Sustainability at Leeds Arts University: The Circular Wardrobe Challenge

19 July 2022

Ana Perez, Senior Lecturer BA (Hons) Fashion Branding with Communication, works with undergraduate students to unpick fashion sustainability issues and their effect on consumer behaviour.

The deterioration of the environment has been linked to the drastic impacts caused by the fashion industry. Fashion companies and manufacturers are currently being made to conform to more sustainable practices such as the use of sustainable materials, less packaging processes and being held more accountable for social impacts. Despite this, clothing production and fashion waste have been increasing year on year.

As consumers are being lured through sales tactics on various social media platforms to purchase more fast fashion; resale, second-hand shopping and messages on how to be more sustainable are also becoming more mainstream.

In the quest to unpick some of the fashion sustainability issues and the effect on consumer behaviour today, undergraduate students on the Fashion Branding with Communication course at Leeds Arts University embarked on a collaborative circular wardrobe challenge. 95 students in total participated in the collaboration in where positive and motivational drivers such as creativity and finding new purposes to already existing items were recognized as a benefit to reducing fashion consumption.

Image: Work by Alisha Beaumont, first year Fashion Branding with Communication.

The fashion industry is one of the largest economies in the world contributing to approximately 500,000 jobs to the UK economy alone, however it is also one of the most polluting ones (UKFT, 2022). In the last decade alone garment production and our need for purchasing new fashion items has more than doubled, creating enormous damage to the environment. Our constant need for newness satisfied through the purchase of fast fashion also means that we are keeping, repairing and utilising clothes less than ever before. Research is showing that consumers are also utilising garments for shorter periods of time and some findings have shown that people only wear 50% of the garments purchased and in addition to this 73% of clothes in peoples’ wardrobes are never worn (Bardey et al, 2021).

In a quest to reduce the wastage problems caused by the fashion industry and the constant appetite to renew our wardrobes and create variety, new concepts mainly implemented by fashion brands on what to purchase and how to dispose of fashion items have started to emerge. New more eco-friendly and sustainable materials are being produced and consumers are encouraged to recycle, up-cycle and select more sustainable products (Gupta and Gentry in Becker-Leifhold and Heuer, 2018).  

Image: Work by Kiera Jenkins, first year Fashion Branding with Communication. 

There’s a clear trend emerging in purchasing sustainable fashion products and the changes in legislation have also accelerated the process for fashion brands to adapt to circularity. Innovative sustainable materials are being used more often in the creation of new garments and some fashion brands have adopted recycling schemes to encourage consumers to return their no more wanted garments. As these more environmental and transformative circular fashion business models are becoming the norm and demand for more sustainable fashion grows (Wang and Zhang, 2020), how can consumers fulfil a more circular way of using fashion?

One notable trend in recent years has been the promotion of living with less by reducing the items we own and buying better quality items, expanding the longevity of these which in the long run is better for the planet (Brass, 2016). Research suggests that owning and living with less items enhances positive ways of living (de Wagenaar, Galama and Sijtsema, 2022) and multiple house decluttering and makeover TV shows in the UK such as Hoarder SOS on Channel 4, Sort Your Life Out on BBC One and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and Get Organized have made this a popular format that has been re-worked over the years embracing a new culture of owning and living only with what brings ‘joy’ promising inner peace and contentment.


Image: Work by Sophie Naylor, Val Kuzima, Kim Morlery and Jodie Lynch, first year Fashion Branding with Communication. 

Fashion minimalism emerged in the 80’s initiated by the Japanese designers like Yohi Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. The minimalistic movement has had a resurgence and combined with the trendy Scandinavian looks this has made a big impact in the fashion world and over the last few years, encouraging people to create a simple and more basic wardrobe. The idea of a less convoluted wardrobe also known as a capsule wardrobe can be best described as a small collection of garments which can be combined with each other to create new combinations (Brass, 2016). Owning a large number of garments has shown to complicate and convolute the thought process of consumers. Contradictory to this, owning a capsule wardrobe can lead to the benefits of a less cluttered and wasteful wardrobe and can lead to a more creatively influenced day to day activity (Bang and DeLong, 2021).

To embrace the minimalist approach and extend the use of garments; a new strategy was proposed to the Undergraduate students on the Fashion Branding and Communication course at Leeds Arts University. The students embarked on a circular wardrobe task inspired by the idea of a circular wardrobe task called 10x10 Challenge.


Image: Work by Zahra Rafiq, first year Fashion Branding with Communication. 

The 10 x 10 Style Challenge is an exercise established in 2015 by Lee Vosburgh to help encourage herself to get more creative with her own clothes. The concept is essentially a mini capsule wardrobe of 10 items that you wear for 10 days.

The 10x10 challenge was introduced to 95 undergraduate students from the Fashion Branding with Communication (FBC) and Fashion Photography (FP) courses at Leeds Arts University as part of their sustainability and styling studies. The first step of the challenge required them to select 10 garments including accessories, shoes and outerwear they already owned. The second part of the challenge consisted in styling the 10 items and wear the 10 different looks and photograph the newly styled items.

Creating a circular wardrobe is not only a simple and creative way to re-use what we already own, it is also a simple step to maintain the circulation of garments and reduce the constant use of natural resources being reworked into new products which are then discarded.

The discussions following up from the 10x10 Challenge provided interesting insights; for example, some students reported making more sustainable choices, changing their behaviours in terms of reusing fashion, considering the items they already own and re-using fashion items in new and different ways. This project also allowed the students to recognise what they already own and re-use some items in a more creative and meaningful manner.

The 10x10 challenge can be a simple concept and can be adapted utilising only a minimum part of an existing wardrobe and combine and mix up these garments to make new outfits across a selected period of time. Extended versions of the same type of challenge can be followed consisting of the same concept but over a shorter or longer period i.e: 5, 15, 20 or 30-day period. 

Image: Work by Keira Jenkins. 

As we are learning the importance of re-using materials and keeping items in circulation for longer, the circular wardrobe challenge is a simple way to help improve the fashion sustainability issues we are facing.

Extending the use of garments is often seen as an important strategy to decrease the impact of the fashion industry. Keeping garments for longer to increase its circularity and how to make garments last longer is a challenge often left to the consumer. Participating in a circular wardrobe can therefore enhance new inspiration through the re-invention of new ways of wearing already owned garments. This not only enriches imagination but it can also contribute to the circular economy ultimately making it a better and more sustainable way of consuming fashion.

Image: Work by Zahra Rafiq. 


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Bardey, A., Booth, M., Heger, G. and Larsson, J., 2021. Finding yourself in your wardrobe: An exploratory study of lived experiences with a capsule wardrobe. International Journal of Market Research, 64(1), pp.113-131.

Becker-Leifhold, C. and Heuer, M. (2018). Eco-friendly and fair : fast fashion and consumer behaviour. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Ny: Routledge.

de Wagenaar, D., Galama, J. and Sijtsema, S.J. (2022). Exploring Worldwide Wardrobes to Support Reuse in Consumers’ Clothing Systems. Sustainability, 14(1), p.487. doi:10.3390/su14010487.

Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T. and Gwilt, A., 2020. The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 1(4), pp.189-200.

UKFT. 2022. UKFT: UK fashion and textile industry statistics and data. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 April 2022].

Wang, B., Luo, W., Zhang, A., Tian, Z. and Li, Z. (2020). Blockchain-enabled circular supply chain management: A system architecture for fast fashion. Computers in Industry, 123, p.103324. doi:10.1016/j.compind.2020.103324.