Break free from disposable fashion
How many times have you worn that shirt?
In the drive for an eco-world, increasing the number of times a garment is worn is a powerful tool to reduce pressure on resources and decrease negative impacts. Let’s say, for example, we doubled the number of times our clothing is worn collectively, the greenhouse gas emissions would be around 44% lower.
Unfortunately, the average number of times a new garment is worn has decreased by 36% within the past 15 years – with the biggest decrease in women’s shirts, dresses and hosiery. The estimated value of clothes consumers throw out, clothes that they could otherwise continue to wear, is as much as USD 460 billion each year.*
With fast-changing needs and styles, we need business models that are not centred on ownership, that would encourage the design and manufacture of clothes that last longer, and could be further supported by industry commitments and policies. Economic opportunities already exist for many such models.
What’s preventing us then? A person’s relationship with clothes is complex. People wear and buy clothes for a variety of reasons. In addition to the practical motivations like warmth and protection, clothes also fulfil a variety of emotional and social needs. With clothes, we can express our identity or demonstrate our values or social status.
To change fashion consumption patterns, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It varies with the consumer. Some of us seek bargains, whereas others try to avoid clothes shopping altogether. Some of us want to stand out from the crowd, others want to blend in a group, some want to look like a celebrity and others strictly wear ethical brands.
The desire for novelty and variety is naturally found in many of us. Instead of buying new clothing, novelty and variety could be fulfilled in other ways, like with a rental market and an appealing resale market. This would give consumers choice and businesses new opportunities. For long-lasting garments, brand owners and retailers could offer quality guarantees and repair services on new purchases. Consumers could choose the business model depending on the nature of the garment and the circumstances it will be worn.
When a high utilization rate of clothes is the ultimate target – using that shirt many times over! – the overall strategy would need to be reflected across choice of raw materials, design, production, marketing and business models, as well as consumer behaviour.
Some things to think about.
*Circular Fibres Initiative and Ellen Macarthur Foundation