Wardrobe study of clothing and other textiles going out of use from Norwegian households

Author: Anna Schytte Sigaard, PhD Student, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo Metropolitan University.

Aims and objectives

The wardrobe studies method has been a central part of my PhD project entitled “Want Not, Waste Not: A wardrobe study approach to minimizing textile waste from Norwegian households”. The aim of the project is to create knowledge about the disposal part of the consumption phase of textiles in Norwegian households by collecting and analyzing textiles going out of use to find out how and why people get rid of clothing and other textiles and what they get rid of. A comprehensive mapping of disposed textiles has been carried out to gain knowledge about the technical composition and history of the individual textile. The topic has been explored through the following research questions:

  • What do discarded textiles from Norwegian households consist of?
  • How and why are textiles disposed of from the households?
  • What value do people attach to their used textiles, and how does this affect disposal?

The theoretical framework is based on practice theory which has been used as a point of departure for carrying out wardrobe studies as a research method, and for understanding and analyzing data from fieldwork.


The issue of textile disposal holds significant environmental implications, as waste creation poses a major challenge within the textile and clothing industry. Existing perspectives commonly attribute waste creation to production inefficiencies or place responsibility solely on the consumer. However, these perspectives fail to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the various processes and practices that constitute everyday life. Disposal should not be regarded as an undesirable byproduct, but rather as a crucial and integral part of the consumption process, encompassing social, ethical, and performative aspects. In the context of textiles, understanding consumers’ disposal behavior becomes essential, as they hold the power to determine how and when textiles are discarded. This directly impacts the lifespan of textiles, the amount of waste generated, as well as the potential for reuse and recycling. In my project, disposal refers to the act of getting rid of something regardless of whether it is discarded as waste, delivered to recycling, donated to clothing collectors, given to friends or family, etc. An important contribution of this project is to deepen the understanding of an important, yet neglected area of consumption research, namely why we get rid of the things we no longer want.


The data material in this project consists of wardrobe interviews, fieldnotes and textile registrations. In total, 82 interviews were carried out with 28 households from three parts of Norway: Oslo (11), Vestfold (9) and Salten (8). A total of 73 people of different ages participated in the project. The households were recruited strategically with the intention of obtaining a diverse group of participants to cover as wide a range of perspectives as possible. Therefore, participants of different ages and genders living in both urban and rural areas have been included as well as different types of dwellings. Residing in a bigger or smaller residence affects how much can be stored which may decrease or increase the number of textiles leaving the household. Data collection was carried out during one year starting from October 2021 and ending in October 2022 and comprised a six month participation period for each participant.

A start-up interview lasting maximum one hour was carried out with each household at the beginning of the participation period. The following six months, participants collected all textile items that would have otherwise left the households. Textile items included everything made of fabric such as clothing and shoes, household textiles such as linen, towels, cloths, and equipment such as bags, packaging, and toys. Larger furniture and textile installations, such as fixed carpets, were excluded. After three and six months, at-home wardrobe studies interviews were carried out. The duration of these interviews depended on how much had been collected by the participants and lasted anywhere between 20 minutes and up to three hours. Interviews were centered around the textile items collected by the participants and usually took place in the living room, kitchen, or on the porch in the participants home. We would look at, touch, and sometimes smell each item individually and lay them out on a table or the ground in front of us while the participants answered questions about how long they had had the item, how much they had used it, how they had used it, if they had made any repairs or alterations, how they acquired it, and why they were disposing of it.

A total of 3556 pieces were collected. The textile items were tagged with a letter reference to the household it came from and number (for example A1, A2, A3 etc.) during the interviews in the order in which they were brought up by the participant. After the interview, all textile items were brought back for analysis and information about each piece was registered in Excel together with information from the interviews. The following information was registered for each piece individually (when available): type of textile, weight, brand, color, print, fiber content, number of fibers, construction, recommended wash temperature, ecolabelling, general condition, holes, broken seam, color change, shrinkage/shape change, pilling, felting, and repairs/alterations. In addition, each textile item was photographed after registration.

Stories from wardrobe interviews

Wardrobe interviews were based on what the participants had collected and differed therefore in length as well as content. Below are three examples from interviews of how centering the conversation around the physical items provide meaningful and interesting narratives and insights. Quotes have been translated from Norwegian.

