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“The most sustain­able garments are already in our wardrobe”

Eighty percent of the climate impact from Swedish clothing consumption occurs during the production phase. Using a garment twice as many times almost halves the garment’s environmental impact. A growing number of sustainable business models are emerging as consumers increasingly strive to lower their carbon footprint. Mistra Future Fashion was a research programme focusing on sustainable fashion. Between 2011 and 2019 the project worked to promote a positive future fashion industry. In 2020, Mistra Future Fashion was ranked on the IVA 100 list, which highlights research for sustainable competitiveness.

This is far from sustainable. Recent studies show that 80% of the climate impact from clothing consumption occurs during the production phase. This means that if you double the active lifespan of a garment, you reduce the garment’s climate impact by 49%, On average, a T-shirt is worn 30 times. If you wear the same T-shirt 60 times instead, you halve its climate impact.

– “A garment’s active life is the single key factor that determines its climate impact. The choice of materials, production methods, production countries and so forth does not affect environmental impact as much as wearing garments many times. For this reason, people should primarily focus on buying clothes they expect to wear frequently and over a long period of time,” says Åsa Östlund, researcher at RISE and former programme manager at Mistra Future Fashion.

Mistra Future Fashion on IVA 100 list

The interdisciplinary research programme Mistra Future Fashion was coordinated by RISE and had the vision of ‘enabling systemic change leading to a sustainable fashion industry and society’. The programme spanned eight years and the final report was issued in October 2019. In 2020, Mistra Future Fashion was ranked on the IVA (Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences) Research2Business 100 list, which highlights research for sustainable competitiveness.

Mistra Future Fashion influences the industry

Mistra Future Fashion’s data is used by fashion giants such as Filippa K and H&M to help them remain at the cutting edge in promoting a more sustainable fashion industry

– “Mistra Future Fashion was a fabulous programme with a  systemic perspective involving a variety of stakeholders and partners. For us at H&M, the programme provided a valuable network and a broader understanding of the challenges faced in today’s fashion industry, as well as a reminder that we are all on this important journey together. Mistra Future Fashion offered insight into consumer behaviour, design principles, LCA (life cycle analysis) and the importance of adopting new business models and extending garments’ life. These insights supported us in designing our circular strategy,” says Felicia Reuterswärd, Sustainability Manager H&M Sweden.

Actors such as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Textile and Fashion 2030 also benefit from Mistra Future Fashion’s data.

The conditions are completely different in certain other markets

Low financial incentive in Sweden

Swedish consumers generally want to act sustainably, but the difficulty lies in the fact that Swedes are too well-off. We lack the financial incentive to buy second-hand items or mend damaged clothing.

– “The conditions are completely different in certain other markets, such as Greece. Greek consumers buy second-hand items a lot more than Swedish consumers, and make significant savings by shunning newly produced clothing. “This creates far better conditions for second-hand trade,” says Åsa.

Wide gap between attitude and actions

There is a wide gap between attitude and actions among Swedish consumers today. The majority of consumers express an intention to behave and buy more sustainably, but this sadly isn’t reflected in their actual behaviour. Achieving a change in consumer behaviour requires a combination of information, individual goals, feedback and engagement. Mistra Future Fashion’s research shows that a mere 10% of consumers who were only informed about the effects of their consumer behaviour changed their behaviour for the better. The biggest change – an impressive 60% – occurred in the group that was given both information and individual goals, along with follow-up and feedback. The group that received information and goals as a group as well as follow-up and feedback as a group showed a change of 47 percent.

– “In addition to the production phase, which accounts for 80% of clothing’s climate impact, personal transport is another key aspect where consumers can make a difference. Consumer transport to and from the shop accounts for a hefty 11% of the clothing’s climate impact. If a person walks or cycles and also buys pre-loved clothes from second-hand shops, this reduces climate impact significantly,” says Åsa.

New sustainable business concepts

Besides buying second-hand, there are several other sustainable business ideas today to prolong clothing’s life, such as clothing libraries, second-hand personal shoppers and tailoring services.

– “For example, going to a gala event is a great opportunity to rent an evening dress, which is a cheaper and more climate-friendly option than buying a new dress. And it’s also fun to wear a ‘new’ dress on every occasion,” Åsa says.

Although alternative business models are increasingly emerging as a means of extending the life of clothing, there are still very few consumers who apply these models. For instance, only 1% of Swedes have rented clothes from a clothing library.

– “I hope the latest digital technology will create opportunities for new alternative and sustainable business models to prolong the life of clothing and encourage trading between private individuals,” concludes Åsa.

the outlook report

Download ’the outlook report’, an overview and packaged recommendations stemming from 8 years of research aiming at a systemic change in fashion.

Published: 2020-03-31