Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Thrift Store Clothing Stigma

   Having 13 year old girls in my house has brought the issue of the impact on that discarded clothing has on the environment front and center, as it seems they wear a piece of clothing once and then it is quickly cast off for lack of trendy fashion sense. In our house we have donated our cast offs either to Goodwill or personally to a friend from Africa who takes them for his village for years. However we are not a reflection of the average household.

   Prior to the 1920's clothing was still not mass produced. Most people either made their clothing themselves or for the wealthier had them made so as clothing became old or damaged it was simply repaired, mended or altered to be handed down to another family member. Mass production of clothing grew after World War I allowing consumers to participate in more fashion trends not only yearly but seasonally. With a flourishing post war economy and the industrial age boom, consumers could purchase new clothing each season easily and affordably.

     Now, with new clothing so readily available not only in brick and mortar stores but also on the internet, the average household of 4 spends $1700 annually on clothing. Between seasonal needs and a desire to be fashionable, clothing is discarded and replaced with little consideration to the impact on the landfills. The statistics are pretty alarming. Annually, 1.2 million pounds of household textiles ( this includes bed and bath textiles) are disposed of in landfills. 6% of the average household waste is textiles.

    Thrift and consignment stores became more and more popular as environmental awareness grew. Thrift stores such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and local church thrift stores were becoming more and more popular to those who wanted to reduced their impact on the environment. A 2006 poll showed that 12-15% of American households shopped in thrift stores. Clearly, the stigma of buying used clothing has taken a back seat to the bargains in a struggling economy. As a result, thrift store shopping has increased steadily every year by 7%.

   Not sure whether you are ready to dive into the thrift store sea? There are some ways to wade in and get your feet wet. When my children were small, I recognized a need to find clothing for my babies on a budget at a time in their lives where they grow out of their clothing long before they wear out. Enter yard sale shopping and consignment store shopping.

   The yard sale season is just gearing up so here are some great tips to take advantage of this unending resource.

-During the week, grab the local paper. Yard sales are often listed in the classifieds. Find the ones that will be in your area, make a list and plan a route. I recommend finding the higher income areas to shop.

-Go early! This is critical. The best items will go quickly so grab your coffee, put on your comfy shoes, dress for the weather and get out there!

-Bring small bills and change. Often when you hit the sales early, large bills will be harder to break for the sellers. There is a culture that says that when buying at yard sales you should haggle the price. I never haggle. I am not a fan of haggling. The seller is already selling the items for virtually pennies. How much more of a discount do you need really?

-Be selective about your stops. I usually do a drive by. You can usually tell whether a sale has what you need without even getting out of the car. Time is of the essence in finding the best stuff so try not to waste time wandering a sale full of tools and dishes when you are looking for kid's clothing.

-Get ready to dig a little. Get in there and scrutinize the clothing. Look closely for damage and stains. Weigh the price against whether it can be easily repaired or cleaned. I generally will overlook slight overall wear but will pass on major stains or tears.

-DON'T buy things you don't need on impulse. This is a tough one. It is tempting to make purchases that you didn't come out for because they seem like such great bargains. Before you know it, you have spent the money that you have saved by buying used clothing AND you now have bought a bunch of stuff that you didn't necessarily need creating even more clutter in your own life.

-teach the kids. I always brought my kids. They now love to go hunt with me. I give them a set amount of money ( usually about $5.) When they have their own money in hand, they learn a valuable lesson about budgeting and thoughtful buying.

  So feel like you can swim a little deeper? Look for large, well known thrift stores in your area. I have several Goodwill stores near me. Be prepared for what you see and feel. Walking into these stores can kind of freak some people out. I am going to be honest here. These items are donated and the employees are often volunteers. As a result, clothing items don't get cleaned or ironed before being put out for sale but just like yard sales, be ready to dig and scrutinize. Look at the item objectively just like you would if you are buying new. Will you wear it? Is it appropriate for this season? Does it fit your style? Otherwise you tend to end u with closets and drawers full of more stuff that never gets worn and this defeats the purpose.

   Clothes that are sold second hand as clothes are technically not being recycled in the true sense of the word. However, there are some absolutely amazing artists out there that will take a casted off article of clothing and turn it into something entirely different. This trend is growing by leaps and bounds, again, as the awareness of the impact we have on our environment grows.

   Here are a few of my designs for repurposing clothing available at

This gently used tee shirt ( modeled by my stunning previously aforementioned 13 year old)
has been block printed with my original artwork. To make it even more
 environmentally friendly the print block has been made from a used (and cleaned) styrofoam take out container. To see what kind of impact styrofoam has on the planet, check out my previous
blog post "The Doggy Bag Dilemma"

This lovely little piece of real estate for your bird friends
has been made from a felted wool sweater. The felting makes it naturally water resistant and warm for our bird friends to live in all year long.
This cuddly guy, made from a used dress shirt, can also be made to order from a family member's piece of clothing as a wonderful keepsake of that person in your life. 

I created this painting as an interactive piece of art. It gives the owner a chance to customize the painting and participate in the finished product. It is made from old blue jeans with open pockets for the owner to tuck personalized items into.

This absolutely stunning "elf coat" was created from repurposed sweaters
and is available on
and these cute jeans for kids are made trendy and cool from recycled fabric from discarded clothing. 

For more great upcycled products from the featured artists, be sure to check out all of the etsy stores below.