Greenwashing 101 - Why Fashion Brands Do It and What You Should Look Out For!


"It takes the form of exaggeration and deceit in an attempt to show progression and consideration as a marketing tool"

Greenwashing is sadly present throughout society and in the fashion industry - it involves the act of misleading consumers and presenting people with false information surrounding the environment and being sustainable. It takes the form of exaggeration and deceit in an attempt to show progression and consideration as a marketing tool.


Greenwashing can involve altering products through the actions of rebranding to gain recognition in marketing, renaming something to demonstrate a product's purpose or repackaging to cater for the industry's environmental standards. Undoubtedly, some claims can be reasonably true, but brands greenwash to please consumers and to gain recognition.


Sustainability and being eco-friendly is significant in the industry today as fashion is the world’s second biggest polluter - brands are required to demonstrate knowledge and awareness of this in a bid to retain consumers, show their values as a brand, and to help the environment. This tactic matches the demand for more sustainable brands creating a better planet. In the fashion industry, sustainability can relate to recycled materials, more ethical practices and utilisation of fewer/better resources, as promoting these can really give brand credibility.


We are all consumers in the fashion industry, and when brands seem to be transparent and show high values, this encourages us to buy and support them.


Tactics


Some key routes that fashion brands go down to appear more sustainable are not using facts or statistics to back up claims and actions - providing very vague statements, leading us as consumers to question are they actually doing this or just trying to compete with other brands (a perfect example of greenwashing - exaggerating and falsifying to please).


Another method of greenwashing is when brands have a small sustainably-produced collection but as a brand, they label themselves as conscious - the larger, unsustainable products outweigh this. Even though this demonstrates progression within the brand, they can not promote themselves off a small portion of ethical products.


Brief, generic statements that encourage consumers to shop more sustainably can be misleading and easily overlooked - how can a brand tell us to shop when they are not fulfilling environmental standards? However, utilising and presenting the industry with words like sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical really gains attention and results in admiration for a brand, so why wouldn’t they want to exaggerate such practices?


An advantage to brands is the lack of public knowledge surrounding fashion production and the processes - brands can tell us what production involves, the ethics induced and how they care about workers and the environment, but can we really believe everything we hear and support these brands based on this information?


How to avoid!


Conducting thorough research into a brand via their stores or websites is a good way to analyse their actions and claims - marketing is an easy way to mislead consumers but spending time looking for evidence can lead to facts and confirmation. Facts and statistics also do demonstrate credibility and highlight a company’s understanding of sustainability. Leading on from this, certifications (e.g. from Fair Trade, PETA) are a professional, secure way to validate claims and to prove a brand’s actions.


It is also vital for consumers to recognise brands who incorporate sustainability into all of their practices - not just capsule collections or packaging (these brands really focus on being eco-friendly and need our support and admiration). We need to be aware of the brands who over-promote any ethical choices to show progression (whilst unethical ones get pushed aside) as this is also greenwashing - they are fully presenting one successful part of their company, but we can not ignore the rest as it may be unethical.


Brands accused of greenwashing


Some brands that have previously been accused of greenwashing are:

  • H&M and its circulose fabric (made from up-cycled clothing and fashion waste). By 2030, the brand has plans to only use recycled or sustainable sourced materials within its collections.

  • Boohoo’s wool coat - evidently, wool is not a sustainable or vegan material, so Boohoo planned to ban all its wool in products, but then reverted back on their decision.

  • A prime example is Primark’s child labour scandal - low wages and unethical practices yet they are promoting sustainable cotton launches (shows a disregard for ethics).

  • Zara has been seen to appeal to consumers through vague claims, like their eco-friendly collection ‘Join Life’ as they pledged to stop using toxic chemicals by 2020.


Future brand actions to diminish greenwashing


Overall, it is evident that the fashion industry is familiar with the term greenwashing but why are brands still attracting consumers with this illegal, unethical marketing tactic? It demonstrates a brand’s intentions to promote sustainability to a consumer in order to make more money and to gain increased brand recognition. From now on, brands need to back up claims with facts and statistics to initiate trust with their consumers, as well as ensure all their practices are on a journey to becoming fully sustainable. When we as consumers understand greenwashing and how to spot it, it can highlight false brands and what their real intentions are.