Store Take-Back Program Provides Used Clothes to Refugee Camps

By Pankaj Arora

How do you make the best use of your used clothes? Uniqlo shows how – in a way that makes you proud to be doing your part.

Besides making affordable, accessible and fashionable clothing for all, Uniqlo brand, a part of Fast Retainling group based in Japan, is a actually a fast growing company – not only in financial terms but also in the sustainability space.

Uniqlo recently announced that it will collect the used merchandise at the store and redistribute it in needy communities. This recycling practice has been successfully operating in the Japanese storefronts for the last 10 years. Uniqlo’s initial intention was to recycle the clothes as fuel, but with the cooperation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), it started donating the clothes to refugee camps – shifting its focus from recycling to reuse. To that end, approximately 90% of the clothing it collects is donated to refugee camps the world over.

My first connection to Uniqlo goes back years and years ago in India, when as a college student, I frequented the flea markets for some cheap “foreign” brands – needless to say, they were all used cloths that somehow made their way to India. And I used to wonder why perfectly okay clothes were discarded.

Now that I have spent time living in Japan, I realize that the costs have been externalized to make stuff so cheap and so seasonal, that each season a new style comes along making the older ones…well seem old and dated. There’s nothing sustainable in it. But that’s another topic of discussion.

Uniqlo’s CSR mission is “Changing the world for better through clothing.” In addition to the product recycling program, the company is involved in a number of other CSR activities, from sponsoring a Grameen Bank social business in Bangledesh to sponsoring the Special Olympics.

Stepping into a Uniqlo store fills me up with energy. The design of the stores is vibrant, the ring of the register is frequent, and it’s employees display a lot of energy and passion for the brand. Though most of the Japanese sales staff are courteous and helpful, Uniqlo has a different flavor instilled in its people.

Uniqlo has shown that old and used clothing can have a second life supported by the company.

Pankaj Arora is an Engineer and has worked in the automotive styling for 13 years. To expand his understanding of Sustainability, he is pursuing an online MBA in Sustainable Management from Anaheim University. You can follow his blog here.

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2 responses

  1. That’s the best idea I have come across and I would like to see more retail outlets following suit. I have lived in Africa for a number of years and what I was always remarked is that were it not for second hand clothes markets, a lot of people would be walked in rags in many of the poorer countries. People without the means to buy new in Kenya actually look smart and fashionable in the clothes they pick from second hand markets. It is incredible how much we clean out and throw away annually in England alone. Not only will the idea reduce waste production, it will also concentrate recyclable materials at specific points. I can also make reference the practice of corporations in the developed north sending used but still working computers to schools in poorer countries of the south, and how that has helped in development. The next good idea I would like to see would be collection of used books that could also be sent to countries in need. Such “aids” can result in more durable human development than money donations.

  2. Unfortunately, throwing away perfectly fine clothes is what pains me the most. Now,as I am moving from Japan to India, I look at the amount of clutter clothes stacked away in my cupboard – someday I’ll wear, and that day never comes – why – because, I buy new ones each season, as they are so cheap. Why not wear fresh new in fashion clothing?

    But this takeback program serves well – in fact it closes the loop.

    I donated about 60 books of mine to the local library, where I know they won’t be read :( in a small town in Japan – at least better than throwing them away. A great idea to bring used books to poorer countries.

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