Future of the Environment

Fashion's hot new trend: clothes you don't need to wash (very often)

Dresses and skirts are seen hanging inside a stadium, in an art exhibition titled "Thinking of You" by Kosovo-born, London-based artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, in Pristina June 12, 2015.  Dresses and skirts donated by Cherie Blair and Rita Ora were among 5,000 pegged to washing lines in the Kosovo stadium on Friday in the art installation drawing attention to the stigma suffered by victims of wartime sexual violence.  REUTERS/Hazir Reka - GF10000125192

Is washing on the line? Image: REUTERS/Hazir Reka

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

Stella McCartney doesn’t wash her suits.

In fact, the UK fashion designer tries to avoid washing her clothes altogether, preferring the idea of brushing off dirt to throwing them in the machine after each wear.

For many of us, putting our clothes in the laundry basket is all part of the daily routine. But this fastidiousness is harming the planet.

Over-washing is guzzling water and decreasing the life of our clothes. Levi’s, for example, estimates 37% of the climate impact of its clothes is down to consumers. And washing machine firm AEG says 90% of clothes are thrown out earlier than necessary, mostly due to faded colours, shrinkage or damage from overwashing.

On top of this, the microfibres released from synthetic clothes in the washing cycle are making their way into oceans and contributing to microplastic pollution.

Image: The American Cleaning Institute/Clean Water Research Foundation

Wash less by design

But where the fast fashion industry is helping drive a culture of virtually disposable clothes, there is also a growing band of labels specifically designing items to be washed less and last longer.

At $85 a piece, Pangaia’s seaweed fibre and peppermint oil infused T-shirt isn’t for everyone. But its eco credentials – the company claims it uses 3,000 fewer litres of water compared to that needed for a standard cotton T-shirt – have seen the brand win celebrity endorsements from the likes of Justin Bieber.

Wool & Prince meanwhile has created shirts designed to be worn all week. The company says its woolen clothing absorbs sweat more efficiently and is more durable than other materials. Unbound Merino, likewise, builds on the natural benefits of merino wool to create products marketed for those wanting to travel light and wash less.

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Unlike many synthetic fabrics like polyester, these natural wool-based materials are breathable and have a natural resistance to odour. They can absorb large volumes of moisture vapour, allowing it to evaporate rather than cling to clothing and cause unpleasant, sweaty smells.

Image: Statista

In recent years, a number of brands, including sportswear firms Reebok and Adidas, have started working with Polygiene, which manufactures a silver salt coating that prevents odour build-up. Organic Basics is another brand using silver technology with a similar purpose.

But taking it a step further, San Francisco start-up ODO has blended silver into its clothing materials to create “self-cleaning” jeans and T-shirts that repel stains and odours.

Image: Statista
Have you read?

'30 is the new 40'

The marketing departments of cleaning product companies have spent many years and lots of money convincing us we need to wash more often.

Trying to recondition our thinking, AEG teamed up with fashion labels including Adidas and Not Just A Label to encourage people to prolong the lives of their clothes by washing less and following a ‘modern care guide’.

This includes washing at lower temperatures, adjusting to more efficient wash cycles and avoiding dry cleaners.

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Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentSustainable DevelopmentOcean
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