Why fast-fashion marketing and greenwashing go hand in hand

On the 17th January, the EU approved a landmark greenwashing law that will prohibit manufacturers from using eco buzzwords unless they can prove their product is truly ‘greener’ than the conventional ones. Hearing about this step forward made me think about my experience at the Better Business Summit the very same day. My favourite part was the impactful talk that Sophie Benson and Brett Staniland (@twinbrett) gave about the devastating effects of fast fashion on the planet: Does it matter what I’m wearing when the world is on fire? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it does.)

And like fashion, ‘greenwashing’ is very much ‘on trend’. Eco buzzwords infest the world of fashion marketing, and with very little by way of verification. Research by the European Commission reveals half of green claims in the EU give vague, misleading, or unfounded information. It’s very simple – fashion brands claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’ aren’t up to scratch in terms of transparency.

Brett and Sophie’s talk started with some hard-hitting truths about the impact of fashion on the planet, upturning the unfounded belief that fashion is something frivolous and unimportant. Thanks to the prevalence of polyester in fast fashion clothing, fashion is now a very oil-dependent industry. It should alarm anyone that 100 billion garments are made every year, for only 8 billion people. Fashion marketing will have us believing that we need something new for every occasion, or that we need to keep up with trends. This is probably why clothes are only kept half as long as they were just fifteen years ago, and the fast fashion industry churns out millions of micro-trends every year.

Sophie and Brett make very clear that people who have no choice but to buy fast fashion clothes are not the problem. Instead, the responsibility to change lies with people with more disposable income, who are swayed by trends and are buying 20 new things that last a month and opposed to one better-quality thing that lasts 3 years.

Unfortunately, fast fashion brands will use marketing to portray themselves as philanthropic and democratic – and yes, even sustainable, with the use of ‘second-hand marketplaces’ and return / recycle schemes. They will say that they are giving everyone a chance to look good, But the message of the talk was clear; you don’t have the ‘right’ to stylish clothes at the expense of people on the other end of the supply chain.

How do I change how I shop?

Scrutinise where your clothes come from, and the marketing behind it. Will that piece of clothing be in your wardrobe this time next year? Is that woolly hat in the shop ‘green’, or is just green?

The most sustainable thing you can do is to wear your existing clothes. Don’t throw out fast fashion and replace with ‘sustainable’ pieces immediately. And what about when you want to get rid of clothes that you don’t like or don’t fit anymore? You should donate peer-to peer as the first option, and use apps like Vinted. That way you know that whoever gets your clothes will like them and take care of them.

There is no rush to create the perfect, long-lasting capsule wardrobe. There’s no requirement for perfectionism when it comes to making changes. But there are lots of useful things that help you get there – with Brett and Sophie highlighting the Good On You app and website, Teemill and more, as well as offering advice on where people could start and where they could make the most impact. 

And it’s not just what’s in your wardrobe that makes a difference – when asked what two changes everyone in the room could make for the planet, Brett said: “Move your pension and change your energy supplier!” Speaking of green pensions, you can find out about our ethical client, Path Financial here.