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The next big thing in fashion? Not washing your clothes

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07.06.2019

I have a confession to make: I’ve been wearing the same black T-shirt every single day for two weeks now and I haven’t washed it yet. Anybody who knows me will realize this is very out of character. I’m a laundry addict. I get inordinate pleasure out of transforming my toddler’s mud- and applesauce-covered clothes into freshly laundered, neatly folded piles. And yet, I may hold off on washing this T-shirt for another few weeks. It miraculously looks (and smells!) like it was just cleaned. This $65 T-shirt is made by a startup called Unbound Merino, founded in 2016, that creates wool travel clothes that can go weeks without being washed.

[Photo: courtesy Unbound Merino]Unbound is part of a broader wave of startups designing clothes that require less laundering. An eco-friendly brand called Pangaia, which launched late last year and already counts celebrities like Pharrell and Leonardo DiCaprio as fans, creates $85 seaweed fiber T-shirts that are treated with peppermint oil to keep the shirts fresher longer between washes. The brand estimates that this will save about 3,000 liters of water over the course of a lifetime, compared to a regular cotton T-shirt. Then there is menswear label Wool & Prince, which creates everything from $128 oxford shirts to $42 boxer briefs out of wool, all designed to be washed infrequently. Last year, the company launched a sister womenswear brand called Wool& that makes dresses that can be worn for 100 days straight without washing.

This new flock of wash-less brands are capitalizing on the convenience of not having to launder your clothes a lot, which is particularly useful if you’re traveling or crunched for time. But they’re also making an environmental argument: Over-washing clothes is not good for the planet. Washing machines account for 17% of our home water usage, and a quarter of a garment’s carbon footprint over the course of its lifetime comes from cleaning it. And yet, washing machine company AEG estimates that 90% of clothes washed aren’t actually dirty enough to be thrown in the laundry basket.

Part of this has to do with the fact that laundry detergent brands have convinced consumers that they need to wash their clothes frequently, perhaps even after every wear, to be clean and hygienic. For instance, many laundry detergent ads show parents washing their children’s muddy and messy clothes, suggesting that good parenting involves doing a lot of laundry. Mac Bishop, who founded Wool & Prince, saw this firsthand. His first job after college was working for the marketing department of Unilever, which produces dozens of laundry detergent brands around the world. “The only way to grow as a laundry detergent brand is to make customers feel like they need to keep washing their clothes more and more,” he says.

Decades of marketing from the cleaning industry has conditioned many people to throw their clothes in the laundry after one day’s wear, even though this is rarely necessary. So one of the biggest challenges for brands pitching clothes that don’t need to be washed frequently is to convince people that they will not be gross, smelly, or dirty if they aren’t constantly doing loads of laundry.

Before brands can convince consumers to........

© Fast Company