It’s nice when our beloved fashion labels are committing to sustainability efforts, and we feel happy for them. Who doesn’t like caring for this planet? But it’s sad to say that there are brands who only resort to claiming to be sustainable without actually having to back their statements. It’s more or less just “greenwashing.”
At a time when many are desiring to purchase something that does not negatively affect the environment, some fashion companies are jumping to the “green” bandwagon. But not all of them are willing to do their part, or just want to do a small green measure and call it a day.
Let’s take a deeper look at greenwashing, and the ways we can prevent being misled by this cringe tactic.
Greenwashing + fashion
Greenwashing is a term to describe something or someone, mostly corporations, that are either exaggerating claims or making outright false statements about their sustainability efforts. It’s their way to attract and bait environment-conscious customers into supporting their products or services.
Given that the fashion industry has long been criticized for its carbon footprint, clothing labels are expected to make bold moves in terms of offsetting their impact on the environment. However, not all of them are actually 100% honest or accurate about their green claims.
The world of fashion is not always glam, as several brands are just weaving misleading stories about their sustainability. It’s either just to sell clothes or avoid being called out on their environmental impacts. Or both.
Or maybe they use these narratives to direct your attention to their small act and bare minimum “sustainable efforts,” and away from their actual footprint. Moreover, they may only be obligated to tweak only a small process and just “greenwash” the rest of their production as a legal responsibility.
And they get away with it, provided that the term “being sustainable” can be such a broad term. It can cover a lot of ground that labels could play on the gray areas freely and without regulation, especially when there is no actual legislation against greenwashing tactics. Sometimes, it’s a matter of technicality. Technically, they modified a process or their materials in one part, but that’s it.
Origin of the term
Here’s a little bit of an anecdote regarding the origin of the term, which started with, believe it or not, towels. Environmentalist Jay Westerveld, according to a story told by the Guardian, was in a resort in Fiji to surf while on a research trip in 1983. He snuck into the beach resort to “get” some towels when he saw a note from the resort advising the guests to reuse their towels. They asked so by guilt-tripping and saying that reusing their towels would help save the oceans and the reefs.
The irony was not lost on Westerveld when he learned that the beach property was actually in the middle of expansion and building more bungalows. He reckoned, “I don’t think they cared at all that much about coral reefs.”
He used the term “greenwash” in a term paper he wrote years later remembering the resort’s note. Then he used the term again for an essay in a magazine that had a large readership. And the term became even more widely used.
But greenwashing has always existed even before that. But it’s now taken into the spotlight, as conscious consumers like us are becoming more aware and pressuring labels to do the right thing.
Of course, we want to wear something comfortable and dress up confidently. That means guilt-free outfits that are sustainably made by the brands we love. While not all sustainable efforts are mere greenwashing, it’s still best if we keep our eyes keen and look at some telltale signs of whether companies sell fabrics from fabricated narratives. Here’s a small list of things to look out for.
No proof on their claims
It’s one thing to claim that you’re green, it’s another to back it up with proof and data. If what a fashion company does is something truly ethical and sustainable, they would not hold back information regarding their efforts. So any evidence of what they claim to be should be readily available for fact-checking and review by outsiders, like experts or consumers.
For instance, a brand may use terms like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable process” or “ethical” without actually explaining further, you can bet it’s more of a marketing choice rather than actually living up to these claims.
Vagueness is not enough
Ambiguity is another way fashion labels can tiptoe their way into the sustainable spotlight. When their statements are vague or not clearly stated, you can begin to shed some doubt because they may be misleading you.
Some brands would tell you that their clothes are “responsibly sourced,” and contain recycled fabrics. But what percentage of the garment is actually recycled material? Maybe they got away with a measly five percent and call it “a sustainable blazer.” So be wary.
In the “sustainable blazer” example we mentioned above, a small portion of the clothes being responsibly sourced is not enough. Also, it should translate to their entire product line and inventory. While we would like to praise a collection of eco-friendly garments, they should apply their process all throughout. An “eco-friendly” clothing line is not as great as a sustainable company as a whole.
No transparency in their process
Another indicator of shady “green claims” is when brands are not able to tell you how their items are made and where the materials are sourced. It’s admirable when garments from a collection line are made of scrap fabrics from previous thrown-away clothes. You’d think that’s good. But how do they get the consistency of colors in their fabrics? Did they tell you what kind of dyes they used and the concentration of the chemical? Because if not, recycling scrap fabrics and then using toxic chemicals later on in the process is not exactly how we picture sustainability.
There are some transparent fashion companies that would even detail to you how their products are made, where they are manufactured, and the journey from source materials to shipping. But remember, transparency is just one factor, it does not necessarily mean a company is automatically sustainable.
Look for independent certifications
You can verify if a fashion brand speaks true if they can provide independent certifications. Not just a team of experts they hired, but outside, reputable organizations that can investigate and audit with an external perspective. Certifications also have their own standards that must be met before awarding brands with such.
These include groups like the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) which verifies organic and eco-responsible textiles, the FAIRTRADE Certification for sustainable processes, and Global Recycle Standard (GRS) to prove that “recycled sources” are actually recycled.
Greenwashing is not exclusive to the fashion industry, but it’s nice to know that fashion brands seem to have more awareness of their impact on the planet and how people are actually demanding change. We look forward to seeing mushroom leather finally becoming a thing, but we hope it’s not a mere PR strategy. Especially since we only have one planet to live on.
However, some labels are just riding along the “sustainability” train without actually doing the work, especially for those in the fast fashion market. As huge fans of fashion, let’s not be blindsided by these “green claims” because they may be just that. We can dig a little deeper into such statements until we can finally feel proud and confident that what we’re purchasing is truly pro-environment.