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Talking Textiles: Engaging with young consumers on the life-cycle of our clothes

 

The global fashion and textiles industry is taking steps towards a circular economy system. In the process, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to understand the behaviour and perceptions of consumer groups, and engage closely with them in creating a more circular model of production, consumption and disposal.

Within the European-funded project Resyntex, which develops new recycling technologies for textile fibres, Prospex Institute organised a series of interactive “Citizen Labs” in four European countries. We met young consumers at their schools, universities and hobby centres in the UK, France, Italy and Slovenia. We ran an interactive workshop over their lunch breaks, with a blend of interactive activities (such as the sorting of a pile of textile waste) and online surveys covering behavioural patterns. The work was developed in close cooperation with researcher Sara Li-Chou Han from the Manchester Fashion Institute.

In our Citizen Labs, we found out more about the use phase of participants’ garments and the sort of services they use when they want to get rid of clothes (and why they throw them away in the first place). We also addressed the factors that affect shopping and purchasing behaviour, ranging from trends and peer pressure to sustainability as well as “made in…”-labels.

The results, which are currently being analysed in further depth by the Manchester Fashion Institute, show surprising consistency across the four locations. We found that price and quality are the most crucial factors driving purchases, outweighing aspects of sustainability, ethics and origin (fibre content, fair trade, local produce). Interestingly, quality considerations were found to be more important than pricing in three out of four case study results.

The most used disposal options are the bin, the charity and/or second-hand shop, and the textile bank. Consumers who have never or rarely brought their clothes to dedicated banks or used clothing shops, claim it is simply not convenient enough (due to the absence of close-by collection points in the neighbourhood), while others point to a lack of information and transparency on what subsequently happens to their clothes. Rather than giving away, young consumers also tend to sell items of clothing online, or exchange them through social media platforms.

Of crucial importance if we want to move to a regenerative system in which materials keep cascading in a loop, is that the assessment of potential reuse and recyclability is primarily done through the lens of the product in itself – consumers do not consider the material contained within it, and have limited awareness of the potential of material recycling, rather than product reuse.

 

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