Durability in Fashion: Why Longevity Should Take Priority

Understanding the Buying Culture


I don’t know about you, but I often equate durability with quality. Those terms are definitely interchangeable for me. Clothing which can withstand continual wear and washing has to be of a high standard. Longevity is a major factor I look for when purchasing clothing. It not only ensures less trips back to the store to replace that elusive white t-shirt, but it also prevents mass discarding of clothing which you’ve worn out after a mere few months.

Source: The New York Times

We’re falling into a negative cycle of continually buying and disposing of clothing that is of low quality. Cheaply priced garments are usually indicative of the quality. What you may be saving on cost, you’re compromising on quality and durability.

This goes beyond simply being wasteful, it speaks to the culture and psychology of consumers. The everyday consumer isn’t necessarily concerned with what their cotton sweater will do in landfill when it eventually gets thrown out next year. Perhaps it’s even an age barrier that we’ve got to crack, according to Lehew & Saha (2018) it is no surprise that people, especially of young age, are consuming more clothes than ever to keep themselves updated with the trend.

Fast Fashion’s Role


Fast fashion brands are responding to the trends of each season. In turn, consumers are wanting to showcase those trends and are buying vast quantities of clothes as a result. Lehew & Saha recognise the problem, stating “fast fashion is usually recognized as a business strategy that creates an efficient supply chain to manufacture fashionable products rapidly to meet consumer demand.”

You could argue all of this is just basic economics. Supply and demand in a nutshell. I reject that proposal. Through sustainable businesses, the internet, trending hashtags on Instagram and just general conversation amongst friends, anyone is capable of changing their own thinking. Sure, trends can be alluring, but the impact of following those trends can be devastating to the environment.

Source: Bettered Women’s Support Services

Brands which can design, manufacture and sell their clothing with a stronger emphasis on durability will be able to reap the benefits. The evidence will be seen throughout the environment.

Rapid production of clothing and the equally rapid disposal of that clothing is the real problem here. Battered Women’s Support Services, 2019, sings a similar tune, saying the pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that environmental corners are cut in the name of profit.

 

 

 

Understanding and Designing for Durability

There’s always been a strong correlation between durable clothing and the positive impacts it has on the environment. The process begins in the early stages of design. According to designforlongevity (2020) “If you want to contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry, then you should probably start with a focus on prolonging the active lifetime of the garments you design.”

Designing for longevity has been identified as the single largest opportunity to reduce carbon, water and waste footprints of clothing. Why? You are simply reducing the volume of clothing which is being discarded, meaning that fewer resources are needing to be used in order to make the large quantities of clothing.

We’re currently in an area of ‘disposable fashion’ which is going against everything the durable fashion industry is attempting to achieve. Designing durable clothing wholeheartedly serves both consumer and environment equally. “Producing better quality, longer lasting clothes is win-win situation that brings real benefits to brands, manufacturers, retailers, and to consumers.” (designforlongevity, 2020)

It’s worthwhile to further dissect what durability truly means. I look at durability in two main realms: physical and emotional.

Physical Durability

This relates to the garments design and construction. It needs to be able to withstand factors including surface abrasion, odour and staining. It also looks at the materials and fabrics which are used in order to maximise the durability of the garment.

The most effective way of making sure your garments are durable is by choosing fabrics which are complimentary to the environment long-term.

  • Choosing organic and natural fibres that do not require chemicals to be produced
  • Stray away from fabrics such as cotton as it needs a lot of water to grow
  • Choose fibres with low water consumption such as linen

Below are some examples of materials which are durable and sustainable:

 

Source: Sustain Your Style

Choosing fabrics appropriately can make a huge difference in ensuring longevity and a sustainable lifecycle for your garments. Some fibres do not compliment the environment in the long run as they can use a large quantity of water in order to produce.

Below of some examples of fibres which are not as sustainable or durable:

Source: Sustain Your Style

Sourcing sustainable fabrics is ultimately the best way to compliment the environment while also providing a durable garment for consumers. Environmental impacts such as toxicity and water depletion all bear a large burden on the planet. Choosing fabrics which use less water and don’t rely on harmful chemicals is just one way of decreasing that strain on the environment.

 

Emotional Durability

This realm reflects both relevance and desirability to the consumer. How you feel when wearing the clothing. You should take factors such as comfortability, cut, fit and the ageing process into consideration.

While these factors are important to recognise, ultimately it is the continual use that a product serves to its consumer that is the true measure of its durability.

 

RubyMoon on Durability

Durability is the true reflection of a circular economy. A circular economy is wholly dependent on using as few materials as possible. Reducing waste is the ultimately reward.

Nearly 92% of the world’s resources – which include metals, plastics, wood, concrete, chemicals and all other materials in circulation, are only used once; in a single product, before becoming waste. The trick here is to keep these resources in a continual loop of use and reuse to ensure sustainability. The four key pillars of a circular economy are: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.

We are actively implementing those four pillars into our ethos. Regenerated nylon is one of the core materials used in the making of our garments. Used fishing nets, carpets and other nylon fragments are re-spun back into a continuous filament. The sole material in all our swimwear is Econyl, a 100% regenerated nylon yarn and that can be recycled endlessly. We will continue to be committed to the circular economy through our use of regenerative and recycled fibres.

That’s got to be our first priority, to reuse those carbons, fibres and fabrics.

 

Source: Canopea

Avoiding the need to make new fibres and use purely recycled and regenerated fibres will reduce the amount of materials discarded in landfill each year. There are enough raw materials and fibres to make clothing for the next six generations. That is without the need for anyone to buy any new clothing. That is something to think about.

