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Consumers Have to Be Schooled in Sustainable Fashion Practices: Study

A study co-written by Sarif Patwary, Ph.D., senior sustainability analyst at Kontoor Brands, the parent of Lee and Wrangler, and five other academics concludes that consumers must be taught to become more sustainable in their fashion choices.

Released by licensee MDPI, the “Apparel Consumer Behavior and Circular Economy: Towards a Decision-Tree Framework for Mindful Clothing Consumption” report looks at current consumer behavior in-depth and analyzes how people acquire/purchase clothing; maintain, use and care for it; and dispose of it when they no longer wear it. Most, the report concludes, perform none of these actions with circularity in mind “even among highly knowledgeable consumers.”

“Environmental knowledge does not often translate into behavior,” the report states. “For example, a study found that understanding clothing production’s environmental impact did not positively influence environmentally friendly consumption behavior.”

It also blames the arrival of fast fashion for massive textile waste generation and the “throwaway culture” that pervades the world today.

“The average American throws away 82 pounds of clothes yearly. In 2015, the United States generated about 16 million tons of textile waste, of which 65.7 percent went into landfills, 19 percent to the incinerator, and 15.3 percent was recycled,” the report states. “An average U.K. consumer throws away about 66 pounds of clothing and textiles (a total reported as 2.35 million tons), of which 74 percent go to the landfill, 13 percent to incinerators and 13 percent to material recovery. The average European Union consumer generates 57 pounds of textile waste. Globally, 91 million tons of clothing are thrown away yearly; this is equivalent to one garbage truck of clothing every second.”

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To reduce these numbers, the report suggests that people should donate, reuse or mend their clothes rather than toss them as well as be more mindful of how they launder them, washing less if possible and using a cold-water setting, among other prompts.

The paper also breaks down laundering’s environmental impact by geography. For example, Japan has the most wash cycles per household, followed by North America and Australia. Actual household laundry water consumption, which varies by the type of washing machine used, is highest in North America, followed by South Korea and Japan. Laundry electricity consumption, meanwhile, is highest in Turkey followed by East Europe, West Europe and North America.

The five authors, who received no external funding for the piece, also created an ethically driven decision tree in it for consumers to follow when making wardrobe additions and caring for their clothes.

“Consumer decisions should be guided by the 7Rs of fashion: reduce, rent, repair, repurpose, recycle, reuse and resell,” they add.

“Current patterns are not circular and we need many efforts to make apparel consumers better understand the good practices,” the study concludes.