The truth behind supposedly sustainable fashion is that it is not sustainable at all. Increasing awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry has resulted in emerging ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’, and ‘conscious’ collections. These labels mean nothing to fast fashion companies but they do mean something to the thousands of trusting consumers being fooled.
Studies have shown that people are willing to pay more for environmentally aware products which makes sustainability an effective marketing tool. Our high streets have been polluted by greenwashing. Greenwashing is presenting something to be environmentally responsible when it does not live up to the standard it has implied. This has grown with the use of the word ethical, which means that they are socially responsible for their workers but definitely does not include the maintenance of the earth.
Arguably, an ethical brand should also be sustainable. Greenwashing is as simple as using earthy, natural colours with countryside backdrops in campaigns. H&M is most widely known for this in their “conscious” collection which is a small percentage of their products that is allegedly sustainable and good for the environment. To quote their 2019 press release “every piece in the collection is made from a sustainably-sourced material, such as 100% organic cotton”.
What is not clear however is whether their clothes are entirely made from cotton or is it partially made from cotton and that that fraction is what is 100% organic. You will quickly realise that their products are often a mix of fibres where only a small share of the garment is made from more environmentally friendly materials. Furthermore, how is a material sustainably sourced? This relentless use of meaningless, vague, and legally undefined words allows big companies to get away with all of this misinformation.
There are many empty phrases used to trick everyday consumers into believing that they are buying sustainable products. Some brands claim that they reduced their carbon emissions by 15%. They omit the fact that this is a statistic per garment and that they produced 30% more products that year. This use of half-truths, omissions, and in some cases lies goes unpunished as sustainable fashion is a relatively new concept.
Companies can only be trusted if they are 100% transparent about the origin of their materials, the production, and the transport. Your cotton dress that was ‘Made in Italy’ may have only been sewn in Italy. It is important to do independent research and inquiry regarding every garment you intend to purchase.
An easy way to shop more sustainably is to buy second-hand. This is not very new but is now becoming increasingly popular with the introduction of selling platforms such as Depop and Poshmark. Another way is to invest in longer-lasting and usually more expensive items of clothing this way you are not under the pressure of purchasing clothing as often.
The best way to ensure that you are buying environmentally friendly products is to check the tag inside the garment as to what it is composed of. A good product should include mostly organic or recycled materials. If we cannot trust these brands, then we have the responsibility to shop with sustainability in mind.