How can clothing consumption in western countries be made more environment-friendly? Researchers in Norway are seeking ways to use fewer resources while keeping people well-dressed.
An interdisciplinary project drawing from the natural and social sciences as well as cultural studies will allow researchers to examine how to extend the life of clothing and how to reuse and recycle textile resources.
Raising environmental and social awareness
Clothing prices in countries such as Norway are dropping even as the average income is rising. However, this has not led consumers to buy higher-quality or higher-priced clothing. Instead, they buy more -- and then use it for a shorter time and discard it more quickly.
"The objective of our project," explains Ingun Grimstad Klepp, "is to figure out how to use fewer resources while keeping consumers just as well-dressed. We are examining areas such as reuse, alteration, the need for washing and other care of clothes in terms of their uses, and how higher production quality may affect the life cycle of clothing." Dr Klepp heads the project Textile Waste (2009-2013) and is Head of Research at the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO).
Together with a number of partners, SIFO is also studying how the textile industry can become more environment-friendly. One of these partners is the Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical (NICE), an initiative by the Nordic fashion industry to raise environmental and social awareness within its own ranks.
Reverse life-cycle perspective
The SIFO researchers have chosen to study textiles in a "grave to cradle" perspective -starting with textiles as waste, then backtracking to the production phase. At each phase they assess what can be done differently to reduce the environmental footprint.
In the project's initial phase, the researchers are reviewing publicly accessible data about waste in light of information compiled through interviews with waste disposal managers, businesses, the textile industry, consumer organisations and the authorities.
The project will then shift its focus to individual household attitudes and consumer habits pertaining to clothing and its care and recycling. The researchers will follow a sampling of Norwegian households for one year, studying what these people do with clothing no longer being used in its original form, and examining their everyday routines for washing and drying their clothes.
Designers seeking solutions for the future
Students and teachers at design schools in Norway, Sweden and England will then take the researchers' findings and devise scenarios for textile use and create garments that address the challenges identified in the investigations. Finally, says Dr Klepp, "the creative results are to be presented to the textile industry as well as the recycling industry."
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