Fast Fashion Greenwashing

Eco-friendly. Organic. Natural. Green. These terms are often used to advertise a company’s sustainable business practices. Nevertheless, many fast fashion brands misuse these terms.

Greenwashing is the unfortunate by-product of companies spending more time and money advertising their “green-ness” over actually reducing their environmental impact.

H&M Group is following through with a commitment to phase out hazardous chemicals from the manufacturing process. Their dying and printing suppliers are fully on board, yet it is unclear which steps still include hazardous materials.

Launched in February 2013, the Conscious Collection of H&M proudly advertises garment collection for recycling. The campaign focuses on H&M’s sustainable clothing, as well as highlighting its recycling program. The recycling scheme provides customers a £5 voucher for every bag of clothes (from any brand, in any condition) they donate to participating stores.

Consumers are persuaded that the “reuse” program is meant for H&M to utilize recycled textile fibers to produce new clothing. But their own sustainability report states that only .7% of the materials used in new clothing are comprised of recycled fibers.

Norway’s Consumer Authority Forbrukertilsynet challenged H&M’s Conscious collection in 2019 for “not being clear or specific enough” of how the collection is “more ‘sustainable’ than other products they sell.”

Industry observers are questioning the value and purpose of H&M’s Treadler. Launched in March 2020, the B2B service provided other companies access to H&M’s know-how (for a fee) to “to accelerate sustainable change in the industry”. In stark contrast, Know the Origin (an ethical start-up made in the UK) regularly organizes free or low cost (£11) panels and seminars to share industry knowledge and insight on modern slavery, sustainable sourcing, and start-ups stories of ethical businesses.

The right balance between green advertising and conscious consumerism

Fashion shoppers are beginning to embrace conscious consumerism. Sustainability and product quality are just as important as low prices. Nearly half of consumers now prefer to purchase clothing from more sustainable companies according to Samantha Dover, a senior retail analyst at Mintel. Conscious consumers are aware that sustainable clothing prices account for living wages and environmental respect.

Sustainability-marketed products grew by 50% from 2013-2019. Consumers have indicated that they want brands to help them live more sustainably. The solution to the problem of fast fashion is simple. Slowdown. This is the best way for fast fashion companies to help consumers change their habits.

Social media influencers should be targeted to drive the habits of fast fashion shoppers. Consumers are more likely to follow recommendations of influencers over standard brand advertising. Social media influencers are also deemed more credible than celebrity endorsements.

In a crowded market such as clothing, the ability to distinguish a brand for its sustainable qualities appears to be becoming more important.

Always be aware of what you are reading

Consumers requesting transparency has led many fashion companies to disclosure backroom practices.

For example, British retailer M&S has an interactive supplier map on its website. Consumers are able to view factory locations, what they produce, and how many people they employ.

Futerra, an international sustainability strategy and creative agency, offers advice for fast fashion companies to avoid greenwashing policies.

The Fashion Revolution Foundation is a registered charity in the UK, which “creates free and accessible resources and impactful campaigns to demand a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry”. The 2020 Transparency Index they published on their site FashionRevolution.org reviewed 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers and ranked them according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts.

“The Index is a tool to incentivise and push major brands to be more transparent, and encourage them to disclose more information about their policies, practices and supply chain”, according to the organization.

In 2020 the average score for all 250 brands and retailers is 23% out of 250 possible points, “showing that the world’s biggest brands have a long way to go towards transparency. H&M is the highest scoring brand this year at 73%, followed by C&A at 70%, Adidas and Reebok at 69%, Esprit at 64% and Marks & Spencer tied with Patagonia at 60%. Gucci is the highest scoring luxury brand at 48%, up from 40% in 2019.”

The 2020 results made fashion responsible players and buyers upset ” This is outrageous! Makes me lose faith in trusted organisations” said one organisation. Livia Firth, who co-produced The true cost and is one world’s leading influencers for sustainability, addressed a message asking for more reliability on the shared data as it comes to be confusing for the final consumer.

H&M tops 2020 fashion transparency index Fashion Revolution Debate

The problem here is that a research is used as a marketing campaign, creating positive impact on H&M brand image, through a trusted organization (Fashion Revolution) and a well deployed PR strategy. Unfortunately this is not helping the consumer to have the transparency they claim. Retailers (and their partners) should answer the question: “how can my sustainability plan give my consumer more?” Instead of “How can Sustainability boost my reputation?”

Still far from fair

Photo Credits: Rahul Talukder

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Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.


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