Don’t Throw Your Clothes Away! Our Guide To (Not) Trashing Your Textiles

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SO, some of you may remember last year, when I happened to happily discover that LOFT had a clothing donation program through Give Back Box. I was so excited by this that it ushered in my first post for TME. It’s been due for an update, and last month’s Unpacking post about Earth month inspired me to update the info on retailers who recycle our clothes.

You’ll notice there are some changes compared to last year’s post. Some retailer recycling programs are temporary or occasional, and sometimes stores still accept clothing even though it’s mentioned nowhere on their website. Also, readers sent us info about some brands we didn’t know had recycling programs.

There are a few things to keep in mind when tossing out your clothes. First, be mindful of how you determine which clothes to get rid. You can refer to Shana’s No Stress Guide To Cleaning Out Your Closet from a few years ago, go full-Konmari (I recommend the book over the TV show), organize a clothing swap, grab a design-minded friend (for me, my dance teacher friend and my art teacher friend worked on two separate occasions), or however else you know works for you.

Secondly, if the clothes are in good condition and can be donated and reworn locally — either as hand-me-downs to family members, to people in need, or through your local buy nothing group — within the community is the ideal way to pass gently worn clothing on. However, we often have textiles we’d be embarrassed to donate or we know is all-too-well-beyond its lifespan. That’s where recycling programs come in. Some of these more clearly state the good they contribute than others (like Soles4Shoes), and when applicable, I personally try to send clothes that way. Others, seem better for pieces you know no one will ever wear again (holey socks, undergarments, marker- and paint-stained school uniforms) and are easy to toss into recycling programs that may do nothing more than keep them out of landfills.

To be fair, some publications have noted it is unclear exactly how these items are recycled (for the less do-gooder programs), if they even are, but with more of the world watching (and calling attention to nonsense like burning excess inventory), it’s more and more likely textiles will be kept out of landfills. And that’s what’s most important. One of the reasons fast fashion/fashion/textiles end up higher on the list of polluting industries is because of the waste trashing clothes produces. The dyes and chemicals in the clothes we throw away end up leeching into the ground, off-gassing into the air and getting our water supply….That’s something we definitely want to prevent. DON’T PUT YOUR TEXTILES IN THE TRASH.

How To Donate, Reuse or Recycle Your Clothes

Reducing waste is 1 step toward sustainable fashion. Brands who donate, repair, reuse & recycle clothes make it easier. These 12+ retailers reward us, too.

Retailers Who Repair & Reuse

Reducing waste is 1 step toward sustainable fashion. Brands who donate, repair, reuse & recycle clothes make it easier. These 12+ retailers reward us, too.

1. thredUP

The Brand: thredUp — an online consignment shop & secondhand shopping destination. (Shana’s personal fav)

The Dish: Order a bag or a box from thredUp to sell or donate textiles. Sell used women’s and kids’ clothes, handbags, shoes, fashion jewelry, and accessories online and earn cash or credit for the items they accept. All unaccepted items are reused or recycled responsibly. Earn an extra 10% payout when you sell designer clothes, handbags, and shoes. For the full facts, click here. To donate to thredUp partners, click here. You can also receive Reformation and Cuyana shopping credits.

The Good: thredUp sells and donates clothes, sends goody boxes of secondhand clothing, and supports sustainable fashion with the Circular Fashion Fund.

2. EILEEN FISHER

The Brands: EILEEN FISHERRENEW

The Dish: Bring your unwanted EILEEN FISHER clothes to any EILEEN FISHER or RENEW store, receive a $5 reward card for each item to use online or in-store.

The Good: EILEEN FISHER either finds them a new home, turns them into new clothing designs or creates unique textiles.

The Official Info: EILEEN FISHER | RENEW | Waste No More

Great Pieces From EILEEN FISHER Right Now*

*EILEEN FISHER has some awesome pieces in the RENEW store, where recycled EILEEN FISHER garments are sold for their second life. However, since each piece is unique and only one is available, I won’t show you those here; it’s definitely worth your time to check it out though.

3. The North Face

The Brands: The North FaceRenewed

The Dish: Drop off unwanted clothes and shoes (any brand, in any condition) to a The North Face store or outlet, and receive $10 toward your next purchase of $100 or more at The North Face retail and outlet stores.*

The Good: The North Face partners with Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that provides disaster relief and micro-enterprise programs, and creates sustainable jobs through the distribution of shoes and clothing. *The North Face now also has a line of refurbished clothing called Renewed, featuring repaired products from returned, damaged, or defective clothing at their distribution center. Find out more here.

