With more brands calling themselves sustainable, it can be hard for consumers to tell if a fashion brand is really sustainable or whether it is merely greenwashing . What can you do to find out more? Check the steps below:
1. Check the labels to find out about the materials
A material is only sustainable if they are made from vintage, upcycled or waste fabrics. The textiles used by sustainable clothing brands should be made from recyclable, renewable materials like linen, hemp, Tencel or silk. Organic cotton is ok, as it biodegrades and (unlike ‘normal’ cotton) isn’t GMO – but it still takes a lot of water to produce (albeit 91% less than non-organic cotton). A mixture of fabrics will be less easy to recycle as the different components degrade and compost differently, and need to be dealt with in different ways.
As well as materials there are dyes, about which there is not always full disclosure. Using natural dyes is a big plus, since dyes are often very toxic. Not only can they pollute rivers, they can also damage your health when they’re absorbed by your skin.
More and more brands claim sustainability based on their use of recycled plastic bottles in making their fabric. The big problem with this is the microparticles found in such materials that run off with every wash, polluting our waterways, killing marine life, and entering our bodies through the water we drink. One solution for this is to buy a special bag to wash your (recycled) polyester clothes in called Guppy Friend. This bag collects the microparticles so they do not leave your washing machine.
2. Do a background check on the brand
There are sources which can help you check the policies of the brand and to make sure they are not greenwashing. The Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) is a good source.
Another way to tell if a fashion brand is sustainable is to look at their corporate policies. Almost all large fashion labels practice some form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This can easily be found on their websites. Don’t believe everything they say though, because a lot of it is to keep their shareholders happy.
A quick option and a good site to check out is Good on You. Their ranking looks looks at the Planet, the People and Animals (PPA) and they have an app that you can install as well as the option to send them suggestions for brands that they will check and put on their list.
Conscious companies may use a green energy supplier or solar panels, recycle water from their offices to water plants, or use electric vehicles for their deliveries, for example. This page on green initiatives sheds some more light on other issues we rarely think about, like giving out BPA-free receipts, using recyclable, recycled or simply less packaging and other green practices.
3. Choose as local as possible
It is not quite the case that anything made locally is better, but if companies move their production to China and still charge you 1500 euros for a handbag that was made by workers paid almost nothing, these brands should be banned forever from our shopping lists (Louis Vuitton being just one example).
Fast fashion brands like LaSenza, Primark and others can only exist because of the terrible working conditions of their Chinese, Bangladeshi and Cambodian employees and a total disregard of the environment which keeps their prices low. If it is cheap you can be sure that it comes at a very high price for planet, people or animals.
But going local alone does not solve the problem, as shown by the recent example of sweat-shop like conditions in Leicester (UK) and the brand Boohoo.
A company that is working at local level to change the situation is No Nasties; based in Goa, India they are the first fair-trade licensed brand in India. Read more about this brand in my article on No Nasties.
Spread the word!
In the end it is us as consumers that should realize that a 5 euro t-shirt can simply not be made without exploitation and environmental degradation. It is us that need to demand change. Paying 15 euros or more for the same shirt but knowing that we do not buy into these polluting practices anymore, and that the persons who made them are paid properly and have safe working conditions will certainly make us sleep better at night.
Knowing what to look for gives you the power to do something about these practices! You can vote with your wallet and it is time to let non-sustainable brands know what you think. Sustainability can be the new norm – and it is us as consumers that can make the difference and make the change happen.