What is greenwashing and how do you avoid it?
Simply put, greenwashing is one of the most clever marketing tactics to exist in the fashion realm. It gives us, the customers, the illusion that we’re making a positive impact on the planet, while the retailers cover up their harmful tracks. Purely from a marketing perspective, it would be genius, if only the fall out wasn’t so frightening for the future.
No one likes to feel like they’ve been had. In fact, most of us like feeling like we’ve done something great for the planet in our purchasing, which is exactly how greenwashing has become so common in daily life. It’s a concept that plays on our desire to do something good, while somewhat conveniently forgetting all the rest.
You’ve likely encountered greenwashing more times than you can remember — especially if you find yourself here, in a community of conscious consumers ready to change the face of the industry. Think of all the ‘conscious collections’ from big box retailers, or recycled plastic swimwear. Organic cotton is another huge one, alongside the notorious plastic bottle of water at Cotton On checkouts, sold with the idea of saving the trees.
But the duality of greenwashing is exactly this; it’s one good thing to mask the ugly stuff. Clothes that come from a sustainable edit often neglect to mention the working conditions of those who make them, and recycling plastic bottles into swimwear begs problems of its own. The most colossal problem in it all is that most greenwashing companies neglect to mention the issue at the forefront of fashion’s biggest problem — they still promote an excessive consumption of clothes.
Who are some of the biggest greenwashers?
Many of us know the common culprits. H&M, Zara, Topshop… Those same online monoliths that have become synonymous with fast fashion (there’s an exception for Shein of course — they barely attempt to conceal their contribution to the planet’s demise). We typically see them launching one or two sustainable initiatives a year, whether it’s a buy back ‘recycling’ scheme or the introduction of environmentally friendly materials. And sure, these are all good initiatives, but they’re not enough.
What we’ve found is that it’s a lot easier to point the finger when the overseas brand is further removed. But when it’s a part of our cultural identity, like the beloved Glassons, consumers can become more defensive of their purchasing. Glassons is an interesting case study, and we see them trying to do well, which is perhaps why shoppers are quick to rush to their defence. They’ve made their reports a lot more transparent, down to very granular details, and they offer on-trend items at affordable prices (despite the all-too-common ‘borrowing’ of ideas from smaller designers). But ultimately, they are still entrenched in a fast fashion cycle, and the planet can’t keep up with production to this scale.
Just this last week on Earth Day, a TikTok amassed notoriety showing just how prevalent Greenwashing is with major retailers. Alongside Victoria Secret’s Earth Day photo was a video of their retail workers being instructed to cut up older and returned items before throwing them away, once again truly entrenching the idea that profit presides over both people and planet.
Honestly, it can feel really impossible. To tackle greenwashing, we need to bring new ideas to the table. We need to recognise the values we place on our clothes and navigate the tricky task of looking past those too good to be true claims.
Why should we be worried?
Because quite frankly — our planet is in danger right now. Any deception around claims of conscious clothing production is contributing to its demise — and these brands are knowingly deceiving us along the way too.
But there’s also hope too, earlier this year The Guardian released an article showing exactly why retailers would be wise to change their ways. With a more thorough eye of the watchdog, crackdowns are expected, and we’re anticipating a few companies will be caught in the crosshairs. Hopefully — just hopefully — this will prompt them to make real, lasting changes.
Here’s how to know if a brand is trying to greenwash you (& some tips for ways around it):
-If the brand isn’t transparent in their processes, they could be trying to hide something.
-If they’re not willing to acknowledge the potential harm the industry causes, give them a miss.
-Make note of buzzwords — you know the ones. Sustainable, organic, ethical… These are all good words, but always check if the brand can actually back them up.
-And while you’re researching, check to see if they have the support of any credentialing bodies — B Corp certification, Certified Organic, Fair Trade, PETA or SPCA.
-Look for companies trying to play on the lesser of two evils — and avoid them where you can.
-Decide if the brand actually has a green approach to business, or if they simply look green. This could include an organic play on a name, a softer, earthy looking logo or even down to the fonts they use. These might look eco-conscious and cute, but that’s not always the case!
-Buy fewer things. We know, it’s not fun, but this is the best way to tackle consumption from the grassroots source.
-Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Designers who are actively making an effort to better the industry should take no issue with you asking, and are normally really grateful to instigate a conversation!
What does recycled swimwear have to do with it all?
This is an interesting one, and it’s worth mentioning; because in purchasing swimwear made from recycled materials, you are doing a good thing for the environment. But not because you’re cleaning up the oceans, as you’re led to believe. Instead, this re-purposing of materials means that less man-made materials are being produced from virgin plastics for textiles.
Yet, when old bottles are turned into swimwear, the plastic life-cycle ends there. If a plastic bottle was turned into something like another plastic bottle, the life-cycle could endure generations of reuse. Again, it all comes back to consumption. When buying new swimmers, absolutely make sure they’re made of recycled materials if possible. But don’t just head out and buy new swimmers because they’re recycled.
Look — it’s complicated, we totally get it. That’s why we’re here to help.
Somewhat of a shameless self-plug is about to come, but we couldn’t leave without saying that the industry’s current greenwashing problem is one of the reasons we decided to create Maverix. We’ve done the hard yards of wading through the greenwashing online to curate a collection of designers that are truly advocating for real change in the industry. And you can trust us on that one ;)