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.
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.
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.
Holding on or letting go? Why don’t consumers complain more? Why do we hang on to stuff that is flawed? How to make fast fashion out of fashion and actually degrow the textile sector? All these questions will be answered at the PLATE conference at Aalto University, in Espoo, Finland.
At the end of May and beginning of June, Consumption Research Norway SIFO at Oslo Metropolitan University will partake in the biannual PLATE (Product Lifetimes and The Environment) conference with a full menu of all in all six papers, and all in all four presenting findings from LASTING, where one is by authors from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
The project Change will also be presented with volumes of consumption as the appetizer. Studying clothing consumption volumes through wardrobe studies: a methodological reflection is written by Irene Maldini, Vilde Haugrønning and Lucrecia de León. As not all wardrobe methods take advantage of their volume-centric possibilities, the paper explores lessons from a wardrobe pilot study conducted in Uruguay, Portugal and Norway in 2022 with both male and female respondents. Preliminary findings show that a volume perspective on wardrobe research can give valuable insights on the particularities of clothing use in relation to quantities.
Putting on a different set of glasses
In another paper, which is a result of the Wasted Textiles project, this is also explored related only to textiles and clothing: Regulating Fast Fashion out of Fashion, authored by Kerli Kant-Hvass and Ingun Grimstad Klepp. The analysis underpinning the paper is based on a review of 10 textile strategy documents from public, private and non-profit organizations, on whether and how growth and overproduction in the textile industry is being addressed. Merging this with research and findings from the opposite end of the value-chain than these textile strategy documents do (which use design and a focus on “preferred fiber” choices to potentially optimize lifetime), the paper puts forward Targeted Producer responsibility (TPR) as a means to curb volumes effectively and thus reduce environmental impacts.
Another paper, written by Kirsi Laitala, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Pål Strandbakken, addresses consumers’ use and knowledge of the Consumer Purchases Act by asking: Why won’t you complain? Consumer rights and the unmet product lifespan requirements. The paper discusses the reasons for not complaining, based on six consumer focus groups, where in total 36 consumers described furniture, electronics, and textile products that they were dissatisfied with and hadn’t necessarily taken the trouble to claim their consumer rights.
Clearer guidelines in order
There is a need for clear guidelines on what the consumer rights are for the specific products, the authors write, to make it clear what is considered unacceptable abrasion and normal use, but also to differentiate between commercial warranties and legal rights. Complaints are, after all, an important avenue for businesses to gain information about the performance of their products, and thereby improve them.
In Norway, the right to complain is extended to 5 years for some durable goods, which exceeds the EU requirements of 2 years. This creates confusion about which products and which duration is valid, where consumers often link this to price, rather than the type of product. In addition to clearer guidelines, there are possibilities for new technical solutions to facilitate the storage of receipts and purchase information related to each product, which was especially problematic for low-priced items. Digital product passes, which is on EU’s menu of policy instruments, may be developed with this in mind, and could also include information about consumer rights.
Focus groups offer insights
Two other Lasting papers, are both about what we keep or discard and why, and are based on focus groups, but also some interviews with business representatives. The overarching theme was product longevity of three product groups: electronics, textiles, and furniture. In Flawed or redundant: products with long lifespans against the odds, co-authored by Harald Throne-Holst and Kirsi Laitala, the theme is explored related to reasonings behind keeping things – by only storing them and not using them – or trying to use them even though they are broken or flawed. Five groups of reasoning were presented: Economical, Ethical, Social, Emotional, and Intentions.
In Holding on or letting go? Conflicting narratives of product longevity: a business vs. consumer perspective, authors Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Marie Hebrok have found that technical and emotional durability are the two dominant ways of understanding product longevity by business representatives, and as such what they aim to embed in their products. Consumers, however, tell a different story, of living with their things, of use, of time passing, and life events triggering change – factors that are external to the product itself. The authors argue that corporate narratives of product longevity divert our attention away from production toward consumption, keeping questions of volume and growth at arm’s length.
Stockings as stress
In relation to durability, the Reduce project will present The devaluation of stockings. Tone Rasch, Ingrid Haugsrud, Kirsi Laitala and Atle Wehn Hegnes (Tone is associated with the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology) explore nylon stockings for women as an example of a product that first was recognized as high fashion, but later has been devalued and is now seen almost as a single-use product. Thin stockings represent a good example of how we value and take care of delicate items has a significant contribution to their lifetimes. Looking into the historical context is beneficial for learning about the points in time when changes occurred and how they contribute to consumer practices.
