On Thursday night, when there were many a fancy shindig going on – cocktail parties, dinners, Christmas light events – I chose to go to… the LM Barry recycling centre at Britannia Mill in Canning Town.  It’s where the contents of most of London’s clothes banks end up. – receiving an average of between 170-200 tonnes of textiles, clothing and shoes every week.  It’s hard to visualise that amount of clothing until you’re there – and we only glimpsed at a teensy tiny part of the recycling centre as there seemed to be endless rows of bundled up bales of clothing.

I was there because of a campaign called Love Your Clothes, set up by the non-profit organisation WRAP, backed by government funding.  Love Your Clothes aims to raise awareness of the value of clothes to help make the most of the clothes we already have.  It’s a message that is oft repeated and re-iterated as we’re told that we should swap, alter or upcycle our clothes.  But are they methods that are being employed enough?  Clearly not as we looked around this vast recycling mill.  Just to reel off some stats according to Love Your Clothes… £140 million worth of used clothing ends up in landfill each year.  That’s 30% of the total clothing we get rid of which means that we’re throwing away clothes in our normal bins without even thinking of taking it to charity shops, selling them on or yes, just simply tipping them into a nearby clothes recycling bank.  I get guilt pangs just taking my less interesting stash of unwanted clothes to charity shops and recycling banks (as most of you know I sell most of my nicer things at yard sales – I hope to have another one next summer).  What possesses people to chuck clothes into their real bins?!

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

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The LM Barry recycling centre does a great job of finding a use for the bulk of the clothing that passes through the hands of their sorters.  80% is exported for reuse, mostly to third world countries.  10% that isn’t fit for reuse is cut into wiping cloths and 5% is sent to me made into flocking, felting and insulation materials, leaving 5% of waste.

That said, as we were invited to rummage through the bins and style up outfits out of other people’s trash, it still begs the question why it is that relatively new clothing is chucked away at all, even if it is going to a trusted recycling centre (and as I said, there are plenty of clothes that DON’T end up in a place like LM Barry).  Love Your Clothes was using this opportunity to encourage all of us to think about extending the life of our clothes.  Another stat – by wearing something nine months more than we do (average life of a piece of clothing is about 2 years and 3 months), we could reduce the carbon, water and waste footprint by around 20-30% each.  We can do this by washing our clothes at lower temperatures, using alterations and of course buying quality in the first place so that we’re less inclined to let it go so easily.

As we looked through the vast array of clothing received by the site in just one day, it comes as no surprise that the clothing label that popped up most frequently was Primark, followed closely by H&M (or its Divided range), but I was also surprised to see items like a brand new puffer jacket from Uniqlo  and a good quality jumpers by Ralph Lauren pop up, as well as beautiful old textiles that someone could charge at a premium in a vintage shop.  Our task for the evening was to come up with creative outfits judged by upcyling stylist Emma Slade of Back of the Wardrobe, who incidentally was assisted by knitwear whiz Katie Jones.  Barley Massey of upcycling studio Fabrications was on hand to alter things.

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For people like Emma and Katie, who are natural treasure hunters, LM Barry’s bins were a joy to rifle through.  For others, you could sense the trepidation.  However, other than the odd underwear nasty, most of the clothing was perfectly clean.  So we all got stuck in, almost climbing into the bins to see what we could find.  Some people bee-lined for the vintage furs and chunky aran knits.  Some people were looking for specific categories like kente cloth and old saris.  I was looking for oddities and making semblance of outfits.

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

The final outfits were akin to any you’d see on a mannequin in a vintage store, aided by the personal style that people bought to the task.  One person approached like an art project and covered themselves in layers and layers of contrasting fabrics.  Another looked at current trends and worked them in, as seen in the skater-esque skeleton t-shirt under a 90s polka dot dress.  I particularly loved the way one girl took something as random as a pair of checked chef’s trousers and managed to style them up.

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Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

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Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

I gathered up a big pile of clothing and began to assemble some outfits ranging from baggy classics to multi-ethnic mixed prints.

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, London

When in doubt take many unremarkable layers and pile them all together and hope that it all works out in the end… excepting the pink knicker bockers of course.  They came home with me as everyone was allowed to take something away.

Fashion Salvage event by loveyourclothes.org.ukLMB textile recycling warehouse, Canning Town, LondonPhotography by James McCauley

If a small gang of us can create more-than-decent outfits out of other people’s old toot in one evening, then there’s definitely a second life in the bulk of the clothes that we deem discardable.

Comments (30)

  1. […] Waste Not, Want Not […]

  2. sgh says:

    Good news about the summer yard sale! 🙂 and definitely a worth while project you wrote about. I think stopping and thinking instead of hysterically impulse shopping (promoted by all the companies whose main goal is to make profit) is the way to go.

  3. First how great you were calling attention to such an important idea rather than having cocktails, although I love cocktails and there is always a time they are appropriate. This post shows the creative impulse that people have to adorn themselves, even with what will eventually become rags. Most of my clothing is recycled and I think I can always find ways to make past seasons feel modern and new. I sometimes throw “clothing” parties where everyone brings a few pieces of clothing in good condition they don’t want to wear anymore. People swap and end up with new looks and you can have cocktails too> What if everyone had a tree trimming party this year that was also a clothing swap? Fun way to spread the word
    Accidental Icon
    http://www.accidentalicon.com

  4. Fishmonkey says:

    While this is indeed a huge issue, it is possibly worth noting that the charities and recycling centers that send the used clothing overseas often end up hurting local economies, especially textile and manufacturing of locally made clothes. (More here: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/12/business/second-hand-clothes-africa/)

    This is not to detract from your message but rather strengthen it: recycling clothing often seems like a solution to discarding your clothes too quickly, but it is really much better to buy less and get more from what we buy.