The Official Info: The North Face Clothes the Loop

The Good Stuff From The North Face

4. Patagonia

Patagonia doesn’t make it as simple to recycle your gear with them (at least, in terms of clearly outlined steps we can find online), but their protocols for long-term sustainability are noteworthy. They focus on reusing, repairing, and reselling used goods, and when all else fails, recycling. Their secondhand program is called Worn Wear and includes some mix of the following: Buy used on Wornwear.com, trade used items in at a Patagonia store, get paid in Worn Wear, repair and care what you own, then recycle once beyond repair. There are also Worn Wear events.

What You’ll Find in Secondhand Patagonia

 


Retailers Who Recycle Clothes & Shoes

Reducing waste is 1 step toward sustainable fashion. Brands who donate, repair, reuse & recycle clothes make it easier. These 12+ retailers reward us, too.

5. rag & bone

The Brand: rag & bone

The Dish: Receive 20% off your denim purchase that same day. Trade in your old jeans to the denim recycling program, and apply 20% discount to at least one new pair of full-price jean pants, jean jackets, jean shorts or jean skirts that same day (not including sale items). Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, future purchases or the purchase of gift cards, and cannot be redeemed for cash or used in combination with any other offer.

The Good: BLUE JEANS GO GREEN, a division of Cotton Incorporated, removes the hardware, and turns the denim into housing insulation. WIN + WIN.

The Official Info: BLUE JEANS GO GREEN

The Goods From rag & bone (on sale)


6. J. Crew

The Brand(s)Madewell, (sometimes J. Crew)

The Dish: Walk into Madewell with a pile of jeans (any brand), and you’ll receive $20 towards your next pair of jeans or other denim item. The collaboration between J. Crew and BLUE JEANS GO GREEN has occurred in the past, so it’s worth asking your local J.Crew if they still accept jeans for recycling. Last time I asked here in Center City Philadelphia, they did.

The Good: BLUE JEANS GO GREEN, a division of Cotton Incorporated, removes the hardware, and turns the denim into housing insulation. WIN + WIN.

The Official Info: BLUE JEANS GO GREEN

Fair Trade Denim from Madewell

Good-looking Jeans at J. Crew


7. Levi Strauss & Co.

The Brands: Levi’s®Dockers®

The Dish: In-Store: Drop off unwanted clothes or shoes (any brand), and receive a voucher for 20% off a single, regular-priced Levi’s® item in-store. Levi’s® partners with I:Collect (I:CO), a solutions provider for reuse and recycling of apparel, textiles and shoes. I:CO will ensure that the discarded garments and footwear are re-worn, repurposed or recycled.

The Good: I:CO resells wearable items, and reuses, recycles, or upcycles unwearable products.

The Official Info: Levi Strauss & Co.: Recycling & Reuse

Levi’s is super-transparent, read more here.

Classic Denim Picks from Levi’s


8. American Eagle Outfitters

The Brands: American Eagle Outfitters, Aerie

The Dish: Bring in your old jeans to an American Eagle store, and receive $10 off a new pair. Donate a new or gently used bra (sports bras, nursing bras, and camisoles) at an Aerie store and receive 15% off your next Aerie bra.

The Good: American Eagle partners with Blue Jeans Go Green, who produces cotton insulation, some of which goes to communities in need. Aerie partners with Free The Girls, an organization dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking reintegrate into their communities. With the bras, the women are able to start businesses selling second-hand clothing locally.

The Official Info: American Eagle Recycle Your Old Jeans

Voucher-Worthy Denim at American Eagle

Cute Bras at Aerie


9. H&M

The Brand(s): H&M, Monki, &Other Stories

The Dish: Drop your bag of unwanted clothes off (any brand, any condition) to an H&M store. The textiles are sent to a recycling plant where they are sorted by hand. You, the consumer receive a 15% off voucher to use in-store.

The Good: H&M partners with I:CO, who resells wearable items, and reuses, renews, regenerates or upcycles the remaining products.

The Official Info: H&M Garment Collecting

From The CONSCIOUS Collection at H&M*


10. DSW

The Brand(s): DSW

The Dish: DSW VIP members can bring new and gently used shoes to any DSW location, and add their shoes to the donation box. Receive 50 points on your DSW VIP account.

The Good: Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that provides disaster relief and micro-enterprise programs, and creates sustainable jobs through the distribution of shoes and clothing

The Official Info: DSW Ways to Give


Retailers Who Help You Donate

Reducing waste is 1 step toward sustainable fashion. Brands who donate, repair, reuse & recycle clothes make it easier. These 12+ retailers reward us, too.

