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Buy better. Buy less. Wear British wool

Unravelling the Threads of Brits’ Discarded Fashion Habits

Brits threw away an average of 116 pieces of clothing in 2023. A year on year increase of 61%, according to new research…

Over the past five years, conversations around ‘fashion conscious’ in the clothing industry have surged online and in the press. The research shows more effort is needed to promote sustainable wardrobe choices among Brits.

Generation Divide

Interestingly, while Generation Zs are often perceived as the most environmentally conscious demographic. Yet, they emerged as the guiltiest culprits in discarding clothing, averaging a monthly disposal of 20 pieces or a staggering 240 pieces annually. Alarmingly, only 7% of Gen Z individuals expect to keep a garment for more than five years.

Could this trend be attributed to the quality of the garment and a rise in second-hand purchases?

On the other hand, those aged 55 and overthrow away the least amount of clothes, just four per month on average, or 48 pieces a year.

Reasons for clothing being thrown away ranged from items being faulty, stained, or becoming ill-fitting.


The Quality Conundrum

Patrick Grant, known for his on-screen work as a judge on The Great British Sewing Bee, as well as Creative Director and Founder of Community Clothing, said:

“I think as a nation we’ve stopped caring about our clothes. It’s difficult for people to care about their clothes when you can buy a piece of clothing for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

“Clothing recycling in this country is filled with garments which still have their tags on because they’re brand new – we just don’t care and we’re very thoughtless when it comes to our clothing and that is causing huge problems. Clothing has an incredibly harmful effect on the planet and on our own personal health. As consumers, there are lots of things that we can do – simply think more carefully about why you’re buying them, where the material comes from and who has made it. Think about what happens to it when you stop wanting to wear it.”

Rise of Second-hand Shopping

Despite throwing more clothes away, wardrobes are still getting bigger. With Brits owning an average of 90 pieces of clothing, up from 76 pieces in 2022. Meaning that as a nation, we’re continuing to overconsume.

The research discovered that 42% Brits now buy second-hand clothing compared to last year. With sustainability ranking highest (38%) in their purchasing priorities.

However, over a third of individuals aged 55 and above indicated they are buying less second-hand, a reason for this demographic disposing of fewer clothes compared to others.

When it comes to second-hand shopping, Brits agree that jumpers, sweatshirts and trousers are most likely to stand the test of time.

Insights from Industry Experts

Mark Hogarth, Global Brand Ambassador at Harris Tweed, said:

“Clothes at their basic level are functional, but if you get it right you do have an emotional connection to them. It’s only through wearing the clothes that you get that real depth of emotional connection and that’s where you value your clothes and you’re bound to keep them for longer.

When you’re looking to buy a new garment of clothing, ask this question: do I need this and what is my cost-to-wear projection? Although some garments made of natural materials may be a little more expensive, when you project onto five to 10 years, or longer in the case of some wool or tweeds, all of a sudden it might not seem so expensive. The better-quality clothing you have, the less that you need.

Fashion when it’s done at the right level goes just beyond the functional. It can be art, it can just be stylish, and it can also be cool. It’s quite easy to acquire good quality wool garments in resale or charity shops, but I think sometimes you’ve got to make that investment as well. Here in the UK, we have got an incredible natural resource in wool and the production is a very high standard.”

British Wool’s Commitment

Haldi Kranich-Wood, Lead for Sustainable Brand Partnerships at British Wool, said:

“Our purpose is to champion British wool and the farmers who produce this amazing, natural fibre, whilst promoting every aspect of wool production and usage.

We work closely with some of the top brands in the UK to support their sustainability credentials and provide materials to ensure consumers have the option to shop consciously. The diverse wool types on offer in the UK mean that British wool can really provide a truly sustainable solution – Wool uses less energy and water than other fibres. For example, wool uses 18% less energy than polyester and nearly 70% less water than cotton to produce 100 jumpers. Products made out of synthetic fibres can take up to 40 years to degrade, while wool degrades in a fraction of that time.

This incredibly complex natural fibre provides many attributes that plastic fibres just can’t match. Its natural crimp and elasticity endures constant wear and compression, and resists crushing and matting, helping it with and continuous wear.”

Towards a Sustainable Fashion Future

While there are promising signs that consumer behaviour are moving towards more sustainable fashion choices. There remains a pressing need for continued advocacy and education to combat a culture of disposable fashion and promote a more sustainable approach to clothing consumption and manufacturing.

Buy Less, Buy Better