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Forgotten Scarves, Charity Shops and The World of Objects

Yesterday I decided to take action and get rid of a scarf. A classic Pashmina style in gold and black, it had been hanging, forlorn and forgotten on a hook in the restaurant where I work. We’d all been looking at it for weeks now. Multiple times someone suggested we bin it. After yet another similar suggestion, I thought I should take action and ‘save’ it from the waste bin, doing the better thing and bringing it to a charity shop.

As I cycled home with it in my basket and it grew wetter and wetter with the drizzle of the afternoon, I wondered: Was taking it to the shop pretty much as bad as throwing it? Both were essentially just another way of passing on responsibility of a material object to someone else. It made me think about the life of ‘stuff’, how it changes hands, imbued with new meaning each time. It’s a normal thing to do, and anthropologists have studied it for years, but what was bothering me here was the rate at which we exchanged things and the meaning – or not – that we attached.


From Atmos online article - see link below for further reading.


Charity shops serve a great purpose and form an essential part of many people’s ways of shopping more sustainably. There is, however – now fairly widely known – a fact about the charity shop sector, which is hard to swallow. Namely that around 70% of what we donate is not sold over the counter but shipped abroad, mostly to sub Saharan Africa, where it floods local clothing markets with cheap ‘desirable’ Western clothing, putting local tailors and textile industries out of business. This also played on my mind as I drew nearer to the shop where I was going to ‘deposit’ the scarf.


But what was the issue at the heart of it all? For me, the responsibility question remained. The thought that when we add something to our lives – a garment, a chair, whatever – we take on a certain responsibility for it. Whether we own it or are just looking after it, is another debate. But the duty of care is still there. And what was bothering me was that society at large seems to be disregarding this duty of care in mindless consumption and disposal. It’s easy to just blink things away – let a charity shop or the waste collection absorb our lack of consideration. But what if we were stuck with the clothes we had?


We’d definitely think more about what we bought and how it would fit into our lives, in the long run. We’d likely end up spending a bit more on it as we’d want it to last. And we’d probably become pretty creative in transforming things once they did stop serving their original purpose. And, probably, no one would willy-nilly go and leave a scarf of theirs on a hook in a restaurant…


FURTHER READING

https://atmos.earth/volumes/latitude/dead-white-man-s-clothes

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30227025

The book 'Clothing Poverty' by Dr Andrew Brooks


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