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Why Earth Day has become largely a marketing gimmick

By Simone Preuss


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Business |OPINION

KI-generiertes Bild zur Illustration. Bild: FashionUnited

What do Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Earth Day have in common? They are all days that highlight something/someone that should go without saying and be celebrated every day of the year - mothers (parents in general), love and our earth.

The very existence of such days of remembrance shows that something is amiss - why do mothers need to be honoured on one day in particular; does that mean we forget about them on the other 364 days? And our romantic partners, do we really need Valentine's Day to shower them with flowers, chocolates and tacky stuffed animals? Shouldn't we show the special people in our lives our love, affection and respect every day?

And our planet - shouldn't we think every day about using resources sparingly and preserving them for generations to come? To use as little new stuff as possible and to mend, repair and reuse our old stuff?

Enough clothes for six generations

If one looks at the fashion industry, there are still too many brands and retailers whose business model is based on overconsumption and who cleverly use events such as Earth Day for greenwashing - for example by drawing attention to new collections that are supposedly sustainable but encourage consumption; take-back programmes of used garments based on store credit valid for new products only that serve the same purpose; new labels that want to be different but also contribute to consumption.

Reduce, reuse, recover, recycle poster at Made in Bangladesh Week. Credits: Sumit Suryawanshi for FashionUnited

Given that the existing garments in circulation today will last for six generations, according to Patrick Grant of Great British Sewing Bee, the most environmentally friendly thing to do would be to stop production immediately. But of course that is not possible - jobs are connected with the sector and many other industries.

The key is therefore to retrain and rethink, as traditional businesses such as leather manufacturers could do - instead of relying on leather, they could focus on plastic-free alternatives, as Germany's first vegan bag maker has shown.

Seamstresses should be trained in mending and extending the life of garments, not in producing new ones at an ever-increasing pace at the expense of their health. Creativity should be rewarded and emphasised, as is the case with “sashiko”, the Japanese technique for repairing denim. Days like the "Mend in Public Day" introduced at this year's Fashion Revolution Week, which aims to encourage people to mend their clothes as a community activity, should become regular events.

Staff in retail stores should be given the day off and encourage people to go out into nature on this day, as The North Face did a few years ago with its “Explore Mode” campaign on Earth Day, which is more relevant today than ever.

Every product manufactured should be linked to the restoration of nature, such as reforestation projects, preferably local ones, not halfway around the globe. The Wortmann Group has been doing this since 2021: the shoe manufacturer known for brands such as Tamaris, Marco Tozzi, S.Oliver Shoes and Caprice, has provided 25,000 euros each year for the purchase of young trees and their planting in a local project, totalling 125,000 euros to date. So far, 22.2 hectares have been reforested in order to replace damaged and clear-cut areas with new forest generations.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

So if you want to do something meaningful this Earth Day, stop consuming and instead follow the sustainability mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle", preferably in that order. As an industry, the fashion industry also needs to consider how it can change its business models and switch to slow fashion - with the associated changes to professional fields.

If this seems naïve and impossible, it is worth remembering the alternative - dwindling resources, more plastic in the world's oceans than fish and ever-growing mountains of clothes. Only when we no longer need a “Remembrance Day” can the earth (and therefore humankind) really breathe a sigh of relief.

Also read:

Circular Fashion
Sustainable Fashion