The weakest link: How technical lifespan extension can be counter-effective for climate goals looks at scenarios for kitchen durables (fridge, dishwasher, stove, and kitchen cupboards) to explore lifetime extension, and investigate the extent to which these interventions could in fact be counter-effective for climate goals set for 2050. The authors, Kamila Krych and Johan B. Pettersen, found that the extra resources invested to ensure more durable products that anyways can land in waste bins prematurely, can be counter-effective in reaching the climate goals set for 2050.
Faster environmental benefits, the authors write, could be achieved by increasing the repair rates by extending product warranties, subsidizing repair services, supporting the development of innovative repair businesses, demanding the availability of spare parts at affordable prices, and increasing the convenience of repair. The paper also points to policy addressing “problematic” products as more effective, such as dish-washers that fail more frequently. A belief in design-focused interventions, is clearly questioned, as the authors see this as taking longer to bring effect.
So, all in all, attendees should be well-satisfied and full of new knowledge, considering this rich menu, which is of course only a small part of the three-day proceedings in Finland. The research papers will be published after the conference.
OPINION: What we do know, is that all synthetic clothing and materials, sooner or later, will become microplastics, a «time-delayed» pollution bomb. And thus, they will ultimately become a problem for seabirds, and us.
A new report on microfibers in waterways is gaining attention, as it claims the results show more natural fibers than synthetic ones, and therefore demonizing microplastics is wrong. However, a very recent study on the intestines of seabirds gives a different conclusion: Fossil-based particles do cause harm.
The recent report from The Microfibre Consortium (TMC), together with the Norwegian Research Center/NORCE has analyzed samples taken along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, and found that of 2403 textile fibers in the water, 55 per cent were of natural origin, 37 per cent were synthetic and 8 per cent viscose/rayon-based.
To read this op ed, written by Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Founder of Fibershed, Rebecca Burgess and journalist and writer Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, follow this link.
It turns out that Polish mountain sheep wool can be successfully used as a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer in organic farming. This enables utilization of coarse wool, which is not suitable for textile processing, to be used and lead to zero-waste from wool shearing.
“Utilisation of waste wool from mountain sheep as fertiliser in winter wheat cultivation” is the title of an study from the University of Bielsko-Biala published in the Journal of Natural Fibers, Volume 20 Issue 2. Authors are all part of the WOOLUME project, Jan Broda, Monika Rom, Andrzej Gawlowski and Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek.
Coarse wool obtained from mountain sheep has low economic value and is treated as a troublesome by-product of sheep farming. To find ways to utilize it, wool deemed as waste was separated from the better-quality wool during sheep shearing, and used in experiments as a fertilizer in winter wheat cultivation.
During the preliminary tests, it was found that un-scoured wool did not contain excessive amounts of heavy metals or environmentally problematic contaminations, and could therefor safely be used as fertilizer. After this was established, the raw wool was cut into shorter segments and mixed with the soil, and how this influenced winter wheat growth was examined during two seasons.
Simultaneously, the progress of wool biodegradation and the nitrogen content in the soil were analyzed. It was found that, during the growth period, nitrogen compounds are slowly released into the ground, and the content of nitrogen in the soil was closely correlated with the progress of wool biodegradation.
Released nitrogen thus positively impacts wheat growth in various stages, which is manifested by higher tillering degree, more intense leaf color, higher stems and finally, greater yield. Wool added into the soil reveals its positive influence on wheat development up to two harvests. Mountain sheep wool can be successfully used as a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer in organic farming. This enables utilization of coarse wool, which is not suitable for textile processing, according to the zero-waste strategy.
During a meeting earlier this year with a team from the European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans’ office, the authors of this new paper were asked to supply more background on the Targeted Producer Responsibility they presented.
As the first step in supplying more research-based data and knowledge, the paper entitled “Critical review of Product Environmental Footprint (PEF): Why PEF currently favors synthetic textiles (plastics)” and therefore also fast fashion was sent to the meeting-participants and published online. This was, however, only the first of three papers promised. The second, “Research input for policy development based on understanding of clothing consumption“, a research briefing, goes into the research behind the proposal. It is now sent to the meeting participants and is therefore also made publicly available.
For this research briefing, additional researchers who are not part of the Wasted Textiles project were engaged, and who have also recently been recruited to roles at SIFO: Kate Fletcher and Irene Maldini. Authors from Wasted Textiles are Lisbeth Løvbak Berg (SIFO, OsloMet), Tone Skårdal Tobiasson (NICE Fashion/UCRF), Jens Måge (Norwegian Waste Management and Recycling Association). Kerli Kant Hvass (Revaluate/Aalborg University); and of course, the main author Ingun Grimstad Klepp.