Maria, 38
Item: kitchen towel and microfiber cloth (see image)

“I can’t get rid of the smell on them. This is an old kitchen towel from my grandmother. I took it when she passed away 15 years ago but it has become a little worn. I have used it a lot before, but I got some new ones for Christmas. [The cloth] doesn’t work so well anymore. It doesn’t absorb anything. I have had it a long time, probably for many years, so it’s old. I have used it quite a bit. Now I just want to get rid of it. It smells!”

Maria insisted that I did not bring the cloth back with me for registrations since it was so dirty and smelly. Instead, she threw it into the bin in her kitchen before we continued the interview.

The dirty kitchen rag. Photo: Anna Schytte Sigaard

Freda, 65
Item: sweatpants

“And then the cozy pants go. They have been used quite a bit, but I hate them. I think it’s absolutely terrible to walk around in them and I just don’t want them anymore. I broke my back 13 years ago and I had problems moving and putting on clothes so I asked my husband to go buy a pair of sweatpants because I didn’t have any, I’m not a sweatpants person, but I had to have something that I could just pull up, so he bought them for me. It’s nice to wear something like that to relax, so I have used it but not that much. It has been [visibly] washed and used after all. They were bought for medical reasons and I’m getting rid of them for medical reasons. I have to have pants where I can feel if I’m getting fat and you don’t in those kinds.”

Kasper, 33
Item: pants

“They are all worn out. You can almost see through them, so I’m not allowed to use them anymore. They have simply expired. And they have also ripped in the bottom. I have used them a lot, I managed to use them for at least two years, but they have been lying around for a while now. But I used them almost daily. They are very comfortable. I have really worn it to pieces. It was my gaming pants so it has been sat in a lot. I also used it for working out in the beginning. That was okay as well, just a little warm.»


The project is still ongoing, but some preliminary results based on the quantitative data material have already been identified:

  • Most of the collected textiles were clothing and shoes (see graph below).
  • The largest category of collected clothing in percentage of number was children’s clothing followed by sock. When looking at percentage of weight, however, the largest category was bottoms (jeans, shorts, skirts etc.) and thin tops.
  • Almost a third (32%) of the collected were in very good condition (like new or with only minor changes) (see graph).
  • The most common damage was pilling followed by holes, color change, stains and shrinkage. The least common were broken seams and broken parts.

More results are available in the report “Want not, waste not: Preliminary findings” (see link below). Moving forward, the qualitative interview data will be analyzed. I will be looking into why clothing and textiles that are not broken or damages have been disposed of by focusing on the practices were consumption of clothing and textiles form an integral part.

Percentages for clothing and shoes (81%), household textiles (11%), other (8%)
Condition of items analyzed, from not usable (15%) up to “like new” (8%).


The contribution of wardrobe studies in the effort to minimize textile waste, is to create an understanding of the relationship between the individual textile item and the larger material context. As it includes the technical characteristics of the textiles along with knowledge about the owner’s social life including the practices involved, the method creates an understanding with a specific focus on the material element of social practices. In this way, it deals with the interconnectedness between how something is talked about and the material item itself. The purpose of including the physical element into the interview situation is to tap into the participants’ sensory relationship with the items. The aim of having participants engage physically with the items was to elicit memories about acquisition and use through the sensory elements which is difficult to obtain through the typical conversational interviews.  

Publications from project

Sigaard, A. S. (2023). Want Not, Waste Not: Preliminary findings. Retrieve here.
Sigaard, A. S., & Laitala, K. (2023). Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences. Fibers, 11(2). Retrieve here.

Removing the silk gloves and pulling a (historic) punch

Wardrobe and Climate was the over-arching theme for a CHANGE event at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo: how we can convey historical knowledge about resource thinking, crafts and wardrobe joy in the museum’s costume collections. An academic hybrid conference morphed into a hands-on evening.

“How did they do it?” was the big question posed during the hybrid seminar during the day, where around 25 attended in person and the same number joined us virtually; and where Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Ingrid Haugsrud, both from Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at Oslo Metropolitan University, spoke about two forthcoming papers. These are: Variety in dress: Norwegian and Swedish clothing 1780-1880, co-authored by Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, Marie Ulväng, Pernilla Rasmussen, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Ingrid Haugsrud, and Towards a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear: Wardrobe planning regimes in women’s weekly magazines 1908-2023.Here the authors are Ingrid Haugsrud, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Vilde Haugrønning.

