Recycled used clothing — business is booming

Domestic News

Riches from rags: There are profits to be made in the new business of recycling and reselling secondhand clothes in China.

bundles of used clothing wrapped in plastic
A photo from an ad on Chinese Used Clothes Net.

Secondhand clothes were looked down on in China until recent years, when the trendy boutiques of Shanghai began selling vintage clothing, and hipsters in other Chinese cities began seeing the charm in previously unwanted old threads. Now even unglamorous old clothes are becoming a business:

More than a million yuan ($144,000) a year: that’s what some individuals are making in the used clothing trade. Meanwhile, apartment complexes that install collection bins for unwanted clothing are also raking it in, according to Investor Network (in Chinese), which says that recycling used clothing has become a highly profitable business in recent years.

  • Slightly damaged items are often repaired and then sold again, while older materials are ripped apart and reprocessed.
  • Buttons and zippers can also be removed and sold again.
  • Buyers pay about 1,200 yuan ($172) per ton of used clothing.
  • Founded in 2011, Chinese Used Clothes Net was the first domestic ecommerce trading platform focusing on bulk used clothing.  

This trend is good for the environment: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation discovered that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, while fabric dyeing and treatment creates about 20% of wastewater worldwide.