Second Hand Clothing Markets

By Joanne Elston, posted 30/03/21

An insight into charity shop donating from our Swapshop Coordinator


What happens when you donate to charity shops?

When we think of donating to charity shops, we often think we are doing our bit to help the planet. We are making sure that our old clothes are being reused, and we are often buying second hand as well.

The network of charity shops that we have across the country in most towns and villages is amazing, however it isn’t perfect.

In recent years, the second hand clothing market has been growing. This is really great in many ways, as it shows that attitudes are changing and the stigma around buying second hand is no longer as strong as it used to be.

Part of the reason this market is growing, however, is down to the sheer amount of clothing that is now available in the world. Fast fashion brands are constantly producing so much clothing, almost all of which will end up in the second hand clothing markets not too long after it was first made and bought.

While all of these charity shops and the industry around second hand clothing is great, it is a plaster rather than a solution. What we really need to do to create a more sustainable textiles industry is slow down the production of new things.

Currently, charity shops receive, in most cases, far more clothes than they can cope with or sell. This means that they are forced to find alternative ways of getting rid of a lot of what is donated to them. Most shops use companies that claim to be textile recyclers but in fact export tonnes and tonnes of textiles to other countries around the world (largely in Africa), making the clothes their problem not ours. There is already a massive global imbalance where workers in poorer countries are exploited in order to make cheap clothing for the west. By sending all of the clothes back to them when we don’t want them anymore, we are also exploiting those countries at the end of the garments lifecycle.

What can we do to help?

There are some easy ways to change this. The main thing is to only buy something new if you really absolutely have to. With so many charity shops as well as sites like Depop, EBAY, Vinted and more, we have so many opportunities to try and find things second hand. Having clothes swaps among friends or community groups is a great way of doing these things locally too (see the guide on our website).

If you do have to buy new things, try to support places that recycle and upcycle existing textiles rather than producing new, although we recognise that there are often financial barriers to this.

Educating yourself about how the industry works is also really important so that we all understand what the decisions we make mean for others. There is now so much information out there that it can be a bit overwhelming. Have a look on our website, or the website for Fashion Revolution for some easy to understand information about the Textiles industry. Getting involved in campaigns or sharing what you have learned with friends will help us to build a global movement that can change our relationship to textiles and clothes.

What do we do at SHRUB Coop?

Like all charity shops, we get more in donations than we can sell in our shop. We try to pass any excess stock on as ethically as possible, working with local clothing banks and community groups that give clothes to those who need them. If you ever know of anyone looking for clothes, please send them our way!

SHRUB Coop is supported through a combination of grant funding and generous donations from our community. We’re grateful for all their support. Find out more about our grant funders by clicking on the logos above.