The Green Movement and Greenwashing are intrinsically tied together, and with little to no regulation, the onus is on us, as consumers to recognize when a company is greenwashing their products. Having worked in the clothing industry for 15 years I am often asked by clients about brands they have discovered; Are they ethical? Are they eco-friendly? And the big question, are they a fast fashion brand? Ultimately greenwashing is lying, and when their lies’ are good, it can trick us into thinking we are buying something that was made with thought, care, and with the environment in mind.
A quick dive into the History of the Green Movement:
Most people would conger up images of the 70’s – hippies holding signs that read ‘POLLUTION brought to you by the same folks that brought you VIETNAM.’ When researching I was surprised to learn that the Green Movement, in terms of American culture, dates back to the 1830s-40s, first developed by Transcendentalists. What didn’t surprise me was that there was no mention or recognition of the fact that Aboriginal + Indigenous people have lived with the Earth and have always fought for its preservation. Our world history often diminishes their efforts to protect our planet. ‘It’s their timeless stewardship of the land – based on respect, reciprocity, restraint, and reverence – that to this day continues to nourish their communities and cultures, sustain biodiversity, and preserve life-giving ecosystems.’1
Over the last 5 years, we have seen The Green Movement move more and more to the forefront of people's minds, as we are given increasingly alarming statistics from scientists, people are looking to the companies they buy from to step up and do the right thing. With any movement that pushes back against capitalism, big brands will always find a way to sell us their original product with new packaging and marketing to make us feel better about buying the same old thing. Greenwashing has had its ups and downs just like the Green Movement and we are currently witnessing a resurgence of Greenwashing as more and more consumers demand products be made consciously, brands are having to put their “green sheen” onto the same poorly made, environmentally damaging products.
Over the years we have become aware of the damage our modern life causes on the environment – flying overseas, using disposable plastic, driving to and from work, but when it comes to our clothing the impacts were less obvious and took longer to come to light. You might ask, what is it about the clothing industry that there is to greenwash; companies like H&M, Shein, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, Fashion Novo & Zara have worked hard to keep information like how much clothing they produce a year? What their factory workers are paid? What happens to damaged or end of season clothing? Where do they dump chemically laden water? They have kept these answers a secret because ultimately none of the decisions they are making are in the best interest of the environment, the land, or the people who work for them.
At this point, we all know the damage of fast fashion, but it is naïve of us to think that these million and billion dollar companies will just close up because they are harmful to our environment.
What is more damaging than a fast fashion brand? One posing as being an ally to the Green Movement, where they tell us what we want to hear, but continue the same harmful practices.
This is Greenwashing. Companies, like mentioned above, are using the environmental movement to increase their market share.2 Like stated above, there are no regulations when it comes to this ploy, it is on us as consumers to become informed enough to spot when a brand is Greenwashing their products. This is happening in all industries, not just fashion. Below are some questions that you should be asking before buying products, they will help you spot if a company is Greenwashing.
Brodie & Michelle from Blondie Apparel suggests asking these questions:
WHERE DO THEY MANUFACTURE THEIR PRODUCTS?
This is super easy, if you head over to Blondie Apparel, they have a dedicated page talking about the 'small women-owned factory located on the outskirts of Toronto' where they have their products manufactured. Their social media has also featured both of them doing picks ups there. This is a clear message to consumers that this business CARES about its manufacturing process. They are working with another local business to make long lasting garments.
A fast fashion brand that is Greenwashing their products will not show where they manufacture its products, because honestly, they don't want you to know. They won't show that partnership because there isn't one.
WHAT TYPE OF PACKAGING DO THEY USE?
I love this question as a baseline for Greenwashing. H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, all have pages on their website that talk at length about their eco-friendly and sustainable practices, yet when you receive a shipment from them, each item is individually wrapped in plastic. Many local businesses, Blondie Apparel included are going above and beyond to make sure they are using eco-conscious shipping materials.
IS IT CLEAR WHERE THEY SOURCE THEIR FABRIC?
Companies like Blondie Apparel and OkayOk are vocal on their social media about milling their own fabric with local mills. This is a part of their brand identity, sustainability. The same applies to where their products are made, if a brand is not honest about where their fabric is milled, they are hiding it for a reason.
Masha from Masha Apparel suggested looking at:
FABRIC CONTENT LABELS.
Look for proper names of fabric on the content label. A huge Greenwashing tactic is making polyester sound better. Like Vegan Satin Silk, which is not a real fabric, vegan silk is polyester. Another example is companies will often label the products as satin, satin is a weave, not a fabric content. It will almost always be 100% polyester with a tight satin weave.
VERIFY ECO OR RECYCLED CLAIMS.
Companies will often list the fabric as natural or recycled when only a small portion of it actually is. A garment that is 30% recycled polyester, and 70% polyester will often be labeled as recycled fabric and a garment that is 25% cotton and 75% polyester will be called a natural fabric. There are no rules regulating this.
BE WARY OF THE WORD SUSTAINABLE.
There is no governing body to determine what sustainable means. For example, sustainable denim from India (where labor and environmental laws are different from Canada’s) is probably a far cry from your expectations of true sustainability.
Adrienne from OkayOk gave this tip for spotting Greenwashing:
WATCH FOR THAT ONE TAGLINE THAT OVERSHADOWS THE BAD STUFF.
Things like 'Designed in Canada' that tricks you into thinking Made in Canada, or 'Cruelty Free' when everything is made from plastic. When researching this article I saw taglines like 'Shop + Save the Planet' & 'Look Cute + Protect the Environment.' These are gross overstatements and ultimately when we know how damaging fashion is to our environment, seem downright cruel and misleading.
Carissa (me!) from Copious thinks you should watch out for:
This is a huge giveaway. If a brand is touting sustainable practices and ethical manufacturing its prices will be higher. (Yes luxury brands Greenwash, charge higher prices and are ultimately selling their name not just the product, but that is a topic for another blog post.) Fast Fashion brands talk sustainability then turn around and sell pants for $60. This is not sustainable or ethical, and damage is being done by not paying a fair living wage to workers & to our environment.
WHEN A BRAND PRODUCES A TINY RANGE OF ITS LINE SUSTAINABLY BUT PROMOTES ITSELF AS CONSCIOUS.
If a company produces 1 item sustainably, but 100,000 pieces non sustainably are they really sustainable? We need to draw a hard line and spend our money with companies, and local brands who are putting the work in to build whole collections eco-consciously.
Lastly, Nicole from Desserts & Skirts gave my favourite advice.
FOLLOW YOUR GUT.
There are so many red flags a company can show us they are being unethical. Too much variety of products, number of products produced each year, low price tag, sales all the time. Ultimately you have to trust your gut and spend your money with someone you trust. If you think they are Greenwashing, they probably are.
Writing this made me a little sad. I am dropping some reels this week to show you companies that are Greenwashing and seeing them use words like; Sustainable, Eco-Conscious, Eco-Friendly, Recycled, Thrifted, in marketing tactics to help sell their products that are not made with these actual values is discouraging. But then I talked to these amazing businesswomen about Greenwashing and realized we are all so knowledgable about this marketing ploy and the only way to help others learn how to spot Greenwashing is to share that knowledge.
Thank you to each one of these amazing makers who shared their tips and tricks for spotting Greenwashing. Now that you know them, trust me you will start to see the green sheen, and even better, you will see the brands who are genuinely putting in the effort to be sustainable clearer too.
View Reel on Zara's Greenwashing
View Reel on Urban Outfitters's Greenwashing
I sourced information for this blog post from the below places.
#1. Earth Island
#3. Green Queen