This briefing paper builds on research and evidence from SIFO’s 75 years of consumer research on clothing and the ongoing projects CHANGE, Lasting as well as the mentioned Wasted Textiles, addressing the problem of overproduction of textiles. It draws attention to the importance of incorporating the latest consumer research in the design of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – or rather our suggestion TPR – and other textile policies currently being developed in the EU. It is written by a diverse group of academics and practitioners who are seeking to support change in the sector.
The briefing puts forward that the authors see a trend in various policy discussions and documents based on the belief that making garments more durable, will reduce the quantity of clothing produced. Scientific research does not provide evidence for this, which is exactly what this briefing aims to show. The briefing is, however, not only a criticism of the lack of research-based policy tools. The authors also offer suggestions on how to make these tools effective in the challenge that lies ahead of us: Making fast fashion out of fashion.
This week saw the publication of a critical background paper on concerns surrounding the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules for Apparel and Footwear from a consortium representing the collaborative international research project Wasted Textiles at Consumption Research Norway SIFO at Oslo Metropolitan University.
The consortium were asked to supply more background information to the EU Commission after a knowledge sharing meeting January 25 hosted by Vice President Timmermans cabinet members and other EU officials from both DG Grow and DG Environment involved in the execution of the EU Textiles strategy, the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, and other Green Deal related policies.
As the first step in supplying more research-based data and knowledge, the paper entitled CRITICAL REVIEW OF PRODUCT ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT (PEF): WHY PEF CURRENTLY FAVORS SYNTHETIC TEXTILES (PLASTICS) AND THEREFORE ALSO FAST FASHION was sent to the meeting-participants this week, and the authors have decided to make the paper publicly available through the Clothing Research website, and can be accessed at the bottom of this page.
During the meeting, which was mainly about Extended Producer Responsibility, Professor in Clothing and Sustainability at Consumption Research Norway SIFO at Oslo Metropolitan University, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, brought up concerns surrounding PEF and PEFCR that could be addressed with the right policy measures to ensure better data collection for the use- and end-of-use phase. These concerns are based on research from three longitudinal research projects at SIFO (Wasted Textiles, CHANGE and Lasting), under the auspices of the Clothing Research umbrella. This research was what led to the meeting with several EU officials, who were all genuinely interested in how academic research can contribute to better policy measures.
This paper is the first in a series of three that will be delivered to the participants of the meeting and will be made available on this website, related to EU’s textile strategy. The research consortium behind the critical papers, welcome EU’s ambitious strategy for apparel and footwear; however, the same research consortium sees that unless one takes a holistic view which includes the use and disposal of products, with a view from what actually ends up in the waste and how quickly – true sustainability-measures are in danger of supplying misleading information. By capturing this research and making it available, it is possible to spur policy measures that address the issue of over-production head on.
In conclusion, the paper states: “In essence, one can therefore say that PEFCR for clothing favors plastic due to a lack of political decisiveness on how to measure natural versus synthetic materials, together with giving the FF (fast fashion) industry power in the development of PEFCR and choice of underlying data. Fast fashion will remain in fashion if those who have the most to gain from it are making the rules.” The first critical paper is authored by Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Kirsi Laitala, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg (all SIFO, OsloMet), Tone Skårdal Tobiasson (NICE Fashion/UCRF), Jens Måge (Norwegian Waste Management and Recycling Association) and Kerli Kant Hvass (Revaluate/Aalborg University).
Two articles from Clothing Research at Consumption Research Norway have been accepted by the journal Fibers and are accessible online. The two articles are entitled Reducing plastic: Opportunities and obstacles for coarser wool in consumer goods and Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences.
More than half of the team in the Clothing Research group have contributed to these two chapters: Kirsi Laitala, Anna Schytte Sigaard (author on both articles), Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Ingun Grimstad Klepp – the article on reducing plastics is co-authored with three from the University of Bielsko-Biala. In the first article, findings are presented that show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements, and that using coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications. This was done using a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic.
The second article looks at synthetic vs. natural fibers, consumer preferences, their view on sustainability and more importantly, consumers’ willingness to degrow their consumption. Interestingly, not only do Norwegian consumers prefer wool, they also believe that wool is the most sustainable choice of fiber, with polyester being the least. This is the exact opposite of what today’s most common measuring tool, the Higg Material Sustainability Index, tells us.
This article also offers proof that perceptions of high sustainability regarding fibers are negatively correlated with reduced consumption: “Our study suggests that a continued focus on material substitution and other technological measures for reducing climate change will impede the move toward sustainability in the textile sector.” The article raises the very pertinent question of how the perspectives of techno- and eco-centrism impact Norwegian consumers’ fiber preferences and perceptions, and how does this, in turn, affect their clothing consumption?
Technocentric or eco-centric?
