A famous saying that outlines the impact of textile and clothing is,
“The most sustainable garment is the one that is never made!”
With textile and clothing manufacturing generally involving an alarming amount of pollution while the finished garments have few recovery options for post-consumption waste, that statement makes perfect sense.
To hammer home the point, here are a few facts about the impact of textiles on the environment. (Impact of the Textile Industry on the Environment, n.d.)
- 20 percent of all freshwater pollution is made by textile treatment and dyeing.
- The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and is the second-largest industrial polluter.
- About 90 million items of clothing end up in landfills.
When we talk about extending the useful life of a product, including garments, one concept that strikes and ticks quite a few boxes on the reuse aspects is the idea of convertibles.
As consumers, whether we realize it or not, there is a cost of “wanting” a product to fulfill our needs and a cost of “owning” a product.
As an example, the time spent on searching for a product, filtering search options based on attributes that we want, and commuting to try it out (or paying to ship and return the product if it does not work out) are some of them.
Additionally, a product will occupy a space for storage, and require cleaning as well as maintenance (as an example a shoe may need polishing). In case of not providing the required utility that we want, it may need to be repaired (and with a lack of options available for that), finally discarded.
That is why having fewer things, and providing multiple utility options is not a bad idea.
Convertible clothes are becoming more of a household staple as more consumers are becoming aware of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. This trend is prevalent in developed nations and research suggests young consumers lean more toward sustainable clothing options (Koo & Ma, 2019).
Convertibles save us the trouble or consumer cost associated with many of the points below. Additionally, it saves the cost of switching.
One example is having a backpack that can carry a laptop used as a carry handbag which is used to carry daily utensils. Every time, the product that we use is switched, there is a need to transfer the essentials that we need (e.g. phone, purse, etc.) to the other. A product with multiple uses will simply save this trouble too.
A few types of convertibles are:
1. Products extended by design to have multiple uses
In this instance, the product can be used for a different purpose with a few alterations, and it contains extended features for the second purpose.
A trouser that is designed to be worn as a hiking trouser by zipping out the bottom part is an example of this type. Another could be a trolley that is designed to be carried in hand with covered wheels when empty and extended to drag along with wheels when it contains goods.
2. Products extended by design to provide additional features of the same functional use.
This can be the answer for consumers seeking a new look with one product. The utility of the product does not change, however, the appearance and the experience of the product change with what it converts to.
A jumper that can be turned inside out to give a new look or a blouse that provides multiple designs are some examples.
3. Products built as modular products to provide extended utilities with modules
A core product is designed first in this instance and additional utility values are provided through optional extra modules. For example, a table designed to be stationary with extra wheels to be fitted in so that it can be used as a trolley.
Design is key
Convertibles provide the opportunity to be user-centric catering to multiple use cases at once and hence avoid the production of another.
A few things that we need to establish this model is to include increased consumer awareness about their own needs and demanding aggregated products from manufacturers. Consumer forums, product feedback, and reviews are excellent platforms to communicate those desires.
Manufacturers in the meantime need to identify that their products are attractive in markets with the ability to provide a precisely user-centric product and a unique selling proposition (USP) that goes with it. Demanding premiums out of these products is an opportunity to be profitable, gaining that edge of design excellence and user-centricity, while contributing to a regenerative economy.