The first question is what is greenwashing & what does it have to do with the fashion industry?
According to The Fashion Law; Greenwashing is a term that was coined in the 1980’s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who saw the inconsistency in hotels that did not employ concrete recycling programs but encouraged the reuse of towels by patrons. (PRSA). It refers to the promotion of green-based environmental initiatives or images without the implementation of business practices that actually minimize environmental impact (or any of the other negative effects of their businesses). It is also defined as the “dissemination is misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” (Oxford English Dictionary). This practice often includes misleading customers about the actual benefits of a product or practice through misleading advertising and/or unsubstantiated claims, in order to “create a benefit by appearing to be a green company, whether that benefit comes in the form of a higher stock price, more customers or favored partnerships with green organizations.” (Investopedia).
A fashion brand can be ethical without being sustainable and vice versa. Ethical fashion focuses on the how items are made without slave labor, discrimination, or child labor. Sustainable fashion focuses on generating environmental benefits while not using up to many resources or causing pollution.
How fashion brands greenwash:
Vagueness – Many brands will use words like “conscious”, “eco-friendly”, or “ethical” and provide zero details about how they are any of these things.
“There’s an incentive to make vague, false or misleading claims about sustainability, and to hide information which could show products as unsustainable. We need to ensure consumers’ willingness to invest in ethical and sustainable products is not exploited,” says Josephine Palumbo, sitting ICPEN president and deputy commissioner, deceptive marketing practices directorate at Competition Bureau Canada.Via Vogue Business
No proof, Lying, & False Labels – No Proof is when a brand makes an environmental statement with nothing to back it up, lying is saying they use recycled fibers but they don’t or say they are certified and aren’t, and false statements tout false certifications or say “green product” or “guaranteed ethical”
It doesn’t help that there is no clear, uniform, regulated use of words like ‘natural,’ ‘green,’ and other terms. So brands can stick them on a package or in an ad. Words like these create a false sense of security and have little to do with a companies actual sustainability practices. In many cases brands will emphasize on recyclability, but this has little to do with their product or only a tiny proportion of their products. (From Forbes)
“Given that no brand has actually figured out how to zero out the impact of making clothes, brands should tone their messaging down a bit. Or a lot. Fashion has a hefty impact on the planet. There’s an argument to be made that it should never be described as green.”From Patagonia
The biggest and most obvious form of Greenwashing in fast fashion (FF) is brands producing massive amounts of clothing, so much so that brands like H&M have burned their surplus rather than slow production or repurpose the textiles, launching a collection or two a year with sustainable materials often recycled fibers or organic cotton. (Read more about H&M’s Conscious Products)
If FF brands want to actually make more sustainable clothing, the first thing would be to slow their production, we buy more clothing now more than any other time in history.
“The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. As new clothing comes into our lives, we also discard it at a shocking pace.”From True Cost
The most sustainable wardrobe is the one already in your closet and divert clothing and textiles from landfills when possible. When looking to buy more sustainable products look for recycled fibers and organic fibers.
When in doubt ask questions, read a brands about us page and email them with questions. If you have to dig and dig and dig for answers the odds are the brands doesn’t want you to know how or what their sustainability practices are. Remember, that transparency in the fashion industry is something all sustainable brands strive for imperfectly.