What Happens to Unsold Clothing in the U.S?

As quickly as fashion moves today, trends go in and out of style in the blink of an eye. This fickle nature of consumerism, paired with the high speed, low cost production available to most clothing manufacturers can often result in large portions of unsold merchandise for stores and retailers. So, what happens to all this slightly out of style, but still perfectly functional clothing pushed off of shelves by the high turnover of goods in today’s market? There are actually a few different options available, depending on the company.

Dump Them

Unfortunately, the method of choice for the majority of retailers is to simply dump the unsellable clothes into a landfill. By choosing this method, retailers believe they are protecting their brand and preventing the clothes from flooding the market or ending up on someone who would “harm” their image if seen in their clothing. This strategy is as heartless as it is wasteful. It is harmful not only to the environment, but to all the people who could benefit from a new pair of clothing they may not otherwise be able to afford. To discourage this irresponsible behavior, many local and state governments are developing programs to encourage the companies to look for other ways to get rid of their unwanted clothing and inform them of the benefits of being a good corporate citizen, such as tax write offs. Some of the most notorious badly-behaved companies shred their clothes before disposal to make certain no one can make use of them. Companies currently known to engage in this practice include The Gap and H&M.

Repurpose Them

Certainly a step up on the environmental responsibility ladder from destroying clothes and chucking them in a landfill, more and more companies are beginning to send unsold merchandise to third parties who can recycle or reuse them in one way or another. Trans-America is one company that provides this type of service. They receive damaged clothing items from other companies and charities like Goodwill or the Salvation Army and either sells them at a discount to developing countries or turns them into rags for industrial use or to be sold in stores. They can also process the clothes further to be turned into fiber for insulation, sound dampening, or carpet padding. TerraCycle is another company that finds unique ways to repurpose second hand textiles and other materials. They take donations and turn them into products like messenger bags, backpacks, sneakers, and even some high-end items. Throughout Europe, this sort of textile recycling is mandated by law.

Sell It

For those companies still hoping to cut as much of their losses as possible on over-produced merchandise, discount retailers like Ross, TJ Maxx, or Overstock.com are often willing to buy like new items off the original retailers for pennies on the dollar. This is a savings they will in turn pass on to their customers who are ultimately able to get designer fashions for discount prices, allowing them to still turn a profit. When it can be arranged correctly, this is a win-win-win situation.