Key Takeaways:

  • As part of a growing backlash against disposable fast fashion, consumers are prioritising long-lasting, timeless, durable styles as a way to reduce waste and better align their shopping patterns with their personal values.
  • Digital Product Passports (DPPs) and connected labels can provide connectivity between consumers and brands by providing not just provenance and transparency information, but other datapoints, actions, and strategies that can encourage and support extending the lifespan of garments.
  • EU legislation is moving towards a mandate for DPPs on fashion products in the near future, as part of a multi-pronged move to reduce waste and empower circular models, but the opportunities for using product passports as a tool for consumer engagement and education begin now.

How many items in your wardrobe do you treasure? Are you emotionally attached enough to a jacket that you would bother to get it repaired? When did you last reach for the sewing kit?

The British Fashion Council’s Institute of Positive Fashion recently published a game-changing report titled Empowering citizens for garment longevity (July 2023). The report spotlights an imperative shift in the fashion narrative: the transition from a disposable mindset, to a culture of cherishable, highly-valued, long-lasting fashion.

At the heart of this shift is the revolutionary concept of digitalised garments and their role in extending the lifecycle of fashion items.

The challenge will be educating fashion fans to love their garments for longer and take on a stewardship role so that the lifecycle is extended through repair, re-use, and recycling. For this to work, clothes must be designed to be durable. And they need to be ‘emotionally durable’ too, concludes the report – meaning their owners should be attached deeply enough not to discard a dress or top after just one or two wears.

As a participant in the report and a fashion industry insider, my interest lies in how citizen behaviorchange can be activated through emerging technologies. Digital storytelling through connected labels on garments linking to Digital Product Passports (DPPs) will educate about wearing, sharing, and caring for our clothes for far longer than we do today. I believe these digital IDs or digital twins of garments are going to be essential in extending every garment’s lifecycle for the good of the planet, and maybe just drive a little brand and consumer value too!

EU legislation for more durable clothing

The BFC’s report is in line with the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles (part of the European Green Deal), and it provides good advice about how to prepare for the incoming legislation. The technology and data standards are yet to be decided upon, but one certainty is that DPPs will be mandatory on textiles sold in Europe by 2030, and probably before. The goal of the DPP is to encourage sustainable production, enable the transition to a circular economy, and help consumers make more sustainable choices.

The DPP is also closely linked to the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan , which aims to promote a circular economy in Europe by reducing waste and ensuring that products and materials are manufactured for durability, and can be repaired, reused and recycled as much as possible. The DPP provides information on the environmental impact and traceability of products, while the Ecodesign Regulation sets minimum environmental requirements for products. Together, they encourage manufacturers to design more sustainable and resource-efficient products, which can help reduce the environmental footprint of products throughout their lifecycle.

Promoting product stewardship

Some 96% of the total emissions of fashion brands are in Scope 3, which occurs in the industry’s supply chain, and in their products’ use and eventual disposal. To fulfil their Scope 3 emissions reductions, lifetime product stewardship is a commitment brands need to make, including enabling easy repair, reuse, and recycling by consumers. This is how we will bring about true circularity in fashion. Product stewardship will be vital if we are to divert mountains of textiles from landfill and incineration and cut pollution and carbon emissions. Currently, of the 32 billion garments produced for the fashion industry each year, a massive 64% of these will end up in landfill.

We need consumer buy-in to repair and reuse. They need information and advice. Existing technologies such as NFC, RFID tags, and QR codes need to be leveraged to provide the necessary information and instructions on how to prolong the life of clothes. Provenance and traceability information, as well as instructions on sustainable laundering and how to fix, recycle, and dispose of clothes, should also be included in DPPs.

DPP technology is market-ready and being used by brands today. Progress is being made regarding supply chain data gathering and verification. I speak to fashion brands daily and am pleased to say more and more are realising they must produce garments less wastefully. They are starting to design with durability and repair in mind. And they are thinking about their garments’ after-life and disposal.

Retailers get real about repair

Socially-conscious clothing brands are demonstrating what’s possible regarding product stewardship in fashion. H&M already operates a ‘take-back’ clothing collection scheme, aiming to ‘close the loop’ by re-purposing or re-selling worn garments. Likewise, Patagonia’s Worn Wear program, allows customers to trade in and buy pre-loved garments. Patagonia also has a Repair Portal, offering care tips and free repairs to help customers extend the life of their performance jackets and trousers. Finisterre offers repair and reinforcement services. Luxury brand Mulberry has a well-established ‘Care & Repairs’ department staffed by expert technicians who individually price each restoration job.

Some brands are empowering consumers to learn how to repair everyday clothing themselves. For example, Levi’s provides a dedicated webpage on ‘how to repair denim.’ London-based designer Marie Lueder aims to include mending kits with specific garments, complete with instructional videos on how to repair them.

The apparel industry and governments need to think of ways to incentivise consumers to act sustainably – this might be loyalty points, discounts, or cash, as is the case in France.

Renowned for its fashion prowess, the French government is embarking on a new journey towards sustainability by promoting a repair renaissance . A publicly-funded national bonus scheme is launching, encouraging consumers to opt for repairing their clothes and shoes over purchasing new ones.

Starting in October, customers can avail themselves of direct subsidies ranging from €6 to €25 per repair, courtesy of a €154 million special fund established by the government. All repairs must be carried out by certified menders or cobblers affiliated with Refashion , the eco-organisation spearheading the initiative.

At the core of this scheme lies the goal of raising public awareness about the detrimental effects of fast fashion, and the need to wear clothes for longer.

Physical and digital bonded by data

A commonly cited obstacle to extending the lifespan of textiles is that consumers lack information about how to care for garments properly. Avery Dennison recently teamed with Swiss swimwear brand Swijin to demonstrate how Digital Care Labels in garments can provide transparency and support fashion’s circular economy. Three garments from the SwimRunner™ range – a bra, sports brief, and biker shorts – were digitally connected, having a scannable QR code on the heat transfer care labels.

By scanning the QR code with a smartphone, and landing on a custom-built experience, consumers can learn about their garment’s history, its sustainability story, guidance on garment care, and the best way to dispose of it after use. All the data to make this possible is securely stored in Avery’s connected product cloud .

Claudia Glass, co-founder of Swijin says of the project: “As a startup, it’s crucial that we grow trust with our customer base. The Digital Care Label solution allows us to educate and engage with the consumer. We unveil every detail of our European supply chain, provide instructions to extend the lifespan of the product, and education about our cradle-to-cradle packaging. Our consumers can now purchase Swijin products with confidence.”

Edging closer to global circularity

The World Economic Forum says the only way to bring about climate neutrality by 2050 is to create a global circular economy. The apparel industry’s sustainability goals are within reach but we are currently lacking the data to share accurate and actionable information about textile products and second or third-life opportunities.

Technology, collaboration, and a commitment to product stewardship can rectify that. Strong data solutions, user-friendly points of connectivity, repair advice, and visibility of the supply chain will empower apparel businesses to become truly circular. DPPs can store verification data that gives consumers confidence in purchasing durable and repairable items. They can also provide a wealth of ‘how-to’ information, revitalising skills such as darning and sewing, and offering restyling tips.

Enhanced brand storytelling through DPPs can support consumers as they transition to a more ’emotional’ model of clothing consumption, where they take responsibility for extending an item’s lifecycle. There’s an uphill climb ahead, but the view from the top will be worth it. We can design our way to a brighter fashion future.