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It’s World Circular Textiles Day

The nation’s wardrobes hold 1.6 billion items of unworn clothes – but we are open to new ways of shopping
Young woman managing a secondhand store

Textiles and fashion are responsible for 4-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet according to WRAP, the UK’s adult population spends an estimated £4 billion shopping for clothes each month.

The new study to mark World Circular Textiles Day reveals that the average UK adult has 118 items of clothing in their wardrobes, of which one quarter (26% – or 31 items) were unworn for at least a year.

While many already buy and sell pre-loved clothes, more are open to alternatives schemes to ‘buy new’ shopping, like subscriptions and rental.

An unworn opportunity

The study, the largest into clothing habits ever undertaken by WRAP, shows changes over the last eight years around how long we retain our clothes, and how our openness to new ways of clothes ‘shopping’ could significantly reduce the environmental cost of clothing the nation – and save shoppers millions of pounds.

Between 2013 and 2021, the predicted length of time people in the UK kept a range of clothes increased. Today, non-padded coats and jackets have the longest lifespans at more than six years apiece, while underwear and bras have the briefest at just 2.7 and 2.6 years respectively.

When we buy pre-loved and second-hand vintage, we tend to keep these items longer – nearly a year and a half longer – than those we purchase new: 5.4 years for vintage and preloved clothes, compared with four years for off the peg. If we repair an item of clothing, we’ll typically keep it for a further 1.3 years.

But while our wardrobes are storing more clothes for longer, a considerable number of items are underused. Here, says WRAP, is a prime opportunity for on-trend businesses to provide alternative clothing models like rental subscriptions, and for savvy sellers and buyers to save money, make a bit of cash and grab a bargain.

‘The clothing and textiles sector has the fourth-largest environmental impact on the planet and that’s why WRAP is working with the UK’s biggest retailers and brands to address this through the ambitious targets of Textiles 2030. Many people are already buying and selling pre-loved clothing, but our study shows the huge financial and environmental opportunity that is unworn in all our wardrobes.

‘Textiles 2030 signatories are already beginning to introduce resale and rental business models, but these alongside repair models must become widespread if the fashion industry is to begin to achieve the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.’

CATHERINE DAVID
Director, Collaboration and Change WRAP

WRAP found that the average UK adult keeps upwards of 118 items of clothes in their wardrobes, but a quarter of them (31 items) have not been worn for at least a year.

Owning all these unworn clothes hasn’t slowed our shopping habits;45% of us still buy clothes at least once a month, and around one in eight buys clothes weekly. This translates into a UK average monthly spend of £76.53 on clothing for the whole population, increasing to £133.06 for the more frequent shoppers who purchase clothing at least once a month.

New ways to get clothes

The findings come in a two-part report by WRAP called Clothing Longevity and Circular Business Models Receptivity in the UK.

This examined the UK’s attitudes to clothing, and our keenness to adopt new forms of acquisition through the burgeoning market of circular business models – some of which even discard the notion of owning clothes all together.

These include clothing subscription services, rental (pay-per-wear), preloved (resale), upcycled and repair (where a brand repairs an item of clothing a customer has purchased from it for a fee).

Both studies offer some good news for the environment and our pockets, as WRAP found two in five people (40%) are likely to use a subscription service, with three in five (58%) open to using a repair service.

Among those who have already used a ‘circular business model’, the majority said they would do so again – with young people and high frequency/spend shoppers most likely to have engaged already, and be most receptive.

In recent years – and in some cases days – examples of circular business models have sprung up online and on the high-street, including the John Lewis partnership with children’s’ rental subscription service The Little Loop; John Lewis women’s wear rental service; M&S and Hirestreet; Asos Marketplace; ASDA’s preloved vintage and eBay and Reskinned preloved service.

These are supported by established and highly used examples including the charity retail sector and existing business-to-consumer and peer-to-peer resale services and marketplaces.

WRAP’s research confirms a clear case and mainstream potential market for brands and retailers to implement circular business models and increase the use of the clothes we already own.

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