THE EMERGENCE OF GREENWASHING IN FASHION

With the current climate crisis, many of us have taken a step back to analyze the damages our consumption of fashion has on the environment. From being happy to buy multiple items simply because they had a small price tag, we have started shifting towards trying to buy more secondhand, vintage, or sustainably made clothes. But a new phenomenon has emerged with brands releasing collections that are meant to be more “conscious”, and “green”. But what truly lies behind these claims? Are these companies trying to take a step in the right direction? Or has greenwashing become a new marketing tool?

It can be difficult to see what really lies behind eco-friendly buzzwords and claims, that’s why we are going to give you tips and tricks to see if you are dealing with greenwashing. According to Jay Westervelt who coined the term, greenwashing happens when a company says it is doing more for the environment than it truly is, using misleading and false allegations. Here are some key questions to recognize greenwashing:

Are these sustainable initiatives important to the company as a whole?

Try to look past a brand’s most popular sustainable products and do research on their website about their process in general. Does the brand make it a point to use a majority of recyclable or biodegradable materials? Where do these come from? What type of packaging materials do they use? The answer to these questions points to whether the sustainable initiatives are applied to the entire company, and its different steps (sourcing of materials, production, distribution, etc…) or only to one small part. H&M for instance has a “Conscious” collection, which is meant to be eco-friendly, but is only a tiny part of their clothing sales as a whole. The brand is making only a tiny profit from its sustainable collection, the vast majority coming from its regular clothes.

Of course, we have to bear in mind that it will take longer for large companies to move towards sustainable options, since they have big supply chains that are harder to monitor. On the other hand, big companies also have the means to invest in the newest eco-friendly technologies or to develop them. Smaller companies, on their part, have smaller supply chains that they can have more control over, since they sell less products. Depending on the size of the brand, we can have different expectations.

Do the sustainable goals expressed by the company include numbers and clear objectives?

When you look on the company’s website for information on their eco-friendly goals, you should be able to find clear numbers and objectives. Using the terms sustainable, green, conscious, or eco-friendly can just be a vague and alluring façade meant to reassure the consumer that he is making a smart choice, when he is in fact not. If a brand is serious about its environmental goals it tends to be very transparent, backing up its commitments with information and quantifiable goals.

For instance, H&M’s Conscious collection is made of organic cotton. One of the biggest problems with cotton is the quantity of water it takes to produce it, which can have terrible consequences on landscapes, yet H&M does not mention how it deals with this issue.

What is the company’s reputation?

Is this company known for its desire to make sustainable clothes, produce less but better, taking a stand for the environment? Brands who market themselves as green but are not actually eco-friendly can mislead the consumer into buying clothes for cheap: smaller brands that have a holistic commitment to making sustainable clothes are in turn discredited, seeming unattainable and expensive.

Moreover, fast fashion brands have business models based on consumerism, they release new trendy low-quality products every week and depend on people shopping extremely regularly. This is a far cry from a sustainable mode of consumption: the most efficient way to help the environment remains buying less and only when necessary. A common misconception is that you should get rid of all your fast fashion clothes when you decide to have a more sustainable approach. This is counterproductive, as throwing your clothes away when they are still in good shape is a waste of resources. On the contrary, try to keep your clothes in good condition for as long as you can, and rather than throwing them away, try to give them a second life when they are no longer wearable (you could make scrunchies, pouches, or reusable handkerchiefs for example).

We hope this guide will help you make more informed fashion choices in the future! To go further, we recommend you check out Fashion Revolution’s website, which is full of useful resources to learn more about the fashion industry.  

Article by Inès Huet

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