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Waste Not
Startups, Government Put Planned Obsolescence in Its Place

As increasing emphasis is being placed on circularity, the concept of planned obsolescence is being called into question. While it has long been criticized by consumers, brands and governments are finally beginning to recognize that the short-term strategy has no place in the low-carbon economy — and are taking action to promote transparency and resource efficiency.

The French government is considering a new labeling scheme that would make the lifespan of products — and therefore, planned obsolescence — more transparent. According to EURACTIV, the so-called “lifetime” label would be voluntary and would rank products on a scale from one to ten according to criteria such as durability, reparability and upgradeability.

The idea is not novel — a similar program is already in place in Austria. A label demonstrating product durability and reparability is currently in use to grade items such as household appliances.

The proposed labeling system is part of a larger scheme to transition the economy to a more circular model. A considerable part of France’s circular economy package focuses on extending the lifecycle of everyday products, be it pantyhose, printers or toasters.

Implementation of the label would begin on 1 January 2020 and, at this stage, its adoption would be voluntary, left up to the discretion of individual brands. “Ideally, the label could be taken up at a European level and displayed alongside the (existing) energy label,” the French government said in a statement.

France has been at the forefront of this issue since 2015 when it deemed planned obsolescence to be a criminal offense. But critics say the voluntary nature of the proposed “lifetime” label diminishes its efficacy. “It is not enough to simply postpone responsibility for action on a European scale, but to set an example in France, whilst arguing in favor of a broader compliance with best practices in Europe,” argued the Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée, a French association against planned obsolescence.

The French and Austrian government are also calling on the European Commission to consider a ‘voluntary European label, covering in particular: the product’s durability, eco-design features, upgradeability in line with technical progress and reparability.” While the outcomes of these requests are yet to be determined, they mark an important step forward in creating the right conditions for a circular economy.

Meanwhile, startup Sheerly Genius is combatting planned obsolescence with its rip-proof, snag-proof pantyhose.

Pantyhose epitomizes the concept of planned obsolescence — the average woman spends around $250-$875 a year on sheers that typically last one to two wears. Nylon — the fabric used to make tights — is traditionally a hard-wearing textile, but to ensure a constant stream of profits, its chemical formula was altered to weaken the fabric.

Frustrated by the amount of waste and sartorial emergencies that resulted from sub-par pairs of pantyhose, Katherine Homuth, Founder and CEO of Sheerly Genius, set out to develop the world’s first pair of indestructible sheer pantyhose.

“Like most women, I have an entire drawer filled with nothing but ripped pantyhose — I call it the pantyhose graveyard,” Homuth said. “One day, I decided that there had to be a solution, so I sought it out. I tried all of the ‘revolutionary’ brands out there but it was all marketing, no substance. Sheerly Genius is the only pair that will live up to the hype. We’ve used real material science to get done what everyone from manufacturers to suppliers told us was impossible.”

Homuth and her team were able to create a proprietary fiber that is strong, flexible and sheer. The material is so strong, in fact, that it can’t be handled by conventional machinery. As a result, Sheerly Genius also designed a proprietary manufacturing process built to withstand the strength of the material without compromising the wearability of the end product.

The tights are also stain resistant, which has considerable implications for their longevity. According to research done by Savers, around 300 million pieces of clothing are thrown out by millennials over a lifetime due to stains. Combined with their near indestructible nature, this further enhances the brand’s ability to divert textile waste from landfill. According to Humoth, one pair of Sheerly Genius sheers can help prevent more than 25 pairs of conventional tights from entering landfill.

“Sheerly Genius pantyhose has been tested to last up to 50 wears, compared to the average pair of sheers, which are generally considered disposable and last only one to two wears,” Humoth told Sustainable Brands. “By replacing the $8 billion worth of disposable pantyhose that are sold each year with a more sustainable product, we can save more than 320 million pairs of pantyhose from the landfill every year.”

Sheerly Genius isn’t the only stocking brand to set its sights on revolutionizing the fashion industry. Sweden’s Swedish Stockings is using pre- and post-consumer nylon waste to produce sustainable nylon stocks in zero waste factories. Endeavoring to become a closed-loop operation, the company has initiated a hosiery recycling program. Swedish Stockings encourages consumers to send old or ripped stockings (from any brand) to its Stockholm-based operation for a 10 percent discount on new tights.


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