Tips for Recycling Garments and Textiles

I live in a small apartment in central Vancouver (and run a business from home!), so I’m pretty ruthless about purging my closet. Over time, I’ve learned to take the emotion out of it, and keep only things that I love to wear and that serve me. The same goes for my fabric stash. Of course I love all my fabric babies (hehe) but sometimes I lose interest in a fabric, and I have to let it go! UFOs? I only keep them if I know I’ll finish them.

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The thing I struggle with is figuring out a way to recycle my garments or textiles in an environmentally friendly way. So through research and experience, I’ve come up with some tips for what to do with your beloved “unworns”, fabric scraps, and everything else you are ready to let go of.

The Unworn

Repurpose or Refashion

Ask yourself: Can you repurpose the item into something else?  Here are some ideas:

Clothing Swaps

If you have a pile of garments that are in good condition but just not for you, participating in a clothing swap is a great option. Usually this is in the form of a get-together where each guest brings clothing that they want to give away. You can rest easy that your clothes will go to a good home, and you might even find some cool items to take home for yourself. I attended one once and it was really fun! You can host one yourself, or find a local swap by searching a site like Meetup. There are also websites that you can use to swap your clothes online, like Dig’n’Swap and Swap Style. I don’t have personal experience with online clothing swaps, so if anyone has any feedback I would love to hear it in the comments!

Sell Online

In the same vein as swapping, you can list and sell your garments online on a website like Etsy, Ebay, or Refashioner. I’ve even seen some really cool closet or fabric sales on instagram. This will take extra work but the pay out could be worth it if you’re willing to put in the legwork.

Donate to a Charity Shop

Donating to a local charity shop or thrift store is an excellent option if your clothing is in good condition. I donate to Value Village in Canada, and they give a coupon to shop with for every box/bag you bring in. Most of these shops support non-profits and you can feel good about donating garments to women in need. A lot of thrift shops also accept fabric yardage and sewing notions/supplies (I’ve scored some awesome finds in the past!)

H&M’s Garment Collection Initiative

Did you know that H&M stores worldwide will accept clothes and textiles of any kind, in any condition? I called my local store, and the sales girl confirmed it: they will accept any clothing, home textiles, and even fabric yardage – just not shoes. They then send them to be hand sorted, and then re-used or recycled. Zero waste is the goal, which is really commendable. They don’t profit from this initiative. In their own words: “Our revenues will be used to reward our customers, to make donations to local charity organizations and to invest in recycling innovation.” I love this option for fabric scraps, unwearable garments, or soiled/worn out items. Read more about this option here!

Look for Local Organizations

In Vancouver, we are so lucky to have Our Social Fabric. They are a local non-profit textile recycling initiative. They take donations of usable fabric yardage and re-sell it in an effort keep textiles out of landfills. Do some googling to see if you have any local organizations that resell or recycle fabrics!

I hope these ideas are helpful! If you have any solutions that I missed, I would love to hear them in the comments. It’s a small thing for each of us to do, but if we all make an effort to keep our garment and textile waste out of landfills, it will make a big difference for the environment.

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28 Responses to Tips for Recycling Garments and Textiles

  1. Julie February 9, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    The H&M tip is golden; thank you for that! It’s one of those things I’ve been struggling with as a sewist: while I don’t want to end up swimming in scraps-that-could-maybe-potentially-someday-be-used-for-something, I always feel heartsick throwing them out.

  2. Anna-Jo February 9, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Schools are often very happy to receive fabric scraps and yarn leftovers to use for art and craft sessions :)

  3. Grace February 9, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    Who knew about H&M? That’s a great option. Here in Winnipeg we have ArtsJunktion, and they take fabric and notions and yarn and anything else than can be creatively repurposed. Then they sort it and give it away for free! I also donate unwanted clothes and fabric to the MCC thrift stores here – they are run by volunteers and are non-profit, unlike Value Village which is a for-profit corporation. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Ronda Cafe February 9, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Hello! I am a sewist in North Vancouver and noted that you don’t list a WONDERFUL fabric shop here on the North Shore; Stitch and Bobbin! It is located on Old Dollarton Road, literally one minute east of the Secound Narrows Bridge. With Fabricland closing in West Vancouver, I thought you (and your loyal readers) would like to know about this great shop. Also, I JUST recieved an email from OSF, and they have just secured an new shop space and hopefully will be re-opening soon! Ronda

  5. PsychicKathleen February 9, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    I’m amazed to read that you share your living space with your business in a 1 bedroom apartment in Vancouver! That’s laudable truly. I have a 2+den in Victoria and run a business out of it as well so I know what you mean about having to be strict with yourself in terms of accumulating. When your space is limited you have no choice and I’ve always refused to move into larger space to accommodate STUFF :) I have a policy that when something comes in something MUST go out. It keeps me circumspect right at the gate because I know something is going to have leave and unless I have some idea of what that is it’s a no go :) I donate a lot of non-profits and I give clothes away too to friends whom it might suit or fit better. My stash is getting a little unwieldly however BUT it stopped me from buying a few things in my favourite clothing store yesterday!

    • Caroline Amanda February 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

      Actually I live in a two bedroom. We sleep in the small room, and I run my business out of the large (master) bedroom. I could never do it if I was living in a one bedroom apartment!

  6. Janet February 9, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    I love this post. I am, right now, looking at my options with a view for a new retro style gored dress. I can’t part with anything that is fabric! I keep everything organized by color, then weight etc. in drawer -green, etc. all beloved fabrics eventually live again. Maybe just as facings or pocket linings, color blocking or piping, bows, collars etc. I have a lot of fun, save a bit and feel creative. Takes a bit of organizing and a bit (not too much) room but after years and years of sewing it works for me. Kind of like my button box.

