Most of us will admit to a dark secret part of our wardrobes that conceal our fashion mistakes and outfits we aim to get back into, just as soon as we’ve lost that extra stone.
But now new research reveals that UK consumers have around £30 billion worth of clothes which they haven’t worn for a year hanging around in their closets.
In the last year alone we left a staggering 1.7 billion items unwanted and untouched in our wardrobes.
But with more than two thirds of shoppers willing to buy and wear pre-owned clothing, the report highlights ways in which consumers and businesses can benefit from taking at a fresh look at our leftovers – both financially and environmentally.
The Valuing our Clothes report from WRAP, the UK’s leading body on resource efficiency, provides the first big picture of the impact of our clothing choices.
It also offers a fresh look at the financial and environmental aspects of the whole journey of clothing – from raw material, to manufacture, purchase, use and disposal of our clothes.
Each stage of that journey has a significant environmental impact, the authors point out. For example over 90% of the water footprint occurs during fibre and garment supply.
Washing and drying clothes is the equivalent of around 10% of total carbon emissions from cars in the UK while the majority of the waste arises once an item is no longer wanted.
But a third of all of the clothes we buy end up in landfill, which is bad for the environment and bad value. However there are significant opportunities to generate revenue of around £140 million if all these clothes were given to charities, local authorities or other organisations for recycling or re-use.
WRAP say these existing options, or indeed new business opportunities, could keep more clothing out of the bin and landfill, ensuring value is retained for longer.
Liz Goodwin, CEO, WRAP, says: “The way we make and use clothes consumes a huge amount of the earth’s precious resources, and accounts for a major chunk of family spending.
“But by increasing the active use of clothing by an extra nine months we could reduce the water, carbon and waste impacts by up to 20-30% each and save £5 billion.
“Consumers can realise the value of clothing by updating existing items for their own use, or selling or donating them for others to use. There are also significant opportunities for industry to capitalise on consumer interest and gain financially.”
The body says that making more use of these clothes through re-use and other routes such as design changes, alteration, repair and recycling, will benefit both families and firms across the country.
It also goes a step further by identifying potential new business models for industry that can add to the bottom line, increase the range of services or stimulate markets.
The recently-launched M&S & Oxfam Shwopping initiative has provided clear evidence that there’s both retailer awareness and customer interest in new approaches.
Another new business opportunity is retailers establishing ‘buy-back’ schemes which enable customers to sell own-brand clothes they no longer want back to the shop for resale.
With more than half of those surveyed saying they would sell back items and over two-thirds happy to consider buying returned clothes, this type of initiative could provide an extra income stream from a ready customer base.
Liz concludes: “This research clearly shows there are real financial and environmental benefits to be reaped from valuing our clothes more.
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