Earth Day and Eco-Fashion vs. Eco-Fatigue

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It was an omen: on the week following Earth Day 2013, a building housing multiple clothing manufacturing companies collapsed, killing over 1000, just months after over 100 died in a clothing manufacturing fire, making clothes for The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Wal-Mart, and more, causing the fashion world to own up to the work conditions they support – temporarily. There was social media uproar. There were promises of change. Then when the consumers en masse were placated and started talking about other news, it all went back to normal. Only a year later, Forbes reported that other than a few initial donations, little was ever done or changed.

It’s now 2017, 5 years after the initial fire, but 10+ years after phrases like “eco-fatigue” and “greenwashing” have already become part of the daily vernacular. Even though the “do good” advertising campaign is to Generation Z what the “sexy” advertising campaign was to the Baby Boomers, and every company from American Express to Zara’s parent company, Indetex, has a page on their sites to make sure consumers can find the good they do in the world, are consumers really listening anymore? Should we expect more than a single, lone, organic dress and a few baby items listed on Zara? Consumers still respond to the seasonal sales of fast fashion, and the marketing of always being in style.

Fashion Revolution is trying to get consumers to listen. Every year on the anniversary of the Bangladesh collapse, Fashion Revolution pushes for fashion industry transparency. They’re wanting people to ask, Who Made My Clothes? The hashtag #whomademyclothes has over 100k posts on Instagram. The campaign successfully puts real humans back in the “do good.”

It’s hard to know the real impact of those numbers. If we compare to Patagonia, a truly trailblazing company on the ecofriendly and transparency front, Patagonia’s #wornwear campaign, the Patagonia @wornwear Instagram account has 70k+ followers, fewer than 8k posts in the Instagram #wornwear hashtag, but the mobile repair campaign repairs over 30,000 garments a year since the initiative’s creation in 2013.

Is it going to work this time? Are consumers going to start demanding ecologically friendly clothing, repairing what they have, and seeking out slow fashion? Teen Vogue, the new darling of hard-hitting journalism, has an article on the real cost of a cheap Zara skirt, but it’s buried in their articles of cheap Zara finds. Is eco-friendly and do-good just a click-bait trend for a generation, or will it have real marketing staying power? H&M, Zara, Sears, and many fast fashion retailers are often in the financial news posting earnings losses, while having a transparent, do good campaign has saved Patagonia.

Maybe it’s time advertisers and CMOs sat up, shook off their fatigue, and took another look at going good.

Related: Watch “The Commercial Conscience” on AWEurope Replay

The Commercial Conscience from AdvertisingWeek on Vimeo.

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