Greenwashing In Fashion: What It Is And How To Stop It

How do companies trick us into thinking they are more sustainable than they are? Greenwashing.


With our rising interest in sustainable practices, comes a rising interest in sustainable purchases. And subsequently, demanding companies improve their ethical and environmental practices. To avoid getting phased out with the times, brands sometimes work around necessary changes and commitments through what is known as “greenwashing”. It’s a strategy used by companies to appear more sustainable than they truly are. This could be through making false, misleading claims or a lack of information.

Why do brands do it?

It is now trendy for brands to be environmentally conscious. But is also becoming necessary. Consumers want to shop more sustainably and are beginning to act accordingly, leaving brands that are less so, to be phased out. For this reason, companies that cannot or will not fulfil these requirements opt for the easier path of good marketing. Thus, making them seem as though they are sustainable when in fact they are not. This allows them to continue their current practices whilst remaining attractive to their customers.

While some companies are digging deep into their practices to work out where their standards could be improved, many companies want a quick resolution. They want to spend their funds on smart advertising over corporate social responsibility, sustainable materials, or a better supply chain. They are choosing to put on a show rather than show real change.

How do they get away with it?

Getting away with these practices is easy due to the current indistinctness of our law. Terms like “sustainability”, “eco-friendly” or “ethical” have no legal meaning and therefore companies cannot be held accountable for using them. It only takes a brand to find one of the many system loopholes to access this quick fix. For example, a brand can state on their garment label “Made in Italy” when in fact the only thing that came out of Italy was the stitching of the label to the garment.

Lack of public awareness is another factor helping to keep these practices on the down-low. Until now, there has been a big curtain concealing the behind the scenes of the fashion industry. Revealing only what they want you to know and see. Recently, films have been dedicated to documenting and disclosing some of these guarded practices. And in response to these revelations, brands are being left to deal with the mess that is consumer mistrust. A very destructive mess to be in.

Why do they continue?

Greenwashing can often be a matter of a company knowing they need to change but having no understanding of how to do so. In the meantime, they lie and stretch the truth to cover themselves. It is this gap that is causing the greatest harm. Knowledge is power, and without it, companies have little to go off. Until authorities begin to implement stricter standards and regulations and simultaneously supply companies with resources on how to move forward, the industry is stuck.

Where are the regulators?

When searching the internet for national and global industry regulators, there was little to be found. There was merely an announcement that France has appointed its own “unofficial fashion minister” last year, and an organisation known as “The Fashion Pact”. The Fashion Pact is a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry including suppliers and distributors. It is a union of industry bodies committed to key environmental goals across three areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity, and protecting the oceans.

Since its launch, 64 companies including Nike, Karl Lagerfeld, Prada, Burberry, and Stella McCartney have signed to the pact. Of that group, 80% have reported that their joining has triggered an acceleration of the sustainability journey within their organisation. Could this be the first step for companies looking to make an active change?

How to use your purchase power

As consumers, we have purchasing power. We can vote with our dollars and voice our expectations through mediums like social media. Beyond this, it’s important that we understand how to identify a greenwashing company and avoid it.

  1. All talk but no evidence

Brands often put on show the sustainable measures they do undertake in an effort to hide the measures they aren’t taking. For example, recycled packaging means little when the clothing inside is made from polyester (an unrecyclable fabric).

  1. Natural means nada

Natural materials may be biodegradable and breathable, but that doesn’t make them sustainable. Cotton and linen have just as many social and environmental consequences as some of the more “harmful” materials.

  1. Sustainable “range” or “collection”

Companies often create minuscule “sustainable” collections that enable them to market themselves as good. These ranges are often a tiny proportion of their overall production and don’t represent a brand’s plans to increase these efforts across their entire range.

  1. Focus on holistic brands

It’s important for brands that they not only focus on singular sectors like materials or adequate pay for workers. Having a holistic approach means brands are looking at every aspect of their company from raw materials to supply chain and beyond to ensure all bases are covered.

  1. Check for certifications

Claims like “eco-friendly” or “cruelty-free” mean little without certification to back it up. And whilst certifications can sometimes be misleading but they are still worth looking at.

6. Check their website

A company’s website can help you identify its level of commitment to sustainable practices. If a brand is making an effort to change, they will be sure to show this on their website.

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