What you should know about donating clothes to charity shops

Charity shop clothes

There’s a few things charity shop workers think you should know before donating clothing. Image via Adobe Stock.

Each year thousands of pieces of clothing are donated to charity shops across the country. But is every garment acceptable to sell?

Andrew* a Manager for a New Zealand charitable organisation says that they receive a steady stream of donations to their charity shops throughout the year. “We are fortunate to be in a position where we get a vast range of clothes donated to our charity shops. While these include men’s and children’s clothing, a vast majority of the clothing we receive are womenswear.”

Amy from Dove Hospice says the same thing. “Our community generously donate all kinds of clothing and accessories to Dove Hospice.  The clothing spans across womenswear, menswear, childrens, and more specific categories like sportswear, uniforms, costumes, and industrial workwear.”

However, a lot of charity shops receive clothes that are not fit for sale. Many are burned, frayed, dirty or torn. While a handful of shop volunteers often try to mend and repurpose them for sale, some clothes are beyond repair.

“During the selection process, any garments that are deemed to not meet the quality standards expected of our customers are discarded using our waste management partners. Most of this would make its way to landfill.” says Andrew*. The cost of disposing of these clothes often comes out of the pockets of the organisations.

Amy adds that Dove Hospice have two options after receiving unsellable clothes: selling the clothes on TradeMe in bulk or disposing of them. “If the clothing is badly ripped or soiled, we’re required to dispose of these items and do incur considerable costs arranging this.”

They both tell me that customers should take into consideration the quality of the clothes before donating. No charity shops can sell damaged or stained clothes. Wash them beforehand as no customer wants to purchase clothes that smell bad. Also, donors should not dump them outside the doors before or after opening hours. The rain will contaminate them and make them further unsellable.

“All clothes that have a lot of life left in them and can be used by others are always welcome at any charity shop.” says Andrew* “We find the ability to recycle clothes in the community very rewarding and great for the environment. We are very proud that a lot of the clothing that would otherwise be discarded in waste bins are given a chance of a second or third life through our store network and the generosity of our donors.”

However, several charity organisations are coming up with simple, but creative ideas to repurpose unsellable clothes.

Dove Hospice recently created an initiative where they repurpose unusable clothes to give homeware products new life “We were contacted by a new organisation setting up here in Auckland, that can take unsaleable clothing, textiles and accessories and recycle them to be used as filling for homewares products like pillows and sofas. We’re really excited about supporting this initiative as it will reduce both our disposal costs and our carbon footprint!”

Another idea is upcycling. In 2020, students from the Ara Institute of Canterbury worked with the New Zealand Red Cross to create an event called Retooled. The students repurposed unsellable pieces of clothing donated to Red Cross Shops to ensure the damaged pieces did not go to a landfill. Using their design skills, they transformed them into entirely new clothing. They then organised Retooled so that attendees could swap clothes and browse the pop-up op shop in the hope of finding a hidden gem

“There’s a lot of revivalism in the fashion space especially among creatives,” says Lloyd, one of the founders of Retooled. “Thrifting became a go-to for us. People love original. We don’t like dressing exactly the same as each other, it’s great for the environment and the clothes are good quality: no compromises.”

Bella, Ruby and Lucy, the three young women who ran Dot to Dot, the event’s pop-up shop, truly believe that good clothes are not that hard to find and that consumers should embrace the personality of each piece. “We want to honour the history of each garment we’ve discovered by giving it a new and loving home. We think we’ve unearthed some gems and want you to add your piece to their story; dot by dot.”

To learn more about Dove Hospice and the locations of their charity shops, visit their website.

* Name changed as the person is not the spokesperson for their organisation.