Where to Recycle Those Old Clothes

Don't wear them anymore? This style-savvy teen has some suggestions.

Sawyer London is wearing red Adidas Gazelles from Depop and vintage naval pants (circa 1940s) that he found in a secondhand shop in Richmond. The retro sweater was a charity yard-sale score. Photo by Lisa Helfert.

Sawyer London might be the most fashion-savvy 17-year-old you’ll ever meet, and he’s on a mission to change the world, one wardrobe at a time.

“The global fashion industry is worth $2.4 trillion and is the second-most polluting on the planet, only after oil and gas,” says the Arlington teen, an 11th-grader at The Field School in D.C. who has interned with forward-thinking fashion labels like Anna Sui. “There is major room for improvement at every point in the supply chain of a garment—from fabric dyeing and sourcing, to shipping and consumer habits.”

London eschews the fast-fashion juggernauts he says are responsible for much of the planet’s disposable clothing problem. “I purchase as much secondhand as possible,” he says, at stores like Unique Thrift in Merrifield and the Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Falls Church, as well as via online clothing swap and auction sites like Depop, Grailed and TheRealReal. He’s also handy with a needle and thread, and visionary enough to know how to repurpose his own vintage finds.

“Recycling is a great option when textiles are at the end of their life,” he says, “but that should be the last step after repairing, swapping, donating or downcycling to rags.”

Ready to clean out your own closet? Step away from the trash bin. Here are some popular brands that offer textile donation and recycling incentives.



American Eagle Outfitters. Drop boxes at the teen-friendly mall staple allow shoppers to donate clothes and shoes from any brand (and in any condition) and get $5 off their purchase of AEO jeans. Donations are delivered to I:CO, a company that collects used textiles, sorting them for repair, secondhand wear, or a new life as cleaning cloths or industrial products.

Ann Taylor, Bonobos and REI are making it easy for customers to donate their unwanted clothing to Goodwill and other nonprofits by offering free shipping materials through a program called the Give Back Box.

Eileen Fisher. This high-end women’s designer would like your clothes back once you’re done with them, thank you very much. The Tysons Corner shop accepts previously loved items from Eileen Fisher, which are repaired, re-dyed or repurposed, then resold through the label’s RENEW line.

H&M. Although this fast-fashion giant may be responsible for a fair share of the planet’s retail waste, it’s taking steps to redeem itself with more sustainably sourced materials, and a program that allows shoppers to drop off unwanted clothing in exchange for 15 percent off their next purchase.

J. Jill. Twice-yearly local clothing drives at this relaxed womenswear store benefit N Street Village, a D.C.-based nonprofit that supports women recovering from the hardships of homelessness and financial instability.

Levi’s. Certain vintage items from the king of American denim are quickly snapped up from retro resale and consignment racks. But for jeans that are past their prime, Levi’s has partnered with I:CO to repurpose and recycle denim (as well as clothing and shoes from any brand) and will give you 20 percent off a new pair of Levi’s as your reward for doing good.

Madewell and J.Crew. These sister stores offer year-round denim recycling. Bring in any denim product (any brand, any color) and receive $20 off your next pair in store. Collected denim is sent to Blue Jeans Go Green, an organization that turns unwearable denim into insulation for community housing projects.

Denim recycling at MOM’s Organic Market. Photo courtesy of MOM’s Organic Market.

MOM’s Organic Market. The local grocery chain recycles just about anything that can be recycled. Its daily collection bins include a shoe drop-off, through which wearable shoes are passed along to a fair-trade organization called Alaffia that supports developing communities in West Africa. Shoes that are unusable are recycled through Planet Aid and repurposed into products like pillow stuffing and carpet padding. MOM’s also holds annual denim recycling drives in the spring for Blue Jeans Go Green. 

Nike. The footwear giant has committed to making more shoes from environmentally low-impact materials and fabric scraps. Its Reuse-A-Shoe program (in Nike retail stores) recycles any brand of athletic shoes (except cleats) and gives them new life as running tracks, turf fields, gym floors or playgrounds.

Patagonia. Long an industry leader in the use of sustainable materials and products known for durability, Patagonia offers a garment take-back program, too. Bring in your old Patagonia gear in exchange for store credit. The company will repair, refurbish and resell your items to other eco-minded shoppers.

The North Face. Its “Clothes the Loop” program facilitates textile and shoe recycling via drop-off sites at The North Face retail locations and outlet stores. In return, donors get a $10 coupon off the purchase of $100 or more. Donations are collected by Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that provides sustainable jobs and disaster relief.


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