Making clothes look just right requires resources, and the fashion industry knows it: According to a study by Levi Strauss & Co., for instance, creating a new pair of jeans takes 3,800 liters of water. To promote sustainability in fashion, VisitSweden and the Swedish Institute recently launched the ShareWear campaign to loan out brand-new garments from top Swedish brands for free—but only if borrowers pass them forward via Instagram after a week. The campaign organizers hope that the concept will inspire folks to loan out their own garments as an alternative model to letting unused fashion pile up in closets.
The concept is simple: Be the first to comment on a garment featured on Sharewear’s Instagram account and it’s yours, so long as you put the garment back up for loan on your own Instagram account a week later using the #sharewear hashtag.
Swedish Institute’s Henrik Selin insists that the campaign hopes to spark conversation about sustainability.
"The idea was to inspire people to take a closer look at what the fashion industry or wearing clothes means for the impact that it has on our planet," says Selin. "The average Swede throws away 8 kilos of clothes a year. [ShareWear] is not a proposal to alter the Swedish fashion industry, but to do things in a slightly different way, to introduce the option of actually lending people fashion and giving garments a second life."
Since ShareWear launched in mid-January, all of the campaign’s 30 garments have been shared out from various VisitSweden offices in European capitals, Moscow, and New York City. Every garment can be tracked on ShareWear’s website. Selin hopes that public scrutiny will push tardy borrowers to put the garments back up for loan. Want to see if any ShareWear garments are in your city? Track the #sharewear hashtag.
Selin and his colleagues have no set plan for ShareWear’s future, and no plans to release another wave of garments. Selin says that international Swedish offices like those VisitSweden has in foreign countries are using ShareWear as a springboard to discuss sustainability strategies.
"[ShareWear] is not about covering the world with clothes but inspiring a narrative. All our embassies around the world are talking about this initiative on social media pages and inspiring discussions, along with our exhibitions on climate change," says Selin.
Fashion is one of Sweden’s largest growing industries, says Selin, so wasteful practices in that sector are a significant part of the country's resource footprint. But it’s also about the fashion industry’s global impact—not just how garment lifespans can be extended, but in the working conditions for garment makers in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. Selin and his colleagues hope ShareWear prompts discussions about sustainability that lead to hard looks at each company’s global impact.
To be fair, the fashion industry isn't ignorant of its environmental impact: Levi Strauss & Co. has been releasing a lifecycle assessment study annually since 2007 to track the resource impact of its signature jeans along a pair's lifespan. Their 2010 Waterless campaign aimed to reduce water consumption in their jeans creation process from 28% up to 96% in certain products.
Swedish fashion brands participating in ShareWear’s first batch of garments include Filippa K, Hope, House of Dagmar, and Whyred. Notably absent is the Swedish international juggernaut H&M, though H&M has its own multipart sustainability initiative, along with an annual sustainability report. According to the latest report, 21.2% of H&M’s global cotton used in 2014 was sustainable, with the goal of 100% sustainable cotton in 2020. H&M’s in-store clothing recycling bins claimed to take in 7,864 tons of clothes in 2014, but even passing along clothes a la ShareWear can be a small way to repurpose clothes.
"Obviously this is only one way in a wide range of possible ways how you can reduce your own personal impact," says Selin. "We hope these clothes will continue to travel, hope to see comments and stories, see how this plays out, and how people communicate about it."