Items of used clothing that are dropped off in a road-side used-clothing bank carry in them certain aspirations of the person who used to wear them. From the point of view of the British government, textile is one area in which waste is highly problematic. In the days when clothing was made of natural fibres, one re-processed cast-offs, with fibres going through different incarnations; but now that most items of clothing are made from synthetic fibres it is not easy to re-process them. Add to this mix the requirements of the European Union that member countries reduce the amount of waste that end up in landfills and one has a government department that looks to recycling for re-use as a way out. Long before the internet-based Freecycling Network was founded, unwanted garments have been kept out of landfills by being donated to charity organizations. On the part of these charity organisations, items of used clothing are money-generating vouchers for charity work. Sometimes working alone, and sometimes in conjunction with commercial textile recyclers, they generate money for charity work from pieces of used clothing. And for the textile recycling industry used clothing is raw material in a trade network that often continues to Sofia, Cotonou or Karachi.
Abstract of the paper I presented at the American Anthropology Association conference: