Global differences in consumer practices affect clothing lifespans

Kirsi Laitala & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Most studies of clothing and related habits are carried out within a country. However, apparel production and sales are a highly globalized industry, with many of the same large chains operating worldwide. It is thus quite possible that the use of the same mass-produced clothing differs between various geographical areas. Based on a practice theoretical approach, we have studied differences in consumption, use and disposal of clothes in different countries that may affect the lifespan of apparel.

The paper is based on an international survey in five countries with large apparel markets: China, Germany, Japan, UK and the USA. 200 respondents from each country answered to a comprehensive web-based survey on their wardrobe content. We found differences in practices that could affect the lifespans of clothing in these five countries. At the same time, we find many similarities. For clothing acquisition, buying new items dominates in all the five markets, and washing machines contribute to the main chore of keeping clothes clean. Home production and second-hand clothes constitute a very small part of clothing consumption in all five countries. Many respondents showed low sewing skills, and repair activities were done irregularly. Thus, many of the challenges to increasing the lifespans of clothing are similar for all the five countries. At the same time, there are significant differences. These differences open up for the possibility to learn «best practice» by studying the countries and transferring knowledge between regions. When defining use phase in LCA and other sustainability tools, it must be taken into account that despite the fact that clothing is a global industry, consumption is part of local practice.

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