Clothing must regain its status

Textile production in the world is getting faster and cheaper. Yet, at the same time, the quality is getting worse. If the industry is to evolve in a sustainable direction, it requires both companies and consumers to care, manage and focus more on actually taking care of garments better than they do today.

“Clothes should actually be given a higher status again,” says Mats Johansson, researcher at Smart Textiles in Borås.

Every year, the average Swede consumes around 15 kilos of clothes and textiles. Meanwhile, half is thrown away, of which 60 percent could either have been reused or resold. Mats Johansson is a researcher at Smart Textiles in Borås and one of Sweden’s leading experts in the textile industry.

“The development of the last 40 years in the textile industry is that of clothes production taking place faster, at a lower price and with poorer quality. If we’re going to have a sustainable industry, we need to make other active decisions for the entire production chain instead.”

Of all the world’s emissions, the clothing and textile industry today accounts for up to ten percent, of which 80 percent is found in production itself. According to Mats Johansson, for example, between 7,000 and 25,000 litres of water are used for each kilogram of cotton produced.

“Bring to mind, then, that a pair of trousers can weigh around a kilo.”

80 percent of Swedish consumers’ textiles are currently manufactured outside our country’s borders, which also requires long transportations and more emissions. When Swedish e-commerce increased by 40 percent in 2020, Swedish clothing consumption was a strong factor behind the transport market being one of the few markets that grew in the past year. The clothing industry is, meanwhile, expected to experience growth of over 80 percent by 2030.

“If the clothing industry is to develop in a sustainable direction, we Swedes and everyone else in the world therefore need to balance consumption with repair and care.”

For example, a report from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute shows that at the same time that as the lifespan of clothing is doubled, their corresponding emissions are cut in half. If all our efforts are to have any kind of real effect, it’s crucial that discussions surrounding sustainability don’t stop at being just conversations and intentions.

- The old "It's the intention that counts". It does not work in a sustainability context. It’s not worth a damn. It’s all about what you do.”

Instead of new garments, Mats Johansson says that one’s focus should rather be on taking care of your textiles. Wash less. Rinse, aerate and dry more often. Preferably with circulating air and as little mechanical impact as possible.

“I prefer hang drying, as it gets less wrinkled. We often throw clothes in the laundry when they’re not even dirty. ‘I’ve worn this shirt for two days now, so now it can be washed’ is a common way of reasoning.”

Drying cabinets are an important part of being able to take care of clothes so they can last longer.

“With the choice of goods that they buy, consumers are along in influencing the development of brands and clothing producers having to think about the whole issue of sustainability. The very key to success here is for us to use our clothes longer. One way to do that is to dry in a drying cabinet. That way you get your laundry dry in a gentle way that doesn’t wear as much on your clothes,” says Karin Kruse, CEO at Nimo.