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We never used to ask. Clothes were clothes, stores were stores, fabric was fabric. You bought what you needed, full price or on sale. Usually the stuff held up for awhile. Occasionally you were disappointed.
Things changed. We became more aware. Some of us, for other reasons such as economy, have been doing the now-trendy used clothing thing all along.
But what really surprised me was not more information about working conditions or who makes the clothes. We've heard the same stories about bananas, chocolate, coffee beans, sugar: the big companies, the workers, the question of giving people employment even if it's not great employment. Even as we stir sugar into our coffee or peel a banana, we know all that. We may not know quite what to do with it, but we do know.
The surprise, for me, was the reported amount of clothing dumped in landfills. Clothes in the garbage? Um, well, I do toss spent socks and underthings (most of what gets tossed wouldn't even make cute little toys). But almost anything else that we can't use in some way ourselves gets donated, because I know that even ratty t-shirts can be made into rags and other recycled stuff, if they're given to a place (like our MCC store) that has the volunteer base to sort them out. That, like buying things used, has never been so much a commitment as just a habit, what we do. Who puts that many clothes in the garbage?
Well, according to the video The Life of Used Clothing, an awful lot of people. Which makes me think that the clothes dumpers must be buying an awful lot more clothing, new or used, than I do, or people I know do; if the scenario of buy it, wear it briefly, trash it is so widespread.
And the reason I'm sharing that video link is that, unlike some of the shame documentaries, it offers a positive message. Strangely enough, we can make a good thing out of North American nutty buying habits: donated clothing can be sent overseas and used to start used-clothing microbusinesses in other countries. Somebody buys a bale of clothing, sets up shop in a marketplace or even a mall, and makes some money out of it. There are also businesses that buy up unsalable clothing and turn it into stuffing material and that sort of thing, again providing employment.
That doesn't change the issues of over-advertising, overbuying, or substandard factory production. But it does shed a new light on the power of donating instead of dumping.