Ingrid Haugsrud presented findings from Norway’s oldest women’s magazine.

The headline was “Unused resources for CHANGE: Fashion, history and sustainability”, and the question was why does history matter? Why do we need to talk about historical practices in the discussion around the environmental impact of textiles and clothing? asked Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp, before she then went into how dress-practices from Norway and Sweden during the 100-year period spanning from 1780 till 1880, could offer clues to variety without excessive wastefulness. The red thread being that when we have less clothes, we take much better care of them and assign them high value.

This was followed by Ingrid Haugsrud speaking about “A closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. Wardrobe planning in Norwegian weekly magazines 1908-2023”, where her analysis of three time-periods in the history of Norway’s oldest surviving women’s magazine which is KK (Kvinner og klær), that started out as Nordisk Mønstertidning. The three main themes that emerged for early 1900s, 1970s and 2020s were: Making do with what one had and at the same time creating variety, mix and match wardrobes (creating an illusion of having more than one actually does) and finally “the capsule wardrobe” and cleaning out/ridding oneself of unused things. The latter having led to a waste colonialism issue in the global south as an unforeseen problem.

Else Skjold led the panel, engaging both the physical and the digital audience.

After the two talks speakers were done, they were joined in a panel by Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, Marie Ulväng and Pernilla Rasmussen, monitored by Else Skjold. Here Marie Ulväng pointed out that in the 19th century, a household-budget for apparel was as much as 1/4th of the total. Which is a far cry from today’s share.

Later the same day, many of the participants joined others for a hands-on behind-the-scenes deep-diving into old wardrobes and textile know-how. Participants guessed what materials were hidden in jars based only on how they felt to touch, and also the weight of two garments, an old wool skirt which had belonged to Åse Roe from Tinn in Norway and a silk dress woven in the 1750s, with several reincarnations in the 1800 and 1900s.

Hands-on research: Is it silk, viscose or…?

The audience was also invited to talk about their own wardrobes and clothes with Ingun and Ingrid in what evolved as a deep-dive in a theme that was brought forward during the hybrid seminar: a need for a better language about our wardrobes and what makes them sustainable. Watch and listen to the hybrid webinar by clicking here

Engaged participants discussing with Ingun and Ingrid.


Unused resources for CHANGE: Fashion, history and sustainability

We need to activate knowledge to unravel today’s environmental tangle, and we need to come together in these trying times. On Thursday November 9th, the SIFO Project CHANGE and the Norwegian Folk Museum will collaborate and will be visited by our talented Swedish and Danish colleagues. There will be an academic seminar (physical and digital) and later the same day a whole evening with a hands-on approach both to the museum’s archives and to research. In between the two, there will be opportunities for mingling, food and drink.

We need you to register, as there is limited space. If you want to take part in everything, you must register both for the seminar, the mingling and buy a ticket for the evening (two separate links). When registering for the academic seminar, you can also choose to have a link sent to you for digital participation.

Hybrid academic seminar:

Unused resources for CHANGE: Fashion, history and sustainability

14:30 – 14:45
CHANGE – why does history matter?

Why talk about historical practices in the discussion around the environmental impact of textiles and clothing?

Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at OsloMet.

14:45 – 15:15
How did they do it?
Variety in clothing without excessive wastefulness, Reflection on today’s environmental strategies inspired by dress practice in Norway and Sweden 1780-1880.
Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at OsloMet.

(Based on Variety in dress: Norwegian and Swedish clothing 1780-1880 Bjørn Sverre Hol Haugen, Marie Ulväng, Pernilla Rasmussen, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Ingrid Haugsrud)

15:15 – 15:45
A closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear.
Wardrobe planning in Norwegian weekly magazines 1908-2023

Ingrid Haugsrud Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at OsloMet.

(Based on Towards a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear: Wardrobe planning regimes in women’s weekly magazines 1908-2023. Ingrid Haugsrud, Ingun Grimstad Klepp and Vilde Haugrønning.)

15:45 – 16:00

16:00 -18:00 Mingling and opportunity for physical attendees to buy refreshments (registration required).

Click here for participation in the academic hybrid conference, either physical or digital).

For participation in the evening event (6:00-8:30 PM) you need to buy a ticket directly from the Folk Museum (only physical participation possible). Click here for tickets.

Used but not used up – what do we know about textile waste?

