Would you rent a skirt?

Will fashion shame be the needed tipping point for the fashion industry to become sustainable? There are already several alternatives to shopping new clothes.

Flight shame has recently been on everybody’s lips. Should we feel ashamed or not? Should we stop flying to force the industry into a transformation mode? Or should we climate compensate until the airline industry itself finds the right technology to reduce their emissions? Will the industry even bother without a push? Will shame lead to anything positive at all or will it just drive us into climate depression?

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 3 percent of the global emissions come from the aviation industry. But there is another industry that is an even worse emitter and should worry us even more than flying – the textile industry. It comprises 10 percent of the global emissions (UNEP) due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. In addition, it consumes a lot of natural resources. But to stop using clothes is not an option like stop flying.

According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (“A new textiles economy, 2017”) more than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling. Less than 1 percent of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. A scary 73 percent of textiles end up in landfills or are burned.

This is the dark side of the fast fashion industry. UNEP estimates that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in a year. The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week and the clothes will probably fall apart after one washing. The overall quality of clothing has decreased tremendously, causing producers to make a lot more in order to get the same amount of goods to sell. Research from BBC Earth shows that three out of every five t-shirts bought today, will end up in the bin within a year.

The industry works in a linear way

Needless to say, this has a huge negative impact on Mother Earth. So, what can be done to turn this around? Obviously the fashion industry must change the way it operates. The textiles industry works in an almost completely linear way today with take-make-dispose: large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short time..

Waste and pollution are largely a result of the way we design things. By changing our mindset to view waste as new materials we can ensure that waste and pollution are not created in the first place. This is the beauty of the circular economy and it is a new way to design, make, and use things within planetary boundaries. It’s the model of reduce-reuse-repair-recycle and in this way, clothes, textiles and fibers are kept at their highest value during use and then they re-enter the economy afterwards, never ending up as waste.

There is progress in the industry today. There are initiatives trying to change to other types of material than the culprit polyester, a polluting plastic made from fossil fuels. Like Spinnova in Finland that turns cellulose and waste streams into textile fiber without harmful chemicals. They state that “wood looks good on you”.

You also have the joint initiative between Fashion For Good and C&A to develop C2C Gold Certified™ jeans. The jeans have been designed to last longer, they can easily be recycled and they are made in a way that is better for the environment and for the health of garment workers.

We need to change the way we think

But it’s far from enough and if the customers want the fast fashion, why should the industry be motivated to change? Just think about how easy shopping is today with the online options and the retailers fighting to give us the best price. They definitely need help – and a bit of fashion shame could be it.

Shame or not, we need to change the way we think about our clothes. We all have practical, emotional and social reasons for both wearing the clothes and buying them. It’s not necessarily easy to change. Let’s say you got emotional motives and use shopping as therapy. Or you are the practical type that need something to wear and want a bargain on Black Friday. Or you wear clothes to demonstrate values and try to fit in and do your shopping based on social pressure.

What if you taste for fashion and your reasons for wearing and purchasing could be satisfied with clothes rental. You could end up changing your wardrobe whenever you want. You could even rent out your own clothes that you are tired of and earn money that could be spent on renting more clothes. Or what if you have a black belt in shopping and could really find those incredible deals by shopping secondhand online or even join a secondhand fashion show for inspiration? You could change your black belt into a green one.

All these options are available today and more are in the pipeline. Fjong in Norway is renting out women’s wear and help you rent out your own clothes that you have grown tired of. Even brands like H&M and NA-KD are looking into rental options today. And there are marketplaces facilitating secondhand trade like finn.no, blocket.se and tori.fi and many others.

So, think again the next time you are in need or in mood for shopping. Could you do it in another way? Do you really need it? Could you repair or redesign what you already have? Could you buy it secondhand or rent it? Can you swap or share with someone? Could you reduce what you already have by giving it away or sell it to someone? And if you can’t – at least make sure you buy quality clothes with a long life and with the possibility to recycle into new clothes. And always ask the retailer for information on what the garment is made of, how long it lasts and if it can be recycled. They may not be able to answer or even provide you with a quality product, but at least you put a message through that they got to start sharing information with their customers and rethink the way they produce their clothes.

Britt Nilsen
Head of Sustainability
Years in Schibsted
My dream job as a child