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‘Built-in obsolescence’ study targets women’s tights

Clothing brands are deliberately making women’s tights that will “ladder”, forcing users to throw them away after just six uses, a new study by anti-“built-in obsolescence” association HOP has found.

The Halte à l'Obsolescence Programmée (“Stop Built-In Obsolescence”, HOP) association polled over 3,000 women about their tights habits, to address the question: “Why did our grandmothers’ tights seem more resistant than ours, which do not last?”

Over 130 million pairs of tights are sold every year in France.

In the new study, almost two thirds (72%) of the women asked said that their tights generally last only six uses before breaking or “laddering”, and needing to be thrown away.

Women did not throw tights away because they got bored of them, the study said, but because they could no longer wear them due to breakage.

On average, women were forced to buy up to 10-11 pairs of tights per season, the study found.

The study blamed this on two factors: firstly, the low quality of the fabric, and secondly, the use of additives that make the tights - they allege - less durable.

Tights manufacturers made their tights “like tubes” as a means to cut costs, without respecting the contours of an actual human leg, and did not take care to finish the products by hand, the study added.

The companies were also accused of soaking the tights in 50°C chemically-treated water over several hours to “soften” them, but in doing so, allegedly also making them more fragile and likely to ladder.

In this way, companies can control how likely a pair of tights will be to break, HOP said.

The report reads: “Apart from the significant environmental impact of this, we have found that the chemical products used strongly affect the durability of a pair of tights.

“We can legitimately hypothesise that manufacturers can play with chemicals to make their tights more or less durable, and in doing so, “build in” how long it will or will not last.”

For consumers anxious to get the best from their tights, the study also ranked well-known brands by durability.

The Wolford, Bleuforêt and Gerbe brands came out top, with a score of 3 out of 5, but the study acknowledged that these tights can cost as much as €40 each.

Other more budget brands, including H&M, Well, Golden Lady, and supermarkets - which sell tights for just a few euros - managed no scores higher than 1.9 out of 5.

Tights are the latest product under the spotlight; last year, HOP helped support an investigation into “designed-to-fail” Epson-branded printer cartridges, and filed a complaint against Apple after the tech giant admitted to deliberately slowing down iPhones.

France has historically been a strong advocate against built-in obsolescence, and from 2020, a new government initiative will see products voluntarily given a sticker on their packaging, indicating how long their “life” will be.

The sticker will show the expected durability of the product, and rate its “repairability” from 1 to 10.

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