With the rise of sustainable fashion, there’s also a parallel in the increase of brands aligning themselves under the tag of sustainability. Unfortunately, marketing and advertising techniques are often employed by organisations to convince the public of their environmental bonafide. Greenwashing, better explained as a form of deceptive promotion that paints efforts and products to be environmentally friendly, is more commonly practiced than not. And as Mary Imgrund said, it “not only hurts shoppers, but [also] takes sales away from brands that are challenging the status quo of their industries’ supply chain.” It becomes our personal responsibility to ensure we know who and what we are supporting with every purchase. So how do we know if we’re supporting the right sustainable fashion brands?
2 things to do when determining if a brand is sustainable:
Perhaps one key difference between brands that are sustainable and brands that practice greenwashing, is the extra lengths that sustainable brands go through. Transparency is one very apparent way a fashion brand demonstrates their integrity to sustainable fashion.
2. Read the labels
Clothing labels can tell us many pieces of valuable information. We can see where it was made, what it was made with and how to care for it. These three pieces of information by itself can tell us a lot about who made our clothes, what fabrics were used and how long we can expect our clothing to last.
3 key things to remember when researching if a brand is sustainable:
ETHICAL AND ECO FASHION ISN’T ALWAYS SUSTAINABLE
Being a sustainable fashion brand is not just about labels, certifications or awards. Just because a company has one certification, doesn’t mean they are completely sustainable. At the very least, a truly sustainable product should balance ethics and the environment. For example, a company might ethically source their material, but if it pollutes through imports, transportation or disposal, it is not environmentally friendly and does not stand to be considered sustainable.
BUYING BETTER DOES NOT MEAN SPENDING MORE
Many would also consider sustainability as a three point plug, giving consideration to the element of financial feasibility. The difficulty with this is that sustainable materials and supply chains are not always there, so the cost is often higher for apparels that try to meet all three sustainability standards. That is why, you often hear advocates of sustainable fashion saying that sustainable fashion cannot truly be sustainable, until it is mainstream. Affordable fashion is related to scalability. Like any business, sustainable fashion will not be sustainable until it is affordable. It cannot be affordable until we have enough brands taking part in a profitable production of ethical-environmental products for a low cost. Yet, this can only happen once there is a demand and interest in sustainable fashion, and people will only get interested in sustainable fashion if it is more affordable. Do you see the catch 22?
CHECK THEIR TRANSPARENCY
When it comes to sustainability and ethical fashion, paying people fairly (at a minimum living wage) is a non-negotiable. The concern with the fashion industry today is that there are many garment workers across the world living in poverty stricken areas, who source clothes for fast fashion retailers while being paid little to nothing in unsafe, and unhygienic working conditions.
This is why accountability matters. To avoid products made in these conditions, checking in with the transparency of a brand is key. It holds brands accountable: to ensure fair-trade practices and establishes healthy relationships between brands and their workers. If you are not sure if your favourite brand treats their workers with integrity ask them, ‘Who made my clothes?’ Ultimately, the onus is on us to read beyond the label, to enquire deeper into the brands you buy from.
Sustainability is one of those terms that everyone uses (especially in the world of conscious fashion), but there isn’t a set definition readily available. For all its broad ambiguity, or rather because of it, it is also one of those terms that everyone has an opinion on. Today it has become one of those buzzwords that people bring their own interpretation to, a denouement that has left many people who genuinely want to understand it confused and frustrated.
If this all feels too overwhelming in its entirety, here’s where you can start: begin by honouring the brands you know are sustainable. Small, singular choices have a cumulative impact on the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the industry. When you support brands that are taking a step in that direction, you affirm the need for a new system in place.
Let us know if you have other tips or guides on this, we’d love to add them to our list.