On the one hand, green growth aims to de-couple growth in the textile industry from a reliance on virgin materials by keeping already-produced materials in circulation for as long as possible. In contrast to this technocentric perspective, the eco-centric degrowth narrative holds at its core ideas such as scarcity, reduced consumption, and lifestyle sacrifices at a time of shrinking resources for the Global North. “The eco-centric approach does not disregard technology but holds that we cannot rely solely on new and better technology. Instead, it focuses primarily on behavior change and argues that a paradigm shift is necessary to transform conventional fashion production and consumption.”
The respondents showed a high preference for natural fibers, especially wool, which was preferred by 72% of them, followed by cotton (63%), alpaca (38%), organic cotton (34%), linen (30%), silk (23%), bamboo viscose (22%), viscose (10%), and, finally, synthetics at the bottom of the scale, with polyester being preferred by only two percent, followed by recycled polyester (2%) and acrylic (1%). All the natural fibers were more popular than the manmade ones, and out of the manmade fibers, the synthetics were least popular, even recycled polyester. Almost half of the respondents said that they avoided polyester (47%) and acrylic (46%), and 35% avoided even recycled polyester.
Fiber preference was positively correlated with reduced clothing consumption, so that those who preferred more natural fibers had reduced their clothing consumption more than those who preferred synthetic fibers, which is interesting. This fits with the eco-centric perspective of degrowth and reduced consumption. However, it seems that believing that a fiber is sustainable, negatively affects consumption reduction. An explanation for this could be that if the fibers used to produce clothing are considered sustainable, reducing consumption is not necessary, which gives a rebound effect that could be seen as counter-productive, from an eco-centric perspective.
Therefore, consumers’ willingness to reduce consumption is important and may be weakened if the focus continues to be on fibers and materials, instead of reduced production and consumption. Read the article here (mdpi.com).
The wool-related article, does, to a certain degree, focus on the raw materials, and replacing one raw material (synthetic) with a natural fiber. To investigate the use of coarse wool, mainly from Polish sheep, product groups that do not require the softness of Merino wool were examined. Many of these products are currently made of plastic, mostly in the form of synthetic fibers. In addition, many of them are single-use, such as sanitary products and plant pots, but also sound-absorbing acoustic panels. The study found that making this switch, is dependent on local infrastructure and working small-scale enterprises. A shift to small-scale and local resource utilization requires systemic change on several levels: Here the findings show that policy can incentivize material usage transitions, but that these tools are little employed currently.
As synthetic textiles are an important, but often forgotten part of the increasing plastic waste problem, this article contributes to lift up innovative ideas to reduce our reliance on fossil-based materials. These textiles contain environmental toxins added during the processing of fiber and fabric, and through microfiber shedding synthetic textiles contribute up to 35% of the released microplastics which have been shown to end up in our lungs, oceans, animals, and even placentas.
A common factor is a focus on wool utilization as a waste management process and in non-textile products, rather than using the material in high-value textile products. The different aspects related to the coarse wool, were first placed in the SWOT table, then grouped into themes: Properties and product performance, Price and availability, Sustainability, and Regulations and policy. As common in SWOT analysis, one aspect can be both a positive and a negative aspect, e.g., coarser wool being more labor-intensive to use means that it creates more jobs, but at the same time it makes it more costly, as will be examined in the following.
The findings were divided into internal factors, which define the strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment, in this case, the material itself and its value chain directly, and external factors, defining opportunities and threats, that are determined by the external environment operated in, i.e., the overall market and competition. Efforts to utilize and valorize surplus, coarser wool, range from creating wool powders and keratin, fertilizers, substrates for biogas production, regenerating fibers from waste keratin, slug-repelling wool pellets, insulation, water purification to bio-composites.
The lack of focus on surplus wool
As a by-product, the wool to some extent becomes invisible in that the wool is mainly disposed of on the farms directly and therefore does not enter into any formal waste management system. When the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles does not even mention local wool – or the possibilities that wool and other local EU fibers hold – but discusses local solutions solely as future potential recycling plants, this can be challenged through the results shown in this article. In order to replace more plastic with wool, different types of wool need to be used where they are best suited. This also raises the question of how much under-utilized or surplus wool is actually out there?
In addition, using the coarse wool represents an opportunity to replace particularly problematic plastic products. The study found that several of the examined products are today mainly made of plastic, including the products where plastic cannot be recycled and therefore represent a waste problem. It is unlikely that all such plastic can be replaced by wool, but it is nevertheless important to develop alternatives and at the same time exploit available natural materials: “It is important to remember that the extensive use of plastic is relatively new in human history and that a range of solutions existed before these products invaded the market.”
