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The Greening of the Closet?

The New York Times reports on a Cambridge University study which argues that the manufacture and purchase of new clothing — particularly given today’s rapid-cycling fashion trends, and the throwaway clothes culture they’ve enabled — drives significant carbon emissions.

Consumers’ penchant for new clothes, in other words, is becoming an environmental threat.

Hand-me-down clothing, the article notes, has become less of a wardrobe staple now that dirt-cheap, on-trend garments are widely available through retailers like Target and Old Navy. “Fast clothes” are the order of the day.

The Times article discusses the relative ‘greenness’ of polyester and cotton, and the garment industry’s first adventures in tapping the public’s desire to make environmentally responsible choices. It also mentions that a shift in consumption habits could lessen clothes-related pollution, if customers became willing to “buy more expensive and durable clothing that can be worn for years.”

Thirty years ago, Alice Waters set out to bring the sensibilities of the European slow food movement to America. Her first restaurant, Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, embodied her vision of a mode of eating that married environmental responsibility (fresh, local produce whenever possible, and an emphasis on vegetarian offerings) with truly haute cuisine.

It’s interesting to wonder whether a “slow clothes” movement will follow. Could consumers learn to buy fewer items of higher quality, and concentrate on classic styles that could stay current for years?

The Gray Sweatshirt Revolution tried to effect an anti-consumerist sea change in dress a few years ago. Who’s next?