By: Imri Merritt
We all love our clothing, even those old ones we don’t wear anymore but we’ve kept around for some reason. Lately, everyone is learning to declutter their stuff– which is a good thing. But too many people are trashing their stuff– which is a bad thing. When it comes to T-shirts and similar garments, it’s simple: do not throw them out! There are plenty of options.
So get ready to gather up the used clothes that no longer “spark joy”, and do something creative or charitable with them. This post will give you the information, the inspiration, and the instructions. I’ve compiled the top 7 things you should do with your old clothing, plus examples.
Recycle Used Clothing
When people say recycling, what they usually mean is repurposing, reselling or upcycling (I’ll be getting to these). Only a very small percentage of clothing is actually recycled. Like less than 1% small.
The reason is that apparently, it’s really, really hard to do. Most fabrics are made of a blend of materials these days, so the challenge has always been to find a way to separate blended fiber materials so they can be recycled according to their own system. The technologies being created to recycle more than just cotton and polyester are still new, and rare– which means that a T-shirt that’s 99% cotton and 1% spandex can’t be recycled today. But wait, don’t despair.
Marine Layer is my new favorite. My only issue is that I didn’t find them sooner. When I went looking for a place that I could recommend to you all, I kept coming up short. What I wanted to find was somewhere you could send your used clothing and know that it was going to actually be recycled. What I didn’t expect is to find a place that will give you money for those shirts and pay for shipping as well. Yes, you read that right. You get $5 per shirt, up to $25.
The company had already created a sustainable product (their signature fabric is made from recycled beechwood) and decided to “kick it up a notch.” So they came up with a revolutionary recycling program they call Re-Spun. The program takes old, worn tees and recycles them into new(ish) tees, creating the coveted “closed-loop” production process. To date, they have created over 25 custom fabrics. They also have a cool logo, which this graphic designer appreciates.
How does it work? First, they break the tees down to the fiber level by Marine Layer’s partner, RecoverTex in Spain, who have been recycling textiles since the 1960s and are one of the only companies in the world with the holy grail: the technology to recycle mixed or “blended” fabrics.
The new(ish) garments produced are composed of 50% recycled tees and 50% recycled plastic, and unique colors created by putting different colors of the recycled tees together so that no water or chemicals are needed to dye the yarn.
And softness– don’t get them started on the softness. They claim to have the softest fabrics money can buy, and judging by their reviews alone, lots of happy customers agree. They achieve this by “sueding” the fabric– essentially brushing the surface to slightly raise the fibers.
Their commitment to softness dates back to the start of the company when the founder’s girlfriend threw away his favorite– and softest– T-shirt. He became a man on a mission. (Don’t get any ideas, all you girlfriends out there).
By the way, if you’re thinking this sounds like an ad– it’s not. We have no affiliation with this company. I’m just really hype about it, so I’m highly recommending it.
Ready to get started? Go on their website and sign up to get your Free Recycling Kit. They send you a prepaid mailer (made with recycled materials of course) to put your used shirts. The only material they can’t accept for recycling is activewear fabric because spandex is hard to break down.
Upcycle Used Clothing
Upcycling is all the rage these days, and I’m 100% for it. Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is “the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value”. This is what websites like Etsy and Pinterest were made for.
And DIY culture (do-it-yourself) has been an exploding trend for years thanks to the internet. There has never been a better time to learn how to craft your own new creations out of materials that might otherwise be trashed.
In my city of Philadelphia, we have a thriving scene of people doing it themselves. Go to any of the Punk Rock Flea Markets or the Art Star Craft Bazaars and you’ll see a wide variety of innovative and beautiful upcycled fashion and art objects. So even if you don’t have the time or the skill (or patience, in my case) to make these things yourself, you can support the DIY scene (and the environment) by purchasing these items.
There are a million projects you can come across online that could of interest: scarves, bracelets, hats, necklaces, belts, you name it. I’m just guessing at a million, don’t hold me to that. There’s probably more. Below are a few of my picks– a small sample of easy DIY projects that anyone can do to upcycle used tees.
Upcycling Idea: Make Tote Bags From Your Used Clothing
We all need to grocery shop, but plastic bags are so over. Especially with more cities and countries cracking down on single use plastics. Good riddance! If you’re like me, you have a small collection of tote bags in a drawer somewhere, but they say things like Trader Joe’s or Pretzel Factory. Maybe it’s time for something way cooler, like a handmade T-shirt tote?
