Impossible Wardrobe — helping people and brands be conscious about clothing and the environment

The average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes, but around 1/3 of our clothing hasn’t been worn for at least a year, most commonly because it no longer fits.

Each one of us at Impossible has clothes that haven’t been worn in the past year. Some of these clothes are too small or too big, unflattering cut, difficult to clean etc., but sometimes we’ve just forgotten about them for no reason. That cool pair of trousers just got left at the bottom of the drawer — out of sight, out of mind.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to keep track of all the clothes that you own? Impossible Labs has designed a new app ‘Wardrobe’ to do just this. The Wardrobe system consists of RFID tags on clothes, tag reader in the clothes wardrobe and an app on your phone. Watch this video to see how it works.

Making our clothes work harder for us

On one hand we should donate unwanted clothing to charities, or put them in recycling so that the materials can be reclaimed and put back in the supply chain, and therefore reducing the water, carbon and waste footprint of garment production.

On the other hand, extending the active life of clothes by just three months would lead to a 5–10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints.

The Wardrobe app will make you more aware of what you own, and therefore help you to better manage your collection of clothes and get more use out of them by extending their active life.

Knowing what’s in our wardrobes

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has estimated that 350,000 tonnes* of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year, which is just under 1/3 of all clothes that have reached their end of life.

According to official DEFRA data, since 2012 not only has the overall amount of textile waste increased in the UK, but households are a major source of it (see Figure 1.). We as consumers can reduce textile waste by only buying what we really need and using them longer, before putting them in recycling or charity shop collection.

The most significant opportunity for environmental and financial savings is to extend the active life of clothes in our wardrobes.

In the United Kingdom clothing accounts for around 5% of the country’s total annual retail expenditure. Consumers spend £44 billion a year on buying clothes, which is around £1,700 per household.

WRAP estimates that if clothes stayed in active use for nine months longer, extending the average garment life to around three years, this could save £5 billion a year from the costs of resources used in clothing supply, laundry and disposal.

Given that over 5% of the UK’s total annual carbon and water footprints result from clothing consumption, savings of this scale would be significant not only in financial and commercial terms, but also environmentally.

*The figures in this post are based on the WRAP report ‘Valuing our clothes. The true cost of how we design, use and dispose of the clothing in the UK’. References to quantities of waste are estimates based on DEFRA data from 2011.

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