The topic of sustainability is currently burned into everyone's lips, due to the growing consumer demands. However, the main question we should all be asking is whether these brands see sustainability as the biggest trend for this season, or whether they are actually passionate about ethical, sustainable fashion - are they actually participating in activities and purposely changing their production.
If the answer is the former, this leads to brands greenwashing.
"The term "greenwashing" was coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld to describe companies which grossly overstate the environmental or ethical benefits of their products and services. Decades on, even for seasoned brand sceptics like myself, fashion’s adoption of greenwashing is reaching ever more sophisticated heights. It's hard to make informed choices about our consumption ". - Sophie Slater, Vice
Brands adapt to consumers to stay on top because they recognise that there is a shift going on when talking about ethics and values. So it's not surprising that greenwashing is a problem in the fashion industry. Simply a marketing and PR ploy to jump on the beautiful bandwagon of ethics, claiming to be animal friendly or environmentally conscious when in reality, behind the smoke and mirrors, there could be child labour, excessive water use in production, unfair wages, excess use of plastic or non-recyclable materials.
Looking at Sophie's article again, there are examples like Boohoo and &Other Stories greenwashing.
"Take Boohoo, for instance: earlier this year, they announced they’d be banning all wool in their clothes, before reversing their decision within hours. At the time, Peta called Boohoo Group’s ban a "compassionate, business-savvy decision". Unfortunately for Boohoo, it was revealed that there was no wool in their clothing, but the fake fur used is by far more deadly to the environment. "Meanwhile, a 2017 Dispatches investigation found garment workers making Boohoo products in the UK earned only £3 an hour, below the legal minimum wage".
So for us consumers, who are regularly duped into believing the bombardment thrown in our faces by PR firms, how do we avoid greenwashing?
Here are Organically Becca's tips to avoiding greenwashing:
- Don’t just assume something is truly natural because there’s a pretty sticker on the front label that claims so
- Be sceptical and ask questions! Who owns this company? Are they owned by a big corporation? Where do they source their ingredients? Are they trying to hide something? Are the ingredients hard to find? etc.
- Always head straight to the full ingredient list on the back of the product because that tells the full story
- Research, research, research ingredients until you know what’s “safe” or up to your standards to use
Brands need to understand that sustainability isn't here for a season, it needs to be a major part of every aspect of their brand. One of the most environmentally responsible things we can do is make a product that endures for a lifetime, not a season.
We as consumers all make mistakes and it's not necessarily always our fault. However, we need to scrutinise more, educate ourselves on what it means to be a truly sustainable or ethical brand, so that we can choose better and buy less.