“I just don’t have anything to wear.” Be honest, how often have you stared at a wardrobe full of clothes and moaned about your apparent lack of choice?

It’s a daft complaint, because one of the seldom acknowledged truths about the fashion industry is that we’re buying more clothes than ever. Consider this: the average American buys five times as much clothing as he or she did in 1980.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, GOexplorer, letote

Virgin Unite, sustainability, GOexplorer, letote

However, we’re also wearing the clothes we do buy a lot less. On average, 80 per cent of an American woman’s wardrobe is not worn on a regular basis. And it’s scarcely any better on the other side of the pond. According to a report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the average lifespan of a piece of clothing in the UK is less than three-and-a-half years. Other research reckons Brits discard their garments after an average of 2.2 years. And, as the Observer’s ethical fashion correspondent Lucy Siegle bluntly put it: “For a younger demographic, you can probably halve that. A UK-based fashion company tells its buyers to remember that a dress will stay in the owner’s wardrobe for only five weeks.”

One of the consequences of all that overspending – and overproduction – is that a huge amount of textile waste goes to landfills. That’s right. If you believe all the clothes you schlepp down to the local Goodwill Store or Oxfam shop get snapped up by beady-eyed bargain-hunters, think again. There’s a good chance your tossed-out garments get carted off to the nearest landfill. Why? Because so many people are throwing out their clothes that charity shops have no other option. According to the Atlantic, in New York City, clothing and textiles account for more than six per cent of all rubbish, or 193,000 tonnes thrown away annually. What’s more, these figures echo national averages: “Americans recycle or donate only 15 per cent of their used clothing, and the rest – about 10.5 million tons a year – goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material,” the magazine reported.

Siegle has some good advice for anyone seeking to be more ethical on the high street. Among her “five tips for shopping smarter”, she says you should ask yourself if you would wear a prospective item of clothing 30 times. And garments like Tom Cridland’s Thirty-Year Sweatshirt, are one way of achieving this meagre goal.

Read more about the Thirty-Year Sweatshirt

Virgin Unite, sustainability, GO

Virgin Unite, sustainability, GOexplorer, letote

There are savings for customers, too. The average American con­sumer spends about $1,700 a year on ap­parel, with wo­men spend­ing more. Rental and leas­ing op­tions such as Le Tote’s provide an al­tern­at­ive way of thinking about clothing and help sig­ni­fic­antly re­duce people’s ex­penses.

Finally, Le Tote’s model en­sures that people only pay for and keep the clothes and ac­cessor­ies they wear. Meanwhile, any clothing removed from circulation by Le Tote is sent to its partner charities and consignment organisations.

It’s worth repeating that in the US alone, the av­er­age per­son throws away a staggering 37 kg of tex­tiles each year, of which 85 per cent is sent to land­fill. In other words, never have complaints about lacking something to wear sounded so ridiculous. Hopefully, though, sustainable solutions such as Le Tote’s circular platform will take off, help reduce the fashion industry’s big environmental footprint, and put a stop to our culture of waste.


This innovation is part of the Global Opportunity Explorer – a platform which offers direct access to leading sustainable innovations around the world. The Explorer is a joint project of Sustainia, DNV GL and the UN Global Compact. Rooted in over five years of research involving 17,000 business leaders and 17 expert panels, it guides you through hundreds of solutions and market opportunities which address the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Discover more on goexplorer.org, and follow the latest news @sustainia and #GOexplorer.

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