Home Apparel market The way we make and buy clothes is harming the planet. Here is a solution.

The way we make and buy clothes is harming the planet. Here is a solution.


Have you ever thought about the environmental cost of your favorite pair of jeans? And what about the clothes hanging in your closet that haven’t been worn?

The impact of apparel manufacturing on Earth’s climate is certainly on the minds of executives at activewear company Lululemon, which is launching a resale program on Friday to take back worn-out clothes from customers and sell them at discounted prices. reduced. The goal: keep clothes in circulation longer, limit Lululemon’s carbon emissions by reducing unnecessary production and consumption by consumers.

Lululemon isn’t the only major retailer to dip your toes into the resale or consignment market in an effort to be more eco-responsible.

Arc’teryx, Levi’s, REI, Madewell, Michael Stars, The North Face and Tommy Hilfiger are among hundreds of consumer brands working to extend the life cycle of their apparel by using more sustainable materials, recycling and reusing fabrics and reselling used clothes. clothes.

Women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher is a leader in sustainable fashion. Since 2009, the company has taken 1.8 million pieces of its own clothing and recycled, reused or resold them.

“The goal is to be fully responsible for our product throughout its lifecycle,” said Lilah Horwitz, take-back program manager at Eileen Fisher.

2,400 gallons of water for a pair of jeans

As climate change intensifies, experts say it is essential to rethink the way we produce clothes in order to decarbonise garment manufacturing. the The clothing industry is one of the most polluting in the worldaccounting for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined, according to a 2019 World Bank report.

By another measure, in 2018 the sector produced more than 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, or about 4% of the global total, according to research by consultancy McKinsey & Company.

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Water consumption is another issue. Each year, the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It can take nearly 2,400 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans.

Traditional manufacturing processes often deplete the planet of natural resources, consume immense energy and water, and use environmentally harmful chemicals. But the damage does not stop there. Once consumers have used and discarded the products, they end up in landfills.

“Our cupboards are too full”

Manufacturers make more clothes than buyers can reasonably buy and wear. According to ThredUp, the largest online thrift and consignment store, approximately 9 billion pieces of clothing remain mostly unworn in US consumers’ closets each year.

This is not surprising given that the business models of most companies rely on increasing production and sales every year.

“We buy too many clothes, our closets are too full,” said Peggy Blum, author of Circular Fashion: A Supply Chain for Sustainability in the Textile and Apparel Industry. “It’s not about what brands do – nobody can be 100% sustainable or have no impact. The only way to have no impact is not to produce and not to consume, but we we don’t work that way.”

Although many companies are taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions per product, experts say it’s not enough given that their goal is always to keep increasing sales.

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“The biggest hurdle to reducing carbon emissions or achieving climate science-based goals is increasing sales each year,” said Lynda Grose, a pioneer in sustainable fashion design and a professor at California College of the Arts. “The reason is that the industry for 30 years or more has focused on selling more and more products.”

“Because so many jobs and fortunes are tied to the fashion industry, I don’t see it slowing down. I don’t see it making fewer products,” said Elizabeth Cline, author of The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking. Good While Doing Good, and director of advocacy and policy for the non-profit group Remake.

Even outdoor apparel and gear maker Patagonia – which is known for repairing and recycling its customers’ used clothing and has long been committed to using sustainable materials – acknowledged in its 2019 Benefit Corporation report. that these efforts alone were insufficient.

“We strive to become a carbon neutral company throughout our supply chain, but even though we are making significant progress, such as increased adoption of recycled materials, our footprint is growing due to the growth of our sales,” the company said.

Three years ago, Patagonia launched its “Worn Wear” program to take back the brand’s used clothing in exchange for a store credit. The company says it believes “the best way to reduce the environmental and carbon footprint of your clothes is to keep them longer.”

The second-hand market is expected to double

This philosophy is gaining momentum. A number of other top brands, from luxury fashion designer Stella McCartney to sportswear brand Adidas, have entered the resale space and are now allowing customers to return their used clothes. New customers can then purchase these discounted used goods either directly from the retailer or through resale websites such as ThreadUp or TheRealReal, an online and physical luxury consignment store.

The value of the second-hand market, including resale and donation of traditional clothing, is expected to double over the next five years to $77 billion, according to ThredUp’s 2021 Resale Report. Keeping clothes in circulation longer also promises to open up new revenue streams for brands whose business models have long relied on producing and selling more clothes each year to generate profits.

“Brand reselling is an accelerating trend, and it remains to be seen how companies invest in it and how the math changes so they ultimately produce less,” said ThredUp co-founder and CEO James Reinhart. , to CBS MoneyWatch.

To date, second-hand retail has replaced more than half a billion pieces of clothing that would otherwise have been purchased new in 2020, according to ThredUp’s annual report. In other words, it’s the number of items that customers bought used instead of new.

“The natural conclusion from that is that the world produced half a billion items that we probably didn’t need in 2020. So that’s another data point on how overproduction is a real problem” , said Reinhart.

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Beyond reducing carbon emissions, experts say a thriving apparel resale business could also help businesses win new customers.

“Over the next five years, as young people gain purchasing power, I think it’s critical that brands understand this,” Reinhart said. “People who are now in their teens and 20s are resale natives – it’s part of their experience. I think brands are smart to figure that out now.”

Cline also believes the resale market holds great promise for both brands and the environment.

“Reselling is the story of success. Who would have imagined second-hand wearing would become so mainstream? So many brands are doing more with upcycled clothing,” she said. “Reuse in general is really promising and it’s good for the industry. They’ll keep making new things, but at least we’re reusing things that already exist and we’re not relying so much on virgin resources.”