With Earth Day happening on April 22nd, this month we’ll be talking about sustainability in the fashion industry, eco-friendly brands, and how we can make fashion better in the future. Especially in recent years, the production of clothing has become one of the most significant contributors to pollution. Currently, the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and it’s also the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. Since 2000, clothing production has doubled, and there have been many reasons for that, just a few of which we’ll be talking about today, as well as how the fashion industry can move forward in a way that benefits the planet.
Greenwashing describes how companies often try to embellish even the smallest actions they take towards sustainability, using them as an opportunity to brag on social media, when in fact the contribution they’re making is not nearly as significant as they pretend it is. The term was first coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who saw that many hotels which didn’t have recycling programs, but encouraged their customers to reuse towels. This isn’t exclusive to fashion, but is done all the time as companies try to project a positive public image without taking the necessary steps for our environment. Here are some tips on how to spot when a company is Greenwashing so you can stay informed as a consumer!
Fair wages and treatment of factory workers might just be the single most important aspect of sustainability. When it comes to the factories operated by fast fashion brands, overseas or in the United States, workers are often paid by the garment rather than for their time, leading to them making less than the minimum wage. Workers who make the clothing are also the most exposed to the chemicals used in clothing, as well as the hazardous byproducts that may exist. Brands like ours here at L. Royalty are sustainable because everyone involved in the production process is treated fairly.
One of the easiest ways to judge a brand’s sustainability claims for yourself is to check the tag and see what fabric’s been used to make your garment. Polyester, acrylic, and polyurethane are all made using plastics and oil, so a piece with a large percentage of these fabrics isn’t good for the environment, even if a portion of the fabric is advertised as being recycled.
There are tons of words that companies can use to try and convince consumers that their products are environmentally friendly. Terms like “Eco-friendly” and “Green” don’t have any set definition, so a company using them doesn’t prove anything about their environmental efforts. There are certain organizations whose seal of approval you can look for on clothing, including Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fashion Revolution, EcoCert, and Fairwear Foundation, and more.
Too Good To Be True
When it comes to the “Green” campaigns of many major fashion retailers, they seem too good to be true– and that’s because they are. For example, H&M advertises their Conscious Collection, but this was ultimately just a tiny percentage of the clothes they make in a year, and doesn’t address other actions like waste produced in stores. Look for a company whose claims are supported by facts and figures. A dress might be made from “recycled materials” but that leaves much to be answered. Which materials? In what percentages? Where were they sourced from? These are all significant pieces of information, so it’s often a red flag when these aren’t mentioned in favor of vague terms. Brands that truly prioritize sustainability will be sharing this data with their customers!
Smaller fashion brands are less likely to create waste in general, so this is a great way to fight fast fashion. A small business is more likely to source their materials and produce their clothing locally, cutting out the long-distance travel that contributes to fashion’s environmental impact. They are also less likely to be producing more clothing than they sell. While H&M is producing 600 million articles of clothing a year, an independent designer might have a few select collections or even make their clothes to order.
Let us know what you think about sustainability in fashion: Had you heard of greenwashing previously? Do you feel cheated or lied to by these brands? How can we change this in the future?