There’s plenty of instructions for these to be found. And videos too. Most require no sewing, so no excuses! Make some of these.
Donate Old Clothing to Charity
Donating to a charity is most people’s go-to move when getting rid of unwanted items. Look into local charities around you (and avoid for-profit companies). Homeless shelters, group homes, and senior centers may have a need. Many animal shelters will take T-shirts, believe it or not.
Regardless of what you plan to donate, and before you leave your house with the items, be sure that the place you’re donating to will take it. Call ahead or check the website– don’t just show up with your arms full of stuff and assume they want it.
Donate to a Clothing Collection Company
With the secondhand market exploding and textile waste becoming a bigger problem than ever, over the past two decades there’s been a rise in for-profit companies jumping into this space and taking over where charities leave off. These companies are diverting a growing percentage of this material from the landfills, and the process is getting more efficient all the time, especially with the growing sustainability movement and increased environmental consciousness of consumers.
Clothing that is not resold or donated is turned into rags, shredded into stuffing used in car seats, among other things. The rest is combusted for energy production.
We love GreenDrop. What’s great about them is they make it so easy. You can drop off your donation, or you can schedule a free pickup. They have trucks that come around, so you don’t even need to leave the house. Let the binge-watching continue!
The other great thing about them is their proceeds go towards charitable programs for American Red Cross, Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Federation of the Blind, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Philadelphia. In 2015, charity proceeds from the sale of the donated goods to the thrift stores exceeded $2.5 million, supporting charitable programs locally and nationwide.
Sell Used Clothing Online
The resale market is exploding, and the good news is that it’s projected to grow to almost 1.5 times the size of “fast fashion”, hitting the 64 billion dollar mark in 10 years, according to this enlightening report.
There is no shortage of web sites you can sell your used clothing. If it’s in good shape and worth a little money, you’re going to get some interested buyers– whether its from consignment sites like Poshmark and thredUP, or apps like DePop, LetGo, and Mercari, or the (huge) new kid on the block, Facebook Marketplace. And of course, there’s always eBay.
This is something to keep in mind when you buy new clothes: How many times will you wear it? Will it go out of style soon? What’s the resale value? If you want to learn more, I suggest reading through the thredUp report. If you’re in the resale market, this essential info.
However, you might not be able to sell your used tees on sites like these, depending on the graphics and the shape they’re in. This option is here for people who have high-quality, barely-worn shirts to move, or who happen to have those sought-after vintage tees that are big right now.
This guy raised almost $1500 selling his amazing vintage concert T-shirt collection at well below market value. You might have heard of the Netflix show Slobby’s World, where he gets big money for ’80s and ’90s T-shirts, and even the knock-off versions sell.
If your stuff is not officially vintage yet, but you think might be someday (it probably will be), make sure to store it carefully. I would suggest those vacuum-seal bags.
Repurpose Old Clothing
You could call this down-cycling, I guess? Being in this business, I go through a lot of tees as you would imagine. Repurposing has been my go-to for old T-shirts that I can’t donate (or make cat tents out of). I typically cut them into rags, and toss them into a bag. A bag o’ rags. And then those tees spend their final days wiping down furniture, ceiling fans, my car, or my bike. Or that mystery gunk on the bottom of my shoe.
There are many, many ways you can repurpose clothing– too many to mention. The last time I went camping, I brought a bag of old tees and used them for tent floor padding. Recently I moved, and my old tees were valuable for wrapping valuables. Those are just a couple examples off the top of my head. I’m sure you can come up with your own uses.
Yes, they still end up in landfills eventually. But every little bit helps. So cut some rags. (It’s super easy but for some reason there’s lots of step by step instructions online.) Keep that bag o’ rags somewhere for whenever need them. The idea is to extend the life of these tees, well past their use as a garment. The only limit is your imagination. And the laws of physics.
There is an endless number of DIY projects online to make you marvel at the time these people have– or wonder what were they thinking. (DI-WHY?) But then there are lots of projects that are genius, and you could easily spend an entire day going down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest to find this stuff. It’s a deep hole. I’ve been there and back.
So there you have it. Seven great suggestions on what to do with your used clothing. Hopefully, you learned a few things like I did. And hopefully, you never throw away used clothing ever again. If we want a sustainable future, the fashion industry will need to be a big part of the solution, but we all need to do our own part. Right, grampa?