Wearable Collections has been a clothing, shoes and home textile recycling business in the NYC metro area since 2004. As you can imagine a lot has changed in the landscape since our inception. Though we have been collecting for over a decade, rarely a day goes by that we don’t get an inquiry about what we accept. This is understandable considering our service reaches hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers annually. While I could quickly write down what we do and don’t accept and hope that message comes across, I’ll save that for a flyer. What I have noticed in my conversations with people on the phone, through email, and face to face is that there are some misconceptions about textile collections, so I would like to use this space to educate and clarify. But to do that I think it’s important that I go back to the beginning.
Wearable Collections was created in 2004. It was created as a fundraising tool for Spinal Cord Injury Research, a topic near and dear to our hearts since one of our co-founders was paralyzed when hit by a car in 2000. Three friends got together and utilized the tools and experiences we had to engage our community in a project to support a cause we cared deeply about. Our goal was to place large bins inside of residential buildings to collect used clothes. A portion of the proceeds generated from the collections and sale of the clothing would go to support Spinal Cord Injury Research. Our friends were very enthusiastic in helping and great at convincing their residential managers that this was a worthy cause for placing such a large bin in their building. Through this grassroots effort we were able to place a couple of dozen bins for what would be the foundation of Wearable Collections. At the same time, we got a crash course in the logistical difficulties of servicing that many bins spread all throughout Manhattan.
Yes, I know this may sound crazy but we actually were founded before the movie Inconvenient Truth came out. As you may know, this seminal movie made by Al Gore had a tremendous impact on raising the consciousness of the environmental impact that humans are having on the planet. It was the beginning, in my estimation, of bringing environmentalism mainstream. We realized that not only what we were doing was impactful by raising funds for Spinal Cord Research, but by keeping clothes, shoes and home textiles in motion rather than in landfills we were also doing something that was very positive for the environment.
Our roots are important to understand, because they explain how Wearable Collections has been a local company that has connected dots where they haven’t been connected in the past and at the same time, doing good! We did not write a business plan, raise a ton of money and set out to be New York’s largest clothing collector. We are a small business, navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of waste management. What we lack in size we make up for in innovation, sometimes planned and sometimes by luck. One of those lucky instances is that from the very beginning we called ourselves clothing recyclers. This placed us in a unique space as most of our “competitors” were charities who accepted “donations”.
Industry standards according to our friends at SMART dictate that for every bag of clean and useable donations:
45% will be re-used as second hand clothes, 30% as rags and 20% will be converted to fiber while discarding only 5%. Being naive to the industry and focused on transparency, we were very early bringing these numbers to light and thought “since the end product of our collections can be turned into either, clothes, rags or fibers, why not say that we accept everything as textile recyclers”. In the early years this worked to our benefit and we were able to ride a wave as a unique, innovative company that was changing the way people thought about their clothing discards. It also helped us garner a lot of media attention and to establish amazing relationships that we are still blessed to have to this day.
In the years following we have been doing some amazing things. Growing our residential building network to over 250 bins. In 2008, we established a relationship with GrowNYC to power the clothing and textile collections at Greenmarkets that has grown from 2 to 30 weekly locations and responsible for diverting over 4 million lbs. We have hosted drives with hundreds of schools across the NYC metro area even piloting a citywide drive with the DOE Office of Sustainability this past April as part of Earth Month. We have consulted and provided services to some of the leading fashion brands in the world to help them reduce waste and keep goods otherwise destined for landfills in motion. We also proved that no task was too big when we partnered with the New York Road Runners to clean up the starting line of the New York City Marathon diverting over 30,000 lbs of clothing and shoes. Where others see problems, we see opportunities.
How We Work
Wearable Collections position in the clothing, shoes and textile recycling industry hierarchy is thus: we are front-end collectors focused on educating people on the need to dispose of their clothing properly while providing convenient solutions to do so. Once collected, we bring the bags of clothing untouched to a sorting facility who pays us a market rate for these items. These sorting facilities play a huge role in the recycling industry as they process and grade millions of pounds of used clothing monthly determining the final destinations for these materials. The majority of second hand clothes will be exported to emerging markets in Africa, South America and Central America. While there is a recycling component for rags and fibers, it is the reuse of second hand that economically drives the whole textile recycling industry. The sorters rely on a certain percentage (45%) to be reusable as second hand, and they demand this from the collectors as well. For the past several years the American dollar has been a very strong currency, putting pressure on companies that export goods. This is not something you hear much in America as we are net importers. But for those of us that rely on the exporting of goods a strong dollar has affected demand and required that we provide the sorters with a higher quality product. With the advancement of distribution channels via apps and e-commerce websites selling used clothing and the influx of low quality fast fashion goods entering the market it’s not hard to understand our feeling of swimming upstream.
What We Accept
All of this brings us to the initial question:
We accept clean and gently worn: clothing of all types, shoes of all types, hats, bags accessories, and home linens. If some damaged or stained goods are placed in those reusable bags for donation, don’t worry, we will make sure that they get recycled! The real problem occurs when people break down their donations to wearable and non-wearable and then for some reason bring their wearable items elsewhere while bringing their non-wearable items to us. PEOPLE!! CHECK OUT OUR NAME – its WEARABLE COLLECTIONS. Think of us as a one-stop shop. If we dont bring loads to the sorters that are in-line with the industry standard, we will cease to exist, putting over 2 million lbs of clothing collected annually in jeopardy of being landfilled. We love operating in a city where residents are so educated on global issues so we ask you to be understanding and helpful to us as we work through this global down cycle.
In the meantime be assured that we continue to stay abreast of technological advancements that we hope will make all of this a moot point. There are many incredible companies, like Evrnu, creating a “regenerative supply of high-quality, bio based fiber through the renewal of cotton garment waste.” and Jeplan– taking “used or unwanted personal belongings and bringing them back to their original state and then selling them as new product”. Both of these companies have piqued our interest and offer reasons for optimism. The world seems to be waking up to all destruction the fashion industry is causing led by the fabulous Fashion Revolution movement and their Who Made My Clothes campaign. There are campaigns like #30wears which encourage people to slow down their consumption and amazing fashion companies popping up like Everlane, who focus on “Radical Transparency” creating a quality line of basics at affordable prices even dropping prices of silk garments recently as the price of silk had dropped. Great organizations doing great things!
Working with Wearable Collections
Whether you’re an individual bringing clothes to a bin in your building or a greenmarket, an organization desiring to raise funds through the collections of clothing or a fashion company who needs to move clothing in a responsible way, you can count on Wearable Collections to help develop convenient solutions. This ought to be the takeaway. We place bins inside of buildings, do drives with schools and for those not covered by those two options there is likely a weekly greenmarket collection not too far away from you. Heck, if you have enough bags we will come right to your doorstep. Our programs have been part of a movement that has seen not only more clothing recycling but also e-waste being collected in buildings and composting at both greenmarkets and at residential buildings. It has been amazing to be even minimally be part of breaking down barriers that have led to those other materials being collected conveniently and are very proud to be part of the NYC waste ecosystem. We are driven to raise people’s consciousness of the value of items in our waste stream and believe clothing is a perfect material to start the discussion. We will continue to evolve as the demands from the outside require. We have no choice. While we cannot predict the future, we can stay on top of the present so follow us on social media or join our newsletter. Better yet, set up a drive, request a bin in your building, or email us for a home pick up, your simple actions can go a long way.