I find it infuriating and frustrating that whilst they are in part responsible for the sea of cheap, unloved and under-valued clothing currently flooding British wardrobes, they are offering the public the 'revolutionary' action of introducing clothing donation banks into their stores (no doubt for a limited period) to try and mop up some of this spillage of unwanted clothes. It's a bit like turning up to Pompei, post-eruption, with a dust pan and brush (but also having in part caused the disaster).
However, if their clothing banks and advertising campaign do manage to reach some people who are currently unfamilar with charity shops and clothing/textile donation banks and the fact that garments can be of use after they no longer want them, then actually get those people donating rathering than binning, then of course it will have been a valueable project. But I am irritated somewhat by the lack of information given about the onward journey of those donated garments, which is surely a key part of the message that should be included in this advert. And also the assumption that, by donating their unwanted items, that the public are then encouraged to turn around and buy more M&S clothing whilst they happen to be in the store. More clothing that will no doubt end up unwearable or unwanted equally quickly as the items just donated. I think that is what annoys me the most about the M&S TV advert, that the real issues and complexities of huge quantities of unwanted textiles either languishing in cupboards or ending up in landfill aren't in any way being adequately being addressed when the rabid consumption of cheap and poor quality items is in no way being discouraged.
Basically the crux of the Guardian piece I initially started this post to talk about is this: the concept of donating and reusing unwanted clothing, accessories and textiles is not a recent invention conjoured up by Marks & Spencer's marketing eggheads. It has been happening, usually with very little fanfare, for decades, and one of those companies that has been doing so is the charity I work for: TRAID.
The photos included in the Guardian piece trace the journey taken by some of the textiles the charity processes. I think it's important for people to get a chance to see more of what happens after an item of clothing has been donated into one of TRAID's textile banks (or any other clothing/textile recycling/reusing process). To get a sense of the whole food chain, of all the effort it takes and people that work hard to give each unwanted item the most sustainble future possible, maybe it would make people stop for a minute before going down the fast fashion route as often as they currently do.
The clothing, textiles and accessories that get donated to TRAID are processed and usually find themselves with one of three futures: resale in one of their London-based charity shops; sent down to the TRAIDremade studio in Brighton to be turned into restyled and remade clothing; or they get sold to a rag merchant who mashes it all up to become a variety of products like draft excluder or sofa filling. And luckily for those who are interested in what I do, the particular textile item the photographer follows, a floral curtain, is one of the items that ends up in the TRAIDremade studio for me to get my mitts on. Let's take a look at what happens...
All the donation banks are emptied by a team of van drivers and everything goes to the warehouse in Wembley, North London, to be processed. A couple of tough guys with protective clothing break open all the plastic bags, remove as many of the non-textile iems as possible, and send everything through a chute which leads to a conveyor belt.
A gang of about eight or so sorters (often comprising of some of the TRAID charity shop managers who must go to Wembley once a week to sort stock for their shop) pick through the conveyor belt's contents. They work quickly, selecting and sorting items into catagories (different quality levels of women's wear, menswear, childrens wear, home textiles, vintage, fabric, shoes etc.) literally throwing them into large metal trolleys positioned behind the belt.
The contents of those metal trolleys (pictured above) then receive some fine sorting, to check if there have been some miscatagorisation, or if there is damage not noticed previously. The items that can be sold in the shops get distributed appropriately, for example, the shops that are in more family-orientated locations receive homeware and children's wear, whilst the more youthful and fashiony locations like Camden receive vintage clothing, and so on. This is why the shop managers are encouraged to do some weekly sorting, because they know their shop customers best. All the pieces of fabric, curtains and some un-resellable clothing gets delivered to the TRAIDremade studio in Brighton once a fortnight.