I can only speak from my experiences working at a big-box thrift store for a few months, years ago, but I’ll never forget baling thousands of pounds of clothing per hour, and despite putting in my best efforts, still being a slower worker than a man well past retirement age. So when I donate my depreciated clothing, I/they don’t care if it’s worn or damaged: they’ll bale everything except soiled materials and sell them overseas.
Most common misconception: thrift stores have washers and dryers.
Let’s then say that you’ve driven up to some big-box thrift store with some bags of clothing. You’ve considerately done a specific load of laundry to ensure they’re clean as can be and leave with a smile as you feel you’ve done the world a service. In a certain way, you have. Let’s say you’ve played your donations at the door. Someone will put your clothing into a clothing bin to wheel to the cloth team for sorting. If you want to imagine a sweatshop sorting through thousands of pounds of clothing per hour, you can, with garbage cans for flea-ridden or otherwise defiled clothing, and larger bins for rejects to be baled.
Let’s join an anonymous Jane at the cloth baler.
Her job might be keeping the bins empty and produce hopefully more than six maybe 1,500-pound bales per day. Let’s say. She’ll do this by constantly running around, grabbing the larger bins of bale-able clothing, placing them carefully into the baler, and using the hydraulic press to compact down the clothing with little rips/tears, logos that are unsellable, or other possibly objectionable material. When there are lulls, when she’s not catching her breath, she’ll throw the defiled clothing and trash into the trash compactor. When the baler’s almost overloaded, usually at around 1,400 pounds, there’ll be a near-celebration over completing a bale.
Now let’s hypothetically pan over to the cloth sorters.
I wasn’t part of this process, so all I really know is that all the clothing was sorted on large tables, mixed with the utmost speed in mind under the implied threat of the ultimate sin – under-production – so your nicely-washed clothes might mix in with someone else’s… hmm… and eventually, let’s say, half of your donations make it out onto the store shelves. I left before getting into pricing and proprietary processes, and while I didn’t sign any NDA paperwork over any of this, it feels kinda weird, so let’s continue: everything that didn’t sell after the 50%-off sales week is baled before opening to help with the daily weight goals.
In a way, donating your clothing torn beyond repair does help.
Just not in ways you’d expect. You’re preventing underprivileged employees from getting fired for underperforming in high-pressure environments where unions are discouraged. You’re helping companies sell cloth bales to developing countries/companies. You’re helping stores compete against each other to win their managers certain goals, like revenue generated or weight goals surpassed.
If you’re not helping your local community afford decent quality clothing.
|Sources: My professional experiences.|
|Inspirations: The other day, as I was packing and arranging stuff to donate, I was struck with an incredible sensation: now is the time to write about my experiences, behind-the-scenes, of working in some thrift store. While it feels sharing these experiences, condensing all of this information into one area might put a target on me…|
|Related: Other Moving Zeal essays.|
|Photo: Some cloth baled somewhere, perhaps…|
|Written On: December 15th [45 minutes]|
|Last Edited: Second pass edit to tighten up the word choice, leading to a three-point punch paragraph closing out the essay.|