Is shopping from the clearance rack environmentally friendly?

Let me start by admitting that I do a lot of my shopping from clearance racks and department store outlets. Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Nordstrom – bring it on.

The reason shopping clearance works quite well for me is that I am able to find natural fibers and made in USA or Europe clothes without breaking the bank. Plus, I am not the one to jump on the latest trends, so whatever I like at the store – last or current season – is what I buy.

And yes, this is a legitimate question of mine, one which I’d really like your input.

Is it environmentally friendly to shop clearance racks?

Helmut Lang wool shirt Bloomingdales

First, here’s what all major fashion retailers do with unsold clothes:

  1. They try to sell them at the clearance rack.
  2. They donate them to organizations and hope they will be sold or given away.
  3. They try to sell them thru programs that distribute merchandise in other countries. (Often talking about poorer countries that are already overflowing with western unwanted goods.)
  4. They throw them away in a dumpster. (After making the clothes unusable by staining, cutting or similar so no one can have that fancy shirt for free.)
  5. They shred them and recycle the fabric into, for example, rugs.
  6. They burn them.

According to statistics from the World Resources Institute, it takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single cotton shirt and polyester production for textiles releases something like 1.5 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases yearly, all while 26 billion pounds of clothing end up in American landfills every year. Us consumers are responsible for throwing away plenty of clothes after we’ve worn them a few times, and we need to buy better, yes, but it is without a doubt that corporations are contributing huge amounts of waste to that number. (Do we need a #FashionRevolution? YES!)

I just bought the most amazing shirt at the Bloomingdale’s outlet. It’s a Helmut Lang made in Portugal, checkered, wool, button down shirt with some interesting details, like a frayed hem and a real pocket. I paid 88 dollars for this shirt, originally listed at $395.

So I am thinking, from an environmentalist’s stand point, that had I not bought this shirt – at the 78% discounted price – it would have ended up in a dumpster or burned. What are the chances that another size small woman, walking around the outlet, would want the same shirt, since it hadn’t already sold?

I don’t have the answer to this question. Which, of course, is why I am asking and rambling.

I love shopping clearance, like I said, and I’d like to think that it is better. If I were to buy the latest new shirt at H&M and they end up selling out real quick, wouldn’t they just order a similar batch as soon as possible? The rack doesn’t have that option.

On the other hand, outlets and clearances encourage impulse shopping, which leads to over consumption of goods – something I’m very much against.

Let me know what you think, please!

PS. My favorite way to buy new clothes is to do it from shops that produce upon order. The downside to that is that they’re available online only and I do love to actually browse and try on clothes now and then :)

5 thoughts on “Is shopping from the clearance rack environmentally friendly?

  1. Good question and probably there is not one right answer, but many.
    Like, are they tracking which clothes that get sold at the clearance? If they do then most likely use that information for creating future productions.
    IF not, then shop away I say. 😉
    I feel however very strongly about fur and have been offered one as hand me down (which i of course never accepted!) with the argument ”it already exists and those animals have already died”. Sort of.
    For me, wearing a fur would signal that it is ok and it might influence others to also want to wear fur.
    Now it’s me rambling… 😅 But i think you know what i mean 🙂
    It’s a beautiful shirt and you look very pretty in it 💚


    1. Good point. I would do the same. I wouldn’t accept anything second hand that sent the wrong signal. Some of my friends thought the Not made in china thing didn’t apply to gifts so they’d say “I’ll buy it for you!” And I was like “not.the.point.” Or it would be like eating meat for a vegetarian if someone else had paid for it and the cow already died! No logic.

      I don’t buy anything unethical at the rack, I would buy the same at the normal store if I saw it there – now it’s just cheaper.. and of course I was thinking they don’t track as well what they get at the rack from the other store. I would think the store tracks “what did not sell and had to be sent to the rack”?
      Also, super important to know that some outlets like Jcrew, Banana, Coach etc MAKE clothes for the outlet, it’s not old stuff from the regular store. Complicated!
      Thank you xoxo


  2. Interesting question. I would be concerned that selling clothes from the clearance rack would signal to the companies that the demand for those clothes is higher than what sells through ordinary channels. But if you do want to support something about how the clothes are made, which it sounds like is the case with what you bought, then that’s a good thing!

    If only textile recycling were the second option after selling, then I would find it a much less complicated question.


  3. My two cents: I think buying quality eco-friendly clothes off the sale rack is fine. If it is made in China out of petroleum, then no. We are voting with our dollars. We are telling manufacturers what is ok, and unfortunately, the only language most of these huge companies understand is the language of money. :)

    As a small business owner, I am seeing more and more other small business owners shutting their doors. If you can, shop small businesses selling made in the USA of sustainable fibers – this is where you are going to get the most bang for your buck eco-wise


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