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Can a Connected Closet Encourage More Ethical Clothing Consumption?

Instead of waiting until spring cleaning season to be reminded of some once-loved but long-forgotten garments, what if those clothes could send tweets to remind consumers of their existence by asking to be worn?

That’s the idea behind the Internet of Clothes, a project developed by academics at Birmingham City University in the U.K. that wants to encourage more ethical consumption and reduce exploitation in the garment industry.

“Developed countries are over-consuming clothing. Whilst we are buying four times more clothes than 20 years ago, it is estimated that we wear just 20 percent of our wardrobe regularly,” said Mark Brill, project lead, pointing to the damaging impact clothing production has on the environment as well as the appalling work conditions in several manufacturing countries. “We can address this problem quite simply if own fewer clothes and wear them more often—and pay more for them.”

The project centers on a connected closet, in which each garment will be tagged using washable RFID technology (radio frequency identification) and categorized by name, use and frequency of wear, so that whenever an item is taken out, a reader will record that it’s been used.

Usage reminders will be sent via text, email or Twitter, based on the weather and how often they’ve been worn. If these prompts are ignored, the garment will send an email and tweet to a charity clothing organization, asking to be recycled, which will then send the user a mailing envelope for return. Another iteration could automate reselling, by posting unworn items to eBay, Asos Marketplace or Depop.

The project has been shortlisted with 11 other projects for a Network for Innovations in Culture and Creativity in Europe (NICE) award. Four winners will be chosen Thursday, which will share 20,000 euros (about $22,600) in prize money.

“The message—and solution—from The Internet of Clothes is to reduce the environmental impact, with an aim for zero emissions clothing,” Brill said. “It also seeks to reduce exploitation in the industry by asking users to buy fewer, better made and, above all, ethically sourced pieces.”

Internet of Clothes connected closet