Friday, 28 June 2019

Greenwashing - 5 Ways You Might Be Deceived Into Thinking a Brand is Ethical or Sustainable

Fast fashion brands are increasingly engaging in marketing campaigns designed to make them appear wholesome or ethical to the consumer - thereby discouraging us from questioning their practices. It frustrates me when brands try to hide their questionable production methods behind a gloss of advertising which entice well-intentioned customers.

'Greenwashing' is a term which has been used since the 1980's but I'm seeing it more and more from high street retailers as they try to appeal to the growing demand for ethical and sustainable clothes, whilst keeping up their profits. Some brands do not want to miss out but neither do they want to change radically - not yet anyway. Greenwashing is a cheaper way to convince customers that they care and are doing something.

I have fallen for many of these ploys before, so I hope these points remind you to check a brand out before presuming it is ethical and sustainable...

1.  'Feminist' t-shirt slogans are not proof that the brand exercises gender equality

There have been a myriad of news stories in the last few months, about brands selling t-shirts with feminist slogans emblazoned across the front, whilst paying their workers a pittance.

In 2017/18 I remember that pretty much every high-street shop had a version of the Dior 'We should all be feminists' t-shirt. There were five major brands, all of whom were found to be using sweatshops and/or child labour. All brands that used the feminist message to empower their shoppers, but not their workers.

I recently read an article claiming that the iconic 'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like' campaign t-shirts, designed by Elle magazine and sold by Whistles (with the proceedings going to the Fawcett Society) were made in a Mauritian sweatshop, by women being paid 62p per hour
. Whistles have since stated that they have extensive evidence that the factory wasn't in fact a sweatshop. They released that workers where in fact payed above the government-mandated minimum wage. I still feel uneasy that the workers were payed under a pound per hour to produce £45 t-shirts. 

2. Charity campaigns don't always mean that a brand pays their workers well

One case was where Comic Relief's  '#wannabeaspicegirl' t-shirts (sold to raise money for their 'Gender Justice' campaign) were discovered to have been made in a factory that paid its predominantly female workforce the equivalent to 35p per hour, whilst they were also subjected to verbal abuse. It's a particularly sad irony considering the campaign was focused around 'Girl Power'.

3. A brand's 'conscious' collection isn't proof of eco-friendly practices throughout their supply chain

Fast Fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M have recently introduced their own sustainable collections. Zara for example has brought out "Join Life," a collection of clothing that is "made with materials, such as organic cotton, recycled wool, and Tencel, which reduce our environmental impact." I first want to say that this is a step in the right direction and I would always recommend that we should chose from their 'eco' collections over the rest of their stock. Hopefully the popularity of these collections over their other collections will be an insensitive for things to change throughout the whole business. 

However, these brands are amongst those who have been called out for Greenwashing. Their environmental collections account for only a tiny percentage of their overall products, and whilst these 'conscious' collections are placed at the front of the store for us all to see, millions of clothes are still being churned out at the same rate. 
Clothing made using harmful practices and materials, made by people being payed far below the living wage.

The Green Hub run by sustainability activist Kira Simpson, recently challenged Boohoo's recycled range in an instagram post, questioning "will your recycled range be made under fair and safe working conditions? How's the quality of your fabric, will it last beyond a dozen washes? What about microfibre shedding? What do you plan to do with all the unsold stock?...Start by fixing your supply chains. Make better quality clothing...". 

Despite recently introduced a recycling scheme, H&M, as a fast fashion brand, actively encourage the constant rapid consumption of cheap clothes. Isn't placing recycling bins at the end of aisles distracting from the real issue of overproduction?
On it says, "fast fashion business models are inherently unsustainable and increasing recycling efforts doesn’t simply undo the damage caused by creating too many garments in the first place". Or as Greenpeace have posted on social media 'If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn't immediately reach for a mop — you'd first turn off the tap'.

Can a business with a Fast Fashion model ever truly be sustainable? Let me know what you think!

4. Brands with minimalistic, natural photoshoots aren't always eco friendly

Take Primark for example. I walk past a Primark shop everyday and the photos in the windows are extremely similar to lookbooks of sustainable brands that I know. Beautiful clean beaches, natural light and plants. I guess what's wrong with all that? They are beautiful photoshoots after all. 
Or is it a marketing ploy? It's like when on food packaging we see the words 'natural' and 'fresh' , perhaps with a leafy background - we associate it with being good for us and the environment. It distracts us from the ingredients list on the back which reveal that only a small % of the ingredients are actually natural. Ingredients can be 'fresh' and still grown using harsh chemicals.

Whether intentional or not on Primark's part, it is clever marketing to encourage us to subconsciously associate it with sustainablity which we all need to watch out for.

This can also be seen in H&M's 'Conscious Collection' campaign where the brands has, in the last few days, been called out by the The Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA). H&M's "portrayal of its collection’s sustainability credentials breaches Norwegian marketing laws and alleges that the brand uses symbols, statements and colour to mislead buyers." Have a look at the articles here and here on this news.

5. Clothes always aren't more likely to be ethical or sustainable if they are expensive

I thought this for a while. If a dress is £200 rather than £20 then surely the workers must be getting a bigger slice of the profits? But this isn't always the case. Brands such as Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel actually are among some of the least transparent when it comes to revealing information about how workers in their supply chain are treated. According to Fashion Revolution's Fashion Transparency Index, brands such as Gucci and Burberry are 'making some notable efforts on social and environmental issues, but could be doing much more'. 
Chanel and Prada followed further behind providing 'Little to no evidence that the company has more than a Code of Conduct in place. The company is making little effort towards being transparent about their supply chain practices.
Despite not mass producing their clothes on the same scale as high street retailers, these brands still have issues with sustainablility and need the same scrutiny that high street brands receive.
I mentioned Zara and H&M earlier. Being the largest of high street brands they probably receive the most scrutiny, which is probably why they have been making more efforts than some smaller shops to show their sustainable efforts. High end brands need this kind of pressure from consumers too.

I really recommend using the 'Good On You' app. It's a really quick and easy way to check the environmental, ethical and 'animal' standards of your favourite brands and discover new sustainable alternatives. The information is collected independently of the brands so it cuts through any deceptive advertising to tell you the truth. I hope that this helps.

                                                                                                    Beccy x


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