Plastic Hangers Are Fashion’s Plastic Straws

Business of Fashion

In a world already drowning in plastic, single-use hangers aren’t helping. Experts estimate that billions of plastic clothing hangers are thrown away globally every year, with most used and discarded well before a garment is hung in stores, let alone inside shoppers’ closets.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, according to French designer Roland Mouret. At London Fashion Week in September, he teamed up with Amsterdam-based startup Arch & Hook to debut Blue, a hanger composed of 80 percent plastic litter harvested from rivers.

Mouret will exclusively employ the Blue hanger, which is designed to be reclaimed and reused, and he’s actively urging his fellow designers to switch as well. While the single-use plastic hanger amounts to a fraction of the plastic-waste issue, it’s a symbol the fashion industry can rally around. “Single-use plastic is not luxury,” he said. “And that is why we need a change.”

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the planet produces 300 million tonnes of plastic every year. The fashion industry itself is awash in plastic garment covers, wrapping and other forms of disposable packaging.

Most hangers are made to keep clothes crease-free as they make their way from factories to distribution centres and then on to stores. This mode of fulfilment is known as “garment-on-hanger,” as store clerks can hang up garments straight from the box, saving time. It’s not just high street stores with razor-thin margins who use them; luxury retailers may switch out the factory’s hangers for fancier ones—often made of wood—before the clothing goes on display to the consumer.

Temporary hangers are made from lightweight plastics such as polystyrene and are so cheap to produce that it’s often more cost-effective to make a new one than set up a recycling system. Some 85 percent end up in a landfill, according to Arch & Hook, where they can take centuries to break down. If the hangers escape collection, the plastic may end up polluting waterways and poisoning marine life. Already, 8 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, estimates the World Economic Forum.

Mouret isn’t the first to look for a solution to plastic hangers. Many retailers are addressing the problem as well.

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