You've probably been recycling your clothes for years, though you may not think of it that way. But every time you donate your worn shoes, outdated dresses, and old blouses to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, each time you sell your used sweaters at a yard sale or give your kids' too-small T-shirts and shorts to the toddlers next door, you're extending the life of your attire and forestalling the need to manufacture anew, saving energy, water, and other resources.
Your effort is worthwhile. Clothes and shoes take up more space than any other nondurable goods in the solid waste stream because, says the U.S. EPA, only 16% of discarded clothes and shoes are recycled. Despite the best efforts of charities and thrift stores, millions of tons of clothing are wasted every year.
My rule of thumb? "Never throw clothes away unless they've been reduced to rags" (though that's when I use them to dust the furniture). Charities like Salvation Army, Good Will and Purple Heart will gladly pick up your clothes on your doorstep and take them to their distribution centers, keeping them in circulation for perhaps many years more. Patagonia's Common Threads Garment Recycling Program accepts worn out fleece, cotton t-shirts and some polyester, and transforms the old fibers into new fashions, like the fleece vest pictured above.
Dress for Success - This international not-for-profit organization promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire along with job counseling. Each woman "dressed for success" receives one suit when she lands a job inerview; she can receive a second suit or outfit when she finds work. Since 1997, Dress for Success has served almost 300,000 women around the world. You can donate suits, blouses, pants, shoes, jewelry, briefcases, black tote bags, and other appropriate business apparel.
Soles4Souls - Providing free footwear to people in need around the world, this nonprofit organization startede after the Asian tsunami in December 2004, continued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and today distributes shoes worldwide. It also partners with Dress for Success to provide career footwear.
One World Running - This Colorado-based non-profit organization ships donated running shoes, soccer gear, and baseball equipment to athletes in Central America, Haiti, and sub-Saharan Africa.
Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe - The program grinds up and recycles discarded shoe material to build playground mats, basketball courts, and running tracks. (BTW, don't miss the great video!)
DIY Jeans Recycling - Here are 25 ways you can recycle your jeans.
It should go without saying that the other half of the recycling coin is to buy clothes made from recycled fabrcis. Find some fashions at Clothes Made From Scrap.