Last week, I wrote about how the fashion industry is hurting our planet through its toxic chemical water, high use of electricity and resources, and the overall large carbon footprint it has (you can read about it here). As a consumer, you might be thinking, ‘well what do I do now? How can I shop smarter?’ If you are needing to shop for any reason, I want to encourage thrifting, but also outline some brands who do sustainability right. But first, let’s look at some brands who use greenwashing to trick customers into thinking they’re being sustainable so you know what to avoid.
H&M and Zara are two of the biggest players in the fast fashion game so they benefit immensely from fast to market strategies, allowing customers repeatedly buying cheap and affordable trends straight from the runway. They get a lot of backlash for this; hence, both have sustainable clothing lines that tout words like ‘green’ and ‘eco friendly’ but you really look at it, how green are they? Take this pair of H&M Conscious jeans, it says, ‘cotton content is partly recycled.‘ What does “partly recycled” even mean? Here we see greenwashing, where a company claims to be sustainable in its manufacturing within product marketing, but in fact, are very general or vague in their statements, leading consumers into thinking they’re making a smart choice. In reality, these jeans are probably made from less than 5% recycled cotton.
Brands know that ‘sustainability’ is the new buzz word so they all want to hop on the bandwagon and make it seem like they’re doing their part; however, the easiest way to find out which brands are good and which aren’t is to pay attention to their marketing. Do they use vague terms, like H&M above, or do they come right out and say, ‘Made from 50% recycled cotton?’ Do they have an eco-friendly specific line or collection, separate from the rest of their products? If so, they are greenwashing. Brands whose main product collections, or entire product collection that endorse eco friendly claims usually have a thorough sustainability page on their website outlining their responsible methods, and are usually better options for shopping.
Where to Shop Responsibly
Now, I’m not saying you should all go out right now and buy products from these brands. That’s kind of the opposite of what I’m saying, actually. You should be striving to consume less overall; however, we all know things do get worn and torn and eventually need replaced. If you do need to replace and buy something, I would encourage thrifting as a priority but these brands are also doing well to provide customers with sustainable pieces.
I cannot say how much I love my Girlfriend Collective activewear. Every piece is well made, durable and made from yarns spun out of recycled plastic. I love my Paloma bra and wear it weekly. My only issue with this brand is that they’re almost always sold out!
PUMA is a great company to look at and understand how apparel companies should be looking at sustainability as a responsibility. They have really taken it to the core of their business model, striving to create a better world and minimize their impact not only through manufacturing, but also at their offices and warehouses. PUMA Forever Better also gives great background!
Alternative Apparel is a brand I’ve been watching for awhile; they use low impact dyes, organic cotton and ensure packaging is eco-friendly. The also only use WRAP-certified factories, which is a social compliance certification dedicated to promoting safe, lawful humane and ethical manufacturing standards.
I do not own Rothy’s but everyone I know who has them talks about how comfortable and durable they are. Made from yarns spun out of recycled water bottles, Rothy’s are also crafted in an efficient way that create minimum waste.
Parade is a brand I found recently and am planning on shopping when I need to refresh my undie drawer; the materials are all made from 85% recycled polyamide (like nylon) that are Oeko-Tex certified. They also donate 1% of sales to Planned Parenthood if you’re into supporting sexual education and women’s reproductive rights.
I have not personally worn these, but I’m thinking about getting a pair. My boyfriend owns about six pairs and he swears by them in terms of comfort. They have shoes made from wool, tree fiber, sugarcane, recycled bottles and recycled nylon. Allbirds sneakers also have one of the lowest carbon footprints of most footwear products (7.6 kg CO2e compared to 12.5 kg CO2e).
Another pioneering brand in social and environmental activism in the fashion industry, Patagonia has been striving to better the planet for years. They have a self imposed ‘Earth Tax’ that helps to support environmental non-profits fighting climate change. They also have a ‘Worn Wear’ shop where you can purchased used Patagonia clothing items that are still functional.
I personally love Everlane; they are transparent with their factories and their costs, striving to use the best materials for overall great quality. I have a few basic staples from them and I know I will have those pieces for awhile. While Everlane isn’t necessarily striving for environmental sustainability, they do heavily push social sustainability, which I will touch on next week.
Thrift It If You Can + Rental Services
While these brands are doing great on the responsible fashion front, consumers also need to go about purchasing new clothing less frequently, and wearing their current garments for a longer period of time. Since the average American person gets rids if 82 pounds of clothing per year(!!), consumers should really consider buying secondhand from Poshmark, ThredUp and other local consignment stores before shopping ‘new.’ It can be a great thing to do to ensure we’re keeping less textile waste out of landfills. Thrifting is usually looked down upon, but consumers need to relook at the need to be ‘trendy’ and prioritize the need to save the planet. Unwanted clothing from thrift stores often ends up in landfills and is eventually burned, creating more toxic fumes in our atmosphere, adding onto the already toxic footprint.
While not solving the problem entirely, I do want to touch on companies like Rent the Runway and Nuuly, clothing rental services that provide cute on-trend clothes for a specific amount of time, before the customers returns and get several new items. It’s a nice wardrobe refresh and a great way not to waste clothing, but these services are still feeding into consumerism, just in a less sneaky way. Also, think of all the back and forth shipping to consumers, and then dry cleaning of said garments, which further increases the carbon footprint of a garment. These types of services are still being studied as they are fairly new, but initial outlook doesn’t seem to be helping the environment much. On the other hand, I had a friend who used RTR’s maternity option during her last pregnancy so she did not have to purchase new clothing that she would wear a handful of times. I think if the customer uses these companies mindfully, they aren’t a bad idea but shouldn’t be used frequently.
What’s It Made Of?
Finally, if you take nothing else from this post, please try to be mindful of material content. Avoid Viscose, Rayon and Polyurethane materials when shopping. Viscose is made from tree wood pulp or bamboo and its production is not environmentally friendly whatsoever. Since it comes from wood, large areas of forests are wiped out in the harvesting process, while many chemicals and large amounts of water are used in the processing of the wood into yarns which end up affecting local ecosystems. Rayon is basically the same as Viscose but is made from plants, rather than wood. Polyurethane, or PU, often used as fake leather, is arguably one of the worst for the environment. In the article, ‘The Leather Debate: Is Vegan Leather A Sustainable Alternative To The Real Thing?,’ Ellie Pithers states,
“Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride must undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather….involves painting liquified polyurethane onto a fabric backing, which requires a toxic solvent to render it fluid… Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain (as well as lots of other horrible things). And both take hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfill.”
…Do you still want to buy that fake leather jacket? When shopping, look for recycled cotton, recycled polyester and polyester made from recycled water bottles, and so on. If you want a leather type item, but are vegan or an animal lover, there are dozens of kinds of innovative leathers, including cactus leather, popping up every day.
If you’ve made it this far in this post, then I really appreciate your effort and I think you’re a noble land mermaid (where my P&R fans at?). Next week I’m going to get into social and ethical sustainability within the fashion industry, but I hope this post was informative so you can shop smarter in the future.