If you are anything like me, with the swift transition from summer to autumn, or whatever this non-stop rain season is called, you might have been swapping your warm-weather wardrobe for the colder months one. I did that a few weeks ago and it provided a perfect opportunity to reassess and review my clothes in light of newfound style insights, changes in my preferences and wardrobe demands in my job, for both handmade and RTW items.
This type of exercise usually comes with a massive purge. So I did a bit of thinking, a bit of research and I’d like to share my findings with you.
What to do with your self-made clothes when you no longer want them
I will say from the start that I have absolutely no qualms in parting with my handmade clothes. Sentimental, I am not! Once I am over something, I need to get it out of my wardrobe and be done with it. However, as you know me, I am also massively against waste of any sort, so I very dearly would prefer for that item to be worn in its intended purpose by someone else.
So here are some ideas on what to do with your handmade clothes when you no longer want them for various reasons. To say that these ideas can apply to RTW clothes as well, and I would add that we should treat our garments, whether handmade or ready to wear, with the same amount of love and respect, during their active life or at the end of it.
I do love me a little infographic, so I’ve distilled down all my research into a decision tree graphic. Enjoy!
SAVE THIS FOR LATER ON PINTEREST
Now let’s unpack this a bit…
The first thing to think about when deciding what to do with clothes you no longer want is: can they be worn again? I know we all have various levels of acceptable when it comes to rewear, but my test is ‘if someone gave it to me in this state, would I wear it?”.
I will add that ensuring clothes stay in active use for as long as possible is the absolute best thing you can do for the environment. So please do consider repairing, refashioning, repurposing or even dyeing before you decide to part with an item, handmade or otherwise.
What to do with clothes that cannot be worn again
If the garments you want to part with cannot be worn again, I’m always thinking if it would like to keep that fabric or notions for something else. If I do, they will go to the WIP/UFO pile, to be either scavenged for the fabric if there is enough or to be refashioned. For example, a dress can become a skirt or a blouse, a pair of trousers can become jeans, etc. If this is not possible, maybe you can reuse the fabric for pockets, bags or lining. So it would maybe be unpicked/disassembled go to the bag of scraps, ready for the next suitable project.
If you don’t like the fabric, maybe there are some notions like buttons or zippers that can still be useful. Before sending it to the recycling bin, make sure you recover them, they will come in handy sometimes. Even elastic might also be useful one day.
After everything was recovered, you can look to recycle it. Now, there are various ways to think about it. You can stuff it a puff or a draft excluder, where it will still be useful.
If not, you can pass it on to commercial textile recycling services, like textile banks offered by the councils or local administration. Also, companies like H&M offer to recycle services. My top tip would be to ensure that wherever you take them, they have a zero waste to landfill policy. H&M work with an organisation called I:CO that promise nothing will go to landfill, even if it may mean energy recovery. This is, of course, the least desirable scenario, it’s better than going to landfill.
Usually, textiles will be downcycled in mattress filling, insulation etc. If it’s 100% cotton, wool or cashmere, it may even be recycled into new textiles. Some charities have this policy as well, but, as I will talk about in a bit, sometimes this is harder to control. If you donate to a textile bank, check who are they operated by and look up their policies on their website.
Options for when clothes are wearable
Even with handmade items, you always have the option to sell them. I was reading recently about someone who adds their own labels and sells them via Facebook. I never tried to sell any of my handmade clothes, so I have no experience with those, but I would love yo hear from you if you did.
To note that I’m not speaking about sewing for other people and charging them, this is about selling items you have already made.
A few places where you could try selling your handmades:
I’m curious if anybody had any success selling handmade on big second-hand platforms like Poshmark, ThredUp or apps like Depop. Please let me know in comments.
If you can’t be bothered to try selling your clothes (I just can’t be asked to do all the photographing and listing), yet you’d still like your handmade items to be worn by someone, letting your friends and family scavenge your handmade wardrobe could be a great option. Both my best friend and my sister are very similar shapes to me, so I love passing on any items I don’t want anymore. I know they would appreciate them and how unique they are. Every time I go see my sister in Denmark, I end up leaving something behind and I don’t mind that at all.
If you have a Whatsapp group or any other group chat, you could advertise that you are willing to part with handmade items and your friends can choose what they want, provided they are similar sizes.
This is a rather new idea for me. Although I am familiar with the concept, I have never been to a swap party before. But this past weekend, I took part in my first ever swap event, as a helper. It was great to be part of the organising team that put together such a great event. A massive shout out to the fab Katie Towle for setting up these events and to Annie from The Village Haberdashery for hosting in the loveliest sewing and haberdashery shop (if you are in London, you must visit).
