Even at a time when minimalism is fetishised on Instagram and "organising consultants" like Marie Kondo can become globally famous for their decluttering advice, most of us still hold on to unwanted clothes. Maybe we know they'll never fit but can't bear to throw them away. Maybe we're too lazy to sell them online. Maybe our look has changed we're due a complete style overhaul.
In any case, it would be more useful for us to recycle these garments than to let them fester at the back of our wardrobes – and now a new app promises to simplify the process, which isn't always easy to get right, and encourage eco-friendly behaviour.
The reGAIN app, which launches today and is free to download, enables users to recycle their unwanted pieces in return for discount vouchers at big fashion brands and retailers. How does it work? Download the app and ship your old clothes, shoes and accessories to the company for free from over 20,000 drop-off points across the UK.
Users then receive a discount coupon that can be redeemed at stores including Missguided, Asics, New Balance and boohoo, as well as lifestyle brands and experiences including Expedia, Hotels.com and EVE Sleep.
reGAIN will only accept one drop per customer each week, with a minimum of 10 items in each shipment, to keep its carbon footprint as low as possible. Once the clothes have been delivered to the app, it ensures they're either reused and reworn, recycled, upcycled, or burned for energy production.
The app's recent research found that despite greater public awareness of the importance of recycling and the need to develop a circular economy, a worrying number of us are still throwing unwanted clothes in the bin. The equivalent to 50 trucks' worth of unwanted clothes are dumped into landfill each day – that's 300,000 tonnes every year, reGAIN says, and it estimates that as much as 95% of those items could have been reworn, recycled or upcycled.
According to its study on over 2,200 adults from across the UK, more than 10% of people throw their clothes away rather than recycling them or donating them to charity and in London the figure is as high as 27%. Almost three quarters (73%) of people admit to wearing only half of the garments they own. This suggests something must be stopping us from letting unwanted clothes go, and reGAIN believes incentivising recycling with vouchers is the answer.
“We are realists, not idealists," said Jack Ostrowski, founder of Yellow Octopus, the company behind the app. "We know that we can’t stop people from buying clothes, but we can incentivise them to change their habits and divert hundreds of tonnes of clothing from UK landfill. Our goal is a world in which clothes never become waste."
Many individual clothing brands, from H&M to Zara, already have their own clothing recycling schemes and encourage their customers to think about the circular economy on a small scale. But apps like reGAIN have the potential to make wider change, urging people to think about their fashion consumption in a new way.