Deep diving into wardrobes provides important knowledge on clothes and their environmental impact

Norway leads the way in methods for studying the use of clothing. This is knowledge that is important in sustainability studies of apparel.

How many clothes are there in our wardrobes? What is used a lot and what do you seldom wear, and why? Which clothes have the largest environmental footprint? What causes clothes to be cared for and repaired?

There are many unanswered questions when the desire is to understand the connection between the consumption of clothing, and climate and environmental impacts. We need to understand why someone has a wardrobe full of clothes and still nothing to wear. To answer these questions, methods that can reconcile the concrete material with the way we use, buy, repair, launder, choose and not least throw away clothes, are required.

The method called “wardrobe studies” is very central in studies of clothing’s environmental impact. Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at Oslo Metropolitan University has been at the centre of the development of these methods for 23 years. Today, the method is included in research, teaching, product development and design worldwide.

Research in people’s homes

The method involves the researcher and informant going through the informant’s wardrobe piece by piece, together. In some studies, the entire wardrobe is reviewed and in others, selected parts such as passive clothes, leisure and sports clothes, or favourite clothes are specifically studied. When the clothes are reviewed, the researcher asks the same questions for each garment. This gives us opportunities to analyze differences in the way different garments are used.

The method is time-consuming but provides detailed and reliable knowledge. Ideally, we do this at the informants’ homes and thus also gain knowledge about details around the organisation, storage, laundering and care of the clothes.

Clothes are complex

Wardrobe studies are particularly suitable for studying practices that we often take for granted. The practices are important to understand in order to gain better knowledge of consumption patterns, and thus how they can be changed in a more sustainable direction. The special feature of the method is that the clothes are at the centre of the analysis.

Clothes are very complex materially, socially and culturally. They are made from most types of materials, from animals and plants, including metal and chemicals and increasingly plastic. They are used to camouflage the body, keep it warm, decorate, protect and show belonging to cultures, groups, places and positions in society. Clothes are important for self-respect, security and social participation.

In order to embrace so many different aspects and see them in context, methods are required which have the capacity to connect the actual material with the practices and their many different meanings, both for the individual and society.

What properties do the clothes have?

Wardrobe studies lead to more knowledge about the use of clothes. This stands in contrast to studies that are concerned with clothes related to fashion, often understood as the novelty value of the clothes. In such studies, some things are often excluded, namely the material properties of the clothes, as well as all the nuances in the relationship between the wearer of the clothes and the clothes themselves, and the interplay between the clothes in the wardrobe.

After conversations with people about clothes over several decades, we have rarely heard informants say that fashion is important to them, and it is much more common to say the opposite. Fashion is an aspect of our clothes, but for most people, there are completely different reasons for both what you buy and what you wear. Fashion can make it difficult to find something you like in the store, such as the colour you think suits you, or a shape that is perceived as flattering.

Few know how many clothes they own

To capture the material in wardrobe studies, various techniques are used to obtain information about each individual garment such as photos, interviews, registrations and technical analyses. This gives the advantage that the information becomes concrete and tied to both the material and social aspects, and thus not so dependent on words alone.

Clothing habits, like other parts of our daily lives, are something we don’t usually think about. Therefore, they are also difficult to put into words in a conversation or interview situation. It is easier to describe the clothes and how they are used when we talk about specific garments. It will then be possible for us researchers later to see the relationship between the clothes and the wearer, and pursue what lies behind the words.

Very few know the average age of their own wardrobe or how many clothes they actually have. We ask people about what they know and have a relationship with, but compile the information ourselves with national or global averages, or qualitatively based interpretations.

Knowledge to inform policy

Today, SIFO has several ongoing research projects with wardrobe studies: CHANGE, Wasted Textiles and Belong, all funded by the Research Council of Norway. Here the wardrobe studies are used to study how we use clothes for different occasions and the importance of variation in clothing habits, how we can reduce the amount of textiles and specifically synthetic textiles, and the importance of clothes for belonging.

In all projects, wardrobe studies contribute to important knowledge about the importance of clothing and textiles in our everyday lives. This knowledge is crucial to developing policies capable of drastically reducing climate and environmental impact, and at the same time ensuring everyone in the population has access to good clothing.