For LCA-based tools and category rules, there is a central idea of a “functional unit”. How this will function in the ongoing work with EU’s PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules), is based on the number of days of “usability”.
A “functional unit” is most often described for paint. It is not the liter of paint that has an environmental impact to be reconned with, it is, however, a painted wall one year that is the “functional unit”. With a “good” paint as opposed to a “less good” paint you can paint less often and therefore you need less. The functional unit, is what the paint is supposed to do, keep the walls protected and good looking for a certain period of time. This is at the very core of a life cycle assessment. It defines what the environmental footprint is. So far so good. Let’s then move on to apparel.
In the middle of Advent 2022, Vilde, Kirsi and Ingun traveled to Uruguay. Irene was already there with her family, and the trip was well planned in collaboration with Irene, who lives in Portugal, but is from Uruguay, and Lucrecia who works in Montevideo. Part of the background for the trip was the testing of the wardrobe method that had been carried out in Norway, Portugal and Uruguay. This was with good help from students there who also actively participated in a seminar. Text Ingun Grimstad Klepp
Warm reception in a warm country
We spent the first weekend planning the seminar on clothing and the environment which was to take place on Monday and Tuesday, as a collaboration between CHANGE and the local university. On Sunday we went for a long walk in the city where large parts of the streets were filled with a market. Here, most things were for sale, from pets such as rabbits, hamsters and tropical fish, to objects that we would hardly have found a market for in Norway, such as remote controls, parts for electronics, eye glasses, etc. There were some new clothes, mostly of a simpler nature and many used clothes. There was very little textile craftsmanship to be seen with a couple of exceptions of crocheted stuffed animals and toddler clothes.
We also visited various shops for used clothes, both permanent and pop-up shops. The system for reselling clothes was quite different from Norway, where humanitarian organizations’ collection stations are everywhere. There is no public collection of textiles, nor “textile towers” by private humanitarian organizations. In contrast, used clothes are sold in the markets. Some of the clothes that were sold in the second-hand shops were bought at the market and then they were resold somewhat more expensive.
The extensive reuse of most things that we experienced on this first day was confirmed again and again in everything from interiors and buildings to bicycles. We were given various explanations that ranged from a mentality among most people, to politics and economics. Being content with what you have and not always wanting something else and more, was central. Uruguayans are, in their own and others’ eyes, a pragmatic people who are satisfied without a lot, as long as they have their “matte”, the local green tea that is drunk hot everywhere, most carry a thermos under the arm.
Another explanation was that the political investment in sustainability, for example in the form of large-scale conversion to renewable energy, was so central. The last explanation has to do with economics and economic differences. More poverty, and also more difficult economic conditions for the middle class, was repeated by several. That lower costs for labor compared to new products affects the amount that is reused and repaired is almost self-evident, but it was interesting to have several and more complex explanations for the same phenomenon.
CHANGE Seminar at The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanisme FADO
On December 5th and 6th, the Uruguayan partners in the CHANGE project organized a seminar in Montevideo. Prácticas de diseño y consumo de indumentaria: Miradas y acciones hacia un desarrollo sustentable. (Read more in Spanish here.) Some of the project’s researchers from Norway and Portugal exchanged experiences with the local community. The seminar took place at the beautiful building of the Faculty of Architecture, UdelaR, and was organized by Lucrecia de León and Lucía Lopez from the local Industrial Design School.
Just coming to this building was an experience in itself. FADO is one of the sixteen faculties that make up the University of the Republic. The building is from 1948, its headquarters were inaugurated on Artigas Boulevard, in the Rodó Park of the city, it is one of the most characteristic buildings of the city of Montevideo, designed by the architects Román Fresnedo Siri and Mario Muccinelli. They had just completed an extension and we were in a newer part of the faculty. Among other things, apparel was taught – and therefore not fashion as in many design schools. This probably also contributed to the fact that professionally it was easy for us to “find the tone” with teachers and students there.
During the first day, speakers shared local experiences and efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the sector. These included perspectives from the academic, public, and private sector. There were both teachers, students and entrepreneurs among the approx. 50 the audience.
Federico Baráibar from the Ministry of the Environment talked about local data and policies and the lack thereof. As many other places, there is actually not much focus on clothing in environmental politics. He spoke mostly about textile waste in the management and policy of waste in Uruguay. He presented what they know about different types of textile waste. An estimate is 20-30 000 tons of textiles household waste in Uruguay per year. Not surprising, there is more focus on plastic packaging. Compared to other waste streams, textiles as a product group, is small and does not receive particular attention, policies usually emerge based on actual problems. In his opinion, it is difficult for a country in development to let a government interfere in private consumption to reduce consumption and waste production.
