Instant expert

St Vinnies

What happens to your clothes after you've made the ruthless decision to part with them?

St Vinnies

Credit: Melissa Rimac

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First, not all the familiar large clothing bins are associated with charities.

Steve Gillespie, metropolitan retail manager for the St Vincent de Paul Society says that bins linked to a charity will be clearly labelled charity, as opposed to those marked commercial, in much smaller lettering.

People keen to donate clothes to charity, he suggests, should call the charity and ask them where to drop off, in some cases they can go straight to the shop.

Depending on size, logistics and location, each charity and recycled clothing dealer has developed their own system for dealing with donated clothing.

Overall however, clothes are carefully evaluated and sorted for quality and marketability.

The Process

On a typical Monday morning at the Brookvale warehouse and, after a busy weekend of donations, the action is frantic.

In the diocese that Gillespie oversees - Broken Bay, comprising 27 stores spread out across the central coast, Sydney's north shore and northern beaches - about 90 tonnes of donated clothes need to be processed each month.

Following collection from the large blue bins, bags of donated clothes are bundled into huge white, industrial strength bags known as 'bales' and driven to a warehouse, where decisions are made as to how to maximise the profit from each piece of clothing.

In the case of St Vincent de Paul, about 40 per cent of donated clothes pass shop quality muster and will be priced according to the store managers' knowledge of the local market.

Of the remaining 60 per cent which has been deemed unfit to sell in stores, 20 to 30 per cent - referred to as rags - gets sold to dealers, who then either sell those clothes overseas (usually in developing countries) or, turn them, quite literally, into rags used for industrial cleaning.

The remaining 30 to 40 per cent goes to landfill.

A shop quality item's final destination is the result of demographic understanding and marketing aimed to maximise profits for the charity, Gillespie explains.

In some suburbs, clothes can command a higher price, as they are more likely to appeal to the local market.

Certain shops quickly move surf and youth wear; others specialise in retro; others have attracted a loyal following by selling high-end designer threads; and some stores are amply stocked with plus-sizes and children's wear.