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How They Did It: Using Trackers to Investigate Where Unwanted Clothing Ends Up

By Minna Knus-Galán and Jessica Stolzmann | September 21, 2021

The fashion industry is changing, and the pivot to online clothes shopping has repercussions across the globe. Photo: Taisto Lapila, Yle

You have probably seen them: the clothing collection bins belonging to charities or fashion chains where you can dump your used jeans or T-shirts. It might ease your guilt about buying another item of clothing that you don’t really need, since your old item is going to a good cause, right? But what really happens to those used garments? Where do they travel? Are they sold and to whom? And what happens to the most ragged clothes?

Or perhaps this story can begin even earlier, in the clothes you order online. Browse through a number of different sites and, in Finland at least, you can order several dresses and return those that don’t fit. Many stores even encourage shoppers to do this: they tell you that your home is your fitting room. But what happens to the clothing you return? Is it repackaged and resold, or dumped?

“We needed the smallest possible trackers with long-lasting batteries and global coverage.” — Minna Knus-Galán

We started to investigate these stories last year, and our methodologies followed a similar path. Here, we’ll look at each investigation in turn to find out what we discovered, how we went about investigating this subject, and our tips on using trackers like the ones we used — tiny devices that can emit signals allowing reporters to follow an item for up to a year — in your own investigations.


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