Is donated clothing the answer to an oversupply of apparel no one wants?

This article, “The Fashion Industry’s Carbon Impact is Bigger Than the Airline Industry’s”, appeared in my Business of Fashion feed today, and it really set me off. Not because I disagree with the headline, but because I quite disagree with the proposed solutions to the problem.

In my business, part of my continuing question — it might not appear that way to the outsider — is how to create high-quality garments at a price that’s within the reach of more people. The article is talking about what I will call “trickle-down” supply as the solution to the glut of discarded apparel, which makes everyone who isn’t better off dependent on the “wealthy”. Which really sucks! It would seem that the people writing these sorts of articles have no idea how what they are prescribing to “fix” the planet affects anyone else. It just sounds — and feels — great: helping the planet by donating cast-off clothing to the less fortunate. The fact is, donated clothing diminishes the market for anyone who actually makes clothing for a living. Just go to Africa. Besides, as my much older post above discusses, part of the problem in the industry is all about fit — physical fit for our now larger average demographic (not all of which is due to obesity!), lifestyle fit, and a desire for better clothing all around.

My point is, do we all want to be relegated to buying the castoffs of the better off??? Is that really such a wonderful model? And is this actually going to meet most people’s needs? I’m afraid that it’s just more virtue signaling.

The related issue is that, in fact, I don’t believe the problem is so much at the higher end of the market — leaving aside the destruction of millions of dollars worth of luxury garments so that they can’t be sold at a discount — I believe the bulk of the problem is actually at the lower end, where clothing is designed intentionally to be purchased and quickly cast-off, either due to fashion changes or cheaply-made product (cheap textiles cheaply made) or both. I would argue that that is what ends up in the dumps of the world, which includes a lot of donated product shipped at fair cost overseas only to be thrown away there, too.

In either case, this makes a lot of money for the business owners (that’s what business does, it creates product people want and adds value and jobs along the chain), but odds are the owners don’t wear the cheap product they produce. And yes, this makes clothing more “affordable”, but can’t a higher price be justified by a better product? I suppose, however, that that’s not really the point, anyway, because if people buy less, then other people earn less (but not necessarily) and the process becomes more cyclical and less one of continuous buying.

Nonetheless, I come back to my first point, that this has been a question for me all along in how I’ve thought about my business: decrease overhead, and simplify as and where I can, but work on keeping the product at a level of quality and cost that is more affordable, so that a garment can be enjoyed for a long time and maybe even passed on. That is real sustainability.

Come talk to us about your personal apparel issues and let us solve them for you, and provide you with a genuinely sustainable garment!