What is greenwashing?
In today’s oversaturated market of ‘sustainable’ clothing, it’s easy to find yourself being duped by the big high-street brands and online clothing retailers. We are being increasingly bombarded by company rebrands, claiming that their products are more sustainable than the next, suddenly renouncing their filthy, fast-fashion riddled pasts. There is a word for this, and it’s greenwashing.
Greenwashing is a type of marketing designed to appeal to customers who care about the environment, which is, of course, an ever-growing market. With clever wording and colour palettes, this kind of trickery is designed to make the customer believe they are making an eco-friendly purchase - when in fact, this is usually a smokescreen to cover a whole host of sins, usually at the expense of the environment, and garment workers across the globe.
It's easy to make a company look sustainable. Throw in a few earthy-looking, natural tones, sprinkle some environmental buzzwords into the branding and you’re off. But how can we sort the wheat from the chaff? With a little bit of knowledge and know-how, it gets easier to weed out the brands that we’ve all been misled by, time and time again.
1. Investment purchases
Whilst buying investment pieces isn’t always affordable, buying a few staple items for your wardrobe can really take you a long way. Denim jeans are a timeless look, and they say a good pair of jeans can last you a lifetime. Classic pieces that can be paired with anything is ideally what you’re looking for. For example, a pair of tight black trousers is something that every woman needs in her wardrobe, at least that’s what Donatella thinks. Buying pieces designed to last will keep you away from the high-street, and away from the greenwashed reality of fast fashion.
2. Keep an eye out for capsule collections
If a brand needs to produce an ‘eco-friendly’ capsule collection – you should probably question how ethical the rest of their products really are. Designing a range of ten or so pieces made from plastic bottles really isn’t the hot take many brands seem to think it is (once the bottles are turned into clothes, this takes them out of the plastic cycle, and they can’t be recycled again). The garments are often still made in the far East, and will be shipped or flown to their destination – which as you may be aware, significantly contributes to their carbon footprint.
3. Check for the facts
It’s easy to fall for the classic eco-rebrand – we all know the look. The textured, recycled paper backgrounds, clean fonts, and minimal colour palettes. For me, this sets alarm bells ringing, and is a key prompt to do some more digging. Looking for facts and figures to back up sustainability claims is a must, because a lot of the time, it’s just smoke and mirrors. Looking up the brand’s sustainability policies, or even looking at the contents of the fabric should tell you what you need to know. According to The Changing Market Foundation, up to 90% of green claims in the fashion industry are misleading or unsubstantiated – which is why they set up Greenwash.com, a great website that will give you the truth on whether you’re really making a sustainable purchase.
4. Vegan leather alternatives
Real leather can be pretty harmful to the environment; the chemicals used in the tanning and dyeing process are toxic to our water supply, the wearer, and local wildlife. But vegan leather isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, either. The most common alternatives are PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and PU (Polyurethane), both plastic based materials that take many years to biodegrade. More eco-friendly leather alternatives include Piñatex, a fabric produced from pineapple leaves, and Appleskin, made from, you guessed it - apple skin. There are some valid points as to why real leather may be better, it’s a direct by-product of the meat industry, so there is less waste, and it lasts for a long time. There are also options available for leather treated with natural vegetable tannins, that are biodegradable and don’t contain harmful toxins. There’s a lot to consider when buying leather, so it’s important to do your research. I recommend taking a look at Harper’s Bazaar for a deep dive into the pros and cons of leather.
5. Brands that have a holistic approach to sustainability
Often, it’s the smaller, independent businesses that have sustainability at their core. Shopping with businesses that take a holistic approach to sustainability means that they factor in the impact of their packaging, manufacturing, shipping and product design. It’s a much more considered approach, and overall better for the environment - but again, it’s recommended that you thoroughly do your research.
There’s a common theme to avoiding greenwashing and that is simply: do your research. There are so many options available to us, so reading up on where your garments came from and how they were made really is key.
The climate crisis isn’t going away any time soon, and although it might seem like we can’t make a difference, making conscious decisions about where you spend your money is an active way to do your bit for the planet.