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It’s estimated that between 80 and 150 billion garments are produced every year. On a planet of roughly 8 billion people, that’s between 10 and 15 garments per person. But it didn’t used to be that way. Research by McKinsey has found that since the turn of the century our collective shopping habits have seen the number of garments purchased increase by 60 percent. In a bid for growth the fashion industry has turned clothing — which used to be an investment — into a consumable, by having us rapidly replace the contents of our wardrobes. It’s a recipe that has worked well for shareholders but less so for the environment, those working in the supply chain and our relationship with our belongings.
Fast fashion in particular has created a deeply entrenched culture of consumerism. By turning out cheap up-to-the minute designs; it has driven us not only to expand our wardrobes but also render previous favorites obsolete with every new drop. Where we used to see a new garment as an investment, nowadays clothes are used about half as long as they were 15 years ago - with the lowest-priced items treated as disposable, discarded after just seven or eight wears. Not entirely surprising, if it’s cheaper to go for a new t-shirt than to repair the one we have, then obviously we are going to feed a throwaway culture that is hard to reverse.
What happens to those unwanted garments has become a mounting problem. Today clothes are disregarded in unimaginable volumes, with 92 millions tonnes ending up in landfill every year. To put that into perspective, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill.
Only last month images were released showing discarded clothes overflowing from landfill sites in the Chilean desert - the problem so big that it could be seen from space. As individuals we believe we are doing our part in donating garments to thrift stores or into recycling boxes, yet most of those garments end up being exported to countries in the global south. Here traders sort through garments for local resale but their sheer volume and decreasing quality leaves these countries overwhelmed and landfill sites overflowing with garments. More recently, Swedish journalists uncovered that garments handed in, with the promise of being resold or recycled at a fast fashion giant, ended up polluting land and waters in Benin and Ghana instead. It is estimated that 75% of discarded textiles doomed for landfill or incineration and of the 25% cent for recycling, only 1% is actually recycled into new garments. Not only are fast fashion companies profiting from selling goods produced irresponsibly in the global south to more privileged countries, they're also making the waste they're creating someone else's problem. As a result, we are stuck in an outdated linear system; produce, use, discard. It’s time for a rethink.
We live in a throwaway culture and the tide of textiles can largely be attributed to two systemic flaws within fashion’s linear business model: an obsession with constant growth, that produces unmanageable volumes of low grade products, and a lack of end-of-life solutions, to sufficiently care for what's being put out. Uncoupling the industry from both, has the potential to tackle the glut of garments that fill both our wardrobes and the environment.
What is needed is to recast fashion away from a “volumes business” to one that honors the inherent and lifelong value in every piece. It would require slower production cycles, transparent and controlled supply chains that acknowledge and cover the human and environmental costs, and the production of better garments made to endure the wear they deserve. It will mean a bump in the price of garments but what the shop shelves and our wardrobes lack in quantity, will be replaced with clothes that are more valuable than the fashion industry has taught us. It shifts the context as clothes disconnected from the impact on lives and the environment, to deeply tied to them.
As owners our relationship to the clothes we purchase will change, turning the garment from a mere consumable to an object with an intrinsic personal value. We’ll develop a better understanding of quality, what it takes to create clothes, appreciate each piece and use our garments for as long as possible. Being used will no longer be seen as a deficiency but as value, be it a repair, a patch or patina. We’ll appreciate that extending a garment’s lifetime slows down consumption and production, reduces waste and in turn lowers the apparel industry’s environmental impact. Being a long-term garment-wearer will be considered a badge of honor. But that’s not enough. Even the most considered items might eventually fall out of daily rotation. That’s where responsibility for the afterlife of garments comes in.
For too long the fashion industry has rinsed its hands of its garments at the point of sale. Despite the industry having created a system of fast turnover of garments, little consideration has gone into what happens to or what to do with garments once one wearer is done with it. With unimaginable quantities of lower quality, low price garments with little appreciation by the consumer, today's fashion simply isn't valuable enough to take care of, once "used". If we however create less but higher grade clothing, and increase our appreciation for that clothing, every garment will be bestowed with an inherent value that can stretch a lifetime, across several owners. By extending the service life of a garment, brands have the potential to not only reduce their environmental impact but also generate revenue by recirculating products already in existence. Success in recirculating garments through resale, remake or recycling has an opportunity to decouple the apparel industry from its linear extraction-consumption model and instead build a system that points to longevity and accountability as well as environmental and financial stability.
In May 2021, we launched the Revival Program - our version of a takeback program, which supports our customers to responsibly take care of their unwanted ASKET items by allowing them to send them back to us no matter the condition. Over the course of two years we have collected some 2500 garments and have worked out the best way to extend the lifetime of that garment. Having cleaned, repaired and reconditioned the majority of them (with the rest pending remake or recycling) and successfully hosting two pop-up resale events, we’re now excited to introduce the ASKET Restore, a physical retail space that will exclusively sell used ASKET garments - putting our treasured pieces back on offer and into the hands of a second, third, fourth owner.