An important challenge in the work with clothing and the environment has long been very inadequate life cycle analyses (LCAs). Without knowledge of lifespan, disposable products are compared to clothes that are worn 500 times or more.

No one would argue that such a use of LCAs is correct, but going from this point of departure to finding methods to include lifespan in LCAs of environmental impact, is quite a challenge. SIFO has further developed the wardrobe studies method in a quantitative direction in order to obtain knowledge about global clothing habits suitable for such analyses.

Consumption is important

In these studies, we work with detailed information on 53,461 garments which gives the opportunity to ask questions about, for example, differences between different types of garments, fibres or what the clothes are used for. This is very relevant when the EU is now developing a new labelling scheme, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), which will include textiles. SIFO, therefore, contributes to the development of the rules specific to clothing in this labelling scheme. There, as in many other contexts, it is difficult to get the impression that consumption is important.

The work with wardrobe studies shows that in research it is not only important to develop good questions, but that the methods must also be adapted so that we researchers are able to deliver the knowledge that society needs. Climate and environmental problems cannot be solved without knowledge of people, society, politics and regulation. It is urgent to take the fact that we humans have created the problems seriously, but that we can also solve them. For that, we need more knowledge about ourselves and our habits and the way we use products that burden the climate and the environment a lot, such as apparel.

A comprehensive overview of research and projects that use wardrobe studies can be found on this web site and publications related to wardrobe studies can be found by clicking here.

This article draws on the following research:

Fletcher, K. and Klepp, I. G. (eds.) (2017) Opening Up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Oslo: Novus.
Klepp, I. G. and Bjerck, M. (2014) ‘A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe Studies’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), pp. 373-386.
Klepp, I. G., Laitala, K., & Wiedmann, S. (2020). Clothing Lifespans: What Should Be Measured and How. Sustainability, 12(15).
Laitala, K., Klepp, I. G. and Henry, B. (2018) ‘Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type’, Sustainability, 10(7).
Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2020). What Affects Garment Lifespans? International Clothing Practices Based on a Wardrobe Survey in China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Sustainability, 12(21), 9151.

Hit them where it hurts: Producers of fast fashion should pay the most

Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

OPINION: How best to deal with the negative environ l impact of the clothing industry? The writers behind this opinion suggest a system in which those who sell large volumes of clothes that don’t last pay the most.

The EU’s new textile strategy  was launched at the end of March. An important tool is a so-called extended producer responsibility (EPR), which means that producers voluntarily or compulsorily pay for the environmental impacts from the product both in use and as waste.

Rapid growth in fast fashion and overproduction are the main problems in the textile sector. In order for the new strategy to contribute to solving these problems it must be targeted. We have a proposal for how this can be done and have called it targeted producer responsibility.

Those who pollute the most should pay the most

Click here to read the full op-ed (sciencenorway.no)

Click here to read the textile strategy (europa.eu) 

What does the Minister of the Environment think about apparel and the environment?

Tone Skårdal Tobiasson & Ingun Grimstad Klepp.

This is a translated version of an op-ed first published by tekstilforum.no. Click here to see the original version (tekstilforum.no)

This is not easy to ascertain from two answers sent to Conservative Member of Parliament Liv Kari Eskeland in response to her questions about the EU’s new Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) scheme, which is in danger of labeling natural fibers as the least environmentally friendly.

What we are wondering is simply whether Espen Barth Eide is not worried about the galloping use of polyester and acrylic, with subsequent problems such as microplastics and increasingly cheaper and worse clothes? Is he really for a further increase in the proliferation of synthetic clothing which, after a brief appearance in our wardrobes, is exported lightly used out of the country to an uncertain fate? And in case why? We do not know the answer, but will explain why we ask the questions.

The case is this. There have been repeated questions about PEF, also from the Conservative parliamentary representative Liv Kari Eskeland, who has been involved in the case on behalf of local textile industry. In the first answer, the Minister of Climate and Environment writes that he is familiar with «that synthetic textiles such as polyester are best when it comes to some environmental impacts, while for other environmental categories natural fibers have less negative impact». This was followed up by Eskeland, who is from Stord (the local small town) and who knows the wool industry well.

