By Daisy Wallis
‘Sustainable’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’ are just some of the buzzwords that the fashion industry love to use in marketing campaigns. But how accurate are these descriptors? And how do we separate the fact from the fiction?
What is greenwashing?
As sustainability-related buzzwords litter marketing fashion campaigns across the industry, we must understand what greenwashing is.
Conde Nast’s Sustainable Fashion Glossary is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about sustainability in fashion. And the glossary explains the concept of greenwashing in a very succinct and accessible way…
“Greenwashing is a corporate marketing strategy that takes advantage of the increased public interest in environmental issues to make false or misleading claims about a company’s environmental practices and products.”
Designed to portray a greener image, greenwashing campaigns play on the rising interest in the climate crisis to profit. As shoppers have become more informed on the environmental impact of fashion, the concept of greenwashing has become more widespread.
American environmentalist Jay Westerveld first used the term in an essay on the “green” policies of the hotel industry. The essay was inspired by the policy of encouraging customers to reuse their towels to “save the planet.” Westerveld believed that this policy was part of a wider money saving scheme and from there coined the term ‘greenwashing.’
An increase in conscious consumerism
But why should we be more conscious of greenwashing in 2020? As Rêve En Vert CEO Cora Hilts discussed in our latest interview, the pandemic has given us time to rethink our lifestyles. From the way we collate our wardrobes to where we buy our food, conscious consumerism is becoming popular.
In fact, the increase in conscious consumerism can be seen in the shift in shopping habits in 2020. A recent report by Lyst highlights a significant rise in online searches for sustainable and conscious fashion alternatives.
Since the beginning of 2020, Lyst has seen a 37% increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords, with the average monthly searches increasing from 27,000 in 2019 to over 32,000 this year to date.
With an increase in consumer demand for conscious and sustainable fashion, brands are having to adapt. As a result, in recent years we have seen an explosion of fast fashion brands offering conscious capsules littered with sustainable buzzwords.
The effect on independent sustainable brands
Becca Simmons, SÆ-RIMA’s co-founder and director, recently spoke with me about the positive shift in consumer’s attitudes towards sustainable fashion. However, while there is a positive increase in conscious shopping, Becca details the increasing problem regarding transparency across the industry.
“Whilst there is an incredible movement and progress for change, there are those out there who are jumping on the ‘bandwagon’ so to speak … Sadly companies are advertising their products as ‘ethically made’ or ‘sustainably produced’, but if you do not have the direct link to the proof of this or some sort of percentage to prove this claim, anyone can state that their items are following these rules when in fact they are not.”
For Becca and the SÆ-RIMA team when first creating the brand, being transparent was paramount. Becca wanted customers to be able to trace their favourite items through the supply chain.
“Being ethical and sustainable means, you are that way 100%, not just one of the materials you use being organic or the way it’s packaged.” – Becca Simmons, Co-Founder and Director of SÆ-RIMA
As we have highlighted throughout the pandemic, supporting small and independent sustainable brands is essential. And as more fast fashion brands release greenwashed collections, supporting independent brands is even more crucial for enacting change within the industry.
The KeiSei guide to spotting greenwashing
How do we, as mindful fashion lovers, spot greenwashing? From educational tools to researching the supply chain of brands, understanding the severity of greenwashing doesn’t have to be difficult.
To help you with your own greenwashing research, we’ve put together a guide to spotting greenwashing when you next shop!
1. Look out for the buzzwords
One of the first things to look out for is the use of the greenwashing buzzwords. Buzzwords like sustainable, eco-friendly, environmentally conscious and green are amongst some of the buzzwords being utilised by fast fashion brands. Just because a brand calls its latest collection green in a global advert, doesn’t mean that it actually is!
Be wary of these buzzwords as there is little to no way of holding the misuse of these words by brands accountable.
Get in the habit of questioning these vague and broad terms and instead look for evidence and question how these brands are doing this. If a brand releases a “conscious” capsule collection, ask why is it conscious? Does it take into consideration the human cost as well as the environmental? And how can it be both socially and environmentally conscious for such a small price?
2. Look at how much information the brand discloses
Research is also key when looking further into the sustainable claims of a brand. Start by heading to a brand’s website. Look out for any information on the brand’s supply chain or dedication to environmental and social causes.
Transparency is a crucial part of sustainability and so if a brand is operating sustainably, they will want to share this with you! If a brand’s sustainability page consists of a single paragraph littered with greenwashed buzzwords, they are not sustainable.
3. Are the fabrics truly sustainable?
If you are like me, you’re probably fed up of seeing “recycled” or “sustainably-sourced” attached to fast fashion’s “green” collections. But how do we establish whether the materials are truly eco-friendly?
A recent report commissioned by Friends of the Earth revealed that a huge 64% of new fabrics are made from plastic. Plastic-based fabrics like nylon, acrylic and polyester are incredibly harmful across the entire supply chain. As well as requiring huge amounts of oil, these plastic-based fibres when washed also release an enormous amount of microfibres.
For a better understanding of fabrics used in your clothes, look out for certifications like GOTS Organic Cotton and OEKO-TEX. Certifications like these make it easier to identify sustainable supply chains and materials. Check out our guide to the most common sustainable certifications to learn more!
4. What is the human cost of the brand?
Sustainability doesn’t just include the environmental impact a brand has. A fast fashion brand may release an eco-friendly capsule, but how do they treat their workers across their supply chain?
Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, global campaigns have called for greater regulations and laws on the protection of workers’ rights. Yet, in 2020, reports of underpaid workers working in unsafe conditions are still being reporting on.
The recent #PayUp campaign, by non-profit group Remake, for instance, highlights the disregard for workers’ rights in fashion. As the pandemic forced shops to close globally, big brands cancelled and refused to pay for completed orders from factories. The forced factory closures left over 70 million garment workers without work or pay for months on end.
According to Remake, $40 billion worth of wages was owed to garment workers at the start of the pandemic.
The campaign, which has so far secured $22 billion of unpaid wages, has grown into an incredible movement. Pay Up Fashion is now working to secure workers rights across the world past the pandemic. Through social media and their network of ambassadors, they are campaigning for brands to make public commitments to change.
5. The essential tools and resources
Navigating the sustainable fashion space can be quite daunting, especially with the increase in greenwashing. However, there are several online tools that we think will help mindful fashion lovers navigate their own research.
The annual Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution offers an in-depth investigation into the transparency of the biggest brands. From policies and commitments to the traceability of their supply chains, this year’s Index ranked a massive 250 brands. With an average score of 23%, the Index highlights the lack of transparency across the industry. While the Index is not a shopping guide, it does provide relevant and recent research into the traceability of brands supply chains.
Another useful tool is the Good On You Brand Directory. Using their unique rating system, Good On You rank brands on their effects on three key areas – People, Planet and Animals. Taking an average of scores from each area, each brand is ranked from ‘Great’ to ‘We Avoid.’ The directory covers a range of brands from around the world and covers everything from hair accessories to workwear!
Unsure of the latest sustainability definitions? Another great resource is the Conde Nast Sustainable Fashion Glossary. The glossary breaks down the most important sustainable concepts. Just like the greenwashing definition seen above, each definition is easy to understand and accompanied by further reading. This is a great resource to start your own sustainability investigations and research!
Remember to research and use your voice…
While the increase in greenwashing can seem daunting, we believe that with the right tools you can easily navigate the world of sustainable fashion! Making sure that you are aware of greenwashing and supporting independent sustainable brands is a great place to start.