Every day is Earth Day

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And so they land, one after another, in my inbox like virtual seed pods drifting on the digital wind: e-mails crying “groom greener!” thanks to “Thymes Essentials Experience Kits”, with their “all-natural ingredients”; e-mails about Natalie Chanin’s (of the fashion company Alabama Chanin) limited edition T-shirts for HBO, which involve the recycling of over-stock tees from TV’s Sex and the City, Flight of the Conchords and The Sopranos into “wearable ‘green’ art”; e-mails about Donna Karan’s limited edition, for-charity, bamboo-and-organic cotton T-shirts for Pankaj Shah’s online store Tonic. It’s nearly Earth Day (April 22), and the consumer opportunities are sprouting.

It seems illogical; retail sales are down, says everyone from the US Commerce Department to the Confederation of British Industry; every day there’s one more report about the new frugality – and yet there’s more stuff being made. How many hemp totes do we need before we’ve got more bags than groceries? Shouldn’t the much-touted return to “values” lead us to run naked in fields for this special day, rather than indulge our desire for things?

Apparently not. According to new research from the market research firm Mintel, “sales of ethical clothing have more than quadrupled in the past five years to reach £175m in 2009” – “ethical” here meaning organic or green or responsibly made. Even more, they say: “Adverse economic conditions are likely to have only muted effects on the ethical clothing sector.” Green fashion is a growth area, and everyone wants to be in on it.

So why do I feel so blue? It’s not that I’m anti-eco (I married an ex-Greenpeacer, and we have a giant vat of composting red wrigglers in our back yard), it’s just that I have an abiding respect for the power of still appreciation and a deep suspicion of marketing to a moment. I mean, it’s not like the tree next door disappears come June 21 because fashion has moved on to “I [heart] my Dad” T-shirts. And somehow, I doubt that the limited-edition nature of the Earth Day products is a subtle commentary on the fact that nature itself is at risk of becoming a limited edition; rather, I think it’s more to do with trying to create a buzz to drive people to buy.

Such products have, however, grown beyond being souvenirs of a moment: witness the success of ethical-or-bust designers Stella McCartney and Christina Kim of Dosa (who for years has been using the remnants from her natural clothing line as stuffing in her equally cool homewares), not to mention jeweller Pippa Small and Edun’s Ali Hewson. You know how when kids ask why there is a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no Children’s Day, parents drone, “each day is Children’s Day”? Well, it seems we are fast reaching the stage where every day is Earth Day.


On the other hand, I did recently hear of two products that fill the limited-edition, creative-response- to-a-specific-moment brief perfectly, and I hereby offer them up as my picks for ideal (non-) Earth Day initiatives.

The first came courtesy of an online shirt company (www.shirtsmyway.com), which announced they had “contacted President Obama and his staff with a proposal” to “take a small portion of the bail-out money” and “give out free dress shirts” for job interviews. Not surprisingly, the administration said no, but then the company decided to do it themselves and, according to founders Peter Crawford and Michael Yang, job-hunters can sign up to the site’s mailing list by e-mail, and lucky winners will be randomly picked once a week between now and the end of May (so far, they have more than 250 names).

Meanwhile, Nahui Ollin, who recycles candy wrappers into handbags, has branched out into recycling “obsolete and misprinted newspapers and magazines” into woven totes (www.nahuiollin.com) as a witty take on the current crisis in the publishing industry.

Now, admittedly, I have an interest in the latter situation, but all the same, when I first saw the bags: I was tickled. Pink.

vanessa.friedman@ft.com
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman

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