From rag trade to retail: garment failure and the potential for sustainable fashion

Cooper, T. ORCID: 0000-0001-8623-2918, Hughes, M. and Claxton, S., 2015. From rag trade to retail: garment failure and the potential for sustainable fashion. In: T. Cooper ORCID: 0000-0001-8623-2918, N. Braithwaite ORCID: 0000-0001-6424-8919, M. Moreno and G. Salvia, eds., Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) Conference proceedings, [Nottingham Trent University], Nottingham, 17-19 June 2015. Nottingham: Nottingham Trent University: CADBE, pp. 73-80. ISBN 9780957600997

PubSub4900_Cooper_NTUimprint.pdf - Published version

Download (302kB) | Preview


Around 1.8 million tonnes of clothing waste is generated annually in the UK, accounting for around 5% of total UK household waste, with the lifetime of many garments unduly short. As a result of greater attention being placed on waste reduction at European Union and national government level, however, interest in the potential for increased garment lifetimes has grown in recent years and, despite obvious tensions between fashion and longevity, retailers have begun to engage in the debate.
This paper presents findings from a research project undertaken for WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) aimed at an industry-supported approach to measuring, specifying and communicating aspects of clothing longevity. Although a high proportion of garments are thrown away in wearable condition, many of which are reused, others are discarded because they are damaged or worn out. This study was concerned with the latter. Although a literature review identified recent studies addressing the context surrounding the fashion industry and elements of the ‘fast fashion’ debate, providing some explanation for the disposable nature of much fashion, no primary research relating to garment failure was found. A visual survey of discarded clothing was thus undertaken in order to increase knowledge and understanding of reasons for garment failure. Visits were made to three UK based textile reuse and recycling organisations. Around 1,500 discarded garments in a failed condition were subject to a systematic analysis, categorised by type of garment and condition and with visual images recorded. Only garments no longer ‘fit for purpose’, deemed not to be in a good enough condition to be re-sold in the UK, were assessed. The method of first hand observation enabled consideration of why items had been discarded and had the benefit of being less subjective and not dependent upon the memory of people who had disposed of them.
The main reasons why garments appeared to have been discarded were identified as colour fading and problems relating to fabric quality such as pilling of knitted items and fabric breakdown in the form of fraying and thinning. Other key issues were general wear around the crotch of trousers and jeans, discolouration in white shirts and holes in seams. The detailed findings, presented by type of garment and type of fabric, will be useful to fashion retailers and brands wishing to respond to growing concerns about waste arising from short-lived clothing. It should enable them to review their performance criteria and testing procedures in order to adjust garment specifications, and to market garments appropriately.

Item Type: Chapter in book
Creators: Cooper, T., Hughes, M. and Claxton, S.
Publisher: Nottingham Trent University: CADBE
Place of Publication: Nottingham
Date: 2015
ISBN: 9780957600997
Rights: [© Nottingham Trent University 2015]., cc Proceedings are under a Creative Common License Number CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (
Divisions: Schools > School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Schools > School of Art and Design
Record created by: Jill Tomkinson
Date Added: 08 Apr 2016 10:33
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2017 14:25

Actions (login required)

Edit View Edit View


Views per month over past year


Downloads per month over past year