Time to say goodbye? Here's what to do with your old clothes

Throughout 2018 we’re running the Together Street Challenge which focuses on learning about a different topic each month and taking simple actions to help #changefashionforgood. This month we’re looking at what to do with our unwanted clothes…

Waste is an issue that permeates the fashion industry at every stage of the supply chain, from the piles of discarded fabric on cutting room floors to the clothes that are destroyed before they ever reach a shop rail. Earlier this year, luxury fashion brand Burberry was subject to widespread criticism after it was reported that the brand had incinerated over £28 million worth of unsold merchandise. Following pressure from consumers, Burberry made an unprecedented move by announcing their decision to end the practice of destroying unsaleable stock with immediate effect. Many welcomed this as a positive step towards creating a more sustainable fashion industry, but the question remains: will other brands follow suit? While the news about Burberry burning unsold clothing came as a surprise to the general public, it was anything but a revelation to those who work in the industry. Destroying ‘deadstock’ - clothes that are deemed unsaleable due to being damaged or defective in some way, or simply because too many clothes were made in the first place - is common practice

Waste also happens after the point of sale. Over the last two decades, the rate at which we buy new clothing has risen by 60%, and yet we’re only keeping our clothes for half as long. Fast fashion is based on a business model of creating and selling new designs at pace, encouraging us to buy and discard clothes at the same rate. But where do all of these clothes go? Many of them head for the same destination as all the other stuff we no longer want: straight into the trash.

In the UK, 38 million items of new clothing are bought and 11 million items are sent to landfill every single week. Globally, it’s estimated that the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or sent to landfill every second. While brands have a responsibility to find new and creative ways to deal with deadstock and avoid producing clothes in excess, we can also do our bit by finding other ways to deal with our unwanted clothes.


There’s two parts to our latest challenge:

  1. If you’re planning on having a wardrobe clear-out, choose one of the actions below instead of throwing your clothes away

  2. Read Loved Clothes Last by Fashion Revolution to find out more about waste in fashion and what we can do about it


Often when we throw things away we mentally discard our responsibility for those items too, but as founder of the Story of Stuff project Annie Leonard points out:

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When you throw anything away it must go somewhere.”

Seems obvious, right? Throwing clothes away doesn’t make them magically disappear, it only adds to the problem of overflowing landfills and polluted oceans. Thankfully there are plenty of other options available (read on…!).

If we’re serious about reducing clothing waste, we first need to look at what, why, and how much we’re buying to start with. After all, the more clothes we buy, the more we’ll eventually have to get rid of. Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, comments on how our attitudes to fashion have changed over the years:

"There is now this notion that fashion is just a commodity, and that we are just consumers…[f]ashion should be about cherishing clothes and creating an identity, [instead it’s] based on constant adrenalin and the excitement of purchasing. There is no anticipation or dreaming. Nothing lasts or is looked after. We each have a mini-landfill in our closets."

So, first things first: take it slow. Try these options before you buy something new, and ask yourself these questions before you buy anything at all. Being more mindful when it comes to our clothes doesn’t end there, though. As well as questioning whether you should buy something in the first place, you could also factor in what you’ll do with it when you don’t want it anymore. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Find your nearest clothing bank or fill up a bag to take to the charity shop. Although a lot of the clothes we donate don’t actually end up being sold in a charity shop*, many charities rely on clothing donations to directly support people in need or as a way to raise vital funds. In any case, giving your old clothes to charity is a more sustainable alternative to throwing them away. If you’re too busy to make a trip yourself, charities like TRAID, the British Heart Foundation and ClothesAid will organise a collection right from your doorstep.

Buying second-hand clothes is an easy way to build a more sustainable wardrobe, and selling your unwanted clothes is a great way to give them a second life. You get paid, your wardrobe gets cleared, and someone else gets something they want at a bargain price. Ebay, Depop and Vestiaire are some of the most popular second-hand selling sites, but you could also consider using apps like ReGAIN which gives you discount vouchers in return for your unwanted clothes, or Buengo which enables you to sell clothes and raise money for good causes at the same time.

Clothes swaps are an excellent way to update your wardrobe for free. Set aside the clothes you no longer want, ask some friends to do the same, invite them round and let the clothes swap commence! If you want to organise something a bit bigger, Get Swishing has an excellent how-to guide.

Do you actually want to get rid of those clothes, or do they just need a bit of love and attention? Here’s how to deal with a grease stain, sew on a button, and fix a broken zipper. You can find loads more quick fixes and pro-tips on the Love Your Clothes website. If your clothes are too worn to swap, sell or donate, you can still find ways to recycle the fabric. Turn your old t-shirt into a bag, sew an old bra to a backless dress, cut up old clothes to use as cleaning rags or drop off your old clothes to be recycled into something else entirely.

Thinking about where our clothes end up is just as important as knowing who made them and where they come from. If you’ve got any ideas to add to this list, we’d love to hear them! Comment below, let us know if you’ve taken part in this challenge in any way, send us your pics and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to find out more about how you can #changefashionforgood.

*This is a whole topic in and of itself! A large proportion of clothing that gets donated to charity ends up entering the second-hand clothing market instead of being sold in charity shops, and there’s debate over whether this a good thing (see some of the comments on one of our recent Instagram post and read more about it here, here and here ). While donating to charity is arguably better than throwing your clothes away, we still need to deal with the root cause of the issue: the rate at which we buy and get rid of our clothes. For a more in-depth look at topic, read: Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World or Fast Fashion and Second-Hand Clothes by @DrABrooks