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The ultimate thrift

January 9, 2010
I’m going to give H&M as a company the benefit of the doubt, and assume this incident was isolated to the one store location. Not that they particularly deserve it — I’ve never heard of them being particularly socially responsible (certainly not grammatically responsible…check out that URL!) or irresponsible as a company — but I’m going to believe the best.

The argument here says that “poor people who need clothes are freezing all over the city.” To an extent, that’s true. People are freezing all over every city all over the world; however, this usually is not due to a lack of clothing. Most likely these people can get ahold of as much clothing or material as they want, but no amount of material is going to provide them a home, a heater, or recovery from their addictions or mental illnesses that likely lead them to their situations in the first place.

I can only speak as an American who has only lived permanently in America, but we have a severe surplus of clothing in our world. Walk into any Goodwill, Salvation Army or other clothing graveyard/dumping ground if you’re unsure. (For that matter, walk into my closet. I’ll take that bullet.) My mom has actually been turned away at Goodwill before because the store was full and couldn’t take any more donations.

When we compile all our old articles into bags and take them to donation centers, we feel socially responsible. We’re giving our gently-used stuff to stores that will sell it at severely low prices for people who have very little money, and stores that give jobs and job training to people who can’t get jobs anywhere else. But, realistically, these places are often just a step above a landfill.

I am not anti-donation. Donating is better than trash, and organizations that provide free and low-cost clothing and goods are doing a great service. However, I think we often use donation as an excuse to be “out with the old and in with the new” in our closets.

The ultimate thrifty purchase would really be no purchase at all; it would be a commitment to get more life and longevity out of what we already own. It would be buying less, buying secondhand and finding new uses for old objects. Urban Outfitters manufactured and charged $10 for a Christmas ornament this season that was a miniature sweater hanging on a miniature clothing hanger. I found it adorable, but realized I could buy doll hangers and use my own old clothing or event t-shirts from high school and college to make my own, making the ornament, cheaper, more eco-friendly and more personal.

If you don’t want the burden of finding your own ways to reuse items, let others do it for you. If your shoes are beyond use to you, and you don’t think they’re worth donating, send them to Nike’s Reuse A Show program and they’ll use the rubber to make basketball courts in underprivileged neighborhoods. Madewell takes used jeans of any brand and donates them to community arts projects, and gives you 15% off your next denim purchase with a donation.

Let’s use this H&M incident as a reminder to be socially responsible in our own habits. Buy less, use more, and when you really have to throw something away, try to make sure it’s lived its nine lives.

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