How can better customer care extend the life cycle of garments and reduce their carbon footprint?


Alberto Bailin Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by Alexander Andrews

During the use phase of a product’s life, customer care can have a significant environmental impact. In other words, negative environmental impacts can be significantly reduced by better consumer care. For example, around 85% of the total energy used by a typical washing machine is just to heat the water, so the consumption of energy could be dramatically reduced if consumers wash their clothes in cold water and don’t use the dryer. Washing your clothes with colder water and air drying them not only uses less energy, but it also is better for your clothes longevity. This example demonstrates that it is of special importance to educate consumers on how to improve the usage of a garment. By doing so, consumers would be able to increase the durability and prolong the lifetime of their clothes, while at the same time lowering the overall footprint.

A study conducted by WRAP (1), a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future, found that extending a garment’s life by just three months would lower the water, carbon and waste footprint by 5-10%.

Our goal for this article is to give brands and consumers some best practices and insights on design and sustainability, as well as on taking good care of garments during their lifecycle, so the garments’ durability and longevity are enhanced, thus positively impacting the environment and reducing the carbon footprint.

Design for durability and longevity

One of the keys to not having to quickly dispose of the garments is creating high quality products that last for years and can easily be repaired. To do so, brands could adopt a quality assurance program to enhance durability and longevity of their products.

Educate customers on durability and longevity

In parallel to what we just saw, it is also relevant to educate customers on the matter. The garments’ carbon footprint would be reduced if customers wash less, wash in cold water, wash only when loads are full, wash on shorter cycles, use front-loading, use energy efficient machines, air dry, use non-chlorine bleach and safe laundry detergents. All this information could easily be communicated on the care labels, in addition to information about materials, recyclability, and instructions for disassembly, if applicable. In addition to providing information with a product itself, brands should also provide resources on their website. This, apart from being extremely valuable information, represents indeed a great opportunity for brands to make creative content.

Educate customers on repair

Most people don’t really know how to repair damaged clothing, so brands also have a great opportunity to help them. This can include written or visual guides and also represents a great opportunity to make creative content. For specialized products or materials brands might even want to provide physical repair kits.

Create in-house care & repair programs

Apart from educating customers on how to repair their damaged clothing, brands can also provide services to repair and refurbish products for their customers in-house. This will bring ont only customer satisfaction but also would allow brands to track and measure repairs to improve their products quality and longevity. One example of a brand which is a pioneer in in-house care & repair programs is Patagonia. Patagonia’s Repair & Care guides walk customers through everything from simple fixes like how to fix an unthreaded drawstring, patch a small hole, or remove all sorts of specific types of stains, to more complicated things like how to install a completely new zipper.

(1) WRAP, 2013: “Design for longevity: Guidance on increasing the active life of clothing ”