Textile waste is a massive problem. A 2020 paper showed a 78% increase within the United States over 20 years. That’s particularly troubling, considering the overall waste stream only grew by 10% in that period. There’s no quick way to fix the issue, but reverse logistics for apparel could facilitate meaningful progress.
Changing returns processes and website content to curb clothing waste
Many people love shopping, but that’s not always true when they need to return something. Suppose retailers and manufacturers made that part of reverse logistics for apparel more pleasant. Then, people might be more likely to return items rather than cut their losses and throw them away.
Americans strongly dislike returning items
A 2022 Slickdeals survey indicated 66% of Americans think returns are the worst part of the shopping process. Another statistic was that 58% would do “nearly anything” not to have to return what they bought.
Given how much people despise returning things, it makes sense that many put unwanted clothing items in the back of their closets rather than going through the hassle of sending or bringing them back. Then, when it’s time to refresh their wardrobes, those items will probably go to the nearest landfill.
The Slickdeals data indicated many people dislike traveling to the post office or store to return items. One alternative is for retailers to offer a pickup service for a modest fee. Individuals also expressed how they hated paying for shipping. If retailers provide free returns, people could feel more open to making their initial purchases, feeling that doing so is less risky.
People return clothes and shoes most often and because of fit problems
Elsewhere, research from Power Reviews showed that wearable items are among the top things consumers return. More specifically, clothing comprised 88% of returns, while shoes accounted for 44%. The most common reason people returned something was that it didn’t fit, an issue in 70% of cases.
However, two out of three shoppers said that being able to see images, videos, user-submitted reviews, and Q&A would make them less likely to return products because they’d get better informed before completing their purchases.
If people had access to more helpful content before buying clothes online, they could get information that facilitates purchasing the correct size. Plus, scrolling through pictures and videos showing apparel from multiple angles helps people understand how garments would look on them.
Simulations might make reverse logistics less necessary
The manufacturing sector faces a skills shortage that could leave millions of positions vacant by 2030. However, many affected companies use virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to accelerate training programs and help people quickly grasp the new concepts they need to succeed. Offering people a virtual way to try on clothes could supplement existing strategies related to reverse logistics for apparel.
It’s not always feasible for a person to visit a store and head to the fitting room to try on a piece of clothing. Walmart claims to offer the next best thing with its virtual try-on technology. It allows people to upload photos of themselves and use them to see how thousands of pieces of clothing would look.
Similar technology became popular with cosmetics brands during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-store restrictions in the interest of public health meant people couldn’t try on makeup as they once did. Companies quickly invested in or developed technologies such as “virtual mirrors” that allowed people to find the perfect product shades while using their computers or dedicated smartphone apps.
Technologies like these won’t eliminate reverse logistics. However, the more opportunities people have to see if clothing will suit them, the less likely those garments are to end up as textile waste.
Recycling is a major part of reverse logistics for apparel
Many apparel brands have programs that encourage consumers to recycle unwanted garments instead of discarding them. Such efforts don’t eliminate textile waste, but they can minimize it. In 2020, H&M’s Garment Collection program accepted 18,800 tonnes of unwanted clothing and textiles. Employees overseeing that initiative separate pieces into three categories.
Those designated as Rewear end up as secondhand clothing. Then, pieces deemed suitable for Reuse get turned into other things, such as cleaning cloths. Finally, all other items get categorized as Recycle. They’re then shredded into fibers and used for things such as insulation.
Transparency is a big part of getting people interested in recycling as a strategy within reverse logistics for apparel. Many believe new owners reuse everything they donate to charities. However, that’s usually not the case. Goodwill, for example, separates its incoming clothing for various purposes. About half of them get sold in the organization’s thrift stores. Then, the remaining 50% go to Goodwill’s outlet stores to get sold by the pound or to salvage dealers. Goodwill’s workers only discard clothes that arrive wet or dirty.
It’s also important to give consumers skills that could help them avoid throwing away clothes. Research shows most people with positive circular economy opinions don’t know how to fix worn clothing. Patagonia is one clothing retailer changing that by holding clothing repair workshops. When people have the necessary skills, they’re more likely to patch holes, replace buttons, and take other actions that let them keep wearing their clothes instead of recycling or discarding them.
Reverse logistics are among many useful strategies
Improving reverse logistics for apparel is certainly a useful way to stop clothes from ending up in landfills. However, people in the industry must also explore other ways to increase people’s satisfaction with their clothing purchases and encourage them to use their garments for longer. Such all-encompassing tactics are necessary for starting to turn the tide of textile waste.