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Brits increasingly wearing old clothes over concerns of impact on the planet

Tom Bottomley
13 January 2022

According to new research, half of UK adults (51%) still own and frequently wear an item of clothing that’s a decade old or more, and even 17% of millennials and Gen-Z aged under 35 do, while 20% of adults still wear something that’s more than 20 years old. 

A survey of 2,000 UK adults was commissioned by trade body Leather UK. It found that almost half (47%) of adults think about the potential impact on the planet when it comes to buying clothes and over a third (35%) buy clothing and accessories less frequently now than they did five years ago.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults believe it’s important to have clothing that lasts for years, even when worn regularly. The most common long-lived apparel items are a pair of trousers/jeans (13%) or a leather coat/jacket (9%). Nearly half of adults (45%) said they kept their oldest item because it was made of material with a long lifespan and still looked good.

Kerry Senior, Director at Leather UK, said: “In an age of throwaway fast fashion, buying a high-quality item of clothing that you can keep and wear regularly for years still has a lot of appeal. The longevity and durability of leather make it an ideal material for the slow fashion choices we all need to be making.

“Importantly, keeping and re-wearing the same item of clothing for a decade or longer is a far more sustainable choice compared to buying a new one every year or two. It doesn’t always mean spending hundreds of pounds, as long as you buy something that you know will last. Cost per wear is a term many shoppers will be familiar with, but increasingly we can expect to see the term, impact per wear, to refer to the sustainability credentials of an item of clothing.”

The research also noted that nearly a quarter (22%) of adults are now more likely to buy clothing and accessories from a vintage store, second-hand shop or resale platform, such as eBay, Depop, Vestiaire Collective or Vinted, than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck two years ago.

And while fashion rental services are hitting the headlines, with public figures such as Carrie Johnson renting her wedding dress for the big day, and high street retailers including M&S getting in on the act, only 17% of those surveyed said they’d ever rented an outfit or accessories. However, this rose to 40% among 18-34 year-olds. Of those who’d used rental, most cited it as a more ethical, sustainable choice (32%) followed by the fact that it allowed them to experience luxury items they wouldn’t normally be able to purchase (31%).

Building on the sustainability theme, when asked, just over three quarters of adults (74%) said they would repair a garment, with 57% of women saying they would sew on buttons, mend torn fabric and stitch hems themselves. Others would enlist the help of family or friends (16% of adults) or professional repair services (16%). Only 12% would throw the items away or take it to a charity shop or a recycling service.

However, the study also found that 50% of those who buy with sustainability in mind admit that shopping in a way that has the least impact on the planet is confusing and it is hard to know what the right choice is. Just over a quarter (28%) said they read labels carefully and do a lot of research so as to buy items they think have the least impact on the planet.

As an example of confusion that exists, only a quarter (24%) of respondents were aware that hides or skins used to make leather are a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise go to waste - with 50% falsely thinking that cattle were bred specifically for leather. But once they were told the facts, 29% said this information would make them more likely to buy leather in the future.

Senior added: “Buying clothing sustainably can be difficult and confusing. An example of this, one that sits at the heart of our role as a trade body to inform, is the surprising lack of knowledge regarding the origins of real leather. Too few people appear to be aware that it is actually a by-product of the food industry and those hides would otherwise be thrown away.”

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