You're familiar with the story. You and your family/roommates/cohabitants gather up clothing that's too small or going unworn, inevitably hauling the piles of fabric to your local vintage shop; making cash off what you can sell, and donating what you can't. But after all that, where do those clothes go?
Apparently, as pointed out by The New Republic, they end up in "rag yards," which serve both as a graveyard for old clothing, and the beginning of a larger apparel recycling process. As Michael Zweig, owner of a rag yard in New Jersey, points out, "People think if you donate your coat to a charity you’re giving it to a poor person." Instead, it's likely to end up in a rag yard.
With the average American discarding around 68 pounds of clothing, there's plenty of inventory in rag yards, which accrue clothes in several different ways—including buying unwanted clothing from vintage and consignment stores at 25 cents a pound.
The report notes that from a rag yard, there's about three routes the clothing can take: getting sorted, baled, and shipped to needy regions around the world; recycled into literal rags; or (if particularly valuable) re-sold to consignment stores, effectively re-entering the consumer cycle.
But they don't randomly decide what stays and what goes. The retooled factories are staffed by minimum wage "pickers," who sort through the mountains of apparel to determine what each piece will become in its next life. The most common pieces, hailing from Forever 21 and H&M; are basically guaranteed to be either sent away, or turned to rags. As Zweig rightly points out, "Nobody is stupid enough to buy Forever 21 second-hand. No one in the developed world, anyway."
With a recent interest in vintage clothing growing over the last decade, business has been good for rag yards—especially when stores like American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, and Reformation come knocking. As the shops spread into selling vintage gear, they've called on Zweig's rag yard to help source supply.
With such big business to made off of recycling and re-selling older clothes, it's enough for one to pause and think about—not just the vintage clothing boom—but the "disposable" nature of fast-fashion today.
Head over to The New Republic to read the full story.