Waste is perhaps the biggest issue facing the fashion industry. It is estimated that around 100 billion items of clothing and 14 billion pairs of shoes are sold on a yearly basis, and less than 20% of all textiles are recycled (Bianchi and Birtwistle, 2010). This is harmful to the environment in multiple different ways – the destruction of clothing and textiles releases microfibers into the ocean, the creation and destruction of these clothing items creates a significant amount of greenhouse gas, and those that are not destroyed are placed in landfills (Bianchi and Birtwistle, 2010).
A study was conducted on the issues of waste and how consumers see this issue by Birtwistle (2007). This study was composed of interviews with consumers of fast fashion in the UK and second-hand shop managers, as well as focus groups discussing the issues surrounding fashion and textile waste. It was found that consumers typically had very little understanding of what happens to clothes when they are discarded and were unable to understand the environmental impact that their clothing choices had on the environment (Birtwistle, 2007). As such, it can be difficult to make good choices in terms of purchasing textiles that would not be wasted in a way that harms the environment – there is simply not enough information out there about how best to re-use and recycle clothing. Interestingly, there was a lot of interest in creating new ways to re-use and recycle clothing and textiles after the participants were made aware of the negative effects, highlighting that there is likely to be a large market for this type of approach to fashion in future.

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There is a need to conduct future studies on the best way of approaching this perspective from a consumer perspective. Although Birtwistle (2007) identified interest in reducing clothing and fashion waste, there is little available information about which companies are working on improving the situation. In addition, there are several studies that focus on what small companies with ethical concerns about waste are doing (Bianchi and Birtwistle, 2010) but less information about how consumers respond to these programs. It is evident that companies that attempt to recycle clothing do exist, but they do not form the dominant narrative in the fashion industry. There is a real need to understand how these companies can encourage consumers to engage in ethical purchasing behavior and reduce overall textile waste and subsequent damage to the environment.

There are several ways of approaching the issue. The first is to create textiles and clothing that create less waste in the first place – this can involve the use of hand-woven fabrics that take the fashion industry out of large factories. Brands like Zurita are known for their approach of using whole textiles in the creation of a garment to avoid cut-offs being part of the waste issue (Brown, 2018). The issue here is that many of these ethical companies tend to be more expensive. On the lower end of the scale, companies like ASOS have started selling denim that has been re-worked and re-purposed, which makes this sustainable clothing more accessible to those on lower budgets. Another approach to reducing waste in textiles is simply to avoid buying clothing new. Thrift shops and other consignment stores can be useful for getting clothing items that have been worn previously and takes them out of the cycle of purchase and reduction in a way that could benefit the environment significantly (Bianchi and Birtwistle, 2010). Overall, it appears that companies are attempting to minimize waste but that consumers need to be more aware of the issue in order to make these approaches successful.

  • Bianchi, C., & Birtwistle, G. (2010). Sell, give away, or donate: an exploratory study of fashion clothing disposal behaviour in two countries. The International Review Of Retail, Distribution And Consumer Research, 20(3), 353-368. doi: 10.1080/09593969.2010.491213
  • Birtwistle, G. (2007). Fashion clothing – where does it all end up?. International Journal Of Retail & Distribution Management, 35(3), 210-216. doi: 10.1108/09590550710735068
  • Brown, S. (2018). 7 fashion brands that are designing out waste – Fashion Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.fashionrevolution.org/usa-blog/7-fashion-brands-that-are-designing-out-waste/