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Collaborative Consumption’s Sustainable Fashion Goals

By Shubhdarshani Mitra, for ESGSense

Globally, every year approximately 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced which translates into ~12 Kilograms of textile waste per person per year on the planet. And by 2030 this ginormous number is expected to reach 134 million tonnes, research says. Now if only we were to extend a garment’s life by a sheer three months, it’s said we can achieve a 5-10% reduction in a garment’s water, waste, and carbon footprint. The forerunners of sustainable fashion or ‘slow fashion’ are voicing concerns and sharing solutions, asking brands and consumers to reflect on the environmental and social aspects of the fashion ecosystem. Sustainable fashion is an investment that brings long-term benefits rather than short-term financial profits.

There are several ways in which businesses in the broader clothing industry and consumers can reduce their environmental impact, one of which is through clothing libraries.

Clothing libraries – a step towards a more circular business model

Clothing libraries, which work on rental business models, provide a possibility for collaborative consumption. It is a significant step towards investing in a circular business model that allows products to extend their lifespan by reusing as against buying products in a wasteful or linear manner where a product is designed, produced, used, and disposed.

This is in stark contrast to fast fashion that caters to quick response to ever-changing trends in the clothing supply-chain model. Fast fashion is cheap, at times no more than use-and-throw quality and clearly adds monumental piles of textile waste, harming the already degrading environment.

Advantages speak for themselves – easy on your pocket and lowers your environmental impact

On the surface, such a library surely comes with the benefits libraries come with – borrow a garment of your choice, flaunt/ use them for a certain period of time, when done with or bored, return it to the rental outlet and get another garment in return. All for a subscription that would buy a piece or two of your favourite brand that you would dispose anyway. However, that’s not enough!

Look at some of the other benefits:

  • Reduction in the use of raw materials that require exhaustion of natural resources
  • Compared to buying new, a preowned purchase is said to save on an average one kg of waste, 3,040 litres of water, and 22 Kg of CO2
  • Reusing a garment is a march towards embracing circular model that promises to reduce textile waste piling up in landfills
  • Also, rental models might be of value in the post-pandemic world as economic uncertainty is likely to increase customer share in this segment. Over 60% of consumers have reported reduced expenditure on apparel during the crisis and about half see the trend spilling over in future.
  • And finally, you get to wear a larger variety of clothes, at a lower cost, without storage and maintenance hassles (remember those moths, anyone?)

‘Prefer to borrow’ so clothes don’t ‘cost your wallet or the planet

Dutch clothing library, Lena, is one such library that provides designer clothes on subscription basis, encouraging consumers to ‘prefer to borrow’. The Clothes Library, an Australian company, aims to revolutionize fashion by providing more options, rather than ‘buying and dumping’ clothes. Style Theory in Singapore lures customers through quality clothes and designer bags which they say, ‘don’t cost your wallet or the planet’. These efforts, promoting circular fashion, might be a good answer to the colossal environmental concerns.

More than $500 billion of value is lost every year because of clothing under-utilization and absence of recycling. Going at this rate, by 2050, an equivalent of almost three planets might be needed to provide natural resources required to nurture lifestyles, considering the growth in global population.

The road ahead isn’t devoid of bumps, but opportunities exist

Those in the business, say retaining subscriptions is a challenge as customers may not come back when the initial excitement of sporting designer brands fades out. This could mean low retention affecting the business model.

Those renting clothes continue to purchase first-hand garments that might actually mean piling up of clothes at an individual level which may or may not be further recycled, ending up as trash in landfills. So, starting with a circular model but then falling into a linear model where textile waste is just disposed.

For clothing libraries to sustain, a garment’s life service has to be prolonged. Researchers say to make the foundation strong, garments need to be designed and manufactured keeping longevity of the fabric and clothes in mind. The resultant increase in costs will only be set off if the clothes are borrowed a higher number of times.

Also, such libraries may not be a complete solution to an individual’s entire wardrobe (think daily wear clothes like T-shirts, slacks, night-wear and underclothes etc).

However, they can target growing fashion aspirations like occasion wears (think weddings, parties, gala events etc). Luxury or designer brands are expensive, only to be worn once or limited number of times. They either fade away in bed boxes or are disposed of as fashionistas do not like to repeat their clothes! Clothing libraries can capitalize on this opportunity, democratizing fashion, by giving more people access to high fashion at relatively affordable prices.

Lastly, and probably, the first big move has to be the cultural shift. The throwaway culture of the consumer society needs to realign with the demands of the circular economy—transcending into consumer social responsibility.

Are we ready to pass the baton forward?

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