In 2019, they had a new policy where they wanted to apply 1000% tax on certain disposable objects, but it was not passed, so they there will be added 180% tax in a law (not yet applied). Tax was also the way import of second-hand textiles was regulated. It is not banned to import second-hand clothes to Uruguay, but just that the taxes paid are the same as for new clothes. We did hear from others several times that only Chile allowed import of used clothing, but it is possible that this was import without tax they then meant. There is doubtless a lot we do not know about the policy for used apparel in Uruguay, South America (and other places), and very interesting that ban is not the only way to restrict and reduce.
Lucía López, EUCD (Institute of Design, University of the Republic Uruguay,) presented her Project #textourgente, which uses textile upcycling and print as a way to activate social change and attitudes towards clothing. Her focus is upcycling as a way to activate the user as opposed to the passive user. She used text printed on clothes as a means to upcycle and generate reflection, in order to help people to wear a previously owned garment with pride. She explained how emotional design depends on the personal approach of the designer and the target group, what is emotional cannot be standards, but must emerge from the community that is engaged.
Sofía Dinello presented her thesis about active life of clothing and emotional design and Gabriela Pintos (FCEA) shared her view about consumer behavior in a circular economy from the perspective of economic theory.
In a second session focused on action, Renata Casanova presented the circular economy program of Ceprodih, an NGO dedicated to support women in a vulnerable social position. They use donated textile in teaching sewing and entrepreneurship. Much of what they work with is reutilization of PVC plastics. This was done in textile workshops, making accessories that they sell through the workshop and collaborate with a network of entrepreneur women in circular economy programs. They work with businesses and hospitals, and the waste they generate. What their partners could not themselves use, was transformed. In this way logos and colors could be kept and used. We visited this company a few days later and had the opportunity to discuss with her. More under Day 2.
Josefina García and Laura Moreira shared their efforts towards circular design in the local denim brand Rotunda, This was ambitious work with creating guidelines for circularity in design with jeans. Based on design and circularity principles from Ellen MacArthur. They emphasize durability: first guideline of denim is to be in perfect condition after 30 washes. Screen print washing instructions on the pockets instead of tags to not lose the information. 80 % of fibres are organic cotton and 20 % is recycled cotton. They emphasize trims, not using the processes that requires chemicals, raw colors of the metals, the latter is hard without changing the look of the jeans. Trying to overcome the things that are associated with jeans, but not necessary. This includes buttons and other things that can be taken off. They had a pilot project with a RFID label with a QR code for information for the consumer stage and forward. Aim is for each item to have a personal code.
Alejando Esperanza presented their rapidly growing resale business VOPERO, an app used for resale of second-hand clothes that look like new. The most surprising with this concept is how it differs from other reuse-apps. Here there is little «ideology», rather an emphasis on volume. VOPERO employs 140 people. They approve about 50% of garments that are sent to them. The remainder is either returned to the owner or donated to local companies, if the owner does not want it back. They add about 1500 new garments to the app each day. Everything they sell must go through a quality check, but the inspection of each item must take less than 30 seconds to be cost-effective. The company does not wash or have time for significant repairs. One of the reasons for not accepting garments is related to smell. He explained that many customers are people that do not normally buy second-hand items but can save a bit of money by selecting things that still look like new. Quality photos of the accepted items is important and the price is about 20-30% lower than a similar new item, so they prefer brands that are recognized.
After his presentation, there was a lively discussion. Many people thought a lot about whether it was right or not to sell only clothes that looked new – as used. There was a great deal of what they received that they did not want to sell and which they then donated further internally in Uruguay. The discussion and the temperature in it were interesting in themselves. Why does this arouse so much opposition? Why must used clothes also be part of a “used” style? It is also a question of whether similar concepts exist elsewhere and whether this will eventually be exported.
During the second day, focused on wardrobe studies as a tool to understand clothing consumption in the context of the environmental crisis, international and local CHANGE researchers shared their past and current research supported by wardrobe methods. These included:
Lucrecia de León (Wardrobe metabolism) presented her Master’s thesis work that was started by analysis of the wardrobe metabolism of two women, herself and another student. Later, the analysis was continued to a larger sample of similar women. 20 women started but only 8 finished. Some findings were that the new clothes were used more frequently and about 10% of items were unused. During the second week, wearing the clothes was planned, and inactive garments from the “RAM memory” were tried to be taken into use. Some garments were not possible to get activated, for example due to size.
Ingun Klepp (Wardrobe studies: History and variations) talked about the history of wardrobe studies as a method and gave examples of different methods that had been used at SIFO.