    • stylebubble says:

      Yes I’m definitely aware of the fact that the constant influx of our recycled clothing may not necessarily be helping the countries that it’s sent to. I for one would love to see how textiles and clothing manufacturing develops in Africa!
      That’s why I get the guilt pangs when I take my stuff to charity shops and recycling banks. It might feel like the “do-gooding” option but it really makes more sense to try and buy better/less in the first place. Still, I never want to preach that message from my perch because it’s not an option that is viable/feasible for everybody.

  5. Jeannie says:

    That sounds like my personal brand of heaven – it always boggles the mind what people donate, but hey, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

    http://Www.whimsicalzoo.blogspot,com

  6. Joanna says:

    What a great initiative! I’ll never understand how people can just take their clothes and put them into trash. It’s almost certain that something we want to get rid of could serve someone else for at least a few years. I think it mostly has to do with the urge to keep up with current trends. That’s why even the nice clothes in a perfectly good shape seem to look outdated after a season or two.

    However, I think people become more and more aware of the problem because of campaigns like this one. And I believe that having your own, unique style helps a lot, because you know what you like and therefore you’re less prone to compulsive shopping.

    And I must say I love the outfits that came out of this 🙂

    http://stylestandpoint.com

  7. Thank you Susie for featuring our happy faces to your article! It was a blast meeting you!

    Alexia
    http://www.smellslikefashion.com

  8. lorna mai says:

    Such a fantastic organisation. We have something here that’s similar. I’m always amazed what people get rid of. I think our eyes grow tired when we’ve had something a while so we don’t want to wear it. I love your photos!

  9. This post is indeed very interesting! Love your clothes encourage creativity to transform the looks of clothes. Some people easily get tired of the things they own when in fact, there is a variety of ways to use them.

  10. Grace clark says:

    It was a fab night and a real pleasure to meet you susie. If you want a charity shop to donate to where you can feel confident that your clothes will be put to the best possible use..head to FARA. All unsaleable goods get sent to THE FARA WORKSHOP, 28-32 Pentonville Road, N1 9HJ. Here the clothing is reworked, darned, dyed, panelled etc into something beautiful and new and any fabrics/linens/curtains are made into a brand new garment from scratch from their collection. All the making and mending happens INSTORE so you can see who made your garment and know that you are the only one out there in that individual piece and all the money has gone to an incredible cause.

  11. Beautifuldragonflies says:

    Great article which raises the deeper issues of people having a constant ‘want want want’ attitude.
    Also really appropriate right now just before Christmas where the desire to spend and buy buy buy is perplexing. ‘Black Friday’ and its main co cept- greed, saddens me immensely.

  12. Anne says:

    ooookay, so this would be my personal heaven! I love thrift stores, makes me feel like a treasure hunter – so imagine how this place must feel hahaha
    And yes, it is amazing what people are throwing away every single day 🙁

  13. I don’t understand throwing decent clothes away. Mine always go to charity shops or car boot sales, and that’s where I love buying clothes too, so it’s a wonderful cycle! I love styling up quirky old pieces like this, fab post Susie! x

    http://www.lexilikes.com/

  14. This is such a cool initiative! I love doing a big charity shop haul and donating clothes is so liberating!

    http://thefashionhorn.wordpress.com/

  15. »-♥➺ says:

    I want to go there!!!! & You seem like an angel.

  16. Ali Moore says:

    Thanks so much for a great article, Susie! It was lovely to meet you on Thursday, and everyone had such a great time rummaging through the mountains of discarded clothes and turning them into really stylish outfits. I think we made a tiny little bit of a dent in the 350,000 tonnes of clothes landfilled every year in the UK!

    We’re hoping to do another one of these Fashion Salvage events in Bristol in the new year, so watch out for news of that if you live in the south west… @loveyourclothes

  17. Agy says:

    All those clothes! Over here, clothes get incinerated with all the other waste. I think that is why in Singapore no one pays attention to whether clothes shld be binned or not. It is such a waste of resources!!

  18. […] Susie Bubble and friends had a jolly time in a recycling centre (yep) last week to show how old clothes can mean a new look in this piece on Style Bubble. […]

  19. Love this initiative and sentiment. We definitely need to think more about how to reuse and recycled our clothes – Orsola de Castro and From Somewhere have led the way and this just shows the possibilities. It is something anyone and everyone can get involved in and is fun and creative to boot. Big up Susie for continuing to be a champion of a more sustainable approach to fashion!

  20. Sophia Tan says:

    Wow this is so incredibly inspiring and motivating! I”ve been really wanting to go thrift shopping because i’ve never been, and i want to find cool vintage unique pieces. but you guys just took things to a whole other level.

    http://www.buzztosophia.blogspot.ca

  21. […] comparison to the LM Barry recycling centre in East London, which I visited a while ago, the scale was a lot smaller here and perhaps more ramshackle in its sorting methodology, as local […]

  22. […] comparison to the LM Barry recycling centre in East London, which I visited a while ago, the scale was a lot smaller here and perhaps more ramshackle in its sorting methodology, as local […]

  23. […] comparison to the LM Barry recycling centre in East London, which I visited a while ago, the scale was a lot smaller here and perhaps more ramshackle in its sorting methodology, as local […]

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