Alongside the growth of environmental awareness, sustainability efforts, climate crisis and social justice, many luxury fashion brands had adopted an eco-friendly approach. However, among the good guys, there are many wannabes. According to Orsola de Castro, founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution, greenwashing has been very problematic in every industry and clothes are created to be “covering up our bodies, not the reality in which they were made.”
How could one define the term greenwashing? It has been first used in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a description of allegedly false claims corporations made. Nowadays greenwashing is used in the light of a luxury fashion brand using sustainability as the core of their marketing whereas their business practices do no align to the proclaimed values. In summary, the luxury fashion brands know that sustainability-focused marketing campaigns bring many sale opportunities, but are not interested in actually going green. While there are brands genuinely raising awareness to consider eco- friendly solutions, many are jumping the bandwagon for the sake of the trend. In the end, the consumers are bound to get confused whether they are supporting the cause or throwing their money towards greenwashers.
It’s not a secret that while luxury fashion brands are taking their statements seriously, the main offenders in greenwashing are the fast fashion houses. For example, the high street brand H&M has been historically trying to pose themselves as a green brand, even making a claim to use solely recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. Additionally, they even came first in Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020. All of this would indicate the brand’s commitment towards sustainability, and yet there are many suspicions things are far from being as they are said to me. Unlike high-end fashion brands, the high street ones are known to practice mass production that has a horrible impact on the planet. Additionally, usage of toxic dyes, not paying full living wages to the manufacturing workers and few other practices we don’t see in luxury fashion is what makes fast fashion far from sustainable.
Truly sustainable brands, most of which are actually met among the designers, take into consideration more than just the environment. They take into consideration social justice, too: safe factories, equal pay, garment worker rights and many others. Brands that truly follow their resolve will always face accountability, traceability and factual evidence. "True sustainability is a nuanced conversation that extends not only [to] the materials used or the labour conditions but [to] the scale of production and consumption as well," shared Aditi Mayers, the advocate of sustainable fashion and social justice. The world has recognized the need of going more eco-friendly, but everyone understands it can’t happen overnight. The goal is to get brands to actually try and achieve that as opposed to using it solely as a marketing focus.
So, how to tell apart brands that are greenwashing and the ones that are genuinely working hard to produce planet-friend clothing? We have prepared a few tips to help you out.
Believe the number
Before supporting a green claim, check the numbers. Luxury brands especially are being transparent about the figures and sometimes you will learn they differ from impressive statements on the glossy. Companies that genuinely supporting eco-friendly views will be proud of their achievements, have strong ambitions and hold themselves accountable.
Research the context
Many forget that every time you invest in a designer piece, you support the company and its values. While biggest fashion powerhouses are well known, smaller ones need to be researched so you know who owns the brand and how much is the person worth. The general rule is that brands ran by billionaires are not to be trusted. The key is to invest in a brand that is consistent in its sustainability efforts rather than releasing a one-off collection or just a few pieces to jump on the bandwagon.
The human touch
It is important to remember that no matter how eco-friendly the material used to produce clothes, every item gets to pass many pairs of hands before we are able to purchase is. The term sustainability covers the fair treatment of people all across the supply chain. Many of the people making clothes, both luxury fashion and fast fashion, are women from poverty-stricken countries in the Global South, and they are paid below the minimum living wage.
Vegan and sustainable are different
While the terms seem to be stuck together more often than not, many vegan alternatives get produced from polluting and plastic-derived materials. Both are very toxic towards the environment and going vegan is just another marketing move and trend jumping many brands are doing to increase sales. It is important to check the brands that claim to be vegan and sustainable are actually following sustainable practices and not material innovation.
Use your voice
If you are interested in supporting a truly green luxury fashion brand, why not drop them a question on social media? Ask who made their clothes, how do they ensure safety in the factories, what measures they take to minimise environmental effects on clothing production. As a conscious consumer, you have a right to ask, and if they refuse to answer – you probably shouldn’t buy from them. If they claim to be green and transparent, this would not be an issue for them to answer these questions.
Knowledge is power
The more we know, the better we understand, the more capable we are of bringing the change. At the end of the day, as the consumers, we hold the power of making brands turn themselves around by stopping to fund ones that are practising greenwashing.
The collective consumer demand will send a message to the brands, hinting we want to see sustainable practices being more than a marketing move, and it includes fair pay, equality and transparency. Every voice adds up, so don’t stop because you think you alone make the difference – because you do. So next time you see your favourite luxury fashion brand make a green statement, stop and apply the tips above to determine whether they are being honest about what they are saying. This will help you decide whether you are willing to support a genuine brand or another cog in the greenwashing machine.