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'Fast Fashion' Is Filling Landfills; A Bellevue Company Offers Options

Monica Spain
A Value Village manager stands next to donated clothes and other fabric which will be sorted.

It’s never been easier or more affordable to dress based on fashion trends seen on the runway. But the glut of inexpensive clothing from 'fast fashion' retailers is leaving another mark, and it’s not so beautiful.

It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to make one new pair of jeans. Caroline Fichter, a mom of two boys might not know the exact figures, but intuitively she does. That’s why she dropped off used clothes at Value Village in Seattle.


“There’s so much waste that I feel like if I can do this with their clothes, maybe I’m making a difference,” said Fichter.

After Fichter’s donation comes in, her kids’ jeans could take quite the journey. If they aren’t sold locally, there are markets overseas that buy second-hand clothes. And if there’s just not a suitable partner for those pants?

“What can’t be reused or repurposed gets broken down into it’s raw fiber,” said

Tony Shumpert, vice president for recycling and reuse at Value
Village, a for-profit thrift store chain based in Bellevue. He says fibers from jeans are made into insulation, and other clothes can be broken down and turned into yarn for things like carpet.  

What about the truly gross stuff, though – the stained, the torn and the worn?

“We would much rather have those that are interested give everything, and then let us make that determination.  We’re much more skilled at it, and have the ability to get those items to their proper place,” said Shumpert.

According to Shumpert, consumers today buy more than 80 billion pieces of new clothing every year. That’s four times more than in 1980. Cheap clothes that mimic runway sensations play a role in that.

Still, Steph Richardson, a shopper who was combing through the racks will only buy at thrift stores in part, to keep stuff out of the landfill. But she also has a keen fashion sense.  

She holds up her latest find.

“It’s a Jean Paul Gaultier suit from the ‘90s; isn't it cute?” said Richardson.

You won’t find that in a retail store.