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  • Natasha Agustin Ikhsan

The Rise of Greenwashing in Fashion

Fashion brands are making great strides to becoming more eco-friendly. Sadly, some are simply greenwashing to sell more clothes.


A woman wearing a red jumpsuit carrying an H&M shopping bag and a black bag
Greenwashing is on the rise including in fashion industry

Source: Fernand De Canne [12]



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Eco-friendly, sustainable, and environmentally conscious—these are just a few buzzwords used by fashion brands to promote their green credentials. Unsurprisingly, the increasing trend of companies 'going green' are emerging as more consumers are becoming more conscious of their purchases. A study by Mckinsey shows that 70% of Gen Z consumers prefer to spend on ethical companies while 65% look into the origins of a product before purchasing it [1].


A study by Mckinsey shows that 70% of Gen Z consumers prefer to spend on ethical companies while 65% look into the origins of a product before purchasing it.

The rising interest in sustainability among Millenials and Gen Z as the current dominant consumer group has influenced companies to rethink their business strategies, including fashion brands [2]. But rather than truly integrating sustainability into their business operations, some brands are using marketing tactics to sell a green front, a phenomenon known as greenwashing.


How do fashion brands greenwash their consumers?


The biggest loophole in sustainability is the lack of clear and quantifiable definition. Some companies have little to no intention of improving their sustainability and exploit this knowledge to greenwash potential buyers, often done by using vaguely defined terms such as ‘ethical’ or ‘natural’.


One of the world’s fast-fashion giants, Zara recently released its new sustainability targets. Inditex, Zara’s parent company indicated that it would only use “organic, more sustainable, or recycled” materials [3]. For shoppers who have been working on curbing their environmental footprints, Zara’s sustainability claims sound like a dream come true. But, if you look closely, there is neither information nor details that explain what ‘more sustainable’ means or how their products are better for the environment.


Read Also: Greenwashing: The Story of "Green Products" That Aren't Actually Green


Another reason why greenwashing has become so common in fashion is due to the low public awareness of what happens behind the scenes, specifically the industry’s supply chain [4].


A store with racks of white and brown clothes
Low awareness of impacts throughout the industry's supply chain is one of many drivers of greenwashing

Source: Ksenia Chernaya [13]


For example, “100% natural cotton” t-shirts might seem environmentally-friendly. The truth is, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton tee [5]. When H&M released its Conscious Collection, the Swedish fashion giant claimed its clothes were made from food wastage such as orange peels and pineapple leaves. Little did shoppers know, to produce barely one square meter of the fabric material, it takes 480 pineapple leaves which equate to the waste of at least 16 pineapples [6].


“100% natural cotton” t-shirts might seem environmentally-friendly. The truth is, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton tee.

Do fashion brands really put sustainability efforts in their business?


Thanks to all the ambitious research projects that have uncovered fashion’s socio economic and environmental impacts, more people are now aware of the true impact of their clothes. The fashion industry is reported to be responsible for generating 10% of all humanity’s carbon footprints, which is larger than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, not to mention the amount of water waste produced by the industry [7].


Contrary to the increased green claims within the fashion industry and its environmental and social impacts, the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 said sustainability efforts of the fashion industry appear to slow down rather than accelerate [8]. This shows that companies in the fashion industry have not been doing enough to offset their impacts. Worse, there is a high possibility that the increased sustainability commitments among fashion brands are only facades covering what really happens behind the closed doors.


Read Also: How to Spot Greenwashing in Fashion and Avoid It


Climate strike
Fashion is contributing to 10% of humanity's carbon footprints

Source: Markus Spiske [14]


But, don’t you worry. Here are some legitimate green efforts by sustainable fashion brands.


Here is some good news! There are some legitimate sustainable fashion brands that are truly working on greening their business operations. And that should be our focus; supporting those who have shown commitment to improving their sustainability so that those who have yet to do so would be incentivized to do the same.


First, there are some companies who have been reducing their environmental impacts by sourcing low-impact materials, improving energy efficiency and minimizing waste. Sneakers brand Allbirds, for instance, uses 60% less energy throughout their production process by producing sneakers made of wool and incorporating recycled materials such as bottles and cupboards [9]. The brand also provides detailed information on the carbon footprint of each shoe which is verified by a third-party auditor [10].


Similarly, Everlane created a new sub-brand called Tread when it launched a carbon-neutral sneaker, which can describe how the brand calculates the exact footprint of the shoe. Their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints go all the way down to participate in a carbon offset project in sustainable cattle farms. “There’s a whole host of carbon offset projects to choose from now, but we choose cattle-related ones, rather than, say, tree planting, so that customers could see how it was related to their shoe,” said Alison Melville, the head of Everlane's footware and accessories division [11].


While greenwashing in the fashion industry may sound like a disaster, there are still ways to avoid it and even better, we can start shopping from real sustainable fashion brands which are also increasing in number. We can help fight greenwashing by being vigilant and informed shoppers by making sure that green claims that our favorite brands made are justified.


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Source(s):

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/true-gen-generation-z-and-its-implications-for-companies#

[2] https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/gen-z-millennials-set-for-consumer-spending-increases

[3] https://www.fastcompany.com/90385370/hm-zara-and-other-fashion-brands-are-tricking-consumers-with-vague-sustainability-claims

[4]https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/greenwashing-in-fashion-is-on-the-rise-heres-how-to-spot-it/

[5] https://zerrin.com/wtf-what-the-fabric-cotton-explained/

[6] https://www.senseandsustainability.net/2019/12/03/how-fast-fashion-is-greenwashing/

[7] https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10

[8] https://www.bcg.com/2019-pulse-of-the-fashion-industry

[9] https://www.allbirds.com/pages/our-materials-wool?utm_source=sas_aff&utm_medium=314743&utm_content=923405&sscid=11k5_2bynw

[10] https://www.allbirds.com/pages/sustainability

[11] https://www.fastcompany.com/90363258/how-the-green-new-deal-could-reshape-the-fashion-industry


Photo(s):

[12] https://unsplash.com/photos/2fNMdA6a5ck

[13] https://www.pexels.com/photo/rolls-of-assorted-fabrics-and-textiles-and-sewing-patterns-inside-tailor-atelier-3965543/?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels

[14] https://unsplash.com/photos/RN14PbITnnM

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