11. Zappos

The Brand(s): Zappos

The Dish: Zappos has a four-pronged approach to giving that includes Shaq-a-Claus (new toys for Christmas), Soles4Souls (gently used clothes and shoes), Kids In Need Foundation (school supplies & backpacks) and Spread the Word (gently loved books for kids). Box up the items you would like to donate, each cause (if more than one) in separate boxes. Log into your Zappos account, and print a prepaid shipping label (if in the continental U.S.). Drop off your box at any UPS store.

The Good: Depending on the cause you choose: kids receive new toys for Christmas, school supplies or gently used books. Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that provides disaster relief and micro-enterprise programs, and creates sustainable jobs through the distribution of shoes and clothing

The Official Info: Zappos for Good

Shop Ethical Brands at Zappos


12. Give Back Box

The program I discovered last year, Give Back Box, continues. Here’s how it works:

The Retailers: Amazon, Overstock, LOFT, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom

The Dish: Ship your gently used clothing and household accessories for free using the Give Back Box. When you make an online purchase, you might be prompted to print a free donation shipping label, or you can go to the website and request one. If you’re downloading a shipping label from a particular retailer, the shipping cost is covered. If you’re simply choosing an organization to send a donation to (outside of purchasing from a partner retailer), you’ll pay for the $15 label.

The Good: Goodwill receives your donation, sorts and sells the products, and then uses the funds for community-based services such as job training and placement. There are also options to send donations to other charities (ranging from Salvation Army and Resale Store to I Support the Girls and traveling tutus here.

The Official Info: Amazon | Overstock | LOFT | Ann Taylor | Nordstrom | All Others


We understand that recycling your clothes is not the single most significant way to negate your fashion footprint. HOWEVER, it is the first step for all of us: don’t throw your clothes in the trash (or the regular recycling, for that matter). The circular economy or ‘clothes[ing]the loop’ is just one of several habits it will take to reduce the harm of human activity to the planet. And it should become a habit — it’s just easier that way. For instance, since my post last year, we’ve sorted all our giveaway clothes based on their condition and who will take them, and whenever we do a seasonal shopping trip for Goose — kids grow so fast — we’re turning in clothes to recycle (and of course, using the vouchers for said items).

So many brands are taking steps toward decreasing the impact of the textile industry on the environment. We’ve been noting that in our posts, and we’re taking more steps to highlight such actions more visibly, as well as to point out when brands align with other core values like inclusiveness, affordability, transparency, ethical labor practices, body type representation and/or positive self-image. Companies keeping textiles out of landfills, and donating, reusing or upcycling them (as well as investing in social organizations such as Soles4Souls and Free The Girls), are worth a nod in our book.

If you know of other cool incentives for donating, reusing, recycling or upcyling your clothes — please let us know in the comments. We know some local shops do this too (as well as arts and craftspersons who reuse fabric for upcycled products), so if there are more opportunities in your area for clothes[ing]the loop, please share!

xo,
Lex

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About Author

Alexis is our resident nerd and watchful editor. In addition to styling our syntax and fact-checking brand capitalization (ahem, rag & bone, and [BLANKNYC]), she’s also whipping up editorial guidelines, strategizing social media and conjuring up new projects. With her own personal style (boots, dresses, scarves), she doesn’t consider herself a fashionista, but she is keeping us #well #woke #sustainable #empathetic #inclusive #current, #down-to-earth and #open-minded; her wisdom ranges from yoga home practice and Feng Shui-ing an apartment, to living overseas and momming while black. As the single mother of an extrovert, she, like Julieta, often ‘forgets’ to come out of the bathroom.

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4 Comments

  1. Heidi Heidi on

    Check and see if your area has a buy nothing group. Here in SF there are lots of them, both city-wide and by neighborhood. It’s a great way to give (and get) clothes, as well as pretty much everything else you can imagine. So useful for things such as maternity/nursing tops, baby clothes, kids toys, etc. that have such a short lifespan of use. https://buynothingproject.org/

  2. This post is great–THANK YOU for doing the work of compiling all this in one place!! I’ll definitely bookmark it.

    And I’ll add that another significant way to reduce your footprint is to purchase secondhand whenever you can. While only about 50% of my own clothes were bought secondhand, nearly all of my kids’ clothes are—and most look nearly new. Many cities have a Unique Thrift/Value Village/Savers outlet…these places are my go-to for kids’ clothes. The selection is huge, so you can be picky about condition/style. I often find stuff that’s brand-new, with original store tags–like items from Target’s Cat and Jack kids’ line that are simply sent to Value Village when they fail to sell on clearance racks.

  3. Thank you for this post!! I have been mostly buying secondhand clothes for lots of reasons, including environmental, financial , and trying to not contribute to terrible global working conditions. I had no idea about Eileen Fisher Renew. It’s a treasure trove!!! Thanks!!!!!

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