Ultimately, the circular economy can thrive when you buy less. Buy less but of better quality. Better quality equates to better durability.                                        

 

 

“We want people to only buy one piece per year at the most and we want people to treasure it and love it and wear it for many years and enjoy it for many years. That is the whole point of the circular economy”
-Jo-Anne, founder and designer

Durability and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) 

To properly understand durability, we must look at how it is determined within the fashion industry. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a globally used and accepted method of assessing the environmental impacts of a product’s life cycle from start to finish. From raw material extraction, material processing, product manufacture, distribution, use, disposal and recycling. (Peters, G. et al. 2015; 10)

LCA looks at all aspects of the garments journey from the very start to finish. With this analysis, problems are often recognised and solutions often made.

Extending the lifespan of garments is often an area of interest. The humble t-shirt can actually live longer, we just need to know the best way to go about it. A 2015 study looking into the fashion consumption within Sweden saw that it is in fact possible to extend the life span of garments. It can be seen by replacing thirsty cotton fibres with forest-based Tencel. Water consumption is one of the most important areas to address when attempting to make durable and sustainable garments. Switching from cotton to Tencel saw a reduction in the water consumption in garments such as t-shirts and hospital garments.

Water consumption and the agriculture land occupation saw a significant reduction when switching from cotton to Tencel. 

Source: Mistral Future Fashion

That is only one example of a practical way to be more sustainable and reduce your water consumption. It once again reinforces the importance of using sustainable and high-quality fabrics which will, in turn, create a longer lasting durable garment.

I couldn’t reinforce this message more if I tried. Durable clothing is the way forward. Durable clothing is indicative of its high quality and longevity for you as the consumer.

Source: Sustain Your Style

Using sustainably sourced materials will eliminate the need for new materials to be made. You are recycling and using fabrics which already exist. These core principles align with that of a circular economy and it is an essential business model for every fashion brand to follow. It is the only way to continue making garments sustainability and of high durable quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Designing for End of Life

I suppose designing for end of life comes with the territory when designing sustainable and durable garments. It’s important to design for the entirety of your garments lifecycle.

Once again, it comes back to choosing fibres which are ideally biodegradable, do not require chemicals to be produced and don’t use large quantities of water to grow. Sustainable and circular fashion starts at the very beginning with design.

Close The Loop outlines 5 ‘strategies for design’ which brands can implement in order to be as sustainable as possible.

1) design to last
2) design for rebirth
3) design to minimize waste
4) design to reduce the need for rapid consumption
5) design with new technologies in mind

This provides a good overview on the fundamentals brands could take to ensure they are adhering to their moral obligations by prolonging the life and quality of the garments they are creating. To see the strategies explained further see the link below:
https://www.close-the-loop.be/en/phase/5/design#tab-6

Source: The New York Times

Extending the life cycle of each garment is an effective way to evoke sustainability. Many appropriate steps can be taken by any brand in order for this longevity to exist. Some examples may include:

– using fabrics and textiles which are more biodegradable

-creating new life through design and upcycling

-recycle textiles

-organise collection and take back systems (drop off points, recycling bins, thrift stores)

-prolong life through resuse

Steps Moving Forwards

It’s important to know the origins of your clothing and how it will affect the environment in the long term. The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. In the United Kingdom alone, an estimated 350,000 tons worth of used clothing is discarded annually. (sustain your style, 2020).

These conversations will remain both in online and offline capacities. It shows the shift in societal thinking surrounding sustainability within the fashion industry as a whole. This rhetoric is important in educating consumers on how they can contribute positively to this battle. It is as simple as making conscious purchasing decisions. It’s a mutual ask however, brands need to be as transparent as possible in order to gain the trust and loyalty of consumers. Label your clothing with what materials are being used and how sustainable they can be.

The message is clear: Buy less. Buy better.

Sources

Lehew, M., Saha, K. (2018). “Durable Fashion Apparel: A Potential Sustainability Solution?” ResearchGate.Retrieved from file:///Users/ellirobyncoppard/Downloads/SCORAIPAPER_SAHA-KOWSHIK.pdf

[Accessed June 22nd 2020]

Peters, G., et al. (2015). ”Environmental assessment of Swedish fashion consumption”. Mistra future fashion.Retrieved from
http://mistrafuturefashion.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Environmental-assessment-of-Swedish-fashion-consumption-LCA.pdf
[Accessed June 23rd 2020]

Author Unknown. (2020) “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Sustain Your Style. Retrieved from
https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry

[Accessed June 23rd 2020]

Author Unknown. (2020) “Why Longevity?” Designforlongevity. Retrieved from https://designforlongevity.com/articles/why-longevity
[Accessed June 23rd 2020]

FashionUnited. (2017). “Can the fashion industry calculate its way to sustainability? – The potential of LCA”. Fashion United. Retrieved from
https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/can-the-fashion-industry-calculate-its-way-to-sustainability-the-potential-of-lca/2017061924879

[Accessed June 24th 2020]

The Explorer. (2020). “How the circular economy is changing business”. The Explorer. Retrieved from https://www.theexplorer.no/stories/renewable-resources/an-introduction-to-the-circular-economy/?gclid=CjwKCAjwltH3BRB6EiwAhj0IUE9z9cmZYd2A622cTFiVRo4Eih6SIyvbO73b4D_oR8zKfmd9_62TbRoCsukQAvD_BwE

[Accessed June 24th 2020]

Author Unknown. (2020). “Introduction”. Close The Loop. Retrieved from https://www.close-the-loop.be/en/phase/5/design#tab-6

[Accessed June 24th 2020]

Author Unknown. (2018). “The Hot Button Issue: CanopyStyle update on viscose producers and forests”. Canopy. Retrieved from https://www.arcusfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/The-Hot-Button-Issue.pdf

[Accessed 25th June 2020]

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