As a business-savvy person, she is politically engaged, lively concerned about possible threats to Norwegian businesses. The answer to her follow-up question is surprising because it does not discuss which areas synthetic fiber (ie plastic) are environmentally better than wool, but instead addresses the relationship between environmental impact from cotton and synthetic fibers. Why? Does the Minister think that all natural fibers are the same? And Norway has no cotton production, so here Norwegian business interests are not threatened, only Norwegian consumers’ access to a textile material they love.

The next issue in this ‘package of wonder’ is the scientific content. The Minister presents two different sources for the environmental benefits of plastics. One is land use. And yes, it is true that in life cycle analysis (LCA) the square meters of “space” a business takes, is heavily considered. It is almost in the nature of things that natural fibers take up more “space” in production than oil. But this comparison between square meters used, for example, for grazing against oil refineries is easy to criticize. Because there are very different “uses” of land, and grazing has not only negative, but also many positive effects (which are not included), and it is also a question of what the alternatives are.

Very few – and certainly not Barth Eide – think it would be exactly the same to have an oil refinery or a polyester factory versus pasturing sheep, as the nearest neighbor? And when the area it once took for dinosaurs and others to live and die, and then turn into oil, is not included, it is because time is not included in the calculation. Neither how long it has taken to produce the oil, nor the time it will take to break it down again. The comparison of the space to cultivate something against the space industry takes, shows first and foremost how such tools as LCAs fall short when nature and synthetics are compared directly. This is also the core of the criticism of PEF. And one of the reasons why over 60 EU politicians have now sent letters to the Commission, because they are concerned about the way this will be done in the planned labeling scheme (https://www.makethelabelcount.org/).

The other basis for his evaluation that the minister points to, is water consumption and again the comparison is polyester against cotton. There is a heated debate on this issue. It is almost a bit shocking that the documentation to which he refers is a report from SIFO from 2012. It is of course nice that SIFO’s work is valued, but this report is based on figures from 2007, which in turn are based on figures from the previous millennium. Knowledge about environmental impacts has changed a great deal in these years, and in general LCA is considered to be ‘fresh produce’ with a perishable date, and then we are talking about a few years before they lose their value. LCAs should be repeated at least every five years, many say every three.

Both we, Barth Eide and the report he refers to that compares fibers believe that the difference between the fibers is very small, global average figures taken into account, and that the most important thing is that clothes are made from the fibers that are best suited for the purpose. Then they are used for a long time and a lot, and then we appreciate them and take good care of them. The problem is that as PEF now develops, there will be large differences between the fibers, and it is the natural fibers that come out the worst. Many people actually like natural fibers, national costume shirts in linen, sweaters in wool, and maybe even a silk shawl or tie, but wool is no longer wool, but full of acrylic and polyester, and cotton is increasingly “polycotton”.

Polyester national costumes will hardly be inherited. In many products, plastic is best and the synthetic fibers are also much better than other fibers. However, the rapid increase in the use of synthetic fibers, and the even faster increase planned by the industry, has not come because synthetics are the best. Developing a labeling scheme that will label plastic as green is like pouring gasoline on the fire in a world that needs to cool down. Polyester is today over 60% of textile fiber production and the only way the fashion industry can continue to grow. This is also why the industry puts so much effort into greenwashing plastic. They can do this job just fine without the help of a Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment or a European labeling schemes.

That’s why we’re wondering. Does Espen Barth Eide know what was actually in the letter he signed? We have a hard time believing that he is an ordinary plastic pusher, even though the government’s oil policy surprises more than us. Is his highest desire really to remove the few clothes that are still found in natural materials from the market? And make it even more difficult to make a living from wool production and the wool industry in Norway? Liv Kari Eskeland and the others in the Conservative Party are probably also wondering the same. That is why the Conservatives’ Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde, Sandra Bruflot and Mari Holm Lønseth presented a representative proposal in the Storting on 17 February for stricter requirements for the textile industry. The government is thus squeezed from both the right and the left in politics, and interestingly enough mainly by female representatives. The Conservative Party’s proposal includes PEF, and both the problems with plastic and microplastics are mentioned. If Barth Eide really wants a future clad in plastic, he now has the opportunity to say it loud and clear. We are waiting in anticipation.

