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Textiles - 9 November 2012

Trading conditions for the UK used clothing industry are becoming increasingly difficult. In recent months, we have seen the rise in the value of used textiles tail off. In some cases there has even been a small decline in market values.

We have also heard anecdotally that some charity shop collectors are becoming more particular about the quality of clothing they are prepared to collect. The Textile Recycling Association (TRA) is receiving more direct enquiries from charity shops, who are struggling to find collectors that are willing to continue paying the high prices that many charities have come to expect.

As I reported last time, three members of the TRA have stopped collections this year. In a trade association where the membership totals 55 businesses, to lose three members in this way is notable. 

With companies struggling, one would expect prices to drop more substantially. Part of the reason why this has not yet happened is that people are continuing to enter the industry because they are attracted by the high value of clothing and think they will make a quick buck.

They undertake little or no business planning and believe they will make £1,000 per tonne. We are receiving more and more enquiries from individuals who have started a so-called ‘clothing and textile collection business’ and do not have a clue as to what to do with the items they have collected or how much they are worth.

Another recent phenomenon in the UK are cash-for-clothing shops, where members of the public can take their old clothing and the shop owners will buy their goods.

In some towns - particularly in the north where property rental values tend to be lower - there are so many of these shops that the amount such businesses need to pay for clothing in order to attract customers has gone up and up, and some have been forced to close because they cannot make it pay. 

The presence of cash-for- clothing businesses in large numbers may also be having an impact on donations to charity shops in the vicinity, although the Charity Retail Association has reported substantial increases in the total amount of clothing donated to charity shops in the UK. It estimates that around 363,000 tonnes are donated through charity shops annually, up from 250,000 tonnes in 2010.

Interestingly, the total number of charity shops has also increased and, in some cases, where there are a substantial number of such shops in a small area, some are struggling to maintain donation levels. This, of course, can be compounded by the presence of cash-for- clothing stores.

The TRA continues to work with WRAP and other stakeholders on a range of initiatives to promote the overall sustainability of the clothing industry. Several pieces of research have been published via the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap, including textiles flows and market; valuing our clothes; measuring the quality and value of textiles; washing and drying trials; and workwear recovery opportunities.

Organisations across Europe and further afield are interested in the work, and in certain aspects are looking to mirror the work of the UK’s clothing roadmap. 

Following the EU’s Environmental Impact of Products Research, which identified textiles as having a high environmental impact in Europe, further research was undertaken on the environmental improvement potential of textiles in 2011. An interim report was presented at last year’s Annual Sustainable Clothing Roadmap conference,which identified the reuse and recycling of textiles as a key area to tackle in the EU. We are still waiting for the final report to be published.

Similarly, the Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical Group aims to support sustainable fashion in Scandinavian countries. We have also heard about an initiative in the US called ‘Wear It, Use It’, which is a newly created portfolio of educational material developed to promote textile recycling in schools and which meets curriculum requirements.

Alan Wheeler, national liaison manager, Textile Recycling Association

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