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How many clothes do we really need?

“Buy less, buy better” has become a mantra in the fashion industry’s sustainability movement. But how much should we actually buy? If a new report is anything to go by, it may be a lot less than you think. Researchers at the Hot Or Cool Institute in Berlin have found that, if nothing else changes, we should be buying just five new pieces of clothing a year to keep in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means that shoppers in the UK alone will need to spend up to 74% less in some cases.

“The fad that consumption is normal [to some degree] is really excessive now, more than we need,” said Research Program Manager at the Hot Or Cool Institute and lead author of the report One of them, Luca Coscieme, told Vogue. “We’re consuming more and more fashion at cheaper prices, with each item being [used] for less time — and that’s not adding to the climate impact,” said the institute’s managing director and author of the report. Another lead author, Lewis Akenji, added.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, shoppers in rich countries are consuming more than their fair share of fashion. Australia, Japan, the US and the UK have the highest per capita carbon footprints when it comes to fashion consumption, the report found. Among the G20 countries, India, Brazil, China, Turkey, and Indonesia have the lowest per capita carbon footprints. In fact, these countries are not currently meeting their “carbon budgets” – if fashion consumption were split equally, per capita emissions would still meet the 1.5°C limit. “Fashion shows how unequal society is — not just economically, but also in terms of its contribution to per capita greenhouse gas emissions,” Akenji said.

Researchers found that an “enough” wardrobe consists of 20 items of clothing and Clothes total. For example, they suggest six work outfits, three home outfits, three sports outfits, two holiday outfits, plus four outdoor jackets and pants or skirts. “That’s a very generous allocation that we gave in our estimates,” Akenji explained. In the 1960 years, an average French wardrobe consisted of approximately 20 pieces, although there is no denying that times have passed since then.



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