If you are interested in the findings presented during the hybrid seminar, the video and the presentations are now available.

Both the volumes of textile waste, and the interest in what to do with it, is growing. Fortunately, knowledge about what textile waste consists of is also growing, as is the interest to regulate the sector.

In this webinar, we will summarize several recent reports on textile waste in Norway and other countries, as well as a report that examines whether environmental strategies take seriously the fact that if the textiles are to be used up, then less must be produced. The clothes we dispose are often used – but far from used up.

– How can disposed textiles be used in the best possible way to ensure new use, and what kind of knowledge enables us to reduce the amount of used but not used up textiles?
– How much textiles, especially synthetics, are disposed in Norway? What does wasted textiles consist of, why and how are they disposed?
– Which regulatory measures will can be implemented in order to reduce the volumes of textile waste?

Click here to see the video (link).

Click here to find the PDFs of the presentations (link).

This is an open dissemination seminar under the Wasted Textiles research project at SIFO, OsloMet, funded by the Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian Retailers Environment Fund.

EcoAge Roundtable in Brussels: A fair phase-out of fossil fuels from the fashion industry

The ethical issues are often discussed separate from environmental issues, it is high time they are discussed in the same room. Therefore, a huge thanks to EcoAge who arranged an important roundtable, and in the Parliament in Brussels, with the heading Calling for a fair phase-out of fossil fuels from the fashion industry.

Livia Firth, founder of EcoAge, introduced and moderated the roundtable. The will to find a common solution for the two issues was the most important element in the meeting, namely a just transition and the phasing out of the over-reliance on synthetics or fossil fuels in fashion. This was manifested with an alternation between people who worked in the different fields and with different ways in to the themes on the agenda. The seminar’s first two presentations were both from the Global south, Betterman Simidi Musaia and Yayra Agbofah, from Ghana and Kenya, virtual presentations that so obviously show the necessity of talking about a plastic reduction, and system change towards more global justice as one and the same. It was very clear from their talks that the environmental and health consequences are grotesque in the countries who receive our unwanted clothes and footwear.

While the fashion industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for energy and transport, what is less known is that most of the clothes we wear are also made from oil and gas. Synthetic fiber production uses the equivalent amount of oil per year as the entirety of Spain, and polyester production alone produces the equivalent of 180 coal-fired power-stations annually. What is more, synthetic fibers and plastics are emerging as the fossil fuel industry’s cash-cow – accounting for up 95% of future growth in demand for oil.

There is broad agreement and many good perspectives that the change we need is a systemic change and not a change of individual products. The systems perspective combines the need for change with a global equality perspective, and the need for reduction in quantity and plastification.

The presentation from SIFO was the one that most directly included a criticism of the EU strategy. Irene Maldini explained why the durability discourse falls short for clothing, by referring to research on clothing consumption as a system. This is based on Irene’s own work with clothing consumption and the ongoing work in Change. Ingun Klepp took over the baton by presenting the findings in Plastic Elephant (link here), with an emphasis on how the EU strategy’s emphasis on improvements at product level supports plastification and avoids addressing the main problem: Quantity. In conclusion, she explained how it is possible through regulation to target quantity, and used TPR (link to Targeted Producer Responsibility here) as an example of this. For all good regulation, knowledge is needed. It is therefore urgent to understand the problems better and develop methods suitable for this.

Through the EU’s focus on material durability (synthetics are stronger, and durability leads to accumulation if production volumes are not addressed), weight (synthetics are much lighter) and recyclability (plastics are easier to recycle, and recyclability promotes monomaterials, hence more plastics used), among others.

Many of the participants contacted Maldini and Klepp afterwards, saying that the focus they had was something they had not seen before, with the “proof” that focusing on durability, recyclability and other parameters the EU Textile Strategy does, will increase the amount of synthetics rather than reduce the influx. Also, other aspects of EU policy that is very much ignored in the Textile Strategy was also mentioned – how lack of a holistic approach is problematic. If we are to have “good clothes”, policy really needs to address the right issues.

Saskia Bricmont, MEP, who is Member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the event sponsor, was clearly very engaged in the theme and it will be interesting to see how this can be brought forward in the EU.

Using waste as a resource for knowledge seems like an important way to go, and at Waste Norway’s seminar on October 23rd (link to event here), the latest we know about waste will be presented, from Svalbard in the north and of course also from other parts of Europe.