Kirsi Laitala (Wardrobe audits: Asking people what they don’t know) presented a method for the quantitative version of wardrobe studies, often called wardrobe audit. She introduced some advantages and disadvantages of the method and presented suggestions for improving the quality of collected data. Some examples from the international wardrobe audit were given to illustrate some of the points.
Vilde Haugrønning (Wardrobes in Change: Counting garments based on occasions) gave an overview of the field work she is doing in her PhD.
Irene Maldini (Assessing the impact of sustainable design strategies through wardrobe methods) held a lecture that many design school would find highly useful.
The next session was dedicated to Wardrobe methods in Uruguay, which included both already carried out studies, and plans.
Micaela Cazot, Lucrecia de León and Valentina Viñoles talked about the work with the pilot for CHANGE in Uruguay. Micaela Cazot and Lía Fernández (Identifying good practices of use: Reflections on the consumption of Slow Fashion in Uruguay) explored the plan for field work among people who themselves define their consumption as sustainable. The two were concerned with the wardrobe method’s possibilities also for self-reflection. Finally, Valentina Viñoles spoke about plus-size women’s wardrobe (Analysis of the coexistence between functional requirements, personal identity and social expectations).
The rest of the day was organized as a workshop with tables set up, where we could all choose different topics for discussion. This worked very well, despite the fact that talking together took time due to the different language skills we possessed. Spanish and English had to be translated back and forth constantly. But with a good mood and will, important topics such as politics and clothing for deviant bodies, and the development of wardrobe studies in Uruguay, were lively discussed.
This event contributes to the professionalization of wardrobe methods internationally, a central objective of the project, more specifically its work package 4. Students and junior researchers shared their experiences and initiatives using wardrobe methods, and more experienced researchers reflected on recent developments in methodological approaches and opportunities for future studies in the context of the growing social relevance of clothing consumption’s environmental impact.
Book presentation in an artisanal market
In the evening we participated in a book presentation at “Ideas +” a popular artisanal market that takes place every December in Montevideo. It also has a book launch every day, and some local music. There was a presentation of one of our colleagues’ work “Atinando al ojo del ciclope. La remanufactura y otros modos de accionar nuestras prácticas del vestir”. A well-organized market with books, arts and crafts and much more in one, of the city’s central parks. On the outskirts, there were also more unorganized markets. After the presentation, we got to see a bit of everything, and again the lack of textile craftsmanship struck us.
Locally produced textiles from many Latin American countries are dominated by indigenous woven and embroidered colorful clothing. In Uruguay, there is no knowledge of, or traces of, those who lived there before European colonization. It was said that they all died of disease.
Visit to Manos de Uruguay
Wednesday 7th: Manos del Uruguay is a non-profit social organization that since 1968 has given work to women artisans in rural areas of Uruguay. In Manos garments are designed and woven, mainly from wool yarns, for the local market and for prestigious international clothing brands.
Their premises are located in Montevideo, where they have workshops and offices. A lot of work is put into developing new products, as well as controlling the quality of their products, training and administration. There was a large number of different products, both yarn types and woven textiles. The yarn was mainly Merino. It was seen as a problem that there was no major spinning mill in Uruguay. Much of the yarn was hand spun, and some imported. A part of it had a curled-up look almost like unraveled yarns. This produced soft and airy woven textiles. Much of the yarn was hand dyed. We were told that they wanted to produce yarns from coarser, local breeds. The market, especially for hand knitting yarn, was very good, according to our tour guide.
The main product is a simple poncho and the most sold is undyed white. The market for this was both in Uruguay through the companies, but also for export. In addition, they sold to luxury brands as part of their profile. This market was growing and had also changed a bit. Today, companies were more interested in making it clear to customers who was behind the production. Manus de Uruguay added not only to the craft itself, but also confidence in the product.
The market for the products is good. What was a problem, however, was knowledge of crafts in younger generations and also access to suitable looms and yarns. After the tour, we visited one of the shops in the center of town where there was both a sale of leftovers, etc. and a more ordinary shop.
CEPRODIH is a non-profit civil association, founded in Montevideo in 1998, with the mission of assisting and promoting the most vulnerable families, especially women with children in situations of high social risk: unemployment, domestic violence, helplessness during pregnancy. The main objective is to generate concrete alternatives for socio-economic inclusion, so that women who are going through situations of risk can overcome them and manage to effectively join the labor market; managing to be able to support their families with dignity and autonomy.
Here we again met Renata Casanova Sanchez, who had given a lecture on upcycling at the seminar two days before. She gave us a nice tour of large, nice premises with lots of people and resources. There were courses in everything from sewing to running a business; kitchens, childcare and premises for various types of recycling of glass, paper, textiles and plastics. They had their own shop, or “showroom”, which displayed a selection of the products. They mostly worked with gifts and profile products for various companies and often with recycling of materials from the companies themselves. As the materials were constantly changing – and also the end product – a great deal of work was put into product development and utilization of materials. It was rarely possible to make many similar products.
