Clothing Poverty: What it Means & How You Can Help

Clothing poverty describes the situation in which people have very little or nothing to wear on a day-to-day basis. It is a plight affecting thousands of people in the UK, yet whilst the cost-of-living crisis has focused attention on energy and food prices, clothing poverty goes largely undocumented and unreported. Clothing prices have risen by 11%, making things even more difficult for people in already challenging situations. In many cases, students are avoiding school for fear of being bullied or teased about their worn-out clothes.
Rack of clothes on hangers

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

During Clothing Poverty Awareness week (6th-12th June 2022), the Sharewear Clothing Scheme are highlighting the issue by campaigning for the fundamental right to clothing. Adequate clothing is more than a physical necessity; it impacts people’s mental health and whether they can properly function in society and flourish in their lives. Sharewear is an independent and free clothing resource available to anyone in a crisis. You can find out more about them in this short film Sharewear Uncovered, and take to social media to support the campaign #RightToClothing.
Clothing poverty is a worldwide problem, yet the solution could be simple! Each year, 300,000 tonnes of clothes go to landfill in the UK alone, which is equivalent to £140 million worth of clothing items. If these clothes were recycled or redistributed, clothing poverty could be significantly reduced, at very little cost. And it would have the added benefit of helping to fight the climate crisis.
So, how can you help? If everyone did their little bit, it would go a long way. So why not try a couple of these suggestions to help tackle the clothing poverty crisis:


Have a summer clear out

You may have done a mini-Spring-clean, and held on to a few items from last year, with the annual promise of ‘I will try and wear this’. However, if you find that the same items are being dug out from the suitcase and then returned 4 months later when the seasons change, it could be time to rehome those pieces. Try following the Marie Kondo method and asking yourself ‘does this piece spark joy?’ It may sound mad, but dividing your clothes into ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and ‘no’ piles will help you clearly visualise what you need, and what is important to you.
woman sitting on the floor sorting through clothes

Photo by RDNE Stock project on Pexels

Donate unwanted items

Donate your clothes and unwanted accessories to a local charity shop, where they can make a real difference to those who have nothing to wear. If you are short on time, contact the Collect My Clothes service, which arranges to pick up your items for recycling and raising funds for charity.


Sell/buy second-hand

To make some extra cash from unwanted items, we love selling clothes on eBay, Depop or Vinted. These websites are also brilliant if you are searching for something specific and want to buy second-hand rather than fast fashion.


Begin your capsule wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe is a limited collection of clothes that coordinate well, and can create multiple outfits through mixing and matching. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without owning excessive amounts of clothes.
Capsule wardrobe

Image by Freepik

It’s a perfect way to limit the purchase of clothes that might go to waste, and gives you confidence in your fashion style by wearing and loving each item. Not only is this way of dressing more sustainable, but it also decreases decision fatigue of the dreaded ‘what do I wear?!’ before going out, saving you a lot of time and stress. Find out how to start your capsule wardrobe, with tips from a fashion buyer here.
When buying new pieces, try to look further into the company values as most businesses have to be transparent regarding sustainability. Small businesses are great to support, but can sometimes be a bit more expensive than high-street brands, and therefore not accessible to all. Check out this article for 6 Eco-friendly High-street Brands!


Share or rent your clothes

With the fashion industry being one of the worst polluters, consumer behaviour can have a huge impact. We love the idea of creating outfits by sharing between friends, particularly for special occasions or holidays where you would like unique pieces. Alternatively, consider renting, which gives you access to amazing fashion including designer items, at just a fraction of the cost. The UK first fast fashion rental app By Rotation is great and even offers an option to purchase some pieces after renting! For bigger budgets, we recommend Hurr, the winner of the London Luxury Sustainable Startup, and is a peer-to-peer clothing rental service from people’s personal wardrobes.


Educate yourself further

There is always so much to learn online, and it can feel overwhelming. Following the above steps is a good start, but should you wish to educate yourself more on the topic, we recommend reading Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes by Andrew Brooks. If you are into social media, we really like Venetia La Manna, broadcaster, slow fashion campaigner and co-founder of Remember Who Made Them, which helps to support garment workers and energise a new solidarity economy in fashion.  Check out her Instagram and YouTube channel for a mix of educational and everyday life videos.


Find out more:

Beginner’s Guide to a Capsule Wardrobe

Grad Bites: Ethical Sustainable Fashion
An inspiring story from the young founder of Sancho’s – an affordable, ethical, sustainable fashion & lifestyle business