Klippe, klippe, klippe: A changing discussion of gender

Part of the CHANGE team recently travelled to the mountains to have a meeting to discuss work in progress. A recurring theme was the Norwegian fairy tale about “Kjerringa mot strømmen” (The hag against the current). The one who even when being drowned by her husband after her insistence that the crop is cut with scissors not his preferred scythe, insists “klippe, klippe, klippe” (cut with scissors).

The group, during the discussion, both agreed about many things, and came up with new thoughts during the meeting, about men and women’s wardrobes and the necessity to discuss gender in the context of sustainability. There is little in our field of study that is not gendered, it concerns the clothes themselves, how they are used, who those of us who are actually studying clothes are and who our informants are. Nevertheless, gender is rarely an important part or even a discussion point in clothing and sustainability research. We talked about why this is so, and what we can do to change this.

In the study of clothing, gender is not the only thing missing, however, gender will always play a role, because we have different bodies and different life stories. Because clothing is physical, they will always relate to the gender in some way. We also discussed how gender is brought in to other areas, such as health, related also to smoking and drinking, and how our bodies tolerate things differently related to gender.

If we acknowledge that gender is a social construct, we still have to deal with bodies as physical. Because both of these conditions are complex and related, this presents additional challenges.

In studies and especially comparisons of men’s and women’s clothing, it is easy to describe the differences, and thus reinforce the stereotypes. We discussed how the stereotypes can removed or challenged, and thus not reinforced. We also revisited Thorstein Veblen’s theories about clothing, which can contribute to a better understanding of systems and power.

We talked briefly about what else is “missing” in the discourse around clothing and sustainability, including the class perspective.

All in all, this discussion pointed to a direction that is important to explore when it comes to different “black holes” or blind spots, that if left un-touched, may end up hampering rather than helping us move forward.

In the fairytale, the women was drowned sticking her hand up above the water making the “clipping” sign with her fingers. She would not give in. Afterwards they could not find her before someone suggested to search for her upstream. And yes, there she was. Kate added to this, that she always thinks it is good idea to look in the least expected direction. We need to remind each other about the limitations of the “obvious”.

The Plastic Elephant tramples into the international conference room

The opening session at the Natural Fiber Connect conference in Biella, Italy at the very end of September, put the increasingly frequently mentioned elephant in the room center stage, namely overproduction and the plasticization that characterizes the textile industry.

The fact that the Italian Minister of the Environment opened the conference with a video greeting testifies to how important the textile industry is to the Italians, and not least how seriously they take the environmental problems that the same industry stands for. But in contrast to the industry as a whole, they have a great understanding that production, and particularly of synthetic materials, must be reduced considerably – which means more expensive textiles and more focus on natural fibres. This is music to the ears of the Italian industry, but also to natural fiber representatives who had gathered in Biella: cashmere, alpaca, wool, cotton and silk producers from farm level up to spinning mills, weaving mills and other industries.

Weighting the environmental burden

The key note speech was given by Veronica Bates-Kassatly. In contrast to Make The Label Count’s approach, which is currently persistently arguing that more parameters must be included in EU’s PEFCR, such as biodegradability, microplastics and renewability; Bates-Kassatly had the opposite approach. She believes that greenhouse gas emissions must be weighted much more (i.e. CO2 emissions in her argument), and that many of the 16 parameters that the EU’s Joint Research Center has decided should be included should be cut out or weighted much less. This includes water use and land use, two things which turns out to be unfortunate for natural fibres, but where the differences are large on a global basis so that average figures make very little sense. For example, a Norwegian sheep on open pasture will use huge areas of land to produce a few kilograms of wool, and this counts negatively.

Stand to increase plastics rather than decrease

A recent report from SIFO, the Plastic Elephant, followed Bates-Kassatly’s key note and the silk industry’s strong criticism of the data base for Higg and PEF (silk comes out as the worst fibre). The main message in the SIFO report is that a review of policy instruments, strategies from the industry and NGOs shows that to a very small extent they consider what can be done to reduce the volumes and not least to reduce the large increase over the last 40 years in synthetic materials and fast fashion. When the EU’s Textile Strategy wants to make “fast fashion out of fashion”, none of the tools in the toolbox are sufficient and, if anything, they will increase plasticisation. The report explains why, and the audience at the conference nodded their heads tellingly when the reasoning was explained.

