Too Much of a Good, or Bad, Thing

You are getting treated to another look at my local Goodwill Outlet Center courtesy of H&M.  Yesterday the news broke that the Swedish fast fashion giant is opening a store in Asheville.  The way people responded to the news you would have thought the announcement was that ice cream does not have calories.

For some reason Asheville is not content to be the special place we all love.  There has always been the thought that our area of the state was always the last to “get” something new.  For years Asheville pined for Old Navy.  Now we have two.  Then it was Target.  We now have two of those as well.  And just when we thought Trader Joe’s had made life complete, we realized that we don’t have H&M.  Except that now we will.

When you look at the photo of the bins above it becomes obvious that there is no shortage of clothing in Asheville.  I’ve been though the bins enough to confidently say that at least half of the clothes that go into the bins are cheap, fast fashion.  There is an over-abundance of Old Navy, Forever 21, Target and Walmart labels.  The stuff is tired and limp, falling apart at the seams.

I was reminded of a recent post on Business of Fashion, The Trouble with Second-hand Clothes.  The opinion piece focuses on the practice of charity thrift stores selling their rejects to jobbers in Africa.  Huge bundles of clothing are bid on and divided, with it all ending up in the huge second-hand clothing markets of the cities.  It doesn’t sound so bad, but the markets are so popular that the textile and clothing manufacturing industry in Sub-Saharan Africa has all but collapsed.

We all think we are doing the right thing when we send our old clothing off to Goodwill, and compared to sending it to a landfill, we are.  But the only way to stem the tide of rejected clothing is to buy less to start with.  Buy quality clothing that will last longer than one season.  Learn how to mend and remove stains.   Buy second-hand and vintage clothing.  Look for used clothing made from interesting textiles that you can use for sewing projects. Feel free to add to my list in the comments.



Filed under Viewpoint

25 responses to “Too Much of a Good, or Bad, Thing

  1. Well said…I couldn’t agree with you more!


  2. Rose Robertson-Smith

    I repurpose wool clothing into hand made braided rugs. I find the highest quality fabrics at Goodwill. I find high end items that have some wear, have a spot or a moth hole. These beautiful wool blazers, skirts and pants have served one purpose and are now onto the next one. Check out me rugs at Idlewildwool on facebook.


  3. Oh Dear. I thought sending those bales of clothing to Africa was a good thing. You have made me realize it’s not.


  4. Well said! It’s horrific how people will flock to places that sell the wretched quality items that places like H&M do. Portland didn’t have H&M for ages, and in the just three years I’ve lived here since graduating college, we now have two. And not three miles apart!

    I had no idea about the situation in Africa, thank you for sharing.


  5. DesertRose BJD

    I sew clothing for dolls (asian ball jointed dolls) and I love to upcycle thrift store finds for their fabric! I end up with unique fabrics that aren’t “the same old same old” and I don’t care if there is a permanent stain or ironing burn because I just don’t use that piece. Plus since the fabric has been washed many times I don’t need to worry about dye stains on the doll.

    I’ve also used some of those thrift finds to make appliques for other shirts or accessories. So many uses – so little time 🙂


  6. There are some who claim that the used clothing markets in Africa are actually a good thing. They do create jobs and provide cheap clothing to poor people:


  7. Clothing swaps are good ways too to get the most of pieces. I’ve attended a few among friends here and it’s usually a fun afternoon of good food and pretty dresses that you may not wear, but someone else can use.


  8. Ultrawoman

    What about kids? They outgrow clothing practically overnight.


  9. As someone who is trying to sew to sell it makes me feel like i’m just making things worse and i do suffer all the time with this conflict.


  10. Cindy Righter

    I am in the midst of costuming a high school play-using vintage and thrift clothing for character and “period” costume. After al, most of the fashionable styles were borrowed from another style in history! So, between Halloween and theater , costuming is a great way to use clothing again, even the tired sweats and t-shirts can be cut or used for a base for a costume. Consider donating to your local theater and high schools!


  11. The book Overdressed really opened my eyes to the problem of used clothing. While buying less at better quality is a wonderful idea in and of itself, I wish that there were better networks for getting rid of used clothes and left over fabric from sewing. We think that thrift stores are a solution, but obviously they are overwhelmed.


    • In my area, I find that the smaller, local thrifts do a better job of actually dispersing the goods locally. One in particular that funds a soup kitchen also gives clothing and other donated items to the homeless and very poor.

      I never donate to Goodwill, as I know that most of it is going to end up in the bins, and then the bundles.


      • Ultrawoman

        My husband had bags and bags and bags of t-shirts that were too small for him. Would a smaller charity take those? I can’t see them going anywhere else other than bundles. They were nothing special, just plain men’s t-shirts in various colors.


  12. Yes. And when I see racks devoted to *new* clothing from Target at my Goodwill store, it’s really troubling. Where does it all go?


  13. Teresa

    I couldn’t agree more with this post Lizzie.


  14. I’m with you, too, Lizzie, and when shopping stopped giving me pleasure (since everything seemed so cheap and ill fitting) I started sewing with luxury fabrics using mostly vintage patterns. I’m still indulging my “passion for fashion” but with more satisfaction and less “stuff” rotating through my closet. When you’ve spent 100 hours making an haute couture jacket, you’re not sending it to Goodwill on a whim.


  15. I think with H&M, F21 and Target fashions we have to take into consideration who is shopping there. While some customers could afford more upscale (and maybe better production values), many cannot. Just go shopping with a few 20 somethings who are out of their parent’s home, trying to get a decent job, pay the rent on their shared apartment etc., and then we can see why H&M is so popular. This shopper really doesn’t have an alternative. OK, we can teach her to sew, but maybe she hasn’t the time, ability, or resources to make what she wants. And that’s how we end up shopping the lower market. If we want her to buy less and better, we need to get her income and finances up to a point where that is possible.


    • A lot of younger girls I know who are just starting out on their own have turned to thrift shopping. Plus, as Macklemore reminded us, it is cool.

      And I think we tend to forget that there have always been cheap clothes being made. Vintage clothing is thought to be of higher quality that clothing today, and generally speaking, that is true. But I have seen some very shoddy sewing and materials from all decades of the 20th century.


  16. You are so right about cheap vintage apparel. I do find those around, often in copies of the more complex designer fashions made from higher grade production values. What seems different today is the need for a more complex wardrobe, and to not be seen in the same garment more than once. We rarely see articles that focus on “10 ways to wear ….” It’s a big shift in core values.


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