What happens to the clothes that don’t get sold in stores: The Dangers of “Sustainable” Fashion

Many of us have brought an article of clothing within the past year. While you one Lulu Lemon leggings set won’t destroy the whole planet, it adds up. The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. That is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. With the rise of fast fashion it’s important to consider the impact it has on our planet and how it might be pushing the doomsday clock forward second by second.

Sustainability is a word that has come up quite often in recent words. Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A great way people have found to be sustainable in the fashion industry are thrift stores. Thrift stores are stores that sell secondhand clothes and they have become really popular in recent years sparking many trends on popular social media sites like TikTok. However, as these second hand stores gain more popularity, people think they are the solution to problems in the fashion space. You can donate old clothes, and others can buy them, cutting out the need to produce more clothes. But it’s important to ask what happens to the donated clothes that aren’t sold?

Although a percentage of unsold clothing gets recycled into new textiles, it is estimated that roughly 700,000 tons of unsold second-hand clothing get shipped overseas annually. The top exporters of clothing in 2019 were the U.S. and the U.K. We just dump all the clothing we can’t sell overseas to other, mostly third world, countries to deal with. The problem is that the tools to properly recycle the clothes are not available. In some countries, the mass volume of clothing exports has reached a tipping point.

Picture for the Chilean desert that is currently being used as a landfill.

In Ghana, 15 million unsold clothing items are dumped every single week. And another 39,000 tons of used clothing ends up in Chile’s landfills every year. Unlike some trash, clothing can not decompose naturally in a short amount of time. It can take up to 200 years to decompose the shirt you are currently wearing.

Second hand clothing imports into places that couldn’t afford them was once a profitable business. However, with the rise of fast fashion trends and a decrease of clothing quality, almost 40% of exported clothing items arrive damaged and unusable. That means a majority of the clothes exported go directly to dumps and landfills. Many places have to resort to burning the clothes hat get dumped to keep up with the capacity.

Increased clothing production has significantly contributed to increased clothing exports. In the past, most fashion retailers produced two seasons a year. Now, they are producing up to 52 micro-seasons a year. We are consuming 60% more clothes than previously, and wearing them for half as long as before.

It is not only important to consider where our clothing comes from, but it’s also crucial to consider where it might end up. By buying less fast fashion and wearing the clothing for longer we can cut back on the world’s global textile waste.

Author: Nikita Chernin
Concept By: Nikita Chernin

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