Shopping for clothing and the “four Rs”: rethink, reuse, recycle and reduce, are probably not two things most people associate with each other on a regular basis.
The four Rs are part of the “waste hierarchy” system, which places waste management strategies in order of their effectiveness, and emphasizes the idea that much of the negative impact we have on the environment takes place during our day-to-day routines. Designed to encourage people to get the most from what they already own and to create as little waste as possible, there are ways to apply the four Rs to all facets of our lives &- including shopping.
A commonly overlooked reality is that new apparel is often produced in environmentally unsustainable ways; methods which consumers re-enforce every time they purchase new clothing and accessories. For those of us wanting to disassociate ourselves with these generally harmful methods, our neighbourhood thrift stores stand out as reasonable alternatives.
While the impact of thrift organizations goes far beyond simply recycling and reusing old clothing, there are some myths that surround used clothes.
Large department-style stores like Friperie Renaissance and Salvation Army are frequently associated with bad quality or dirty clothes, meant to be worn by poor, or extremely poor, individuals.
“Sometimes people come in and think we are giving away free clothes, or we open donation bags and they are just full of garbage,” said Salvation Army employee Michelle, who explains that clothes are thoroughly sorted to make sure only good quality items are put on the racks for sale.
Boutique Fringues & Cie, located at 1344 Rene Levesque Blvd., goes a step further in the sorting process. Employee Dalila Assefsaf, says the goal of this boutique-style shop is to cater to women in search of modern and business-casual style clothing that are indistinguishable from the new clothing sold in other stores for a significantly higher cost. The store’s ambiance shuts down any notions of “unpleasant atmosphere” often associated with thrift shopping, by offering a shopping environment that mirrors that of swanky retail stores on Ste. Catherine St.
Michelle said the Salvation Army attracts a wide variety of customers.
“We get some students looking to save money on cool stuff, some immigrants, poor people who don’t really have other options and some wealthy people who just like to hunt for little treasures &- there is something for everyone.”
Aside from the basic goods that get reused and find new homes through thrift stores, many of them redirect proceeds from the store into the local, or global community through charitable initiatives and social programs.
For instance, the Boutique Fringues & Cie exists as part of a YWCA program aimed at integrating women into the workforce. The boutique is staffed by women currently undergoing the program, and the money made from sales goes to pay for the various courses, programs and resources needed to help them find a place in the workforce.
“Everyone working [for the program] is more motivated by the mission than the money,” explains Assefsaf, who went through the program herself and is now part of its management team.
Friperie Renaissance stores are also staffed by individuals in a similar social program. Open to men and women in need of community and workplace integration assistance, this program involves various training programs, six months of paid work experience within Renaissance stores, as well as two years of follow-up job search coaching and support services. All profits go into facilitating the integration program.
Salvation Army thrift stores are branches of the broader Salvation Army group, which is reported to be the largest, non-governmental provider of social services in Canada. The organization is affiliated with numerous local and international programs aimed at community development and social support. Cuc, an employee of the company for ten years, says the money raised in stores goes towards an extremely wide range of programs like “children’s hospitals and family services, and even international education, health-care and disaster relief.”
Reducing the amount of textile waste going into landfills is another important aspect of buying previously owned goods. The simple act of choosing to donate unwanted (but still useful) possessions, rather than placing them on the curb on garbage day, can make a huge impact on the quantity of good stuff piling up in landfills. Most thrift stores make this procedure very simple. For example, Renaissance stores have over 120 donation locations across greater Montreal, while the Salvation Army offers a free donation pick-up service.
Boutique Fringues & Cie and the Salvation Army, both send 100 per cent of clothing that didn’t make the cut during the sorting process to local non-profit organizations that recycle the fabric and use it to make other items. Donated furniture and housewares can usually be recycled locally as well.