Welcome to the GREEN EILEEN Recycling Center in Seattle, or as we lovingly call it, GERC (pronounced 'girk'). This is where the magic happens. When all of you who live west of the Mississippi River send us your gently used EILEEN FISHER clothing, it ends up here, where we sort it into 3 categories:
(Our holding bays)
The clothing that is deemed good to pristine quality is given the Dry Clean designation. We send the clothes off to be cleaned and pressed, and once we get them back, we price the garments and store them in our holding bays until the store is ready to sell them.
(This cozy shrunken sweater might not be an ideal shape anymore, but it'll still keep someone warm this Fall)
Our 'Donate' clothes usually have a few small holes or stains, but are still in reasonably good quality. We partner with local women's shelters and non-profit organizations to make sure our clothes are being worn and loved.
(While we normally try to mend holes in the clothes donated to us, this one was just too big to fix--into Chop it goes!)
This last category is, in my opinion, the bread and butter of GREEN EILEEN. Chop has been so well-loved by its owners that it comes to us with irreparable holes, big stains, or is otherwise not fit to be worn anymore. We wash and keep the Chop in our Recycling Center to be used for upcycling projects. Out of the thousands of pieces of Chop in our inventory, we might use about 200 pieces for projects every year.
So why don't we just get rid of the rest of it?
One reason is that at GREEN EILEEN, we view Chop to be a raw material, and raw material is precious stuff. We are always on the lookout for local sew shops who might be able to turn our Chop into a great new children's line. In addition, new technology is emerging around breaking down textile fibers and creating new threads. As this technology matures, we hope to use our Chop inventory to develop and bring you brand new EILEEN FISHER designs. How's that for cradle to cradle!
It hurts foreign economies
Another huge reason is where the clothes go when they're thrown out or donated. Obviously, when clothes are put in with the rest of your garbage, it ends up in landfills, and you all know how I feel about that.
Organizations like USAgain, who collect and recycle donated clothing, claim to be doing great things with your clothes by selling them overseas to "people who can't afford new clothes", but I find this an incredibly paternalistic approach to addressing a poverty issue. First, let's all agree that the problem isn't that the bottom billion--a term used to describe those who live on less than $2 a day in regions like Africa and Southeast Asia--don't have access to clothing. The real problem is that they have limited incomes, which prevents their access to food, education, clean water, and goods in general.
Selling cheap, used clothes that are no longer wanted in more developed countries is not a solution to helping the bottom billion become self-sufficient. In fact, it could just be making them poorer. According to a paper published by Dr. Garth Frazer of the University of Toronto, introducing imported used clothing into a community is correlated with lowered clothing output and apparel employment in that region. It's not hard to imagine that by flooding their markets with cheap, imported goods, clothing recyclers are elbowing out local producers and sellers of textiles, which strips them of their sources of income and weakens the economy.
"Over the years, certain African nations have attempted to ban or restrict the influx of Western clothing imports. In an effort to give existing industries a chance and to maintain traditional culture, countries such as South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria have tried to implement regulation."
At GREEN EILEEN, we believe that by holding onto our Chop, we can contribute not to a growing problem, but to a better greater good.
It doesn't address behavior change
I've written about this quite a few times, but I'll just say it once again: To be less wasteful, more sustainable, and to save more money, buy fewer things and reuse what you have.
In theory, this doesn't sound difficult, but in reality, it takes a lot of effort to change your normal habits. To make it harder, the post-WWII economy we live in only wants us to buy buy buy, even when all this buying is depleting our natural resources into oblivion. So, we do what the advertising execs want and buy so much stuff and so many clothes, and we justify these purchases by saying, "If I don't want it later, I'll donate it." But as we've just learned, donating is a short-term solution that can contribute to very real long-term problems. Donating items is not an answer--but changing your buying habits certainly is.
Rather than donating our Chop, we choose to keep it, and instead, focus on encouraging people to take care of the things they already have and to put more thought into their purchases. But when the time comes that your EILEEN FISHER designs can no longer be worn, we'll gladly take it--someday, we might turn your trash into someone else's brand new EILEEN FISHER treasure.