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Want To Wear Sustainability On Your Sleeve? Rent A Sweater

In the Netherlands, a growing movement to lease clothing rather than piling up ever more cheaply-made, environmentally damaging jeans, shirts and sweaters.

Mud Jeans founder Bert van Son
Mud Jeans founder Bert van Son
Sonja Salzburger

A T-shirt for 4.99 euros, jeans for 9.99. With bargain-basement prices like that, many discount retailers keep their customers buying and buying. On average, every German and Dutchman owns seven pairs of jeans, and Germans buy between 12 and 15 kilos of clothing per year. It would seem that shopping bags full-to-bursting with clothes are balm for the soul.

But Bert van Son wants to change all that. This Dutchman believes you don’t need a lot of clothes to be well turned out, and why buy the stuff anyway when you could rent it?

His latest business venture, “Lease a Fleece,” gives consumers the option to rent sweaters and sweatshirts instead of buying them. He sought financing through crowdfunding and wound up with 52,000 euros, above and beyond his stated goal of 45,000 euros. By the end of February, sweaters will be available for rent via his website and at select Dutch fashion boutiques.

Lease a Fleece works like this: The customer pays a 20-euro deposit for a sweater and contractually commits to paying a leasing fee of 5 euros per month. The sweater remains the property of the founder’s company, Mud Jeans, which guarantees repairs if the item of clothing gets damaged.

After a year, the customer can return the sweater or deposit another 20 euro and wear the sweater for as long as he or she wants. Should the customer tire of it, instead of throwing it away or putting it in a used-clothes collection bin, he or she sends it back to Mud Jeans, which issues a 20-euro credit that the customer can invest in renting another item. Van Son, who is promoting the concept on the basis of sustainability, promises not to throw out returned clothes. Instead, he’ll sell them as used clothing or process them so that the fibers can be re-used.

The idea of renting clothes is not entirely new, of course. There is a well-established rental market for work and sports clothing, and expensive suits and evening wear are available too. The underlying idea behind evening clothes rentals is that it’s not worth shelling out a lot of money for a formal outfit that may only be worn once. What’s new is applying the same concept to every-day wear.

It worked with jeans

The sweater is Mud Jeans’ second big project. Last year, the label launched a similar program for renting jeans. So far, the company has leased 1,500 pairs of jeans and sold 1,000 pairs. It doesn’t look as if he’s is going to get rich on this, van Son says, but what he’s doing is giving himself and his customers a clear conscience. The company motto is “For people who care.”

And van Son is getting a lot of recognition for his commitment. In 2012, his company was singled out by the Circle Economy Foundation, a Dutch entity, as a model of circle economy. This restorative economic concept is based on the idea that all raw materials used to make things should flow back 100% into the production process.

Mud Jeans collections are largely made of recyclable materials such as organic cotton, and are also manufactured under good working conditions.

Despite fair trade seals, guaranteeing humane conditions through the entire production chain is difficult, says Professor Martin Müller, who occupies the Foundation Chair for Sustainability at Ulm University. That is mainly because of globalization. Many different companies are involved in clothing production, including a host of subcontractors that come and go. So there is a lack of transparency in the production chain.

Van Son is familiar with the difficulties in the textile industry. His leased clothing is made exclusively in Italy, he says. Ideally, he would manufacture everything in Europe, but some of the T-shirts and sweatshirts that Mud Jeans offers are made in India because otherwise the profit margin is just too low.

There is still a way to go before responsible consumption becomes the norm. A Ipsos poll conducted last year showed that 44% of Germans want cheap prices and a big selection. They were not so interested in the working conditions of the people making the clothes. Notably, the poll took place between May 7 and May 21, 2013, some three weeks after the worst factory accident in the history of Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people.

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Inside Ralston College, Jordan Peterson's Quiet New Weapon In The Culture Wars

The Canadian-born psychologist Jordan B. Peterson is one of the most prominent opponents of what's been termed: left-wing cancel culture and "wokism." As part of his mission , he serves as chancellor of Ralston College in Savannah, Georgia, a picturesque setting for a unique experiment that contrasts with his image of provocateur par excellence.

Photo of Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson greeting someone at Ralston College, Savannah

Jordan B. Peterson at Ralston College

Sandra Ward

This article was updated Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. with corrections*

SAVANNAH — Savannah is almost unbelievably beautiful. Fountains splash and babble in the well-tended front gardens of its town houses, which are straight out of Gone with the Wind. As you wander through its historic center, on sidewalks encrusted with oyster shells, past its countless parks, under the shadows cast by palm trees, magnolias and ancient oaks, it's as if you are walking back in time through centuries past.

Hidden behind two magnificent façades here is a sanctuary for people who want to travel even further back: to ancient Europe.

In this city of 147,000 in the U.S. state of Georgia, most locals have no idea what's inside this building. There is no sign – either on the wrought-iron gate to the front garden or on the entrance door – to suggest that this is the headquarters of a unique experiment. The motto of Ralston College, which was founded around a year ago, is "Free Speech is Life Itself."

The university's chancellor is one of the best-known figures in America’s culture wars: Jordan B. Peterson. Since 2016, the Canadian psychologist has made a name for himself with his sharp-worded attacks on feminism and gender politics, becoming public enemy No. 1 for those in the left-wing progressive camp.

Provocation and polemics, Peterson is a master of these arts, with a long list of controversies — and 4.6 million followers on X (formerly Twitter), and whose YouTube videos have been viewed by millions. Last year on Twitter he commented on a photo of a plus-size swimsuit model that she was "not beautiful," adding that "no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that."

A few years ago he sparked outrage with a tweet contesting the existence of "white privilege," the idea that all white people, whether they are aware of it or not, have unearned advantages. "There is nothing more racist," he said than this concept. He was even temporarily banned from the platform for an anti-trans tweet.

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