The COP26 plastic uniforms are a disaster for the environment

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, Ingrid Haugsrud

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP26, is in full swing. The event aims to be carbon neutral. The guests will be served local food and are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport. The clothes should also be environmentally friendly. A thousand volunteers have been given a small wardrobe to use during the climate conference. Glasgow City Council boasts of the “stylish uniforms” that are supposed to be made of “sustainable and recycled materials”, but without specifying what or how.

Sustainable materials?

Claims about sustainable materials are easily thrown around. Clothing production is a very complex process with many different stages. Most often, and also in the case of these uniforms, it is unclear what makes them sustainable. In our view, clothes that are called sustainable should be produced locally and with dyes, fiber and other inputs from, for example, regenerative agriculture (i.e. agriculture that builds the carbon content and the soil).

Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

The initial information released about the clothes did not state what they are made of, but by contacting the manufacturer, we got an answer. The hoodies, polo shirts, jackets and backpacks are all made from 100 percent recycled polyester from plastic bottles. The trousers are made from a mixture of 65 percent of the same polyester and 35 percent organic cotton. They provide no information about dyeing and finishing – the most polluting part of clothing production.

After repeated inquiries, we were told that the uniforms are produced in the UK and in Sri Lanka, but we do not know where the main stages of production is, or what clothes are produced where, nor where the raw materials come from or are processed.

Who will wear the clothes after the conference?

How long products are used, makes the biggest difference for both the climate and the environment. Clothes that you have not chosen yourself, but received from someone who does not know you, are typical garments that see little use. If they also have large logos and other things that make them time- and place-specific, the chance of reuse is small.

It is possible that Glasgow City Council and some of the volunteers think the clothes look nice, but we can safely say we aren’t enthusiastic. They would be better suited for the staff at a petrol station, but it is not the sale of fossil fuels that is on the agenda in Glasgow. However, since the “sustainable” material turned out to be from recycled plastic bottles, i.e. fossil origins, one could easily be fooled.

It is also possible that some of the thousands of volunteers have few clothes, and are happy for a gaudy top hat, black and blue shapeless trousers, a bulky outer jacket, a fleece jacket, polo shirt and a hoodie, but the chance that their closets are already full of similar and better garments is much greater.

In short: the clothes should not have been produced at all and of course not been described as “sustainable”.

A gift to the homeless after the summit

Avoiding waste is a stated goal for COP26, and this should be done through reuse, recycling and by taking design and material choices into account. The manufacturer states that there is a plan for what will happen to the clothes after the event.

The volunteers who do not want to keep their clothes can return them, and they will either be donated to the homeless or torn up and used for energy recovery.

The fact that these clothes can be handed in afterwards if the volunteers do not want to use them, does not make the matter any better. There is no shortage of easily used or unusable clothes for both reuse and energy recovery.

Are plastic clothes good for the climate?

In many of the tools available for comparing climate and environmental impacts of different textile materials, polyester, and especially recycled polyester, are highlighted as those with the least climate impact. At the same time, voices are being raised protesting against these truths, for example in this article in Impakter.

The basis for the comparisons are so-called life cycle analyses (LCA). These analyses aim to show a product’s environmental footprint from raw material extraction to disposal. For clothing, these LCAs are both few and incomplete, and much that can be achieved by choosing strategically among LCAs.

The independent analyst Veronica Bates-Kassatly describes how manufacturers have chosen LCAs that favor synthetic materials, and as a consequence are worst for nature. This is difficult to control, partly because privately owned HIGG Co., with its Material Science Index, the most widely used of such comparison tools, keeps its sources secret.

We would argue that no one knows if polyester is better for the climate, but there are some who stand to make a lot of money from claiming this, and that those who earn the most are the same ones behind this “truth”.

Recycled what then?

What is certain, however, is that polyester, and the other plastic materials used in clothing, are a significant source of spreading micro plastics to the sea, water and air. This also applies to recycled polyester.

None of the plastic-specific problems, the lack of degradability and the spread of micro plastics, are included in the calculations we mention above. PET bottles that are “recycled” into polyester fiber are in themselves a bad idea, according to the Changing Markets Foundation’s report on synthetic materials.