The fact that the audience laughed out loud and applauded when the actual background for the Plastic Elephant report was presented at the start was, of course, liberating. This meant taking the audience back to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, where the first Pulse report postulated that consumers must be persuaded to prefer synthetics to cotton; and where EcoAge’s Livia Firth asked H&M’s Helena Helmersson: “Why do you have to produce so much and constantly push new collections on consumers?” Helmersson replied that they are only doing what consumers want, to which Firth replied: “My children want sugar every single day, but do I give it to them? No.” The laughter resounded and a huge applause followed.

“Sugar” became the word of the day

The rest of the day, “sugar” was the word repeated over again, as equivalent with unhealthy consumption, and related to synthetics. Which means deplastification – also in the textile sector – may finally be on the agenda. To watch the whole morning session, go to this LinkedIn link. The Plastic Elephant report is easy to find here.

EU wants data on textile waste, and we have the answer

Text by Tone Skårdal Tobiasson

The proposal for the Waste Framework Directive, which is currently being read and analyzed by a myriad of companies, NGOs, researchers, policy-makers and interested citizens throughout Europe, handles two major consumer ‘goods’: Textiles and food. We are mainly concerned with the former, however, we have found that food offers us two good guiding principles.

The first one is to eat up what is on your plate. The second is waste audits as a means to gain meaningful knowledge on what gets “eaten up” and what doesn’t. In three separate documents, we ask the EU to heed these two guiding principles and apply them to apparel and other textiles.

One of the documents is our feedback on the textile part of the Waste Framework Directive (read the document here), where the authors have concrete recommendations for ensuring that the policy measures in the WFD can actually contribute to the EU’s ambition of putting fast fashion out of fashion. Currently, the Duration of Service is what is lacking in the available data (how long apparel has been in use and to what level the apparel and textile waste is ‘used up’ ), but even if the background document (#4) states “There is currently no sound method of estimating textile waste (collected and discarded in mixed municipal waste)”, this is just not true. And the two other papers elaborate on exactly this point. Waste audits/waste composition studies – which are very much used when gaining data on food waste – and wardrobe studies – are well-developed methods.

The document Status for developing methods for using waste as a resource for knowledge about the use phase of clothing (read the document here), offers an overview of exactly the current status for these methods, while the document USED, BUT NOT USED UP: Using textile waste to inform textile rating schemes (read the document here) explores how the data-collection methodology using waste audits can underpin several policy measures, such as the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules, Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), Labelling and Digital Product Passport (DPP), the Green claims directive, as well as EPR and the WFD. We have called the ongoing waste audit method for Targeted Producer Responsibility (TPR), as we originally saw it as a more effective means for levelling a EPR fee, using the Duration of Service as the measuring stick. However, we also now have realized that taking the waste as the point of departure, has many other ramifications that can be leveraged.

The cut-off point for feedback to the WFD keeps being postponed, but we encourage everyone to respond, as a functioning EPR scheme which actually takes the waste hierarchy seriously, can be reality, if we use waste audits as the basis for eco-modulating the fee. What we urgently need is for companies to add the date of production or when the product goes to market to the brand label. Then we can look both upstream, and downstream, from the time apparel and other textiles enter the different waste streams.

The plastic elephant in the room: Who dares to talk about it?

In the Consumption Research Norway SIFO report The plastic elephant: Overproduction and synthetic fibers in sustainable textile strategies we examine national, international and corporate strategies for sustainable textiles to understand whether, and if so, how they include the problem of increased production volumes based on synthetic materials that can be referred to as the ‘plastic elephant in the room’.

”It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room.” This is a quote from the 2014 GFA Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, when Livia Firth, founder of the consultancy EcoAge and the Green Carpet Challenge, was on a panel with H&M. She challenged the growth issue where “fast fashion brands justify growth by saying that it is the consumers who demand the wide selection and diversity of fashion styles today”. Firth responded to this claim made by H&M’s Helena Helmersson by saying that her children want candy all the time but that does not mean they should have it, and that as a parent she has “a responsibility in addressing this want”.

