Let’s face it: fashion is bad for the environment. I’m not just talking about clothing – I’m talking about our general desire to obtain new things as trends change. How many perfectly good couches like this have been discarded, replaced with new ones that required significant amounts of energy and raw materials to produce?
Of course, that’s true any time you buy a new product, whether it’s for style reasons or not.
Many environmentalists see leasing and rental models as part of the solution. What if, instead of buying new flooring, you leased it? The flooring company could then reclaim it when you want a new floor, reusing it or recycling it depending on its state.
A Dutch company called Mud Jeans is attempting to use the same model for denim. The company is letting customers rent jeans for 20 euros up front plus 5 euros a month (a total of $107 to own a pair of jeans for a year). After a year, customers can send the jeans back or keep them (for an additional 20 euros). Mud will then either recycle the jeans or lease them to another customer.
There’s one problem, from an environmental standpoint. Levi’s conducted extensive research and found that a pair of jeans is most damaging to the environment not when it’s made but when it’s used, because of all the energy and resources required to wash and dry clothes. Cotton production accounted for only 5% of the climate-change impact of a pair of jeans and 4% of its energy use.
Water use was a different story. Cotton production accounted for 49% of the water use associated with a pair of Levi’s. But washing nearly matched it, at 46%.
Overall, I like Mud’s idea, mainly because it will get consumers thinking about the potential embedded in a leasing economy. Ultimately, however, it would probably be better for the environment to take my father’s approach: buy a pair of pants at LL Bean, and wear it for the next 20 years. I wonder if that will ever be in style.