Between us, consumers in the UK have an astonishing £30 billion-worth of clothes lying unworn in wardrobes and drawers across the nation.
You might find that hard to believe, but that’s what our very latest research – launched today- has revealed. We found that the average household has around £4,000-worth of clothes, of which, almost a third hasn’t been worn for at least a year!
The reportwe’ve issued today – Valuing our Clothes’ – takes a fresh look at the true cost of how we design, use and dispose of clothing and these are just some of the startling facts it unearths.
But the report is much more than a collection of undoubtedly interesting statistics. What it also clearly shows is that changes to the way the UK supplies, uses and disposes of clothing could reduce the carbon, water and waste impacts of clothing consumption by as much as 20%.
As consumers, we’re unlikely to be aware of the carbon or water footprint of that new pair of jeans, or fleece top, but make no mistake, the clothes we make, buy and wear are resource intensive. Before they reach the shops – never mind our wardrobes! – the manufacturing process means that huge amount of raw materials, water and energy will have been used.
And given that resource security is increasingly becoming an issue the world over, people are waking up to the fact that continuing to consume resources at our current, growing rate, is not sustainable.
That’s why I firmly believe that clothing is an area that really matters, and one in which we all have a vested (no pun intended) interest.
So to return to that enormous £30bn unused wardrobe. Our research showed there are three main reasons why we have so many clothes we no longer wear – they simply don’t fit, they’re suffering from wear and tear or we just haven’t got round to turning them out.
If we could only make more use of these clothes, through alteration, repair, multiple re-use and recycling, there’s great potential for consumers to realise some financial and environmental savings. At the same time, there’s a significant opportunity for businesses to develop new offerings and grow. Which would signal good news for the green economy.
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings to emerge from the research is the estimated impact of extending the active life we get from our clothes. If we increased active use by just nine months, we could reduce our water, carbon and waste impacts by between 20%-30%, and reduce costs by around £5 billion.
There are benefits to be had at every stage of the life of our clothes, and not just once they arrive in the hands of the consumer. Our report suggests there are opportunities for change in the sourcing and fibre treatment stages, through to manufacture and production.
There are many ways in which we can extend the life of our unwanted clothing by passing them to others, via auction sites like Ebay, through Freecycle, charity shops, a ‘swishing party’ or with the help of the M&S ‘shwopping’ initiative.
Even when items are no longer wearable or repairable, there are still commercial opportunities as textiles have a strong market value (currently around £400 a tonne) and can find new life in a range of industries from mining to motor manufacture!
When I saw the first drafts of this report, it got me viewing my wardrobe in a whole new light.