This was also an experiment of sorts. I had discussed with Katie, the organiser, to try to include some handmade items to test if people would be interested (or are they looking for the labels…). I took a massive haul of me-made clothes to the swap and, guess what, they all got taken by very enthusiastic people.
The other interesting thing to me was whether I would mind wearing clothes that are not new. I have always had a weird aversion towards second hand (and I wrote about it here previously). But since I don’t buy new clothes and some things I can’t make myself, I did have to buy some ski gear this spring. This made me much more disposed towards charity shop buying (online, mostly, I still can’t manage the trawling part). And on Sunday, something clicked and I ended with 4 amazing pieces that I took home from the swap. I am madly in love with them and I know I will love and wear them for many years to come. I felt even better that two of them had small damages that I could use my skills to repair right away.
So this incredibly positive experience got me thinking: would it not be great to have a similar event just for handmade clothes? How cool to be able to swap clothes with someone who is pear-shaped like you, or needs to make a swayback adjustment like you always do? And they use that amazing Liberty fabric you have been drooling over for ages?
So I’m doing a quick straw poll, what do you guys think, could this work? Would you go to such an event? Because I’m seriously thinking of organising one in London. Please answer the poll and let me know.
You might want to ensure that your clothes do something good. And there are several ways to go about this.
You could make a direct donation, like taking them to a homeless shelter or a women’s refuge. You will need to make sure that the particular organisation is actually looking for the items you have to give. I have tried in the past to pass on various regular clothes to shelters, but they were mostly looking for men’s clothes and specific items, like coats and socks. Most likely that fancy gowns won’t go down very well. Kids clothes might also be very welcome. This approach has also the benefit of ensuring that the garments will be worn by people who really need them. This always means a lot to me.
You can also support a cause indirectly, via a charity shop. In the UK, the charity shops are affiliated to various causes, like health-related (Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation etc), international development (Oxfam), children (Barnardo’s, Click Sargeant), but also hospices, animals and many many more. So people tend to donate to causes they are close to, to support that organisation.
However, much has been written about what happens to clothes passed on to charity shops. Through my work, I know a lot about textile recycling and the charity retail sectors. This is just in relation to the UK, btw.
What usually happens if you donate to a charity shop is as follows: the best items will be sold in the shop (cream). But because they need to rotate their merchandise very often (2-3 weeks), if it doesn’t sell in this period, they will need to remove it from the sale and pass on. Most charities do not have the capacity to extract further value from what is not sold, so they sell in bulk to textile processors (commercial organisations) what is called ‘charity grade stock’. The commercial sorters will then go through every single item and determine its value for resale in various countries or for recycling (usually downgrading). The charities are paid by the kilo for these textiles, so they still get some benefit from your donations. There is a small percentage that the recyclers will not take, so that will most likely end in the municipal streams (black sacks) and most likely incinerated.
That is why there is a dotted line in my infographic that goes from charity to recycling.
To add that the only charity in the UK that has its own sortation centre is Oxfam, in Batley in West Yorkshire. If you are more interested in the environmental side of things, this is probably the best option. They try to resell as much as possible in the UK, they have a zero waste to landfill policy and they resell in carefully selected countries abroad.
Of course, you should always support the cause you care most about (and also, Oxfam have had their share of problems in recent years), but all things being equal, that’s who I chose from an environmental perspective alone.
I also contacted several charities (Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation) to check if they are happy to receive handmade clothes, as I was worried that they will send them straight to be recycled if they don’t have labels. Oxfam responded that they will treat handmade clothes the same as RTW ones. Good quality ones will be sold in charity shops, and in their online shop, and listed as ‘handmade’. Others might end up abroad and some could be recycled. So I am reassured that a lovely piece of clothing might very well end up being loved again.
If none of these options will work for you, you can always put the items in a textile bank. Sometimes they are operated by charities, but many times they are run by the municipality or commercial recyclers. The municipality will most times also sell the textiles collected to commercial sorters.
I’m not saying that commercial recyclers are bad. It’s in their best interest to resell as much as possible, as they can get more revenue from clothes that can be resold than from shredding and recycling them. However, some are better than others in ensuring the ethics of their customers and where they resell especially in Africa and Asia. So I recommend looking into who runs the bank you are making donations to.
Same as with charity shops, some of the items put in the banks will end up being recycled (and hopefully very little in landfill).
Before I finish this really long post by now, I want to end on a plea! Please never put anything in the bin! No matter how damaged an item is, there will be options to deal with the textiles. In the UK, we still send 300,000t of clothes to landfill every year, which in turn cause CO2 to be released and chemicals to run into the waterways. In other countries, it’s even worse.
THANKS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE END! I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE HANDMADE ITEMS YOU NO LONGER WANT. ANYTHING I MISSED? LET ME KNOW AND I WILL UPDATE THE POST WITH YOUR THOUGHTS.
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