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Get Out of Town

Fast Fashion brands are bringing out conscious collections, putting recycling bins in stores and making an effort to be more transparent about where their products are made. Are these genuine efforts to be more sustainable or are they just greenwashing?


Is it just me or is it really irritating when someone asks if you’re “staying in an Airbnb or a hotel?”….

Just me then? OK. I’m neurotic off the scale, yes, but I like things to be correct. And maybe you should too. Because the issue isn’t just me being a psychopath. The issue is in how Airbnb has successfully managed to blur the distinction between product and brand name, and how no one seems to worry about that.

Whenever I think about the recycling initiatives and conscious collections that fashion retailers use as part of their sustainable efforts I can’t help but feel that they are tangible elements of a story they’re selling us, as part of their newest marketing strategy. A fairytale which – just like Airbnb’s – spins a philosophy that they may not always be able to deliver.

While Airbnb holiday flats give tourists traveller kudos and allow them to feel like they could belong anywhere and live like a local (for four nights, in some of the most touristic cities in the world, in the middle of the Summer holidays) they cause housing crises and displace the real local families. Living like a local for a lot of these people means moving out of the neighbourhood they grew up in because property owners buy up entire properties to cater for tourist demand which in turn leads to a shortage of housing and outprices them. Rents were driven up on average by 16.5% in Barcelona in 2016.

I’ll never forget arriving in El Born in Barcelona in 2014 smack bang in the middle of an anti-tourism protest. Picking up and carrying our overstuffed wheelie suitcases to avoid the telltale clatter down the hot cobbled streets to our hotel and shoving our maps deep in our pockets, feeling like a pair of wasps around a can of Moritz.

Airbnb’s brand is so well-developed and attractive to a particular demographic (those born between 1981 and 1996, apparently) that millennials choose to use it again and again, even though we know the social implications. It slipped right in and staunchly established itself when we weren’t on our guard. We adopted their philosophy and their language, and we paid them for it.

So what did they do right? Well, we liked the app (we always like an app) and we loved the language and the logo (the bloody Bélo) and the high resolution images. They sold us a story that we were nomadic backpackers on a tumultuous odyssey, crossing uncharted territory, and wandering off the beaten track. But we were pricing out the local renting population while we did it.

Fashion brands use highly developed marketing strategies as well, and if ethical fashion choices are what consumers want then this is where they will focus them. Consumer searches for sustainable fashion have increased exponentially: global fashion search platform Lyst has recently released a report that searches based around the term are up 66% over the last 12 months. So are retailers responding to a change in demand rather than a change in attitude? Those that work on brand management know that it’s not just sourcing and manufacturing ethically which will turn heads. It’s the whole package. Conscious collections, recycling initiatives and environmentally-focused narratives.

The story for our fashion-folk is not of a nomadic traveller who can’t be shackled to the rigid constraints of hotels, but the legend of the future of fashion. Of a pioneer of sustainability, a revolutionary of fair trade and and a purveyor of ethics. But does this story ring true? Airbnb’s didn’t when it came to the backlash against the locals.

I’m not naturally skeptical and I agree that something from a global brand that turns over billions is actually a lot. Fashion retailers are now much more aware of the responsibility they have to improve their environmental footprint. But are these truly efforts to fulfill moral and social obligations or are they attempts at greenwashing? You have to wonder if these efforts are part of a wider marketing strategy, a reaction to this huge increase in the sustainable fashion discourse.

But the responsibility isn’t just on the industry and as fashion retailers creep forward with their changes we have a duty ourselves as responsible, conscious consumers. Research the brand on their own website, dig a little deeper when you see buzzwords such as ‘local’ ‘organic’ or ‘green’, check claims made by retailers with certifiers such as GOTS, Fairtrade and OEKO-Tex and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Most brands – if not all – will have social channels where you can ask questions about their practices. And any brand whose efforts are genuine will answer you on a public forum. If not, ask why not.

We have to demand ethical alternatives, do our research, buy what we need, love what we own and be part of the conversation.


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