The truth: 90% of clothing that ends up in a landfill could have been repurposed, recycled or, reused.
One of the first steps we're taught in order to be more sustainably savvy is to donate our "gently used" and unwanted textiles rather than throwing them away but what happens to your donated clothes after you've donated them? What shouldn't be in your donation bag and what's the real difference between donating textiles to companies like Goodwill vs. fast fashion companies like H&M?
We chatted with Goodwill Industries Columbia Willamette PR Manager, Dale Emanuel to find out!
SFF: What's your position and how long have you been with Goodwill?
DALE EMANUEL: I've been the PR Manager of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (GICW) for 23 years.
SFF: What initially drew you to the company and made you want to join the team?
DALE: I was in the news broadcast industry for nearly 20 years and wanted to move from that industry to work in the nonprofit sector. The news industry is not a stable industry and in my opinion often imperfect because it is so rushed. Time is a luxury not usually given to reporters who gather and create broadcast news stories. Though for much of my years I functioned as a medical/health reporter, I didn’t feel I was giving back enough. GICW in particular is a nonprofit of integrity. In this position I use my reporting skills to work with the media and provide the public with information about free services that could benefit them. GICW was the right fit.
SFF: Why does Goodwill care about our used clothing?
DALE: We receive more clothing than any other donation category. It’s also the category of donation most often sold. With money raised from the sale of clothing and other donations, we can provide free job services to community members in Southwest Washington and Northwest and Central Oregon.
SFF: Some fast fashion companies have recently started recycling infinitives to become more sustainable. What’s the difference between donating to Goodwill and donating to a company like H&M?
DALE: Goodwill’s mission is to provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment. Our mission. The revenues raised from the sale of donations mean we can keep all doors open to our free job services programs. Every donation at GICW provides on-site training, access to computers for job search assistance, employment placement job training and other community-based services such as career counseling, English as Second Language classes, citizenship support, résumé preparation and computer skills training.
SFF: I've always wondered this, especially when shopping at Goodwill -- once we donate our clothes, do you wash them before reselling?
DALE: No. The vast majority of donated clothing comes to us freshly laundered. In fact, many items come to us dry-cleaned! Our donors do take special care of the clothing they donate as they want them to have a new home.
SFF: Do you mend holes & rips?
DALE: We do not mend holes or rips. In fact, clothing with rips or holes does not make it to the retail sales floor. These items will be transported directly to one of our Outlets and if they do not sell there then they may be sold on the salvage market.
SFF: We often suggest people donate unwanted items from their closet rather than throwing them away. What clothing items should people NOT donate? Do you take bras and underwear?
DALE: People shouldn't donate wet and/or heavily soiled garments. We do sell bras both new and gently used however, only new underwear is sold. If items can’t be salvaged they are taken to an area landfill.
SFF: So what happens to clothes after they're donated? What is the process?
DALE: We look over every item to assess condition and value. Using a Good-Better-Best scale, items are priced for sale in one of our 42 retail stores, 5 Outlets, one of 3 Goodwill boutiques or on our shopgoodwill.com platform. We had 8 million store transactions last year.
SFF: What is the difference between the boutiques and retail stores?
DALE: From a sales floor no larger than 2,000 square feet, boutiques offer higher-end and luxury brands. Our retail floor spaces can be as large as nearly 16,000 square feet. It is here we have just about everything in addition to higher end and luxury donations.
SFF: What happens to clothes that sit on the sales floor but don't sell?
DALE: Donated items tend to sell within two weeks of hitting the retail sales floor. Those items that do not sell are marked down 50% in week 4. If the items do not sell after week 4, they are moved to one of our Outlets to sell by the pound. And if you find that treasure at the Outlet, you better buy it quick!
In unsold textile alone, which includes linen, towels and bedding, 26.5 million pounds were recycled. GICW, among Goodwill systems throughout North America, is a model in recycling those items not fit to sell. But in 2017 GICW did transport more than 47.4 million pounds of donations not fit to sell or recycle to area landfills at a cost of $3.1 million dollars.
SFF: Where does the money Goodwill receives from sales go?
DALE: To fund our free Job Services Programs. Examples of these programs include these results for 2017: more than 1,700 ESL classes were attended by community members and GICW employees. 10,172 Job Connection participants found work and 1,106 community members attended Job Connection Meet the Employers Events and Job Fairs. In addition, more than 4,600 community members and GICW employees obtained office computer skills training through our Career Center classes. GICW’s Employee/Community Education (ECE) program provided H.S. outreach to schools such as Fort Vancouver, De La Salle North, Lebanon and Glencoe. Since 2012, ECE has also been providing free job services classes to inmates of Coffee Creek, Inverness jail and MacLaren Youth Facility.
SFF: As a longtime Goodwill shopper, it seems like prices have gone up since thrifting and vintage shopping has become trendier. Why is that? As a nonprofit promoting secondhand shopping shouldn't prices remain the same?
DALE: While I can’t speak for other nonprofit or for-profit area thrift stores, I can speak to our price changes in clothing over the last 3 years. From 2015 to last year our clothing charges have increased by 16 cents or just over 2%. Just as it is for any business, our prices reflect our costs. GICW’s last year total payroll expenses were: $97,674,884 (wages: $75,765,600/ payroll taxes and benefits: $21,909,224). That is 5.3% over the previous year. In landfill fees, the cost went to $3.1 million dollars in 2017 from $2.8 million dollars in 2016. That is an increase of 11%. Our 2017 overhead was 4.6% of annual revenues.
GICW employs more than 2,700 people in Southwest Washington and Northwest and Central Oregon. We do not rely on volunteers, Federal, State or County monies.
SFF: What has it been like to watch Goodwill and its sustainability efforts evolve over the years and grow with the company?
DALE: Simply wonderful - I have learned so much. In my former working life I produced news stories as a representative of a TV or radio station, which does carry a weight. This position allows me to represent all of our dedicated employees and the community programs they run. It’s been a privilege to work in a business that provides thousands of free services to thousands of local people each year. GICW is a self-sustaining social enterprise functioning without volunteers. This Goodwill is very unique.
SFF: What's one thing about Goodwill's sustainability effort that you wish more people knew?
DALE: The planet is so small and we consume so much. We would love community members to know we diligently work to stretch the value of their good intention, that donation. It’s the right thing to do. It’s important we strive to be good stewards.