The properties embedded in the plastic used for bottles are not utilized in the clothes, and the bottle-to-bottle recycling system actually works better. The textile fibers deteriorate and therefore cannot be recycled, as one is capable to do with the bottles. This is of course why the manufacturers of these clothes will either give them away to the homeless or deliver them for energy recovery.

Local production as a solution

Scotland has a proud textile history, with Shetland wool, fantastic tweed and tartans – the checkered wool fabrics. Why not develop a uniform based on local Scottish traditions and reuse?

Yes, we understand that the volunteers must be recognizable, but to achieve this you only need one clearly visible garment, or bandola, or a fun hat.

Local production utilizes raw materials better, reduces transport, and not least the clothes stand up over time. The volunteers could have been a colorful flock with playful use of Scottish traditions. Using history as a resource for the future has many benefits, as do natural fibers.

Public procurement

The public sector is a major purchaser. Both the environmental and purchasing expertise of the very many who are responsible for buying textiles are in general a sad state. Therefore, we are currently working with a purchasing guide for public procurement of textiles in Norway.

If such initiatives are to contribute to a reduction in climate impact, they must not be hijacked by misguided ideas about «sustainable materials», but on the contrary, systems must be developed that ensure the procurement of good products that are utilized to the maximum through long use and good care.

To achieve this, good routines are needed for cooperation between buyer, user and supplier. The volunteer uniforms are thus a glaring example of how wrong things can go.

Climate vs. the environment

The climate crisis is serious. But so is the environmental crisis. “Saving” the climate by destroying the environment is not a good idea. Of course, this discussion is not just about clothes. The “emission-free” electric cars are, after all, only “emission-free” if you do not create emissions elsewhere and in other forms. The debate about wind turbines has many of the same ingredients.

Numbers and rankings are important tools in the climate and environmental debate. Therefore, we must be careful about who gets to decide what data is seen as robust and reliable. Things go wrong when the fox alone is allowed to guard the chickens, or the wolf the grandma, so to speak.

We must stop up and not let the same global giants who drown the world with bad plastic clothes also be allowed to drown us in the “truth” that their products are good for us and the planet. “Recycled” plastic clothing will never save the climate, and they are a disaster for the environment.

By the way: We never got to know what the knitted hat that tops it all is made of, but our tip is acrylic. Acrylic does not win any prizes for saving either the environment or for clothes that help to keep the wearer warm. It is possible that the conference had taken into account that global warming would make it superfluous for the hat to be knitted in their warm and wonderful Shetland wool.

Published by www.sciencenorway.no, click here to see the op-ed

Fossil Fashion: How Green Growth is Undermining the Circular Economy

Why the fashion industry, driven by the green growth notion, cannot recycle its way out of the climate crisis

By Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

Tone is co-editor of “Local, Slow and Sustainable Fashion Fibres: Wool as a Fabric For Change”, from Palgrave Macmillan, out on December 18, 2021.

As the world comes to terms with the climate crisis and the environmental devastation of our over-consumption, we are increasingly being told that switching to greener products will not only save us, but be good for the economy. This is the principle behind “green growth”, which encourages us to continue consuming as long as the products we buy are more sustainable. But could it be that someone is pulling wool over our eyes?

The fashion industry has become one of the main culprits in the blaming-and-shaming for carbon-emissions, and numbers have been thrown around at a rate that rivals fast fashion. One of the most used statistics is that textiles in 2015 emitted 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent or more than maritime shipping and international flights combined, a number that has since been challenged. However, the fashion industry is far from off the hook. 

Click here to read the full article (impakter.com).

Ecolabelling of clothes has catastrophic consequences for the environment

The interest in looking at the environmental consequences of clothes is growing. This was inevitable for two reasons: The clothing industry has been pointed out at as one of the worst polluting industries in the world. And we need to focus on all sectors to reach the climate and environmental goals.

The industry has therefore been sharpening its greenwashing knives for a long time and is ready to fight. Both authorities and the public lack the tools, however, to understand what actually matters in the new big green competition for “the most sustainable materials”.

The discussion about what is “sustainable” is conducted on false premises

We need to point out that already at the start, the very discussion of what is most “sustainable” is conducted on false premises. The most sustainable action is of course to not buy anything, and use what you already have in your closet. We need to increase the use of the materials and resources that are there already.

