It's time to talk about ... wait for it ... the problem with hangers.
For all of its beautiful garments and glamourous trappings, in terms of sustainability the fashion industry is largely a giant mess. Problems like pollution from manufacturing and textiles ending up in the landfill are not much of a secret at this point, but oh there is so much more. Alas.
So let's talk about hangers. Most of us buy a set of hangers and install them in our closet where they live a long life into happy old age. If we get wire hangers from the dry cleaners we know that we can return or recycle them. Because of this, rest assured, the green police are not coming for your hangers. Your hamburgers and pickup trucks, yes, but not your hangers.But there is a whole other world in which hangers are not so innocent, the ol' "garment on hanger" (GOH) stage.
When manufacturers transport garments from factories to retailers, the items are placed on hangers to keep them safe, secure, and unwrinkled. When they arrive at their destination, the garments are removed from the hangers and placed on the store's hangers – and then all those transportation hangers are simply tossed out. As Amsterdam-based hanger company, Arch & Hook, explains, "The cheap, mostly unrecyclable plastic hangers are then discarded for branded front of house hangers, making the GOH hangers yet another single use plastic." How bad is the problem? Arch & Hook explains:
"It’s estimated that 150 billion garments are produced globally every year (source: Journal of Cleaner Production). There are currently no figures available for hanger production, on a local or global level, however if just two thirds of these garments use GOH, this would mean that an estimated 100 billion hangers are used annually for this stage alone. The majority of these hangers are used once and 85% will end up in landfill, taking more than 1,000 years to degrade."
It may seem odd that a hanger company is spilling the beans on the hanger problem, but Arch & Hook is in the business of sustainable hangers. Therefore, yes, they do have a vested interest in exposing the fiasco; but given the scope of the problem, they are also doing the planet a favor.
To raise awareness of the GOH stage, the company collaborated with the Ridley Scott Creative Group to create the short film below. It stars Model Mafia activist Nimue Smit wearing designs by sustainable couture designer Ronald Van Der Kemp.
And now the question of the hour: What do we do about it?
Arch & Hook has launched a hanger called BLUE that is made entirely of marine debris, which the company says "turns the hanger industry on its head by presenting a 100% recycled, fully closed loop alternative to source plastic for hangers."
That's a great start – and an important reminder that every step of the way can and should be considered with sustainability in mind. (To that end, Arch & Hook has started a petition to help send a message to the industry. You can sign it here.)
But we also need deeper, more fundamental change; specifically, we need to address fast fashion and our consumption habits. We need a fashion revolution; a complete rethinking of what we wear and how we get our clothes, that starts with the consumer and reverberates through every stage of the industry.
As consumers, we need to learn how to eschew the great marketing brainwash, and buy quality, slow-fashion garments that are meant to last; and we need to fully embrace the second-hand and consignment market – to name just a few things we can do. But until that revolution takes hold, addressing the dirty little secrets and creating sustainable solutions is crucial. Imagine, if simple hangers that we never see are such a problem, what else is going on behind the scenes?