Hands up if you feel super lucky when you stumble upon brand-new-with-tags Zara at your local thrift shop.
Or that faux fur vest from Target that you really wanted but couldn’t bring yourself to pay full price for? (Totally not projecting.)
A few weeks ago I was minding my own business, poppin’ tags, when a woman shrilly encouraged me to “check out all the brand new Zara” on the racks behind her. “Have you seen all the Zara? I think you missed the Zara. Zara, Zara, Zara.”
It really ticked me off. The first thing I thought was, *Why does Zara get to pawn off its overproduction on Salvation Army? How about they just reevaluate how much clothing they’re making & plan accordingly?!*
Was I being dramatic? Honestly, kind of.
Let me explain
Since secondhand shops originated (Salvation Army’s “salvage brigade” launched in 1897 out of the basement of a men’s shelter), their purpose was to create a place where people could donate their unwanted items, and others could turn their trash into treasure, usually for a low price. So when did Goodwill start selling all of Target’s post-clearance-wear?
While it’s hard to find legitimate news sources to confirm this, I’ve spoken with a Goodwill manager & have read several message boards that indicate not only does Goodwill accept Target’s overproduction (salvage, as they call it,) sometimes they may even pay for it by the truckload. (Mind you, the 161 Goodwills operate relatively independently, while licensing the Goodwill name. So this is not true of every shop.) And if you have the funds, you, too, can be the proud owner of a pallet of women’s intimate apparel and sleepwear with an estimated retail value of $14,090.
But why does Goodwill pay for the clothing nobody wanted at Target (even on clearance) when we drop our donations for free?
While some of us in the sustainable community use thrift shops to find affordable high-quality clothing that won’t add to the landfills, put garment-workers in danger or otherwise negatively impact the environment, Goodwill & Salvation Army are businesses. Among other missions and drives, they are propelled by customers who have different tastes and demands. (Have you ever been to one of Goodwill’s curated shops?)
And – now I’m judgingly talking to myself – many people shop at these big name thrift shops because it’s the only option they have for their budgets. There are a plethora of reasons why people shop at Goodwill and the clientele is ever-evolving! And if that’s the only way they can get on-trend clothes that make them feel good, who the hell am I to say otherwise?
It’s no secret there’s been a recent uptick in those shopping secondhand – whether that be because of our girl Marie Kondo, or Earth’s latest expiration date. Sometimes those big-box stores have to turn to alternate sources to keep their racks stocked. They can’t always rely on the unpredictable donations of Johns and Janes to keep their customers happy. ‘Cause they have big plans for that money they collect while you shop.
Granted Goodwill’s president and CEO Jim Gibbons received $712,202 in 2015, Goodwill strives to “meet the needs of all job seekers, including programs for youth, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, criminal backgrounds and other specialized needs.” In 2017, Goodwill helped more than 288,000 people train for careers in industries such as banking, IT and health care.
And, for the most part, Salvation Army's proceeds support local adult rehabilitation centers. Salvation Army, if you didn’t know, is also a Christian church that shares the gospel of Jesus Christ, so take that for what you will.
Here are my takeaways from the past two weeks I’ve spent researching & mulling over these ideas.
First, I’m gonna pat myself on the back for thinking consciously and critically. This is the name of the sustainability game. So many people buy product after product without thinking: Who made this? Who was impacted by its production? How am I playing a role in that impact, as well as impacts on the environment and the fast fashion industry at large? I’m learning to ask myself those questions far more often.
But second, I’m gonna scold myself for maybe overreacting & misjudging. The idea for this blog post came after a fellow shopper rubbed me the wrong way at her insistent suggestion that I don’t forget to check out the NWT Zara. But, why did I judge her? Sure, it really irritated me to see so much brand new clothes discarded. But, Zara makes really cute clothes and I’m glad it makes other people happy to score such a deal on pieces they wouldn’t have ordinarily bought for themselves.
Still, Target and Zara get tax breaks from donating clothes and obviously make a profit off the items they sell to these thrift shops. You could say they serve as a scapegoat for companies who are consistently overproducing millions of dollars worth of clothes and looking for a way to get rid of the product without appearing wasteful.
So, what I’m really upset with is the irresponsibility of larger stores who produce so much clothes they won’t ever sell.
And while I’ve committed to buying all my clothes secondhand or ethically made, that doesn’t mean I have to solely support Goodwill & Salvation Army. I’m definitely not saying I’m cutting them from my life altogether, because, let’s be honest, I live within walking distance of a Goodwill & I just decorated my new apartment in Salvo home décor. But there are so many other little shops that I can support as well.
Let me know what you think about seeing NWT fast fashion at thrift shops. Does it tick you off? Does it spark joy? Had it never crossed your mind before?
Until next week.