Take the example of red meat. Meat production produces more CO2 emissions than other foods, but this does not mean that all red meat has the same CO2 footprint. Nor does it mean that it is wise not to eat the more than 30,000 moose that will be hunted this fall in Norway. It is best to eat up what nature offers, not throw it away; as well as making sure local resources land on our plates.

In the same way, the clothes in our closet should find their way to our bodies, and as little as possible should be thrown away or purchased new, unless we truly need to.

The focus on apparel’s environmental footprint, however, often ends up in a rather fruitless discussion about the corresponding environmental footprint of various fibers. This despite the fact that it is not the production of the fibers themselves, but the production of the clothes with all the finishing-processes, such as dyeing, that have the largest impact. However, if one insists on comparing fibers, this needs to meet verifiable standards – and reflect the true environmental costs of said fibers.

How much clothes are used, is crucial to how sustainable they are

Comparisons of environmental impacts are done through life cycle assessments, or LCAs. The stages in production of clothing are examined and weighted in relation to different types of environmental impacts, such as CO2 emissions, water scarcity, eutrophication of water such as harmful algal blooms, resource depletion and so on.

In traditional life cycle assessments these loads impacts are divided by the number of times the product is assumed to be used, so that “environmental impact per use” is the result.

If plastic bags are compared to textile shopping nets, the number of times they are used will be decisive for the result.

But there are actually few LCAs on clothing that include this crucial division. Without this, the life cycle assessments of clothing have major shortcomings in both method and data. To rectify this, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at Oslo Metropolitan University has actively contributed with its unique expertise on how clothes are actually used, the so-called use phase of clothing, together with LCA specialists from other countries. By including how a product is used, we avoid equating disposable products with those that last and are used for a long time.

We do not know enough about how clothes are produced

The second problem in this conundrum, is a lack of transparency and lack of reliable data. Much of our textile production takes place in China, and there is a lot that is hidden from view. It is thus not easy to find out exactly how much water is used in the cultivation of the Mulberry trees where the silkworms live, nor how much water is used in the actual production of the fiber and the textiles and many other important answers needed to conduct a proper life cycle assessment.

With little transparency, there will also be little knowledge. It thereby follows that few will be able to check if the datasets are reasonable when fibers and materials are ranked.

The third problem is a lack of knowledge about methods and perhaps also the willingness to take on the breadth of problems. So far, neither the textiles’ contribution to the spreading of microplastics, whether raw materials or fibers are renewable, nor whether they can be composted and thus are nutrients at the end of life, have been included in the LCAs.

This is how the tool for judging if the clothes are sustainable works

The tool most used by the industry is called the Higg Index. It is currently managed by the commercial company Higg Co, which has been spun off as a separate company from the group of industry players who call themselves the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

This tool can and will potentially have a huge impact both on what is sold and how apparel is marketed. Under the Higg umbrella, there are several tools for members and others, who must pay to gain access to them. These tools are called MSI (Material Science Index), PM (Product Module) and FEM (Facilities Environmental Module). MSI measures the fibers against each other, FEM measures factories against each other and PM will give the product’s sustainability profile based on the first two. In addition, some impacts will now be entered on the use-phase, including from the on-going work done by SIFO on lifespan and care.

Based on all these scores, the manufacturer can play around with the tools to push the garment up, and preferably not down, on a “sustainability” scale.

This sounds perfect, right; since then the companies will strive to get the best possible score and then everything becomes more and more sustainable? And things are moving fast in this direction, because during the first half of 2021, online retailer Zalando and the Swedish giant H&M will use this scoring-system to tell consumers how sustainable the products they sell are. Already, 7 million customers have tested the system and learned how to purchase goods with a clear conscience.

Based on “ridiculously outdated and irrelevant” studies

There is still a terribly annoying fly in this soup. It is called accountable and verifiable data. “We use the best available data,” said Jason Kibbey, CEO of Higg Co, when he presented the new consumer-facing Higg initiative at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit recently. He added that as they gained access to more up-to-date data, they would of course adjust the scores in the system (wwd.com).

