One in five adults regularly wear clothing that’s more than 20 years old

According to new research, half of UK adults (51%) still own and frequently wear an item of clothing that’s a decade old or more – even 17% of millennials and Gen-Z aged under 35. One in five adults (20%) still wear something that’s more than 20 years old.

Almost two-thirds (63%) believe it’s important to have clothing that lasts for years even when worn regularly.

The most common long-lived apparel items are a pair of trousers/jeans (13%) or a leather coat/jacket (9%). Nearly half of adults (45%) said they kept their oldest item because it was made of material with a long lifespan and still looked good.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults was commissioned by trade body Leather UK. It found that half (47%) of adults think about the potential impact on the planet when it comes to buying clothes and a third (35%) buy clothing and accessories less frequently now than they did five years ago.

Kerry Senior, director at Leather UK, comments: “In an age of throwaway fast fashion, buying a high-quality item of clothing that you can keep and wear regularly for years still has a lot of appeal. The longevity and durability of leather make it an ideal material for the slow fashion choices we all need to be making.

“Importantly, keeping and re-wearing the same item of clothing for a decade or longer is a far more sustainable choice compared to buying a new one every year or two. It doesn’t always mean spending hundreds of pounds, as long as you buy something that you know will last. Cost per wear is a term many shoppers will be familiar with, but increasingly we can expect to see the term, impact per wear, to refer to the sustainability credentials of an item of clothing.”

The research also noted that nearly a quarter (22%) of adults are now more likely to buy clothing/accessories from a vintage store, second-hand shop or resale platform than before Covid two years ago.

Building on the sustainability theme, when asked, just over three quarters of adults (74%) said they would repair a garment, with 57% of women saying they would sew on buttons, mend torn fabric and stitch hems themselves.  Others would enlist the help of family/friends (16% of adults) or professional repair services (16%). Only 12% would throw the items away or take it to a charity shop or a recycling service.

However, the study also found that half (50%) of those who buy with sustainability in mind admit that shopping in a way that has the least impact on the planet is confusing and it is hard to know what the right choice is. Just over a quarter (28%) said they read labels carefully and do a lot of research so as to buy items they think have the least impact on the planet.

As an example of confusion that exists, only a quarter (24%) of respondents were aware that hides or skins used to make leather are a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise go to waste – with half (50%) falsely thinking that cattle were bred specifically for leather.  But once they were told the facts, 29% said this information would make them more likely to buy leather in the future.

Kerry Senior concludes: “Buying clothing sustainably can be difficult and confusing. An example of this, one that sits at the heart of our role as a trade body to inform, is the surprising lack of knowledge regarding the origins of real leather. Too few people appear to be aware that it is actually a by-product of the food industry and those hides would otherwise be thrown away.”

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