  7. Sabina February 9, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Thank you for advises. I did all points except “Etsy, Ebay, or Refashioner”. Any idea how to start to do it?

    • Kat February 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

      I think you just create an account at one of those websites, photograph your clothes, and post them for sale.

      • Sabina February 12, 2016 at 2:39 am #

        Thank you. Will give a try.

  8. Amos February 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

    Here in Kansas City, we have a store called Fabric Recycles. I think I’ve bought more than half my stash from there!

    • Amos February 9, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

      Oh yeah, and I’ve found some amazing vintage fabrics there.

  9. Annette February 9, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    H&M, who knew!? Many thanks for this inspiring read! TFS, Annette

  10. Thirzah February 9, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    Some of my local charity shops (in the UK) accept unusable clothes and fabric scraps for recycling, and a van comes round every week and pays for the rags by weight. It’s a really good system, as it supports the charity and keeps the landfills empty!

  11. Tasha February 9, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    In the US, Goodwill takes fabric scraps and worn-out clothes for recycling. I keep a bag for scraps too small to save near my sewing table, and take it there when it’s full. A couple of years ago I contacted a bunch of thrift stores near me to see which ones did textile recycling, and Goodwill was the only who assured me they did, instead of sending that stuff to the landfill.

    • Julie M. February 12, 2016 at 12:23 am #

      Please don’t give Goodwill anything! They are paying executives and Regional CEO’s big bucks while paying the disabled pennies. Here is a link to an eye opening investigation of Goodwill. http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/25/19062348-disabled-workers-paid-just-pennies-an-hour-and-its-legal
      I have known people personality through working in healthcare that are indeed paid pennies for their labor. I also want to make sure my waste or old items are recycled so there has to be a better option. I like the idea of posting it on CL for scrap fabric. Also senior centers may use it for quilting groups or rummage sales :) A lot of Goodwills unsold goods are shipped overseas after being sold by the palette and some even make a round trip back. My husband knew a guy through his church that was buying the palettes off of Alibaba and paying people in a warehouse in Houston to sort it and sell it again! It was discovered that the guy was running a sweat shop, literally no A/C in Houston, and the majority of the workers were undocumented in a BOLI inspection. So don’t believe what these big organizations tell you, obtaining your used goods is BIG profits for them.

  12. eimear February 10, 2016 at 2:26 am #

    from time to time, i have replied to posts on freecycle of people looking for scraps as they are doing patchwork! so I tend to keep a bag of big scraps to one side since – also, i started remaking clothes as a pet project some time back and most of my current wardrobe are remakes from my own clothes or charity shop buys – its a lot easier than i originally though (i blog about it on theupsew.com)

  13. Shauni S February 10, 2016 at 5:10 am #

    Great tips! I really like the idea of using my scraps and upcycling garments to make lingerie!

    In the UK, Marks & Spencer work with Oxfam on a brilliant ‘Shwopping’ initiative that encourages people to donate pre-loved textiles. I wrote about it in a recent post on sewing and sustainability (I blog at http://www.magnificent-thread.blogspot.co.uk)

  14. francesca February 10, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    I give pretty much everything except small scraps to the SPCA. They sell the good stuff in their charity shop, and the older stuff gets used as bedding.

    • Nadia March 25, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

      I keep my smaller scraps and pieces of clothing that are too worn to be donated in a separate bag. When I have enough, I use this stash to make cat nip pillows to give to the SPCA. The stronger fabric is used for the outside cover and the rest is used as stuffing. I double stitch the seams to make them safer. My SPCA accepts them. I have to get my husband to bring them because I can’t go in there without bringing all the animals home!
      ;-)

  15. Laurie Abel February 10, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    I love the H&M connection.
    Do you have any suggestions for patterns that are no longer wanted? Some are new, never used and some used once. These are not designer or otherwise special that could be sold on Bay. The thrift stores in my area (New York City) won’t take them.
    Thank you for posting this information.

    • Susan February 17, 2016 at 7:53 am #

      If I have a pattern that is not sellable I cut out the girls on the front to use in collage making and the tissue can be used for lots of creative projects. If you aren’t into that, the tissue makes great packing material when you need to ship something.

  16. Barbara February 11, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    And my favorite tip for Eco-sewing: try your best to avoid synthetics, because omitted how you re-use, recycle, pass them on, etc. ultimately any oil based fabric will not go away. It will not compost, decompose or otherwisereturntothe earth. As one of my friends is fond of saying, ultimately synthetic fabrics will only “choke a whale”

  17. Caroline February 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    In Montreal, La gaillarde on Notre-Dame West takes used clothing, shoes and fabrics. It is an ONG and their mission is to get fabrics out of landfill and help local designers…

    They sell used clothes and local designers clothes, jewellery and accessoiries. They also sell fabrics and patterns in the basement ; I got a nice wool herringbone and a nice black stretch twill from Jacob’s remnants there once…

    (http://www.lagaillarde.ca/)

  18. Elva B February 19, 2016 at 7:32 am #

    Oooh nice tip about H&M and selling online. But you can also donate it to local organizations like you said. You might want to repurpose or refashion then do a garage sale.

  19. Barbara February 19, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Value Village is not a non-profit. Only a very small portion of their income goes to charities. They are owned by Wal-Mart.

  20. Drew March 17, 2016 at 11:11 am #

    I had no idea that H&M helped recycle clothes. That sounds like a great option. Charity is also, of course, always a good choice. Thanks for sharing these.

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    […] 'So, Zo…': Refashion Friday: 4 Ways to Refashion Baby Clothes. Oh My Green » Eco-friendly Textiles Directory. Swedish Student Turns Toxic Textile-Factory Effluent Into Clean Water River Pollution. Tips for Recycling Garments and Textiles. […]

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