There’s just a small catch here, and that is that many of the studies that may be at the bottom of these scores are more or less impossible to get access to. They are behind a payment wall that neither you nor I can afford, and even then, they may not be made available. Those who have accessed for example the (one) study on silk, say it has so little relevance that is ridiculously outdated and irrelevant.

Considers polyester to be more environmentally friendly than wool

When we see that it is silk, alpaca, cowhides and wool that score the worst in the Higg Index MSI, while polyester scores among the best, there is reason to question the validity. The four materials mentioned are a small share of the world market, wool is only 1 per cent, alpaca and silk even smaller, while polyester represents 60 per cent (and is growing strongly).

Those who produce wool, silk and alpaca can quickly become even smaller when the large global actors, led by Zalando and H&M, are in the process of “improving their environmental profile”. It is a little too striking that polyester, which is the cheapest raw material that is the most profitable and which already makes up most of the textile industry, is considered one of the greener materials. Most of what is sold then automatically becomes “green”.

Chinese silkworms and Norwegian sheep farmers

The study Higg MSI bases its data on claims that far too much water was depleted and eutrophication was too high during production; however, this particular study aimed to show that in a specific and dry valley in India it was a bad idea to produce silk to begin with. This is the main reasons for the poor score just silk gets (veronicabateskassatly.com).

It will be the poor farmers in China, Cambodia and Laos who have never had their water consumption measured and who do not rely on irrigation, who based on this marginal study may have to find something else to live of rather than silk. In China the worms are also part of their protein diet.

In Peru, close to 100,000 poor families and half a million people, who depend on selling their alpaca wool on the world market are now in danger of losing their entire livelihood. Norwegian sheep farmers, who already have problems getting a fair price for their wool, will meet the same challenge. Also, all the wool that is today burned or disposed of all over Europe will remain waste no one wants. In an attempt to meet the criticism, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition decided last week to phase out the Higg Index MSI single-score on fibers in January 2021. The figures on which these single-scores are based will still live on in the Higg Index PM tool, which the apparel industry and consumers will view as the gold standard for the environmental footprint.

And you, dear customer, will encounter even more polyester in the stores in the future, alongside the ridiculous advice that you should use fewer virgin natural materials in order to be a responsible consumer.

Click here to read the op-ed (sciencenorway.no)

A Louse in Court: Norwegian Knitted Sweaters with ‘Lus’ on Big-Time Criminals

Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Introduction

Early one morning in 2008 I was sitting in make-up for a Norwegian television show and felt the trained hands of the make-up smooth out my face with paint. It wasn’t the first time I’d been there. With a population of 5 million there are not many clothing researchers to choose between in Norway, and with plenty of weather and outdoor activities, clothes are important. Questions such as how to dress children for physical activities outdoors are equally relevant every autumn and before every winter vacation and every Easter, when Norwegians go to their cabins, and the ideal is to spend as much time as possible outdoors. I have talked about the choice between wool and synthetic fibres and also about traditional Norwegian knitwear, but this time the subject was somewhat different.


The Norwegian Islamist Arfan Bhattis stood, as the first person in Norway to be accused of violating a new terror clause in the Penal Code. The striking thing for the Norwegian press was that he appeared in court in a Norwegian knitted sweater, a so-called lusekofte [lit: lice jacket], and he wasn’t the first. Before him, the accused in the biggest robbery in Norwegian history and the accused in the most discussed triple homicide had dressed in the lusekofte in court.

You can find this essay appeared in the book Fashion Crimes: Dressing for Deviance, edited by Joanne Turney, here (bloomsburyfashioncentral.com).

A Note from the Editors of Fashion Practice

Kate Fletcher & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

A Note from the Editors of Fashion Practice

The general editors of Fashion Practice, Sandy Black and Marilyn Delong, would like to thank our guest editors Kate Fletcher and Ingun Grimstad Klepp for their work in developing this Special Issue on Localism and Fashion. With its focus on localism as a movement concerned with generating knowledge for change, we see an emerging concept for fashion. This reaches beyond a more familiar territory, where the notion of localism may be concentrated on marketing a place, country or region through the fiber and garments made there—for example, see the previous special issue “Fashion Made in Italy” (2014, Volume 6 Issue 2). We view this current edition as the beginning of a stimulating debate on the topic of localism.

Click here to read the full editorial (tandfonline.com).