By leveraging industry sources and a content analysis of companies’ websites, this study explores how retailers carry and sell clothing made from recycled textile materials in the five largest European economies, namely the United Kingdom (UK), Italy, Germany, France, and Spain.
The results show that:
- The recycled clothing market in the five EU countries has enjoyed fast growth over the past three years. However, recycled clothing remains a niche product. Ultimately, recycled clothing only accounted for 1.5% of clothing launched in the five EU markets as of 2022.
- EU retailers adopt distinct merchandising strategies for clothing made from recycled textile materials. For example, clothing made from recycled materials concentrates on specific product categories, including outwear, swimwear, and bottoms, but is less likely to be available for categories including tops and dresses.
- Affected by the recycling technologies and the raw material supply, recycled clothing sold in the five EU countries mainly uses recycled polyester or a combination of two or more recycled fibers. In comparison, it is still rare to see clothing made from 100% recycled cotton (less than 1% of the market total), given the technical difficulty of making recycled cotton strong and durable enough. The unbalanced supply of recycled textile raw materials by fiber types also contributes to the phenomenon that recycled clothing concentrates on specific categories.
- Recycled clothing looks more “boring” or “dull” than regular new clothing overall–as much as 80% of recycled clothing available in the five EU countries adopted the plain pattern (i.e., the apparel item does not contain any graphics, spots, florals, or other designs) compared to only 60% of regular new clothing.
- Retailers in the five EU countries generally tend to price recycled clothing lower than regular new clothing in the luxury & premium segment but often higher in the mass & value market. The results reflect the dilemma of pricing recycled clothing: whereas the production costs could be higher, consumers do not often see the value of such product (i.e., unwilling to pay a price premium).
The findings enhance our understanding of the business aspect of recycled clothing, especially from retailers’ perspectives. The results suggest that advancing recycling technologies will be critical to overcoming the physical shortcomings of recycled clothing and diversifying the product offers in the market. Meanwhile, in collaboration with other stakeholders, retailers can do more to help consumers better understand the benefits of shopping for recycled clothing and change their perceptions about its low value and inferior quality.
Short bio: Leah Marsh is a Fashion Merchandising and Management major at the University of Delaware (UD) & 2022 UD summer scholar. She is also a World Scholar, a competitive UD program aiming to offer students with unique global learning experiences and networking. Leah is recently admitted to the 4+1 fashion and apparel studies graduate program at the University of Delaware. Additionally, Leah is a UD BlueHen Social Media Ambassador.
Further reading: Leah Marsh & Sheng Lu (2022). Unleashing the potential of Europe’s recycled clothing market. Just-Style Magazine