Like most things that invoke terms like "ethical" and "consumption", it involves guilt, and a not-so-subtle threat. If you don't wear them, the garments will automatically get in touch with a charity and ask to be recycled, with the Goodwill or whatever automatically sending out a mailing envelope for return. It uses washable radio-frequency identification (RFID) contactless technology which will tweet and message users asking to be worn depending on the weather and frequency of wear.
The academics behind it lament that as a society we own four times as many clothes as we did 20 years ago, but regularly only wear about 20 percent of them. The average American buys 64 items of clothing a year and they say UK citizens have an estimated £30 billion worth of unused clothing sitting in their closets.
A century ago, people on average spent more than 50 percent of their money on food and clothes, today it is less than 20 percent. Yes, we're all leading better lives than our ancestors and don't have a burlap shift or one kilt. That must be fixed, if you're the kind of person who feels guilty because you're in the humanities or a political party that needs everyone to feel guilty about everything. It will be less resource-intensive and will stop exploitation of people in the Third World, who can simply be unemployed rather than working 12 hours a day.
“Perhaps we can even move away from the idea of ‘ownership’ of clothing, to simply using them as long as we need them. When we’ve worn them enough, the items will pass themselves on to their next keeper to wear,” says Mark Brill, Senior Lecturer in Future Media at Birmingham City University. Like eugenics 100 years ago or population control and environmentalism more recently, that means one set of rules for the wealthy and one for the poor, who can just wear hand-me-downs. It's why sustainability frauds like anti-science activist Bill McKibben can claim they are being stalked by right-wing paparazzi because people note his hypocrisy when he writes things like "Changing the system, not perfecting our own lives, is the point" about his own excessive consumption to get make himself rich.
Brill hits all of the progressive keynotes, claiming that there are petrochemicals used in synthetics and that cotton growing uses more pesticides than any other crop. Bleaching, dying and finishing clothes adds further pollutants to the environment and use considerable energy resources while, he says, 85 percent of the low-paid exploited workers are women.
Like many ideas of this kind, it is a Utopian vision which weirdly relies on the miracle of Capitalism to bring it to life. It isn't even a prototype yet. If they can get someone who got rich exploiting low-paid workers and the environment to fund this, the academics involved would also want garments tagged at the point of retail, meaning clothing labels could also let buyers know details such as the exact origin of the item, who made it and how much the worker was paid for it.
The project has been shortlisted among 12 other projects for a Network for Innovations in Culture and Creativity in Europe (N.I.C.E) Award, which will be announced near the end of this month.