How to avoid greenwashing in sustainable fashion

How do you know whether a company cares about the world around us or is more focused on the bottom line and looking good? As the world faces ever-growing environmental risks driven by a changing climate, the concerns over sustainability become ever more pressing for  many consumers, while it has become even harder to make informed decisions, with the simultaneous growth of greenwashing within the fashion industry. 

What is greenwashing?

What is greenwashing? Simply put, it is when a company claims to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes, but can’t actually substantiate where they are actually making any significant sustainable efforts. Lately, greenwashing has become a major topic of conversation.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched its Green Claims Code in September 2021. This code was designed to ensure that environmental claims made by businesses comply with consumer protection laws. The rules are rather simple: claims must be truthful and accurate, clear and unambiguous, must not omit or hide relevant information, must be fair and meaningful and consider the full life cycle of the product or service.  In June 2022, it was reported that a quarter of greenwashing complaints made to the CMA under the new Code were linked to fashion!

For many young consumers, the availability of green options is key to their purchasing decisions, and many brands know that. This has resulted in many fast fashion brands opting for different policies and schemes to bolster their sustainability or ‘green’ credentials to appear more environmentally friendly.  Many brands also use terms such as green, eco-friendly, organic or recycled, on their labelling to encourage consumers into purchasing products they believe are good for the planet. In most cases, this labelling refers to the raw materials used, but does not take into account how the materials are produced or sourced or the labour practices that are applied in making the final garment. 

Recycling fashion

H&M started installing recycling points in their stores where customers could drop off  their unwanted clothes in exchange for vouchers. H&M’s site refers to a process whereby the clothes are sorted for rewear, reuse or recycle.  However, there is no clear information on what proportion of the clothes are used where, or how much of the collection actually goes to ‘close the loop’, which implies a circular model, where the textiles are actually recycled into the remake collection or where the usable life is extended, as second-hand clothing. 

Given the vagueness of the claims and a lack of information on how the unwanted clothes are actually used, it is difficult to view this as any more than a marketing scheme designed to encourage shoppers to buy new items without feeling guilty about it.  As oneMedium writer has put it, the recycling program in general does nothing but ‘give customers a way to feel morally righteous about buying more than what they need and treating clothing as disposable’.

Women holding a small pile of clothing in her arms contemplating some information on her phone
mentatdgt @ Pexels
Much has been reported on fast fashion recycling schemes and how the scale is just too much for second-hand traders, with much low quality fast fashion stock not being recycled after collection

Preloved and resale

PrettyLittleThing has also been in focus recently, appearing to be moving away from their fast fashion roots. At the beginning of the month PrettyLittleThing announced they were launching an app which allows customers to sell their pre-loved clothes, including not only PLT items, but also items from other brands. They also announced a 2022 Love Island star as the face of the PLT Marketplace. The PLT app is similar to existing resale apps such as Depop and Vinted.

As much as this all seems a step in the right direction for the brand, in encouraging sustainability, they have received a lot of backlash with some people accusing PrettyLittleThing of greenwashing. As fast fashion production is known for being harmful to the environment, the argument is that encouraging the sale of  pre-loved clothes (particularly fast fashion items) could be seen as merely encouragement to buy more items, fuelling the fast fashion cycle. 

Moving towards sustainable and conscious fashion

Ultimately, the key to being more conscious, ethical or sustainable involves making a choice and that requires assessing the available options and information, beyond  the buzzwords printed on the card label or fancy marketing campaigns, or else you risk just being another victim of greenwashing.

At Curobe, our goal is to help you buy better and to provide the relevant information so that you can make an informed decision, based on what is important to you.  We believe in working with a range of positive impact fashion businesses, so that you can find the garments and brands that align with your approach towards sustainable and conscious fashion.  Whether that means only buying from organic or fair trade certified sellers, purchasing only natural fibres or supporting local producers to limit your carbon footprint.  You can learn more about the brands we work with on our Brand Partner page and read more about our responsible brand criteria here. 

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About Megan Rees

Hi I’m Megan, a fashion marketing student with a strong passion of sharing my thoughts around fashion! I’m learning everything as I go in life and I would love for you to come on this journey with us to join the Curoblog community. I love all things fashion and beauty and I am looking forward to writing more in the future.

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