Are We Being Greenwashed? A Look At The Proof Behind Sustainable Fashion

Are We Being Greenwashed? A Look At The Proof Behind Sustainable Fashion

Again and again we see glaring at us from the labels of clothing the time-tested buzzwords “SUSTAINABLE” or “100% organic.” I won’t deny, even my well-trained fashion subconscious does believe I’m choosing a better option if I purchase what proposes itself as a sustainable product. Or maybe, just maybe, it allows me to feel less guilty about my growing wardrobe and depleting bank account considering 10.5 million tons of clothing end up in landfills each year. 

As of late, it feels to me as if brands are simply jumping on the sustainable hype. Very few customers, unless they are environmental advocates, are likely to research extensively into a brand before making what they believe is a sustainable purchase. Today’s culture is focused on instant-gratification and we simply don’t have the time to check. So, if a large corporation tells you their ethos is sustainability, it’s simply easier to take this at face value and believe them. Yet, where is the proof? Are we being greenwashed?

However, there is a trend emerging in the growing consumer sector, the number one thing these consumers are searching for from the brands they buy from being honesty. These are the consumers that have a larger spending budget and have more free time to consider what message the brands they buy from are standing for. Yet these consumers have the tendency to misconstrue transparent companies with eco-friendly companies. In essence, transparent products are those that are produced with complete honesty with their consumers about their process, from sourcing right through to production. However, sustainable products are entirely different. A sustainable product is one that does not have major impact on the environment throughout the production process and does not upset the ecological balance when disposed of.

As consumers equate “sustainability” with “honesty,” it always appears as though those companies claiming to be sustainable are superior to those that are not. For this reason, there are consistent advertisements for brands appearing to shift toward a more sustainable future. The issue here is that consumers equate a company’s projection of themselves as sustainable as being completely honest without any investigation. However, this is not the case.

H&M, for example, caused major controversy regarding their claim of sustainability. The fast-fashion company is the world’s number one user of cotton; the material that most of the brand’s clothing is made from. However, H&M’s “Conscious” collections claim to be sustainable. Yes, the collection uses recycled materials but the sheer volume of product and global reach just simply makes it impossible for the brand to be eco-friendly. H&M also hypocritically continues to collaborate with designers such as Balmain and Isabel Marant who have no sustainable outlook to produce collections that encourage fast-paced mindless spending from large numbers of people. Here lies the pertinent greenwashing advertising technique. Greenwashing is when there is more talking green than doing green by a brand. The say-do gap is just growing larger and consumers need to make a decision: would they rather the brands they buy from are honest and transparent or give them the false pretence of being environmentally friendly?

Unfortunately, it all really comes down to money. It’s pretty difficult to do the ethical thing when the brand is answering to a demanding board of shareholders simply seeking financial reward.

President W.G Harding once said, “Business is the business of business”. It’s a harsh truth but for large brands to become sustainable, they would have to be willing to reduce their profit margin, as being sustainable simply costs more. Or to put it bluntly, consumers need to be willing to pay more.

So maybe, if you’re searching for a truly sustainable product you need to focus more on independent brands. From recently working with independent sustainable brand Crowther/Plant, the organically sourced cotton with origins from Italy and India, to their hand-dying using natural indigo and finally dipping their clothing in the Margate sea, the love and care that is put into their products are visible. Their process is clear for the consumer and plainly states how each process is sustainable. The only drawback? It is not a fast-paced process, taking two weeks from dying to dipping in the Margate sea, all before being packaged and shipped. Logically, fast-fashion and sustainability just don’t work together.

To be honest, I think consumers are becoming more concerned with how you are sustainable rather than just attaching the label to your brand. Auria London is an up-and-coming swimwear brand that believes style, substance and sustainability can coexist. The garments are made through recycling old fishing nets. Head designer Diana Auria believes that creative brands claiming sustainability have the responsibility to be conscious about what they make; from sourcing materials to paying close attention to every step of the supply chain. This is documented in detail audio-visually on their website giving the consumer the chance to make an informed decision regarding their product.

Another option is Cara Marie Piazza: a Brooklyn-based artist that works with flowers, collecting waste from florists, restaurants and organic branches, utilising this to naturally dye clothing and accessories. She is a firm believer that people should become smarter consumers and hopes to empower people to believe that they can create natural non-damaging products. Encouraging people to ask questions regarding where their clothing comes from; documenting her process visually on her website, again creating transparency between consumer and producer.

Of course, in an ideal world for fashion advocates, both ethics and mass production of eco-friendly products would go hand-in-hand, making my consistent purchases much more morally justifiable. However, until then, I simply ask the major brands to stop greenwashing.

Written by Roisin O’hare

Editorial Assistant

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