business design shopping waste

The 30 year sweatshirt

The oldest item of clothing in my wardrobe that I still wear is a German Army surplus shirt that I bought in the early 90s. You know the type – it’s an army surplus staple beloved of grunge kids and outdoor types. I presume it has something to do with the country’s compulsory military service of the time and a high turnover of personnel, but to this day military surplus shops the world over are stuffed with drab olive shirts with a little German flag.

It’s not an elegant item of clothing. It was scruffy and secondhand when I bought it and it’s no better now, but it is still going. It’s been my hiking, camping and gardening shirt, so it’s taken more abuse than any other item of clothing, but it appears to be more or less indestructible.

That’s what you’d expect from clothing made for the military, but they don’t have a monopoly on long lasting clothes. At the other end of the smartness scale, my Grandpa always bought quality tailored suits that would last for decades and could be repaired. There’s a vintage clothing shop not far from my London office that sells the sorts of things he wore – suits and coats that date from the 60s and 70s and are still perfectly wearable. They’re just that well made.

Outside of very high-end tailoring, we don’t make clothes like that any more. Consumer tastes have changed and we value novelty more than we used to. The idea of keeping clothes for years doesn’t appeal, and one survey earlier this month suggests that the majority of women’s fashion purchases are worn just seven times. I don’t know if things are really that bad, but as you can tell from the previous paragraphs, I’m not the guy to ask.

We know it’s perfectly possible to make clothes that last for decades. Given that you can buy them from vintage shops, it clearly doesn’t need some high-tech new fabric or innovative technique. It needs quality materials and attention to detail. Most clothing companies won’t find it worthwhile to offer long-lasting clothes – it’s a guaranteed way to cut off return business after all. But there ought to be a niche out there for basics, staple wardrobe items that are more or less timeless.

30 year sweathshirtTom Cridland thinks so, which is why he is offering his sweatshirt with a 30 year guarantee. “A lot of big fashion brands make their clothing knowing that it will fall apart, so that their customers will have to return to buy more” he says. “We’re going to prove that clothing can, and should, last a lifetime.”

His 30 year sweatshirt it currently on Kickstarter. It’s made from organic cotton and handmade in Portugal. If it comes to grief at any point in the three decades of its warranty, you can send it back for a free repair. And since people have been wearing cotton crew-neck sweatshirts since the 1920s, it’s unlikely to become hideously passé any time soon.

Making long-lasting clothing isn’t the only approach to sustainable fashion. Other companies have specialised in recyclable or biodegradeable items, which means there’s still room for changing styles. But for classic wardrobe items, Tom Cridland’s approach is a good one. Now, what colour to go for?

7 comments

  1. The question is who is guaranteeing the 30 years guarantee. Is it Tom Cridland whose company will probably not exist in 30 years? Is it the Portuguese company who have a longer track record but enforcing the guarantee in foreign courts would be a pain. Or is he offering an insurance policy paid for by his company that I can claim against?

    Otherwise this is an example of empty marketing which I thought you didn’t like.

    1. It’s the same risk you take when you buy anything from anyone, although I doubt anyone would take somebody to court over a sweatshirt.

      The 30 year guarantee is a statement of belief in his product, in the possibility of creating such a thing. Like any business, if people buy his sweatshirts and find them to be cheap and disappointing, they won’t recommend him or be back for anything else he creates. So he’s taking a risk too.

      I own a few things that have lifetime guarantees, so it’s not exactly a new idea.

        1. Caveat emptor applies, as always, and he’s got to make his case on Kickstarter if he wants to get the funds. If you don’t trust it, other sweatshirts are available – probably with no guarantees, cheaper cloth and more questionable ethics.

  2. Great I just love this, it’s so true things are man cheaply and designed to fall apart. My oldest item is a Airwalk jumper it must be pushing nearly 20 years. Still warm and it’s been round the globe with the stain and holes to prove it, but it’s still holding it’s purpose of keeping me warm.

    Watch the Kickstarter and amazing and long overdue idea thanks for sharing…

  3. Reblogged this on Ideas Of Mass Destruction and commented:
    Great I just love this, it’s so true things are man cheaply and designed to fall apart. My oldest item is a Airwalk jumper it must be pushing nearly 20 years. Still warm and it’s been round the globe with the stains and holes to prove it, but it’s just about still holding it’s purpose of keeping me warm. But is no longer the smartest item of clothing I own, in it’s old days it become more of a lounge ware item. Imagine if it had been guaranteed for 30 years !!!

    Watch the Kickstarter for the 30 Year Sweatshirt, it’s amazing and long overdue idea thanks for sharing … http://makewealthhistory.org

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