A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed
By JIM DWYER
In the bitter cold on Monday night, a man and woman picked apart a pyramid of clear trash bags, the discards of the HM clothing store that reigns in blazing plate-glass glory on 34th Street, just east of Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
At the back entrance on 35th Street, awaiting trash haulers, were bags of garments that appear to have never been worn. And to make sure that they never would be worn or sold, someone had slashed most of them with box cutters or razors, a familiar sight outside H & M’s back door. The man and woman were there to salvage what had not been destroyed.
He worked quickly, never uttering a word. A bag was opened and eyed, and if it held something of promise, was tossed at the feet of the woman. She said her name was Pepa.
Were the clothes usually cut up before they were thrown out?
“A veces,” she said in Spanish. Sometimes.
She packed up a few items that had escaped the blade — a bright green T-shirt that said “Summer of Surf,” and a dark-blue hoodie in size 12, with a Divided label. The rest was returned to the pyramid.
It is winter. A third of the city is poor. And unworn clothing is being destroyed nightly.
A few doors down on 35th Street, hundreds of garments tagged for sale in Wal-Mart — hoodies and T-shirts and pants — were discovered in trash bags the week before Christmas, apparently dumped by a contractor for Wal-Mart that has space on the block.
Each piece of clothing had holes punched through it by a machine.
They were found by Cynthia Magnus, who attends classes at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on Fifth Avenue and noticed the piles of discarded clothing as she walked to the subway station in Herald Square. She was aghast at the waste, and dragged some of the bags home to Brooklyn, hoping that someone would be willing to take on the job of patching the clothes and making them wearable.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Melissa Hill, said the company normally donates all its unworn goods to charities, and would have to investigate why the items found on 35th Street were discarded.
During her walks down 35th Street, Ms. Magnus said, it is more common to find destroyed clothing in the H & M trash. On Dec. 7, during an early cold snap, she said, she saw about 20 bags filled with H & M clothing that had been cut up.
“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” Ms. Magnus said, reciting the inventory of ruined items. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.” The jackets were tagged $59, $79 and $129.
This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail.
Directly around the corner from H & M is a big collection point for New York Cares, which conducts an annual coat drive.
“We’d be glad to take unworn coats, and companies often send them to us,” said Colleen Farrell, a spokeswoman for New York Cares.
More than coats were tossed out. “The H & M thing was just ridiculous, not only clothing, but bags and bags of sturdy plastic hangers,” Ms. Magnus said. “I took a dozen of them. A girl can never have enough hangers.”
H & M, which is based in Sweden, has an executive in charge of corporate responsibility who leads the company’s sustainability efforts. On its Web site, H&M reports that to save paper, it has shrunk its shipping labels.
“How about all the solid waste generated by throwing away usable garments and plastic hangers?” Ms. Magnus asked in a letter to the executive, Ingrid Schullstrom. She volunteered to help H & M connect with a charity or agency in New York that could put the unsold items to better use than simply tossing them in the trash. So far, she said, she has gotten no response.
On Monday night, Pepa’s shopping bag held a few items. She pointed to her gray sweatpants. “From here,” she said.
How about coats?
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said.