For those in the habit, charity shops are a minor heaven of eco-guilt-free pleasures. You get to choose clothes by the feel of the fabrics as you shoosh through the rails, and devise your own styles in blissful ignorance of mainstream fashions… Over the years this has become a more and more viable way of putting together a smart and practical wardrobe, as the rules of fashion have become less strict, and society is divided into so many flourishing subcultures that no-one will snub you if your hemline is not at this year’s level! As with any re-use, you need a practical awareness of just what you’re taking on – that stain or rip might not seem so obvious until you’re back at home and your shopping frenzy has abated. Check out all the charity shops in your area – there can be a huge range in price, in variety of goods, and in quality from one shop to another, even on the same street. Don’t be shy, either: dig in, and find out what’s on offer. There are mint condition clothes and smart classics to be found; with every success your scavenging confidence will increase.
The beauty of charity shops is that they work both ways. Your clothes-shopping hit rate will never be 100%. Some of the irresistible goods on offer will turn out, in the cold light of your own mirror at home, to be less than flattering – or simply impractical. There is no need to feel under an eco-obligation to grimly wear them all out: instead, take them down to the charity shops as soon as you know you don’t love them; there’s a chance you’ll be making someone else very happy indeed.
The Charity Retail Association provides a searchable database to help you find your nearest charity shops.
Repair and reuse
Do you have the time and inclination to learn how to sew? Remaking old clothes can offer you more genuine choice than high street production lines ever will. Especially if you’re a charity shop aficionado, the ability to alter details like cuffs and collars, to restyle a shirt or take in a skirt can offer the chance to express yourself with no extra cost to the environment beyond a few reels of thread. Global Cool provides inspirational ideas on adapting clothes that help you turn down the heat but keep up the style. But beware of ending up with a life cluttered with equipment and unfinished projects! Or you could ask around among your friends and neighbours to see if any could help with sewing or mending. LETS schemes and skills exchanges may help you find people who can help.
Clothing and shoe banks
Clothing banks are now available at many recycling points along with the more classic bottle and can banks. They are another way to get unwanted clothing into the recycling loop, and may be easier to reach in your day to day routine. Any clean, dry cloth is acceptable – what can’t be reused as clothing is recycled as fibre.
There is probably a shoe bank at your local recycling point. If not, contact The European Recycling Company for information on their nearest service. Even your ‘tattiest shoes’ can be shredded for raw material – but please tie shoes together, in case they can be used again! You can also donate good shoes in good condition to charity shops.
For information on textile recycling see The Textile Recycling Association.
If hand-me-downs will never be your style, or for occasional eco-treats, look out for more sustainable fabrics.