The company’s finances were supported by non-profit organizations, and thus only part of the income came from the sale of the products. Nevertheless, the competitive situation for these, very time-consuming products, against mass-produced versions of the same products, was difficult. It was impressive to see how much beauty they were able to get out of waste that we don’t normally think of as valuable: Synthetic textiles, plastic and cardboard packaging, and much more. Part of the material consisted of donated clothes, they were also sold partly as resale and partly directly. When we were there, there had been a fire in a warehouse and large quantities of underwear with soot had come in. A group of women went through the goods to check for the possibility of laundering and reselling the underwear. Some of the items had tags cut off, as a way to protect the brand. This also meant that information about fiber and care of the clothes was missing.
Visit to Wool Mill: Engraw
We were given a tour by Frederico Raquet, who runs the family business. He started by explaining investments that have been made to make the factory climate neutral and self-sufficient in everything from energy to water purification. He also talked about all the various environmental certificates that he uses, everything from C2C to Climate Accounting. The water was purified in a separate facility and the remains of lanolin and dirt that could not be used in agriculture nearby were used as water/fertilizer for a planted forest that served as a final purification. Outside at the back of the factory, we saw the various water baths for purification, windmills for energy, all within their own property. Frederico strongly believes in long-term planning and leaving the company – and nature – in better condition for future generations. He also emphasized the well-being of the slightly over 100 employees.
Frederico explained that a large number of different types of grass grew in Uruguay, and that most of the country consisted of grazing land (natural pasture), i.e. not cultivated meadow or plowed land. The large areas were primarily used for cattle, i.e. meat production, but the cattle could not utilize all the grasses. In order to maintain good pastures, the farmers therefore released sheep onto the areas after the cattle had “had their share”. Trees were also an important part of this system. Trees provided shade for the animals and helped bind CO2. In this way, meat and wool production in Uruguay will fare well in terms of climate calculations. The animals graze outside all year round, there is no need for buildings or feed-production. Very little of the country’s vast plains has been cultivated. With this in mind, it was not surprising that one of the questions he had for us was why land-use is so important – and comes out so badly – in LCA/PEF comparisons. He wanted to know why it was not positive to use the area in a good way, and what would possibly be an environmentally better alternative for using the areas. Good questions.
Things were in good shape in the factory. The building itself was impressive with an incredible brick roof structure, neat and clean. He explained the various processes, from the wool entering in large trucks. Much is Uruguayan, both Merino and other breeds with coarser wool, but they also scour wool from other countries, mostly from South Africa. The Uruguayan wool was classified according to a separate wool classification system. Which he himself had learned well and thoroughly before he could move up the ranks in the company. The production itself was always based on specifications from the customer, and could consist of various mixtures. We got to see wool from many countries, and work plans where all customers figured only in codes. But… on this particular day, wool for carpet production in the Middle East whizzed through the machines. What we got to see of Uruguay’s own Merino was impressive. Fine, long fibers with good crimp. He believed that there was poor provision for the coarser qualities and that farmers were generally paid too little for wool. He was concerned with new market opportunities for the part of the wool with the worst prices.
We saw how the wool was mixed, scoured, carded and combed to tops. Some were also super-wash treated. When we got there, he said he would answer ALL questions about super-wash when we sat down afterwards. He thus assumed that we had a lot of questions about exactly this. When we actually sat down afterwards, we talked about this through Ingun rather saying what she usually answers to questions about this treatment. He himself thought it funny that a treatment with inputs that are both well-known and not unusual (chlorine, salt, resin (the same that makes paper glossy) arouses so much attention and resistance.
We used the rest of the time in Uruguay to see the country and talk about the further work in CHANGE. We allowed ourselves to be enthralled by the vast plains, endless beaches and the people’s pleasant and relaxed demeanor. The temperature quickly rose to well over 30 – so clothes… well there was a lot of bare skin to be seen and not just on the beach, but also the use of clothes as protection from the sun – a function we rarely have use for here at home.
Drums, often in large groups of men, are one of the country’s prides, and here too textiles are included in the form of huge flags which are preferably kept flying in time with the music. Another good use for textiles was mosquito netting around the beds. Paradise for mosquitoes, dogs and grass-eaters. Cattle, sheep and shiny, slender horses walked slowly around in large herds and could choose between open, warm plains, some shade from trees, or drinking from ponds of rainwater. We also experienced playful seals, walruses, people and not least waves at the beaches. Something for every taste, in other words.