The Story of the Ditto Hanger
The Innovating of a Commodity
January 30, 2018
If you’re a conscientious consumer, you’re probably aware that better and worse fashion choices exist. Perhaps you try to source your fashion ethically when you can, or wear your clothes longer.
These choices are important, and if you’re making them, hats off to you. But chances are you’re overlooking one of the most massive components of waste in the fashion world: The clothes hanger.
The Great Hanger Escape
“People just don’t think about the minutiae,” says Gary Barker, CEO of Ditto Sustainable Brand Solutions and Greenheart Global. Barker doesn’t blame people for that; the plastic hanger is so ubiquitous in our world it practically blends into the background. We barely notice it anymore, despite the fact that 34 billion plastic hangers head to landfill annually.
That would fill 20 Empire State Buildings. 93 million hangers are trashed every day.
The problem? The fashion industry insists on conformity, which is why retail clothes hangers have been made of clear, I-beam shaped plastic with a metal hook since the 1970s. But, we don’t like this style of hanger in our personal closets.
Someone Recycles Them, Right? Wrong.
So you just leave them at the store and they reuse them, right? Wrong. Nowadays clothes are shipped to retailers on hangers already. That means that there’s no room for the old hangers that are taken off of sold clothes, so they go in the trash.
Neither stores nor consumers have a recycling recourse for these hangers, which are designed without end-of-life consideration. And it’s a short life. From manufacture to shipping to purchase to landfill may only be a matter of days, weeks at best. And they only ever held one garment. That’s thousands of tons of needless waste to satisfy a passing need.
Adding to the problem is the fact that all these new hangers leach toxins into clothing (benzene, bisphenol-a), and are made from virgin plastic, which requires tremendous resources, including water.
“We were concerned about the mass consumption in the country, but also the fact that so many products were being thrown away afterwards and so much material was going into landfills,” Barker explains.
A Greener Clothes Keeper
Barker and his partner Larry Chernicoff decided to do something about it. They founded Greenheart Global with an eye toward rethinking sustainable product design, and a B-Corp, Ditto Sustainable Brand Solutions, to focus specifically on hangers and other display items in the retail space.
Barker knows this problem well. He spent years designing and licensing products to manufacturers, but eventually tired of having no control over which materials were used to make them. This time, he wanted to have a say in what went into the things he created.
Barker and Chernicoff’s basic idea was to replace toxic materials with nontoxic recycled substitutes, and reverse-design products so they’d be 100% recyclable and reclaimable. In other words, Ditto designs for the recycling process, succeeding where so many others fall short by ensuring that at the end of its life, a product can be fully reclaimed.
After 2.5 years of research and development and more than 30 patents, they landed on the Ditto Sustainable Hanger. It’s made of 100% recycled compressed-paper fiberboard, which makes it exceptionally durable, capable of holding more than 20 pounds. Best of all, it can be recycled anywhere.
The Proof Is In the … Paper?
Ditto knew their fiberboard hanger was more sustainable than those unrecyclable clear plastic ones, but they wanted numbers. How much more sustainable were they, really?
An obvious comparison was Ditto Hangers versus the plastic ones used in traditional garment shipping programs, so that’s where they started.
“We tested our Ditto Hanger in these shipping programs and found that our hanger actually works better in these systems,” Barker says. The Ditto hanger saves up to 20% in shipping costs because they’re less bulky, fits over 50% more garments in stores because they’re thinner, and is 100% zero-waste because they can be recycled anywhere.
“Designing intelligent products means our hanger is not only more sustainable,” Barker adds, “but saves millions in shipping and retailing costs. We think our new discovery will doom the plastic retail hanger forever.”
Sending the Right Message
Barker is quick to emphasize that Ditto is so much more than a a “green” hanger.
Ditto is also Italian for “to say”, apt considering the brand potential of these hangers. Their flat paper surfaces offer space for companies to imprint their logos or slogans, sparking product recognition as well as catching the attention of ecologically-minded shoppers. This truly creates a whole new use for in-store hangers.
“We’re completely redesigning what a retail hanger should be,” Barker says. “That’s sustainable design in a nutshell: Looking at a product, the way it’s used, the way it’s disposed of, and imaging new functions.”
The World is Taking Note
Barker’s work has nabbed attention around the world. They’ve won numerous international industrial design awards, as well as a California Product Stewardship Arrow Award and another from Acterra, also devoted to environmental stewardship.
“The Acterra award opened up our visibility to companies,” Barker says. “Marin Sanitary contacted us, and we ended up designing a collection system for batteries and fluorescent tubes for them. We were able to go outside the hanger sphere.”
The Power to Change is In Your Hands
According to Barker, there’s no end in sight to Ditto’s innovations. In the meantime, the biggest thing consumers can do is tell companies, “no plastic.” Barker relays a story about a major children’s clothing retailer who uses 480 million plastic hangers a year, but said they won’t switch to Ditto – despite measurable cost savings – until their customers tell them to.
The power is in our hands. And in that sense, Ditto may have another meaning: It’s up to us to say that we want something better for the world. Something Ditto.
Often waste is right under our noses, and we never even know it. The amount of plastic hangers that go to landfills each year is staggering, and it’s time we did something about it! Support Ditto in their mission of changing one of the most wasteful parts of the fashion industry.