With sustainable fashion becoming more mainstream, it seems as if fashion brands are taking large strides to be more conscious in with their production and products. However, there’s no doubt a fair few of these are greenwashing to sell their clothes.
Greenwashing, a term coined in the 1980s, is a corporate marketing strategy which takes advantage of the increasing public interest in environmental issues to make misleading or false claims regarding the companies environmental practices or products. This creates a favourable company image. Although messages are portrayed selectively, avoiding the full disclosure of related issues or no real proof as to how it is sustainable.
Eco-friendly, organic, sustainable and conscious are all buzzwords littered across advertisements in an attempt to give brands a sustainable stamp of approval and manipulate consumers. However, the term ‘sustainable’ is more of an umbrella term and has many different limbs. And it is pretty much up to the manufacturer what classifies an item as sustainable. It has made it hard to know whether a brand is truly sustainable or whether it is simply greenwashing. You have to trudge through the muddy waters of ‘recycled materials’ and ‘organically made’ to reveal whether something is sustainable and a worthy investment.
Greenwashing can take many forms. From ‘conscious’ and ‘sustainable’ collections & campaigns to brand packaging. So, to help, here are some ways you can tell if a company is greenwashing:
Can They Back Up Their Claim?
It is one thing for a brand to say they are sustainable. However, do they have the figures to support their claims? What percentage of their process or product is sustainable? What goals are they setting out to be more sustainable and how are they going to go about this? Can these plans be backed up by science? It can take a bit of digging. But there should be some form of sustainability report on a brand’s website which gives you this information. If not check to see if they have a parent company (such as Arket, Cos and & Other Stories are all under H&M).
Transparency Does Not Equal Sustainability
Transparency is a key factor in moving towards sustainability. After the tragic Rana Plaza incident in 2013, people were left to search the rubble to figure out which brands were using the factory as there was no transparency. It is impossible to achieve workers rights and sustainability if there is no transparency. However being transparent does not make a brand sustainable. Earlier in the year Fashion Revolution released their Fashion Transparency Index for 2020.
This index found an average score of 23% across the board. And H&M came out on top, being the only retailer to get a score above 70%. This was surprising to many, as H&M are notorious for greenwashing and causing irreversible harm. The owner has also claimed in the past that sustainable fashion is hurtful for the fast fashion industry (to read more on this I’d recommend reading this post by Melissa Watt). However H&M took this score as an opportunity to proclaim their sustainability. But instead of ‘conscious’ their buzzword was now ‘transparent’. They are simply being transparent about being unsustainable.
Natural & Vegan Aren’t Always Sustainable
I know, it feels like you can’t win. However some natural materials such as bamboo and viscose need to be responsibly sourced for them to be sustainable. Otherwise they can cause a lot of deforestation. Around 150 million trees are cut down a year for the production of viscose. This is predicted to have doubled between 2013 and 2020. Knowing where your fabrics came from and their impact can help avoid the greenwashing trap. You can use tools such as the Higg Material Sustainability Index to help compare the environmental impact of fabrics.
The same can go for vegan products. Some vegan materials require synthetics which use a lot of resources to produce and will also have an impact on the planet when washing or in their after life. Look for vegan items that are made from responsibly sourced plant fibres such as apple leather or pinatex.
Ask Who Made Your Clothes
Garment workers rights across the whole supply chain are extremely important for achieving sustainability. As this is often the price paid for cheap fast fashion. Brands have been getting better at sharing more information about their supply chain. However, there is still little to no information as to how workers are treated. The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to modern slavery, and many of these people will be women and children. In order for brands to achieve sustainability they must first achieve more rights and better working conditions for workers across the whole of the supply chain.
There’s a lot of information to take in here. But in a nutshell it comes down to whether the brand can show you that what they are doing is sustainable and does their ‘sustainable’ practices offset any of their other environmental impacts. For instance, Boohoo having a 34 piece recycled collection becomes somewhat redundant when it is recycled polyester which takes a long time to break down and sheds a lot of micro plastics. Not to mention the other 700 garments being added weekly to Boohoo’s site which are likely to end up in landfill.
I was also asked the question of ‘Isn’t shopping sustainable collections still better than shopping regular fast fashion?’ to which the answer is yes and no. The hope is brands would see a growing interest in buying more sustainable clothes and act upon this. However, the more likely story is they will think they can get away with greenwashing and continue to make false claims.
So What Can I Do?
As the consumers, we have the potential to have a lot of power in the fashion industry. If you want to use your voice to make a change, call these brands out. Whether that be on social media or through an email, create some noise asking for more transparency and action. Fashion Revolution have some great resources for this.
You can also protest through your purchases, whether that be through boycotting fast fashion or buying less from the highstreet. I am also aware not everyone has the accessibility to shop from sustainable brands or second hand, and fast fashion is their only option. It is a privilege to be able to take the time to look into brand’s and shop more sustainably, and cannot be expected of everyone to take the above into account. But if you can, or start to slow down your fashion consumption, it’ll make a big difference.
If you have a question, feel free to message me on Instagram (@emilyybecca) or via my contact page.