New research conducted by the School of Design at the University of Leeds has found that price is not an indicator of how long clothes will last, challenging the perception that paying a higher price means better garment durability.
The ‘Worn Out’ report, commissioned as part of a wider project by environmental charity Hubbub and clothing retailer Primark, is one of the largest studies of its kind, where researchers extensively tested a range of new clothes across different high street brands with a variety of price points under controlled lab conditions to help determine the relationship between price and durability.
The research was undertaken to understand whether shoppers can expect a higher level of garment durability if they spend more on their clothing and whether low-cost garments are inherently less durable. For the study, durability refers to whether/how long an item of clothing remains functional and wearable, without requiring much maintenance or repair when faced with normal wear and washing.
As the better the durability of a garment, both for its function and appearance, the longer it retains a level of customer satisfaction, and so it is more likely to remain in use. Dissatisfaction, which can be caused by shrinkage, fabric holes, fading, pilling, and the garments looking old and worn out, can lead to the garment no longer being used and/or ending up in waste streams.
Researchers ask whether price is an accurate indicator of clothing durability
The comparative study assessed 65 garments across three garment types – denim jeans, hoodies and T-shirts across women’s and men’s ranges sourced from high street, designer, and online retailers ranging from low to high price points during 2022, retailing from under 5 pounds to around 150 pounds.
Each of the garments’ performance was assessed against a series of industry-recognised standards to test durability, including repeat washing and visual assessments, as well as specific technical tests for the different clothing types.
For instance, the denim was tested for abrasion (likelihood of fabric to wear through to holes), seam strength, tensile strength (resistance to tearing/ripping of the fabric), fading, stability (resistance to shrinking or losing shape) and dry and wet rub (likelihood of cross-staining of colour during wear in dry and wet conditions). While T-shirts and hoodies underwent testing for pilling (bobbling of the fabric), stability (resistance to shrinking or losing shape), spirality (resistance to the garment twisting), burst strength (resistance to tearing/ripping of fabric) and colour fastness (staining of other garments during washing).
Durability debunked: Research reveals price is not an indicator of how long clothes will last
The testing found that the retail price of a new garment can’t be used as an indicator to identify good or inferior durability, as the durability of both high and low-priced garments ranged from excellent to very poor across the different clothing categories and women’s and menswear.
Key findings reveal that a women’s T-shirts priced under 10 pounds outperformed one retailing at around 40 pounds, and women’s hoodies priced between 11 to 20 pounds were ranked higher on the durability scale than those priced at just under 50 pounds and around 100 pounds.
Only negligible differences in durability were found for a pair of women’s jeans priced at around 15 pounds compared to a pair retailing at more than ten times the price.
In addition, a men’s T-shirt costing under 5 pounds was ranked as the second most durable out of 17 items tested, outperforming one at ten times the price.
Of the garments tested, only menswear hoodies showed consistently higher performance than the lower-priced ones.
Consumers think expensive clothes will last longer
To complement the research, Hubbub commissioned Censuswide to survey 3,000 UK adults on attitudes towards clothing care and how those vary according to cost. They found that 67 percent of the UK public believe that expensive clothes will last longer than more affordable items. It also notes that many look after their clothes differently depending on how much they’ve paid, and they are 64 percent more likely to hang them up after wearing them, 62 percent take the time to remove spills and stains, and 54 percent are willing to carry out repairs on more expensive items.
Dr Mark Sumner, lecturer at the University of Leeds, said in a statement: “Action to make the fashion industry more sustainable is critical, and garment durability has a really important role in this. But objectively measuring how long clothes can last is complex and difficult, because durability is affected by the type of materials and fabrics in the garment, how the clothes are made, and by how we wash and care for our clothes.
“However, this independent research has shown how we can measure durability to identify the most and the least durable garments. And the results show that retail price can’t be used to predict which garments are going to last longer than others. The results also show that value for money varies widely across different garment prices.”
Aoife Allen, director at Hubbub and fashion lead, added: “Durability must become central to the debate on sustainability. Durable clothes reduce the need for replacement purchases, increase the chance of a longer second life and offer better value for money – a significant concern in the context of the current cost of living crisis. There is limited discussion amongst retailers about the importance of durability and little hard evidence readily available.
“The fashion industry should be designing clothing to last longer, and we can help to make people aware of the simple steps that they can take to help all their clothes last longer. This research highlights that the same level of care should be given to all garments, regardless of price, to extend their life as much as possible. Our new collaboration with the School of Design at Leeds University and Primark aims to raise awareness of this important issue.”