Greenwashing – How To Spot It In Luxury And Fashion

Katherine Saxon

Greenwashing, Innovation And Sustainable Fashion

Greenwashing a consequence of innovation? The history of fashion and its evolution is linked to the history of civilization. It is conditioned by customs, traditions,  cultures and recent scientific discoveries. From the times of using bark of trees and wild animal skins to the discovery of wool, vegetable fibres, synthetics, and innovative materials for smart clothing, technology has always impacted on how we dress. In essence, fashion evolution lies in constant innovation. In the garment industry, innovation does not mean destruction but maintenance, sustainability and ethics. Innovation means evolution.
In the garment industry, innovation can be classified in three ways: business model innovation,  production/process innovation, and product innovation. Among these, the innovation of the goods, as in the materials used, style and manufacturing processes manifest increasing drive towards consumer ethics and global sustainability.

The number of fashion brands showing interest in sustainable materials and resources and practices is growing fast. At the same time, the number of brands exploiting the sustainable trend is rising as well. Pretending to be sustainable, these companies build massive profits by taking advantage of the genuine nature of the more conscientious and ethical consumer. Such practices are known as ‘greenwashing’ and often hidden under the label of eco, green, and fairtrade goods.
Greenwashing is a deceptive and well-crafted marketing cover under which many brands hide unsustainable and unethical business practices. While not all brands in the fashion industry are involved in greenwashing, the apparel industry, closely followed by the automobile industry, has the largest number of greenwashing cases reported to date. Such shady practices hurt not only the buyers but also take away sales from truly sustainable brands and destroy the environment. The question is, how can consumers learn to identify and avoid greenwashing? This is how:

Media advert in the US with the aim of spreading awareness of greenwash practices

“It is time to talk about greenwashing” awareness advert in the USA

How To Spot Greenwashing

It is important to acknowledge that not all fashion brands that market under the ‘green’ and ‘eco’ umbrella are involved in greenwashing. Still, investigations into the transparency of supply chains more than often uncover unpleasant surprises. In 2017 the segment of personal luxury goods was faced with tremendous pressure from consumers regarding the goods made by underaged labourers, somewhere in China, Bangladesh, or India, yet marketed under the coveted “made in Italy” tag.

Heritage And Craftsmanship

The greenwashing plague affects even some of the most reputable luxury brands in the world. As only a few luxury groups have kept their manufacturing lines in the mother countries, the heritage and craftsmanship values are diluting. Nevertheless, assuming that the loss of heritage and craftsmanship has little impact on the consumer, the knowledge that the garments they buy and wear are made by abused underaged workers, in awful conditions, won’t go quietly.

Buyers can no longer ignore the origin of their clothes. The internet and social media let them see that the garments they wear are made not in developed countries, free from modern slavery and free from inadequate working conditions, but in ‘dirty and poverty’. More questions are being raised every day and with this article, we hope to help those looking to learn how to spot greenwashing at a first glance.
Step one: If the goods you buy have a very low price, you have to realise that such low price is insufficient to pay the designers, artisans, and the craftsmen behind the product.

A luxury craftsman (artisan) with the tools of the trade on the table

A luxury craftsman (artisan) with the tools of the trade on the table.

All Natural Does Not Exist

Another way companies get around greenwashing is by playing with palatable words and complex definitions, rather than direct connotations pointing to the constituting parts of the goods. For example, the “all natural” label catches your eye on the spot, if you are an ethical buyer and your final decision rests on a moral perspective. If it is “all natural”, you know that there is a clever marketing ploy, hiding the truth.
Fashion brands know that there is a fast-growing segment of fashion consumers willing to pay the extra money for sustainable goods, manufactured in ethical conditions. But these brands also know that these ethical consumers are prone to impulsive buying decisions, as triggered in stressful shopping situations.

A fuel pump painted in green advertising fuel as natural and healthy.

A fuel pump painted in green advertising fuel as natural and healthy.

If that is you, remember: ‘all natural’ does not exist. It is just a term coined by retailers, with no backing, applied to products that you otherwise wouldn’t touch. Mercury (Hg), for example, is an ‘all natural’ chemical element that when ingested is lethal. ‘All natural’ does not mean what you think so always look for the ingredient list and see beyond the well-crafted marketing promos.

Beware The Clever Marketing Tricks

Don’t be ashamed if sometimes you fall a victim of greenwashing or evil marketing. It happens to all of us, as advertisements and labels are designed to affect hedonic desires, emotional needs, all at conscious and subconscious levels.
An advert in Germany promoting a green bottle of coca-cola as heathy - coca-cola life.
Still, do your research and find out if you are a victim of greenwashing. If that is the case, do not put the goods in the bin. In this way, you are contributing to a large amount of waste destroying our planet.

Instead, donate your purchases to someone who needs them more than you.Not everyone has the same moral and ethical standards. Or, donate them to nonprofit organizations that are working to mitigate environmental disasters and better the lives of workers in developing countries. That helps.
Is sustainable fashion real? What is your take on greenwashing? Let us know in the comments below!

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