In order to find out whether different strategies take seriously the connection between overproduction and the enormous growth in the consumption of clothing and textiles, and the increase in the use of synthetic materials, we asked four questions to the strategies. First, we looked at whether the strategies discuss growth in production volumes and possible measures to stop this growth. Second, we examined whether they address the plastification of textiles. By plastification, we mean the increasing share of plastic fibres used for textile production. Third, we exmined whether they discuss the raw material for plastics, and fourth, plastic waste. The results show that none of these questions that can reduce the environmental impacts of clothing production are given a central role in the strategies. There were three types of strategies that were examined: policy, industry and NGOs’ sustainability strategies.

Important findings

The most interesting findings are related to the reduction of the use of synthetic fibres – the plastification. This is the question that receives the overall lowest scores: none of the strategies present clear, direct measures to halt plastification, though some of the public policymakers indirectly include such a goal, through goals of substituting fossil raw materials in the production with other materials, including bioplastics. Without stating how this tendency is to be reversed, the strategies raise concerns over the increasing volumes of fossil raw materials used in textile production. It is also suggested that synthetic fibres have important qualities that are needed and the strategy of substituting virgin plastics with recycled plastics is particularly present in the strategies of the industry stakeholders.

The Plastic Elephant is a part of the project Wasted Textiles, the goal of which is precisely to reduce the use of synthetic textiles and the amount that goes to waste. It is situated right at the core of the project’s goal and of course, the project is also the reason why our elephant is synthetic textiles (i.e., plastic). At the same time, we are building on work from three other ongoing projects at Consumption Research Norway (SIFO): CHANGE – about quantity, LASTING – about lifetime and REDUCE – about plastics in everyday life; and we thank our good colleagues from all the three projects for fruitful conversations as well as heated debates. We thank in particular Kirsi Laitala, Marie Hebrok, Harald Throne-Holst, Irene Maldini, Kate Fletcher and Kerli Kant Hvass for their thorough reading of the report and constructive comments.

The full report can be downloaded here.

PhD Masterclass on Wardrobe Research

13th of April this year an online PhD masterclass was conducted within the scope of the CHANGE work package 5. The masterclass was online and involved the currently eight PhD students working with the wardrobe method or closely related methods and had the purpose of facilitating exchange of shared methodological implications, involved issues of interest, and the build-up of research network for young talents.

The 2-hour masterclass was informed by rapid pecha kucha type presentations of ongoing work and pre-formulated questions to facilitators and peers, and the workshop was hosted by Else Skjold who is PI of work package 5 of the CHANGE project. This work package involves, among other things, consolidation of existing wardrobe research and talent recruiting for new young research talent. Below is elaborated how the three themes cross-fertilized and interesting discussion that will hopefully just be the beginning of future work across the CHANGE partners to come. The presentations and discussions involved three selected topics emerging out of the ongoing PhD studies which were:

  • Wardrobe Practices
  • Secondary Use
  • Textile Techniques and Use

Wardrobe Practices

How can we understand the interactions between wearers and garments within the specific site of the wardrobe both at micro- and macro-level? This has always been the core pillar of wardrobe research since it was established in the mid 2000’s, and it was very interesting to see how young scholars pick up on this and formulate new ideas within the scope of their thesis work. A particular strong focus on local dress cultures and its effect on individual wearers were highlighted in this session, that brought about fruitful discussions on situated and contextual dress practices and how they are affected by climatic, cultural, economic and functional parameters.

Secondary Use

How can wardrobe research methods cast a light on the types of mechanisms and value creation that takes place between wearers and their vintage- and secondhand garments? This line of research is an interesting extension of ‘first generation’ wardrobe researchers’ work, in that it investigates what actually happens with garments beyond first use. This way it speaks back to concepts such as design for longevity/circularity and what they entail in the lifespan of garments between generations, body types, dress cultures and shifting ideas of fashion over time. And furthermore, how that informs practices of acquiring and discarding – an issue that has also been central within wardrobe research right from early pioneer studies in the early 1990’s.

Textile Techniques and Use

What types of competences used to be involved in maintaining personal wardrobes historically and how can we learn from this in an era with overproduction and overconsumption? Mending, repair and repurposing are all practices that have been deeply integrated in historical practices of use, as resources were typically scarce and costly – as opposed to now where much knowledge has been lost due to cheap, replaceable products and short use phases. This session looked into wardrobe maintenance practices of embellishment, print or other textile techniques for prolonging the lifespan of clothing, for projecting activist ideas, and generally for informing future practices and aesthetics of scarcity.

The masterclass will be repeated during the fall of 2023.