Shopping for a good cause: My Sister’s Closet in Bethlehem aims for environmental, social change

Michelle Orr discussed business strides towards sustainability and giving back to the community through the clothing organization My Sister’s Closet. (Photo by Danielle Mullan ’22)

While the issue of clothing waste is daunting, local business My Sister’s Closet is not afraid of the challenge.

“Nothing is going into a landfill from us,” said Michelle Orr, vice president of the company.

The Office of Sustainability Studies, in partnership with Gateway Career Services, invited Orr to campus on Monday to speak on the impact that clothing can have.

Originally created as means of funding the non-profit Truth for Women, My Sister’s Closet, a second-hand boutique based in Bethlehem, demonstrates how retail can play a role in promoting environmental and social change.

Truth for Women provides local victims of sex trafficking with the tools they need to restart their lives.

“In the year 2000, Truth for Women formed to help women in the community who were lost and who were broken. And in 2007 the founder…and a team of women came together with a heart and with a passion to open the Truth for Women center,” Orr said.

The organization has since narrowed their focus on rehabilitating women who have been sexually exploited, upon realizing the growing prevalence of trafficking in the Lehigh Valley. Profits from My Sister’s Closet help Truth for Women to open a therapeutic home in the Lehigh Valley for these victims.

My Sister’s Closet resells donations made by the community, and all of the profits are given directly to Truth for Women.

Orr highlighted the staggering amount of clothing waste the United States produces yearly.

“The US alone sends 21 billion pounds of textile waste into landfills every year,” Orr said.

These materials then take several months or even years to breakdown in a landfill.

My Sister’s Closet is extremely conscious of this waste and does not throw away any donations made to the store. Clothing that passes the approval of volunteers is cleaned and placed on the racks.

Orr said it is important for the store to “ truly feel like a boutique,” creating a special shopping experience.

While the clothing in the store is often sold to customers, women living in the Truth for Women house also shop at My Sister’s Closet.

“Sometimes the women come to us with only the clothing on their back, and My Sister’s Closet is able to provide them with clothing to help them get through that season they’re with us, and the next season they’re with us. We give them a whole wardrobe of clothing,” Orr said.

However, the importance of the women’s shopping experience is about more than just the physical clothing.

“We let them pick out the clothing […] I am able to give her [a participant of Truth for Women] her own private shopping experience without feeling threatened that someone is watching her,” Orr said.

My Sister’s Closet is a prime example of how excess clothing can be reused in an environmentally and socially conscious way. The store, currently located in the Park Plaza building in Bethlehem is always looking for new volunteers and donations.

Orr stressed that even if people are unsure about what to do with their used clothing due to its old condition, they should donate it because some companies will shred and recycle the materials, a better alternative than throwing the clothes away.

“It takes many organizations, many people to make this work, but if we all just said ‘Oh it’s too big of an issue we can’t do anything about it’, we wouldn’t be able to move forward,” Orr said.

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