The environmental impacts from textile consumption can be reduced by extending the active lifetime of a garment and thereby offsetting new production. Business models engaged in reuse, shared use and repair services of clothing have the potential to prolong this active life-time. At present these businesses make up a small part of the overall market, but targeted policies have the potential to change the playing field.

In a new report from PlanMiljo and IVL Swedish Environmental Research researchers estimate the economic, environmental and social impacts of following three selected instruments:

–   A wage subsidy earmarked for businesses that extend the active lifetime of textiles

–   A knowledge hub assisting businesses start up or transition to more circular models

–   Start-up/transition fund for business models/initiatives that extend the active lifetime of textiles

The assessment found that all three measures would be relatively easily implemented and politically acceptable since they have similarities to measures that already exist in Swedish policy though without specific emphasis on the textile sector or on encouraging green business models.

Increased consumer accessibility

An interview study was performed via 11 semi-structured interviews with Swedish large and small companies engaged in business models that extend the lifetimes of textiles. More or less all respondents in the interview study evaluated that the proposed policies would increase consumer accessibility. A common theme in the answers of why this would be the case is the domino effect that it could start: more actors on the market would per se increase consumer accessibility to these kinds of products and services. An increase in the number of actors would lead to both geographical spreads, making them available also in smaller cities and towns,  and increase in opening hours.

Several respondents argue that an increased number of actors and increased consumer awareness would lead to a higher level of “social acceptance” for using these kinds of services and products. Social acceptance, meaning that it is seen as normal and hopefully “smart” and “modern” to use these kind of services and products, is needed in order for increased geographical accessibility to have any effect.

Risk of envy

Moreover, questions were raised regarding the risk of “envy”, or non-acceptance, from established conventional textile companies. It was put forward that the wage subsidy might be seen as a “label” on whether or not a company is sustainable, which, in turn, could create tensions between sectors within the industry.

The Knowledge Hub was generally seen as easily accepted within the textile industry. It was also regarded as more accepted by decision-makers and less controversial among these than the proposed wage subsidy. However, the suggested tools will most likely not have an overall positive global impact. Similarly to knowledge hubs, start up funds overall effect is likely to be an increase in service-related jobs in Sweden at the expense of textile production jobs in Asia.


Download full report: Policies supporting reuse, collective use and prolonged life-time of textiles

Authors: Jenny von Bahr, Åsa Nyblom and Hanna Matschke Ekholm (IVL). Bjørn Bauer and David Watson (PlanMiljø)