A new project has been launched to determine whether tracing technologies can be used to generate data on the durability of a garment and incentivise clothing manufacturers to make clothes that are used more often and for longer.

The Sustainability Consortium conducted the pilot project, ‘Project WearEver’, in collaboration with academics from Arizona State University (ASU), North Carolina State University (NC State), and the University of Arkansas, with support from adidas, KJUS, Prana, and The Renewal Workshop.

The study argues that digital tags can measure the frequency and duration of clothing use with reasonable reliability but says there are many practical constraints before the idea could be scaled more broadly.

It also aims to incentivise retailers and encourage consumers to show a preference for clothes with superior emotional and physical utility and durability.

“While fast fashion still has many followers, the ‘slow fashion’ movement is gaining momentum with consumers—they are looking for value in terms of not just cost, but cost per use,” said Kevin Dooley, chief scientist at TSC. “TSC wants to help build a system where consumers and retailers can compare brands on trustworthy longevity and use data to create market demand for more sustainable clothes.”

Adidas, KJUS, and Prana/Renewal Workshop donated clothing for the research pilot. The technology covered includes QR tags, RFID tags, Bluetooth sensors, and phone apps.

Karen Leonas, professor of textile and apparel, technology and management at North Carolina State University, said: “Clothing, its production and distribution, are generally highly resource-intensive, requiring large quantities of water, energy, chemicals, labor, and other natural resources while creating pollution in waterways, air, and solid waste. The majority of textiles can be recycled reducing many of these natural resource demands.

“However, to do so, several things are crucial. Educating and encouraging consumers on alternate disposal methods is fundamental. However, once disposed of, for efficient handling through recycling and the creation of new products, the content and production processes used in the initial creation of the clothing are necessary. This technology will contribute to increased knowledge throughout the supply chain for manufacturers, consumers, and recyclers.”