What Happens To Your Clothes?

Jan 10

I thought I’d be talking about product development this week, but after a good question from Kim (from A Very Sweet Blog), I’ve shifted my focus.  She asked what happens to clothes that the outlets can’t sell them. It’s a great question and one I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer. After some research, I think I have some answers. While I couldn’t find the particulars of what happens to outlet clothes, but I did find out quite a bit about unwanted clothing in general. Considering the fact that we get rid of 2 billion pounds of clothing per year, I think this is a much bigger issue to discuss (Source).



Discard: In the most disturbing of actions, clothes are thrown away and/or destroyed.  The clothes end up in landfills, either as whole garments or shreds. In most recently came to light in the past few years when H&M and Walmart were called out for their wasteful process (Source).  Despite the backlash, many retailers continue to ruin their unsold garments. Why? Most don’t want to taint their brand image with their collections floating around off-price stores, like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s.

Donate: A more favorable option for unwanted clothing is for retailers to donate it. This could be to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other non-profit organizations. This means that quality clothing could be used and still sold at a profit for a good cause. The donations are also tax-deductible. Again, the reason most retailers choose not to go down this road is because they don’t want their image ruined.



Sell: A practice not everyone knows about is to sell clothing to third-world countries.  You may have heard the joke about seeing third-world children wearing last year’s Superbowl loser’s shirts. And for the most part, it is true. This is the best piece I found that centrals on the trade in West Africa. This is a popular practice for charity shops when they need to clear out merchandise to make more room. Trans-America, is an organization that recycles damaged clothes and sells them to developing countries. It’s considered a win-win because the clothes are being sold and they are being used.

Recycle: As the green movement continues to evolve, recycling is becoming more prominent in the conversation of unwanted clothing. There are a few different options for recycling.  Some companies shred the clothes and re-use the material for new garments. Some, like Trans-America, shred damaged clothing to use them for rags. And some, like TerraCycle, use discarded clothes to make new items entirely.

I think the bigger conversation we should be having is why we have so much clothing. Clothing should not be disposable. Even donating your clothes to charity should be considered. Only 15-20% of these clothes are ever purchased (Source). It’s truly astounding. It really makes me think about what I purchase and what it’s lifecycle will be, even beyond my use.


Daily Finance

Effortless Anthropologie

Better Place Lab


Did you know these practices existed?



  • Sarah Stright

    Wow, this really makes me stop and think too. I wish my unwanted clothes were being put to better use. I try to donate as much as possible to places like Goodwill, but I wish they could just be given to those that need them.

    • blackblondeone

      I know. It’s hard to do. I think the main problem stems from the demand of clothing. The companies then make so much and there is a lot left over. And I know consumers, including myself, have all made bad purchasing decisions. It’s really about shopping smarter.

  • Iris

    Thanks for the info. Have you read Overdressed? It was an eye opener for me a HUGE validation of my less shopping challenge.

  • Kim A.

    Lindsay, thank you so much for looking into this! Excellent research and response. I truly often wondered what happened to all of that stuff. I never knew. This all makes sense. So much is STILL wasted and people are recognizing that! It’s one part of fashion that is still HUSH HUSH. Same goes for Supermarket food! It’s thrown in contracted dumpsters and disposed of. These issues make me sad/mad, because so many people need clothes and food. They’re just throwing it away! Again, thank you doll!

    • blackblondeone

      I hear what you’re saying! I think there’s a huge disconnect in the process of manufacturing and distributing. There is just too much being produced!

  • Sara Astley

    If any clothes are ripped/stained beyond repair, I toss them. I usually give my clothes away to friends or donate them. Interesting post!

    • blackblondeone

      Thanks for sharing. I love doing closet swaps too. It’s definitely a great way to keep the life of clothing going.

  • Yasmeen

    I’m very happy to see this discussion growing and I want to contribute a documentary I watched while studying human geography. It’s called T-Shirt Travels (it’s available free here:… and it explores the life cycle of clothing that gets shipped overseas. I think that a majority of Westerners feel they’re helping create access to clothing via donation but in fact, it’s nearly obliterated the natural textile and fashion merchandising industry in the selected developing countries. The documentary takes a closer look at this process. Again, great research; love the topics you choose to explore here.

    • blackblondeone

      Thanks again for sharing, Yasmeen! I definitely plan on exploring this topic more!

  • Rebeca

    It is worrying, therefore the first action damages our environment generating waste, I think that the clothes should be donated, to give him an use, I hope that this politics change some day.

    • blackblondeone

      I agree. I think this is a growing, dangerous issues and it could be impacted if there was more awareness.

  • Ashe @ Ash in Fashion

    Thank you for sharing this! I really wish Trans-America was open to individuals (for a fee, perhaps?). It’d be a great way to feel less guilty about the options I have as a consumer…

    • blackblondeone

      I agree! I think there needs to be an organization to help put donations to a good cause or repurpose them into items that are actually needed. If you hear of anything, let me know! I’ll keep doing my research and if I find anything, I’ll be sure to share!

  • A Brit Greek

    Great post, a lot of retails I know donate or some still keep things in their warehouses, space permitting!
    It’s been a long time since I bought without thinking ‘longevity’ in mind and I often have the buy something, donate something rule in my closet.

    Your post of what goes into the price tag was interesting too, most buying practices have changed in the past 5 years, especially in the UK where some retailers have had to rationalise their supply bases. If you’re working with suppliers/manufacturers abroad you’re working with currency fluctuations that often affect the margin & mark ups. – A real headache for buyers.

    • blackblondeone

      Agreed! It seems like you know a lot about the business. The deflated price of items also means a much bigger amount of items in the end. That’s why I believe so heavily in local manufacturing. It produces a generally quality product, with decreased transportation cost, and higher standards of quality control. I would love to hear more about UK buying practices!

  • anya jensen

    I am astounded – and it makes me think twice about all the stuff I have in mine (especially the kids’) wardrobes. Thanks for this very insightful post – and thanks Kim for getting me here:) Happy weekend, Axx

    • blackblondeone

      Of course. If you want to learn more, I would suggest reading Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion also!

  • April Serio

    great article…makes me think twice on purhcasing clothes and shop smarter

    • blackblondeone


  • Coco

    I’m impressed. I need to think about it. Thank you for this post. Coco

    • blackblondeone

      Of course. It’s great to be aware of your choices!

  • debiparna c

    donating and selling them are the best options..the first one is just disgusting..i give away my own old/small clothes to people i know or to workers’ kids.

    • blackblondeone

      I agree. Repurposing is also a good option, ie-old clothes for cleaning rags.

  • lorena

    Yes. I had heard of these practices. I recall a few years back when I overheard what Hermes supposedly does with items they did not sell… and was appalled. First they have a special sale, then another sale for the press, then another for employees. What does not sell they burn. As I said, supposedly.

    • blackblondeone

      Wow! I’d never heard that, but that’s quite crazy! It is such a waste because I know how much work goes into every single Hermes product. I am boggled!

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