Whatever happened to those old clothes I donated?


Ever wondered what happened to that old shirt you donated to a thrift store? It might’ve found an amazing second home, but a lot of those shirts, pants, and jackets are not so lucky. Unsold clothes at some thrift stores are usually sent to landfills or countries in Africa and Asia. These continents are hot spots for unsold clothes due to their abundance of local markets, where these clothes are sold at the lowest prices possible.

Shreya Rao, store manager at WUSA Thrift, spoke to Imprint about what is done with their everlasting clothes and how long they’re kept in the store. WUSA Thrift is a student-run thrift store located on the lower level of the Student Life Centre (SLC) across from CIBC. The idea for the store was proposed by the Sustainable Campus Initiative (SCI), in order to deal with the issue of excess discarded and donated clothes from students in residences at the end of every term. 

After asking Rao how long WUSA Thrift keeps clothing in store, she confirmed that no items are removed but simply replenished with items that get sold frequently. This led to the next question about how unsellable items are disposed of. Rao stated that these items are sent to Columbia Icefield (CIF) and stay in a storage container for possible future use.

The storage container comes out when animal shelters or art students ask for textiles to use for downcycling projects or activities. Downcycling means to recycle something into a product of lesser value than the original item, such as using a t-shirt as a rag. As for donated items that don’t fit the demographic of the University of Waterloo (such as kids’ clothing), they’re donated to local non-profit thrift stores like MCC Thrift on Kent.

Another advantage is that each item at WUSA Thrift is sold for no more than $10. The store also has monthly sales, with the next one happening on Oct. 25. For more details, visit their Instagram account @wusathrift. 

WUSA Thrift isn’t the only local organization keeping gently used clothing from going to waste. As one of the exhibitors at the Retail Sustainability Conference in Mississauga on Oct. 3, Soles4Souls Canada showcased how they turn shoes and clothing into an opportunity.  

Soles4Souls Canada has collection boxes for gently worn clothing and shoes in many establishments, including Sport Chek, Crunch Fitness, and LA Fitness. The collected items are cleaned and sold to micro-entrepreneurs, who are small business owners with minimal investments and fewer than ten employees.. The micro-entrepreneurs, which are located in nations such as Haiti and Honduras, sell the shoes and clothing in their country to support their families.  

Maria Stepantcov, director of business development, explained that they work with a third-party company to turn items that aren’t usable into energy and explore other sustainable options to close the loop. 

Across all of their initiatives, Soles4Souls Canada has distributed more than 1.6 million pairs of shoes and pieces of clothing in 129 countries. 

For more information about Soles4Souls Canada, including how to start a shoe drive and find a donation box near you, visit www.soles4soulscanada.org