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The Lifecycle Of A Garment

The Lifecycle Of A Garment

Discover the lifecycle of a garment from factory to landfill. And find out how you can give clothes a second life by donating and buying second-hand.

With fast fashion taking over the clothing industry, clothes are moving in and out of consumers’ closets faster than ever before. But whether an article of clothing sits in your closet for 20 days or 20 years, it had a story before it came to you, and it will continue to have a story long after you eventually discard it.

Furthermore, it’s important to understand the average lifecycle of garments because when we understand the impact our clothing choices make, we’re more likely to choose more sustainable options in the future.

This is the average lifecycle of a garment:

Garment Creation In A Factory

The lifecycle of a typical article of clothing begins in a factory. Raw materials like cotton, silk, nylon, and more are transformed into clothing by seamstresses. It’s not uncommon for these workers to be overworked and underpaid, especially in a fast-fashion factory environment where seamstresses are working for pennies on the dollar.

These workers do everything from using a template to cut the fabric for a pattern, physically manufacturing and sewing the garment, and performing quality control inspections. And once a batch of a particular garment is complete, it is distributed to both warehouses and brick-and-mortar locations all over the world.

From design to distribution this process can take anywhere from one year, to one month in a fast fashion factory.

Distribution & Retail

Once a garment is in the hands of a retailer, it’s their goal to sell and distribute the clothing as quickly as possible. For traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, this means displaying the clothing for customers to try on and purchase in person. But for online retailers, this means shipping purchased items—which can end up being a significant use of environmentally unfriendly plastics.

Unfortunately, with our society’s dedication to chasing fashion trends, clothing styles can become irrelevant in as little as three months. Meaning if a garment doesn’t sell quickly enough, it’s no longer profitable for the company trying to sell it. Sometimes these items will end up in clearance, but what a lot of consumers don’t realize, instead of marking items clearance, or even donating them, many retailers will simply throw them out.

A sad end to a garment’s already short lifecycle.

Garment At Home Use

Now what about the clothing consumers buy and take home? Most newly purchased garments get hung up and cycled into someone’s routine. So great news, the clothing that was purchased is being used for a long time, right? Wrong. 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the number of times a garment is worn has declined by around 35% in 15 years. Based on their research, garments are only worn between 7-10 times before being discarded. Currently, the longest average a garment is predicted to stay in a closet is between two to three years.

With fast fashion being ever more accessible and affordable, and trends changing daily, people are discarding clothing faster than ever before.

Dead End Vs. Donation

Once someone is ready to remove a garment from their rotation and purge it from their closet, that garment will serve one of two fates. In the worst-case scenario, that garment will be discarded and sent to a landfill, whether it is too worn to wear again or not. In the landfill, that garment will take up to 200 years to decompose, all while emitting harmful CO2 gas and contributing to environmental harm.

The other scenario for that garment is a second life through donation and second-hand shopping. When people donate their unwanted clothing, they give garments another chance to live in a closet and be worn by someone who will love and appreciate them.

That’s why it’s not only important to donate unwanted clothes, but to shop second-hand.

Because when you shop for clothing second-hand, you not only give a home to clothing that would otherwise be in a landfill, but you stop supporting fast fashion at the source. Extending what would otherwise be a 2-3 year lifecycle of a garment to ten, fifteen, or even more.