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21st December 2021

Hanging out the dirty laundry on greenwashing – how to spot and avoid it

Deputy Fashion Editor Zahra shares her top tips on how to spot and avoid greenwashing so you can live your best sustainable consumer life.
Hanging out the dirty laundry on greenwashing – how to spot and avoid it
Photo Credit: Zahra Mukadam

Greenwashing is a common trap that consumers fall into especially with an increasing number of fast fashion brands claiming to be more sustainable. While many fashion brands are taking positive steps to become more environmentally friendly, a lot of this involves deceiving customers by appearing sustainable when they’re not, in a ploy to generate more sales. Companies can easily describe their products as sustainable without having to provide evidence and a lot of their customers will believe them.

This has made it increasingly challenging for consumers who are seeking to make more sustainable clothing choices – what can they believe? Here is an easy guide on how to spot greenwashing in fashion companies to aid you on your journey to becoming a more sustainable consumer.

The Vegan Façade

Photo Credit: Zahra Mukadam

Vegan clothing is amazing in terms of animal cruelty but does not necessarily translate to eco-friendly when it comes to fashion. Sometimes, vegan fashion involves synthetic materials which can be harmful to the planet. For example, PVC is vegan but is also very toxic and contributes to global warming. Vegan alternatives to materials such as leather have also been seen to be less durable which means they are disposed of more quickly. Vegan clothing still produces a lot of water waste like non-vegan clothing does – around 2,700 litres of water per t-shirt. This is enough water for a person to drink for 2 years.

Is sustainability indented in all aspects of the business or just certain clothing ranges?

Many companies, specifically fast fashion brands, tend to have sustainable clothing ranges whilst the rest of their business is home to unethical, unsustainable fast fashion products and practices. Google is free – do a quick google search on who makes the clothes you want to buy and whether their numbers match their claims. Companies make claims but they don’t have any proof to back it up. You may feel like you are doing good buy purchasing from a sustainable range however if the company itself is unsustainable, you are still fuelling a fast fashion brand that harms the planet.

Natural does not equal good

Fashion brands may advertise that their materials are natural which does sound pretty good. Not always though. The sourcing of these natural materials determines whether or not they are actually eco-friendly. For example, viscose is a natural material however, it is the cause of a lot of deforestation. It is therefore important to check that the viscose used in the clothing item you want to purchase has derived from a certified source. Bamboo also falls into this category of not always being eco-friendly. When buying bamboo products, make sure that it is organic bamboo. If not, it will most likely have been grown with harmful pesticides. It’s good to learn about materials and the way in which they are sourced.

False Labels

Photo Credit: Zahra Mukadam

When looking at a clothing item that claims to be sustainable, it will usually have a label stating so in order to seem attractive. This label tends to make you as a consumer believe that you are purchasing a sustainable and ethical item and thus persuade you into buying it. A classic example of this is Primark’s “made with sustainable cotton” label which they have created themselves. This is not a verified label, however, and can encourage consumers to buy this product as they believe they are doing less harm. If it really was sustainable, it would receive an official label.

It is also important to analyse any labels or sustainable lines properly. For example, “made with sustainable cotton” doesn’t mean that the whole clothing item is 100% sustainable cotton, it could just be a small percentage. Additionally, sustainable cotton does not mean that the workers in their factories are being treated ethically. One good looking label does not equal a sustainable and ethical business or item of clothing. With Primark, using sustainable cotton is great however their main practices of cheap and fast production just don’t go together with sustainability.

It’s not easy being green

Following these steps or not, greenwashing is hard to avoid – we can all be tricked by these incorrect or exaggerated claims. The lack of regulations only makes it easier for these brands to lie and therefore, easier for us to be fooled. Even with the knowledge of greenwashing, shopping sustainably can still have its barriers. Straying away from fast fashion is a hard task and not everyone is privileged enough to shop ethically and sustainably. This can be owing to various reasons such as income issues and size restrictions from certain brands. The ultimate aim is to not shame, but bring knowledge and empowerment to consumers so that they can make informed choices and hold big businesses accountable.

If you want to learn more about sustainable shopping, click here

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