Sustainable hanger brand Arch & Hook has released a 32-page report on plastic hanger usage in the UK fashion market.
The report, compiled by Alana James, Senior Lecturer in Fashion at Northumbria University and fashion consultant Emma Reed incorporates the results of an anonymous survey of apparel businesses in multiple market sectors. Participants in the study were UK senior fashion professionals in roles such as buying and merchandising, product development, supply chain and corporate responsibility
In addition to primary research, the study utilised data from industry reports, sales figures and academic literature to ensure an in-depth analysis of the existing market position.
The findings, say the authors, show a distinct lack of awareness among the respondents about the environmental impact of hangers despite the fact that ’60% of all clothing sold being associated with a plastic hanger’ according to Alana James.
Although fully 82% of the survey participants responded that sustainability was ‘decisive’ in the purchase of commodities, only 15% of those cited recyclability as a consideration for hanger selection. Moreover, 68% of fashion companies interviewed are unaware what type of plastic(s) their hangers are made from - making it difficult or impossible to recycle them.
Other findings show that today, stores tend to retain their hangers, with only 20% stating they gave them away to customers. What happens to the remaining 80% of hangers at the end of life is less clear, despite the stated intention to reuse and recycle them.
30% of plastic hangers are reused, although reuse is not possible in the case of broken hangers - and this often signifies the end of their lifetime, unless they are successfully recycled. According to this, survey 35% of fashion companies said their hangers were either all or mostly recycled.
Recycling, it was found, could also mean collection by the hanger supplier. The hanger supplier then resells the unbroken hangers back to the supply base.
Survey participants reported 5% of hangers being collected by hanger suppliers. It can be assumed that the remaining hangers are simply disposed of.
“Awareness of how many hangers are discarded is really low in retail, especially for the in-transit phase. Fashion professionals are simply not clued up on the answers,” noted Emma Reed.
According to the authors, the number of plastic hangers used per year in the UK clothing market is 954.6 million. This, they write, is just over 4 million times the height of Big Ben. Some 82.6 million plastic hangers were sent out in online clothing orders in the UK in 2019, which, if placed end to end, would cover the distance from Amsterdam to New York.
As French designer Roland Mouret phrased it: “Hangers are the plastic straws of the fashion industry.” He has teamed up with Arch & Hook, a young Dutch company founded in 2015 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with the aim of producing a sustainable clothing hanger, both from an ecological and an economic point of view. The company developed its Blue and Mission-E hanger programmes, incorporating recycled and recyclable materials in the hangers and establishing a hanger collection scheme to ensure the hangers are recovered for reuse and recycling. The company also supplies wooden hangers made from FSC certified wood, providing a sustainable luxurious hanger option.
“The hangers most frequently used by retailers are made of polystyrene, whose quality doesn’t withstand transportation and degrades during recycling,” explained Arch & Hook founder and CEO Sjoerd Fauser. “Our hangers are made of high-quality thermoplastic originating from marine, ocean-bound and post-consumer plastics that have been collected from the world’s most polluted rivers.”
The present report is a first attempt to glean more insight into current hanger usage and disposal practices in the UK. “Data for worldwide hanger usage remains unavailable,” said Sjoerd Fauser. His company fully intends to further pursue this research and to continue to educate the industry about the need to consider hanger composition and recycling practices when implementing change into business operations.
At the same time, Arch & Hook will also continue to develop solutions for brands, ‘create awareness and turn sustainability into a tangible action’, said Fauser.