Global Earth Day, Fashion Revolution week, Greenwashing and the 5 questions every consumer should ask

by Lilian Vos


In 2020 I had just joined Esprit when we heard that Doug Tompkins, one of the Esprit founders, and previously the founder of The North Face, would come by the main office in Ratingen. Actually he was on his way to Switzerland where he was going to collect a major reward for his nature preservation activities.

Doug agreed to speak in front of the Esprit community and we all gathered in the main space, ready to absorb some fabulous DNA stories from the old days which we could use for our collections and marketing stories.. I will never forget the statement Doug made at the start of his speech; he said that 'founding Esprit was one of the things he regretted most in his life'. It became really silent in that space when Doug started explaining about the CO2 submission by the Fast Fashion industry which led into the ‘why and how’ he ended up being an environmental activist. Since he sold Esprit he and his wife were spending time and money on cleaning huge parts of Chili which had been deserted and highly polluted by the oil industry and prepared to give it back to the country. Meeting Doug Tompkins has been a trigger for me thinking about fashion and sustainability, just as Anita Roddick, Jane Goodall and Katherine Hamnett have provided great inspirations in different ways.

Last week’s Earth Day and the Fashion Revolution week have been full of statements by Fast Fashion retailers and Brands stumbling over each other,  highlighting their ‘green initiatives’. If you are not a specialist I think it is very hard to separate real initiatives from greenwashing activities. In order to create clarity for consumers we need to agree on which questions and answers are leading in this debate and provide the right platform to inform consumers. We have a long way to go if you realize that in the same Fashion Revolution week we saw Dutch consumers buy Primark entry slots for 25Euros as if they are Festival tickets to be able to shop fast and cheap.

The 5 questions to ask a Brand or a Retailer to understand their sustainability approach;  

Origin of materials; if the fabrics are natural (like cotton) is it certified organic? If they are manmade like polyester or acrylic; is it recycled? 

Water Use; What is the factory's water management? do the factories minimize the amount of water used? Is the water clean and purified before it goes back into the system? 

Social; are the suppliers providing fair payment to the workers? Is the workplace safe, healthy and clean? Is overwork being paid and not systematic? 

Transport; Does the Brand/Retailer fly goods?, Are the boxes/containers full at start of their travel? How far do goods need to travel to meet the consumer? How are goods packed? 

Waste; What is the life cycle of the goods? What happens if consumers don't want the goods anymore? Can consumers return the goods to the retailer? is it going to be wasted and burned? Does the retailer provide the opportunity for a second life?

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