85 percent of all clothes wind up in the trash, says Dan Green, co-founder of Helpsy, a secondhand clothing merchant in the US.
For years, they’ve been working with companies to dispose containers of unwanted clothes — as much as 40,000 pounds at a time, says Green. But, in an effort to engage directly with the public and give some usable clothes a new life, they started the Helpsy Shop during the pandemic.
A new direct-to-consumer way to shop pre-loved clothing, the Shop showcases notable brands like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and & Other Stories, and has products for both men and women.
Even amidst all the eco-awareness these days, Green reiterates that 85 percent of textiles are going to the trash by everyday consumers: people are literally throwing their clothes in the trash bin, instead of donating them, or finding ways to recycle.
So it’s a two-sided problem: as a society, there’s overconsumption of clothes and then on the manufacturing side, there’s an overproduction of clothes.
Helpsy, which is largely based in the Northeast, is processing 100,000 pounds of clothes daily, and in the past year, 29 million pounds of clothing. They pass this onto thrift stores, and third-parties who work with thrifting shops overseas. But there’s still far too much clothing, Green says.
“I mean I see this in my own household. If your kids are doing sports, they’re given a new t-shirt each season. As kids age, they go through a lot of clothing also.”
That’s why this back-to-school season, he’s hoping that some families will turn to Helpsy Shop to do their back-to-school shopping, where they can find trendy designs from well-known brands for their teens.
Although high-street brands have incentives for turning in used clothes to their stores, Green worries that some of that marketing is greenwashing: “Is their focus to recycle or repurpose clothes or to sell you more clothes?”
Helpsy has multiple channels to their business — all of which, Green iterates, are designed to improve the recycling and re-wearing of clothing. For instance, the company also works with brands to provide early education on sustainable production. They’ve consulted chemical and mechanical recycling companies on the breakdown of textiles (Green says, “Those still have a ways to go.”). There’s Helpsy Collect as well: a network of more than 1,300 clothing collection locations, coupled with hundreds of clothing drives, and curbside pickup programs spanning Boston to southern New Jersey. Lastly, Helpsy manages Helpsy Source, a sustainable wholesale resource for e-commerce sellers large and small.
“In most homes, it’s the norm to recycle plastics, glass, metal and paper, but clothes, shoes, and accessories have long been ignored, resulting in textiles accounting for 6 percent of our landfills. That’s more than 100 pounds per person, per year. With Helpsy Shop, we hope to continue to reduce the enormous environmental burden of the clothing industry by keeping wearable items in circulation.”
Now you can even mail in your secondhand clothes, if you’re unsure of what to do with unwanted clothes. Helpsy has a prepaid mailer that they send customers directly.
The process of keeping clothes out of the landfill is time consuming work, Green says: the sorting and data entry required is significant, and that applies to their online shop as well as for brick-and-mortar thrift stores. But, with greater awareness, he’s optimistic that more and more people will be mindful of where they throw their used clothes.
“Our only competition, really, is the trash,” says Green.