WRAP: UK wardrobes hold 1.6 billion items of unworn clothes

Climate NGO WRAP has undertaken its ‘largest study’ into clothing habits, finding that the average UK adult has 118 items of clothing in their wardrobes – 26 per cent (31 items) of which were unworn for at least a year.

WRAP clothing reportWRAP’s findings come in a two-part report called Clothing Longevity and Circular Business Models Receptivity in the UK, which examines the UK’s attitudes to clothing, and keenness to adopt new forms of acquisition through ‘the burgeoning market of circular business models’.

Although the textiles and fashion industries are responsible for between four per cent and eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, WRAP suggests that changes in the last eight years surrounding how we retain clothes, and openness to new ways of clothes shopping could reduce the environmental cost of clothing.

A key finding from the study is that, between 2013 and 2021, the predicted length of time people in the UK kept a range of clothes has increased. This year for instance, non-padded coats and jackets were recorded as having ‘the longest lifespan’ of six years – whilst underwear and bras have a lifespan of 2.7 and 2.6 years respectively, each adult typically owns fifteen pairs of socks and/or hosiery of which two are rarely worn. The report also shows that we each have an average of fifteen pieces of underwear, with two that are not used.

In comparison to 2013, where they were kept for three years, jeans are now kept for an average of four years, says WRAP. Likewise, dresses are now held onto for 4.6 years compared to 3.8 and t-shirts (including polo and jersey tops) for four years – up from 3.3 years. The NGO found that UK adults typically have 12 t-shirts a piece, of which three are neglected.

WRAP identifies that items bought as preloved or second-hand vintage tend to be kept for nearly a year and a half longer than items purchased new – where vintage and preloved clothes are kept for 5.4 years and new clothes are kept for four.

According to the NGO, if an item is repaired it is likely to be kept for a further 1.3 years.

However, although the reports findings indicate that clothes are being stored for longer, a ‘considerable number’ of these items are underutilised. WRAP proposes that this presents a ‘prime opportunity’ for businesses to provide alternative clothing models such as rental subscriptions. This could further save sellers and buyers money.

WRAP presents key reasons that UK adults own but don’t wear certain items, including:

  1. The item is for occasions only – particularly dresses and frequently for skirts, shirts/blouses, formal trousers and coats/jackets.
  2. The item is no longer a good/comfortable fit – particularly for jeans, formal trousers, skirts, shorts, T-shirts/polo shirt/jersey tops, bras and underwear.
  3. The item is liked but is not a priority – particularly for knitwear, sweatshirts/ hoodies, t-shirts/polo shirt/jersey tops, jeans, coats/jackets and underwear.

Despite the number of clothing kept in UK homes, WRAP says that this hasn't resulted in a change of shopping habits – with 45 per cent of people purchasing clothing at least once a month and around one in eight buying clothes weekly. This represents a monthly average of £76.53 spent per month for the whole population, increasing to £133.06 for more frequent shoppers – who purchase clothing at least once a month.

In total, the adult UK population spends an estimated £4 billion plus shopping for clothes each month.

A key motivating factor identified by the NGO is age, with 81 per cent of 18-24s purchasing clothing at least once a month. Today, 54 per cent of UK citizens say they are happy to purchase second hand and vintage with women more comfortable with second-hand than men; and those aged 65 plus least comfortable. Overall, 59 per cent say they ‘go to a lot of effort to maintain their clothes’.

Potential circular business models that could be adopted include clothing subscription services, rental (pay-per-wear), preloved (resale), upcycled and repair (where a brand repairs an item of clothing a customer has purchased from it for a fee). WRAP found 40 per cent of adults are likely to use a subscription service, with 58 per cent open to using a repair service. Among those who have already used a circular business model, the majority said they would do so again – with young people and high frequency/spend shoppers both most likely to have engaged already and most receptive.

In recent years, examples of circular business models have been adopted by high-street brands such as: John Lewis’ partnership with children’s’ rental subscription service The Little Loop, John Lewis women's wear rental service, M&S’s and Hirestreet, Asos Marketplace, ASDA’s preloved vintage and eBay and Reskinned preloved service.

Catherine David, Director Collaboration and Change WRAP, said: “The clothing and textiles sector has the fourth largest environmental impact on the planet and that’s why WRAP is working with the UK’s biggest retailers and brands to address this through the ambitious targets of Textiles 2030. Many people are already buying and selling pre-loved clothing, but our study shows the huge financial and environmental opportunity that is unworn in all our wardrobes.

“Textiles 2030 signatories are already beginning to introduce resale and rental business models, but these alongside repair models must become widespread if the fashion industry is to begin to achieve the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”