she has wanted to discard an article of clothing before it is terribly worn, she has “offered pieces of appropriate clothing (such as) shirts and jackets directly to a homeless person.”
Buying classic fashions made with long-lasting quality is a great strategy for conserving resources, and it often saves money in the long run versus buying cheaply made “fast fashion” trendy clothing. Patagonia, based in Ventura, has one of the best possible ways to assure customers that its clothing is built to last. Its “ironclad guarantee” allows returns not just if the product is still in perfect condition, but also “if one of our products does not perform to your satisfaction.” It also accepts returns of products damaged by “wear and tear,” which its website says “will be repaired at a reasonable charge.”
Fickerson’s other strategy, however, donating clothing to the homeless, will probably not work for everyone. According to the website of Planet Aid, which exports clothing to reconditioners and retailers in underdeveloped countries, “The U.S. has more unwanted clothing than anyone here could ever use.” For example, Planet Aid claims that it collects 100 million pounds of textiles per year, which would be enough to give each of our country’s estimated 600,000 homeless people 166 pounds of clothing per year.
Fortunately, many thrift stores in Ventura County have a good strategy for handling clothing they cannot sell. For example, Amber and J.D. Drury, the husband-and-wife team managing the Avenue Thrift Store in Ventura (proceeds from which benefit Boys & Girls Clubs), rely on a baler. Baling is a process involving mechanical compression of materials; wires wrap unsellable clothing into rectangular blocks that can be sold internationally as commodities. Even these bales, however, have been fetching declining revenue on the export market in recent years, as a glut of clothing from wealthy countries floods world markets.
Elizabeth Cline’s 2013 book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, and her follow-up article in Atlantic magazine (published online July 18, 2014) explain a source of the glut. Americans now consume and dispose of clothing five times faster than we did in 1980.
Low-cost solutions to avoiding the resource consumption represented by this acceleration include buying and repairing used clothing. Other ways to keep your eye on the environment include buying only high-quality clothing and donating used clothing to thrift stores or selling the best of your discards through a consignment store or through websites ranging from rebagg.com to Craigslist.
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