Waste reduction charity WRAP’s new Clothing Durability Report reveals that extending the active life of clothing items by nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints of clothing in the UK by 20 to 30 percent each and cut resource costs by £5 billion.
The report is primarily directed at retailers and suppliers. It provides suggestions for how to reduce waste throughout the product lifecycle, starting with designing for longevity. Examples of how designers can help include designing-in a growth allowance in children’s clothing, designing-in re-use opportunities and encouraging consumers to downcycle old garments, innovatively using classic styles to help transcend fashion fads, using high quality fabrics, and providing clear and simple care instructions.
WRAP acknowledged that physical durability is easier to improve than ‘emotional durability.’ Products need to stay relevant and desirable to the customer. The report notes that clothing is often a symbol of personal, social and cultural identity and can help them express lifestyle choices; since “consumers continually reconstruct their personal identity, the tools they use they use to signify their position are also continuously changing.” About one third of the consumer respondents in WRAP’s survey demonstrated an interest in doing more to buy clothes that are made to last and better caring for their clothes.
The report used information from companies that signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020 Commitment. SCAP respondents cited the business benefits of durability to be demonstrating quality to consumers, reducing returns, building brand reputation, and establishing customer loyalty/satisfaction. The report includes recommended mitigations for perceived barriers to improving product durability, such as the use of case studies, improved garment labelling, and cost-benefit and lifecycle analysis.
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The SCAP 2020 Commitment aims to reduce the carbon, waste and water footprints of the signatories’ clothing by 15 percent per tonne of clothing from a 2012 baseline. So far, SCAP has achieved reductions of 12.5 percent for water and 3.5 for carbon. Waste has remained stable, but WRAP remains optimistic that its “Love Your Clothes” campaign, €3.6 million project targeting European clothing waste, and other projects will reduce waste to landfill enough to meet their target.
As part of the Love Your Clothes campaign, two Scottish fashion designers will create new high-end clothing collections from 150 kilograms of garments donated to charity. The designers, Aimee Kent and the Black Cherry Studio design team, won a 12-week residency in a competition organized by Zero Waste Scotland and the Salvation Army.
“I believe that with a little TLC, most unwanted clothing can be transformed into something valuable. We really want people to see there is worth in their clothes,” said Lynn Wilson, textiles manager at Zero Waste Scotland. “To really bring this message home, we teamed up with the Salvation Army to launch a unique competition among Scotland’s most talented fashion and textiles designers to see what they could create from the cast offs.”
“It will be interesting to see if anyone recognises their old clothes when we have the big reveal.”
Aimee Kent and Black Cherry Studio will each create a “fashion-forward” collection using donated items over the course of their residency. An expert fashion panel will appraise the collections and deliver valuations on how much the newly-created pieces are worth.
Meanwhile, Spanish clothing retailer Mango is jumping on the opposite bandwagon. While the number of Aspirational consumers, a group that consider style, social status and sustainability when shopping nears 2.5 billion worldwide, Mango announced it will be shipping new apparel collections every two weeks beginning in February 2016.
Fast fashion was born out of the sense of exclusivity that rapid replenishment brings, which drives people to buy items they don’t need and boosts profits. Mango’s competitor Zara has received new products as often as twice a week – but not year-round, as Mango has suggested they will do.
Mango operates 2,700 stores in 109 countries. A spokesperson told WWD that it already has the infrastructure for the increased production in place, so it’s “more a matter of [coordinating] all of the teams involved in the process, such as the design team, the stores team, and the visual merchandising team.”
While collaboration in global supply chains is a helpful way to curb climate change, it seems doubtful that Mango’s intentions will run in that vein. This idea of even faster fashion brings worker safety, fair wages, and other supply chain concerns back to the forefront, and is in stark contrast to the progress of others in the industry, including Mango competitor H&M, who has been a big player in the transition to the circular economy.