Fashion brands have the tendency to ride whatever wave suits them. In any issues that consumers find important, fashion brands see an opportunity. When the Black Lives Matter movement gained support and strength, companies made special edition t-shirt, wrote BLM on any piece of clothing possible, and they voiced their support on Instagram. Often, the choice was more about profit than about justice.
The same is happening with sustainability. As the world battles with destructive wildfires, epic hurricanes, and rising temperatures, consumers turn to eco-friendly fashion choices. Buyers look for recycled materials, brands who pair fair wages, and business that don’t pollute. The fashion industry had a lot to catch up on.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the fashion industry is the second-most polluting industry on Earth, only outdone by oil. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans, leading the industry to produce 20 percent of global wastewater.
Shoppers didn’t like those statistics and the industry had to quickly change course and hop on the sustainability wagon. Brands made subtle changes, letting the public believe that they were revolutionizing the industry. Sometimes, they flat out lied, creating the phenomenon called “greenwashing.”
Greenwashing happens when a company tricks consumers into believe its products are more eco-friendly than they truly are. For example, the swimsuit might be made from recycled plastic bottles, but the Balinese worker who made might be underpaid. Or the opposite, the brand promotes fair wages but the waste from the production line pollutes rivers and forests. Through greenwashing, the fashion industry focuses on tiny changes, ignoring the underlying issues. It goes small and claims a big victory.
In 2015, H&M launched the “Conscious Exclusive” collection as a collaboration with actress Olivia Wilde. The line produced 600 million garments, a 50 million articles’ increase since 2011. Not very environment conscious.
Being sustainable is more than recycling materials. It’s about reducing the environmental footprint as well as fair wages.
The website The Fashion Law reports that “to ensure individual garment workers receive a living wage, brands would need to exert additional oversight and coordination of their suppliers and subsidiaries. Brands would have to take stronger control not only of their suppliers but also of their suppliers’ suppliers, and their suppliers’ suppliers’ suppliers, and so on.”
If it sounds complicated, it is because it is complicated, not impossible. Pricey, so fashion brands avoid making the investment. They’d rather “greenwash” buyers with marketing tactics. But the secret is out.
Do you want to learn more about what brands are or aren’t doing? Stay tuned for our next article, coming out on Monday, September 14th!