Fast Fashion and Green-Washing: A Killer Combo

Ethos is the spirit that (should) surrounds every part of our culture, our civilization. Even though ethical fashion is not a novelty, in the last decade a wave was formed. More and more young people adopt a sustainable way of dressing. More and more companies (try to) adopt the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria. “Sustainable fashion it is”. But isn’t it a little contradictory? By definition “fashion” is meant to change over time, while “sustainable” implies continuity over time. So, ethics could be a more appropriate epithet.

Facts on Fast Fashion (FF)

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Why is it imperative to “slow” the fashion? Fast fashion is an industry that augmented tremendously in the last decades. And the results are the following:

  1. The clothing production has twice the size since twenty years ago, but garment utilization is in decline.
  2. Fast fashion generates two to eight percent of global greenhouse gases. (It sure isn’t negligible!)
  3. The absence of recycling leads to the loss of billions of euros/dollars lost every year.
  4. Fast fashion is not only a global issue but a local one. Consumption habits vary depending on the region in one lives.
  5. Twenty percent of wastewater around the world comes from the production of clothes. To be more specific textile dyeing. 
  6. The fashion industry produces half a million microplastics each year. Nine percent of the annual micro-plastic loss to the aquatic system comes from the textile industry.

Apart from its environmental impact fast fashion has a social one as well. There is evidence of child labor in the fashion industry of developing countries (e.g. Bangladesh, Vietnam etc). Not to mention the 2013 collapse of an eight-floor building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1.134 workers and injuring many more. The multi-floor building housed various clothing factories. Fast fashion raise many societal issues, not just environmental ones. Child and forced labor, false self-image, and dietary issues to name but a few. However, this article will not focus on any of them.

What about “green-washing”?

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It isn’t an innovative term but exists for at least five decades. There aren’t a few brands that promote their “sustainable”, “ethical”, “vegan” or “conscious” collections to attract more consumers. The ones that think before they buy. But are they for real? Or is it a marketing trick? Some used to joke that “green” is the new “black”. In the previous decade, it was questionable whether companies had sustainability officers. Nowadays, fashion brands (luxury or ready-to-wear) have put sustainability into the core of their strategic plan. Carbon neutrality is (supposedly) the goal of every company in or out of the fashion industry.

Sustainability is trendy. And companies want to follow the trend. It has been proved that enterprises earn more and do better when customers feel good about the purchases they have made. And they feel good when they spend their money on a cause. “End carbon emissions”! Or, “support ethical brands”. Or, “be a responsible consumer”. However, there is uncertainty in sustainability. Usually, a vagueness surrounds the term, instead of clear and transparent statistics.

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In 2018, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change introduced the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The latter focuses on science-based targets concerning the fashion industry. However, fashion brands continue to mislead consumers concerning their ESG strategies. This phenomenon is called green-washing. For tackling this issue, the EU and the European Green Deal states that: “Companies making ‘green claims’ should substantiate these against a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment”.

Claims on a company’s or product’s environmental performance must be credible, comparable, and verifiable across the EU. Reliable environmental data would empower market actors—consumers, businesses, and investors—to make more eco-friendly choices. The initiative on substantiating green claims goes hand in hand with another policy announced on the Circular Economy action plan, the revision of EU consumer law. The goal is to empower consumers to participate actively in the green transition.

To conclude, governments should raise public awareness and fund research concerning the matter. They should also apply a stricter legislative package on green-washing. Transparency is the key. One should not be emotional and fall over dramatic terms such as “cruelty-free” and “100%organic”. Instead, one should be well-read and down to earth. Check reports and certifications. And do not forget, “less is (always) more”.

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