A Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Greenwashing

What does sustainable fashion actually entail? Sustainable fashion is a growing trend due to the substantial impact that the industry has on the environment. Sadly, the fashion industry has a huge carbon footprint. According to the European Parliament, it’s “responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.” From materials to the production process, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to sustainable shopping. Greenwashing, certifications, and brand values are some things we ought to bear in mind.

Sustainable fashion is, quite literally, when brands minimise environmental impact through resources, production, and materials. Thankfully, there are some eco-friendly hacks we can implement while shopping. And, of course, in order to shop sustainably, we have to avoid businesses that greenwash.

What is Greenwashing?

With sustainability trending, many businesses claim to be ‘green’ to boost sales and demand. The reality is that companies claim to implement eco-friendly projects with very little evidence to back them up. Greenwashing is when a brand claims to be sustainable but fails to provide evidence and live up to those claims. It’s likely to be an exaggeration used as a marketing technique to their advantage. Let’s delve into how to spot them.

How to Avoid Greenwashing Companies?

Firstly, we need quantifiable evidence. Check the labels and tags, are the materials eco-friendly? There’s more on that later. If the clothes are made with recycled material, look for an actual percentage as evidence. Secondly, good on you has a brand directory that evaluates brands based on three categories: planet, people, and animals. With in-depth assessments, good on you does the research for us. It tells us how eco-friendly, ethical and animal-friendly each brand is.

Of course, we can also do our own research. Check the company’s website, does it mention sustainability? If so, what quantifiable evidence is there to back it up? Evidence to look for includes the use of sustainable energy, recycling in the production process, using 100% recycled or compostable packaging, sustainable fabrics, non-toxic dyes, etc. Another great way to see how eco-friendly the business is is to check third-party certifications. These certifications require companies to comply with health, safety, and environmental standards in order to display their label. Some sustainable third-party certifications or accreditations include GOTS, B Corp, 1% for the Planet, Bluesign, Oeko-Tex, among others. Though companies do not require these certifications to be sustainable, it offers reassurance for the buyer.

woman choosing outfit in store, sustainable fashion entails taking the time to look at labels and materials
Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

How to Shop Sustainably

Smart Purchases

Before indulging in a shopping spree, here are some questions to ask yourself. When you find an item you like, ask yourself ‘will I wear it a year from now?’. Don’t buy for short-term gratification or succumb to fast fashion. Fast fashion consists of the ever-changing trends within the industry to keep us buying. Sustainable shopping habits require us to think twice before buying. Another question to ask yourself is ‘do I have something similar already?’.

Research, Reviews, and Resilience

As aforementioned, do your research on the brand. Does the website display third-party accreditations or certifications? Does sustainability form part of the company’s values? Also, read reviews to see how good the products are. Find out if the clothes are good quality and if they will last. With tempting ads left, right, and centre, it’s easy to fall in love with beautiful garments daily. Try not to get sucked into persuasive marketing techniques by only buying what you need or will actually use. Another trick is to wait a little and see if you still want the item. If you still want it after some thinking time then go for it, especially if you are supporting a sustainable business.

Sustainable Fabrics

Some sustainable fashion fabrics include natural materials like organic cotton, linen, hemp, peace silk, bamboo, lyocell, etc. Other eco-friendly materials include some recycled ones such as recycled cotton or linen which come from plants. Also, recycled man-made fabrics like nylon, also known as econyl, and polyester which are petroleum-based and take hundreds of years to decompose. Thankfully, regenerated nylon and polyester promote no waste and saves on both energy and natural resources.

Non-Sustainable Fabrics

Let’s check out some more non-sustainable fabrics to avoid. First up, man-made fabrics like nylon and polyester are a no-go. Not only do they contain petrochemicals and are non-biodegradable, but they also require a lot of energy to produce. In fact, the manufacturing of nylon omits “nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.” Cotton, different to organic cotton, is not as eco-friendly as we may think. Although it’s a natural fibre, the dying process requires a lot of chemicals and pesticides toxic to the environment.

Here’s another couple of natural fibres to avoid – wool and cashmere. Wool derived from sheep and cashmere from goats are unsustainable. Why? Because the farming industry is not eco-friendly due to the extensive amounts of resources and energy that animals consume. In fact, Ethicalista stated that “it takes 4 goats to produce a single cashmere sweater.” Not only are sheep and goats ruminants that produce a toxic greenhouse gas called methane, but such industries often obtain the materials in a non-ethical way.

woman choosing between clothes in store, take your time for sustainable shopping - ask yourself if you need it
Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

Shop Second-Hand

With platforms like Vinted and Depop, second-hand shopping has progressed from solely charity shopping. Buying second-hand is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint as it prevents clothing from rotting in landfills. Instead, clothing and accessories get a new home with future uses.

To Sum up…

With greenwashing and plenty of non-sustainable materials, sustainable fashion requires some effort on the consumer’s behalf. The good news is that with some brand research and sustainable fabric knowledge, we can make more conscious choices. Remember platforms like ‘good on you’ will simplify brand research for us consumers. Shop smart by avoiding short-term gratification purchases or items that will just sit in your wardrobe looking nice – we’ve all been there…

Invest in sustainable brands, fabrics and give second-hand shopping a go. Say no to fast fashion and hold your go-to brands accountable to sustainable standards. Β Don’t fall into the trap of greenwashing. Know the difference between eco-friendly values and marketing techniques.

Check out this guide to sustainable UK businesses here and sign up below for weekly wellness and sustainability content delivered to your inbox!

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    1. Ooh, I love that you’ve so succinctly covered the important points of this topic! And it’s so important that you did touch on transforming our shopping habits in the first place – shifting the perspecrtive from “shopping of trends” to “shopping for needs” will result in much savvier (and more sustainable) shopping habits for sure. Thanks for this amazing write-up!

      1. Thank you! Yes, you’re so right – needs over trends πŸ™‚

    2. Emi Sorensen says:

      Thanks for such an insightful read! I am trying to purchase from small vendors and focusing on items made from sustainable fabrics like linen. I also enjoy thrifting. I need to do it more often.

      1. Thank you! Conscious choices like yours are so important, nice work πŸ™‚

    3. Mark Cartwright says:

      Love this – “greenwashing” is so common unfortunately. As a side hustle I also design T-Shirts and it took me ages to find a company that only use organic cotton and renewable energy in the production process. Mark (Wildflower Eco)

      1. That’s great that you found eco-friendly options available! What is the website called? I’d love to check out the t-shirts πŸ™‚

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