Buying sustainably can be difficult. For example, how do we know whether a brand is truly sustainable and not just greenwashing? Is there anything we can do to make brands be more sustainable? And can fashion ever really be sustainable? These are all important questions, and with the fashion and textile industry creating an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, it is imperative that we question brands about their practices.
Are They Sustainable?
The first step in shopping sustainably and reducing the carbon footprint of our wardrobe is to research the brand and see if they really are sustainable. This may seem obvious, but with many brands greenwashing their websites it is important to do our research.
So what is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is the act of making people believe and think that their company or brand is doing more to be sustainable than they really are.
Many brands have been called out for this in the past, a recent example being H&M claiming last Spring that they were ‘the world’s most transparent brand’. You can read more about it here.
When brands greenwash they are making it seem as though they are sustainable and ethical to entice customers who are looking to buy sustainably. But in addition to misleading customers this can negatively impact any improvements in sustainability, as the conscious consumer is spending their money in places that aren’t really doing what they are saying they are doing.
So what are some ways that brand’s may be greenwashing, and what can we do to avoid being deceived?
Sometimes brands may say their clothing is 100% natural, 100% organic, or 100% recycled. With these facts they may not provide proof of this process or support their claims. Other examples of claims could be stating their sustainability mission for 2030 without saying much else around sustainability. It is really good for brands to have goals for 2030, but what are they doing now?
Brands may say they are sustainable through the materials that their clothes are made of — but how were these clothes made? Clothing may be ‘natural’ and made from natural materials but what are the conditions that the clothes have been made in? How are workers in the supply train both treated and paid? Being sustainable is about more than materials, it is about protecting both people and the planet.
Some websites may create the illusion of being green through having a very green website, filled with natural and leafy images to go alongside their descriptions of ‘natural’ materials and ‘organic’ clothes. Without the stats backing it up and the detail of their fabrics and practices, this is one way brands can greenwash.
One survey of EU citizens has found that 81% of people don’t trust clothing brands’ claims to be environmentally friendly. When we feel as though a brand may be greenwashing, or when we are unsure of what a brand is doing it is really important to thoroughly check their website. We can really do our research and look on their website for information about their ethics, packaging, materials, worker’s pay, and any charity donations to make sure that they substantiate their claims.
Another way is to use social media.
Questioning and Calling Out Brands
Social media is an excellent tool for calling brands out. Fashion Revolution, for example, started the ethical campaign of using the #whomademyclothes hashtag. When we do wear new clothes, posting this hashtag alongside our photo and tagging the brand can help to bring awareness to not just the item of clothing, but to the ethical practices behind it.
When we purchase an item how often do we really think about who made it? How often do we question where it was made, or how much the person making it may have earned? It can be easy to put this thought aside, to almost forget about it as we go hunting for the best bargain and find both fashionable and cheap clothes. But if we call out brands publicly on our feed we can encourage our friends to not forget, to not brush it aside. It reminds us to think about it, to speak up, to ask questions, to make positive change.
Another way we can do this is by following some brands whose standards you want to call out, improve, and bring awareness to and commenting on their feed. Spend some time to create a way to address an problem and call them out on what you want to be clarified in a way that is clear, informative, and well thought out. By doing this you can create a message that is not hate but an informed question or call for clarification on something they are doing wrong. In this way, the comment is likely to create a conversation in their comment section and invites others to also think about these questions. You can find some useful post ideas and suggestions at the sustainablefashionmatterz website.
Social media is also a really useful way to contact brands privately, too. This can be an option when we want to know more about a brand’s sustainability practices. If we’re not sure where they stand or where their clothes are made, Instagram can be a good place to ask these questions so that we can really know where the brand stands.
Not only this, but the more people who ask brands these questions and show interest in ethical and sustainable practices the more likely brands are to change.
The more we purchase sustainably the more brands will listen, realise the demand, and make their products and practices sustainable. It can feel like a difficult task trying to find the best places to buy from — places that do not greenwash and are transparent with the work they do and where they can improve.
Despite this, we can buy sustainably. There are plenty of great places and brands that continue the life of a product and make clothes that last longer with less harm on the world around us.
While buying second hand is the most sustainable option (buying a used garment could extend its life for an average of 2 years reducing its carbon, waste, and water footprint by 82%) places such as thrift shops, charity shops, depop, Vinted, Vestiaire and Ebay are not the only spaces where we can be sustainable while shopping.
There are many great and sustainable brands that we can buy from, and we have suggested a few in our free download the ‘Slow Fashion Notebook’. In this notebook you can find some brands that we love for both adults and children as well as some podcast recommendations that go in more depth on the fast fashion industry. If you would like to read more about Charlotte’s journey in not buying new for a year, then you can do so here.