It's not that easy being green

Buzzwords are a concept that are most likely familiar to most people. Advertisements and marketing are saturated in them, with promises of “long lasting” and “new and improved formulas”, that may or may not fall flat. Even your flamboyant friend uses them when describing the hipster coffee shop that uses ‘aromatic spices from the rainforest’ to ‘soothe and replenish’ your chakra. However, as the once dull chatter surrounding topics of sustainability and environmental change has started turning into a dull roar, new phrases have been adopted by retailers to attract this type of customer. Fashion, being the trend hungry industry that it is, has been no exception to this surge in awareness, with ‘sustainability’ and ‘eco friendly’ forming like a tidal wave that douses all that lays in its path in a brilliant wash of green.

  

     

Unfortunately, while this green wave may look enticing, it
is not always from a place of sincerity. The term
‘greenwashing’ was coined by an environmentalist in the 1980s, relating to misleading media produced by companies to appear more ethically and environmentally aware. Even all these years later, this scheme of profiting off ethical movements is still being conducted today. Not only that, but it is being utilised as a medium to better a brand’s overall image.

   

It is not a shock that fast fashion is one of the most popular retail experiences for consumers today, with revenue just in Australia expected to rise to 2.1 billion dollars. Obviously, affordable products in a mass produced cycle doesn’t scream ‘sustainable’, leading companies to use their resources to influence consumers to believe otherwise. H&M is a prime example of modern day greenwashing, as the retail giant has had its fair share of controversy. Skilfully detracting attention from the still recent accusations such as destroying 4.3 billion dollars’ worth of unworn clothing, H&M launched its range dubbed the Conscious Collection last year. The range boasts organic materials such as Piñatex, Bloom Foam and even fibres made from citrus peels. With a promotional video of young women clad in flowing frocks, frolicking through forests in a fairy like fantasy, it is clear the message of nature is trying to be conveyed, but underneath the initial sparkle of its waters lies murky depths. 

 

Destroying 4.3 billion dollars’ worth of unworn clothing, H&M launched its range dubbed the Conscious Collection last year. But underneath the initial sparkle of its waters lies murky depths. 

       

The Collection was not met with glowing cheers from all onlookers, even garnering interest from the Norwegian Consumer Authority who claim the campaign features illegal marketing, as it does not adequately describe how
its garments are more sustainable than others produced by the brand. Good on You described the promotion as merely making a good start when it comes to sustainability, with major gaps being outlined in the company’s environmental focus as a whole. H&M practices a damaging business
model that relies around constant rotations of ranges and styles to stay on trend, coupled with the ideology that the clothes are disposable. 

  

An even darker secret seems to be veiled by smiling models in and floral prints, as out of H&M’s traceable production facilities, only between 1% and 25% of these establishments pay their workers a living wage. Clothing is being wasted, products are unsustainably mass produced, and workers are underpaid, I’m sure the green is now starting to look more like an unappealing muddy brown.

   

But why resort to lies and illegal marketing in an attempt
to dupe the public into believing your moral compass only points north? It seems like a ripple effect is started as sustainable alternatives emerge across most markets, causing both consumers and brands to follow suit. I remember hearing a few disgruntled shoppers when supermarkets began eliminating plastic bags, but a short while after this pebble had been dropped into our pond of single use plastic, I now struggle to find them in any grocery store. However, it seems the fashion industry has been slower at allowing pebbles to disturb its waters. Companies are giving consumers a taste of the environmentally conscious lifestyle they may be craving, without fully committing themselves. 

 

      

Leaders of a sustainable fashion future aren’t going unheard, with individuals such as Stella McCartney taking massive steps to create closed circle production. McCartney does her best to cover all bases, from using ethical suppliers to being completely transparent with the selection of her fabrics. Even viscose has been sourced from managed and certified forests in Sweden, so as to discourage the practice of deforestation for the sake of fabrics. Her compass points in one direction, and that’s towards a brighter and cleaner future.

    

But the needle of fast fashion giants tends to be magnetised to profit, and its subsequent correlation with public image. While H&M has registered a tiny ripple with its Conscious collection, this only makes up a small portion of the broad range of garments they sell.

    

There’s only so much online responses and promotional videos can show us, so I took to the streets with Veronika and we ventured into the dragon’s den, H&M on Bourke street. For those that aren’t aware, the Melbourne H&M is located in the heritage GPO building, providing a multilevel shopping experience as big as the brand’s New York Fifth Avenue store. Its size alone is impressive, if not at least a little overwhelming, so for that reason we challenged ourselves to try and locate the infamous Conscious Collection. With a timer started, I moved quickly to the main floor, scouring mannequins and racks for any sign of this so called sustainable range. After five minutes of speed shopping and still coming up empty, we inquired with two retail assistants who politely directed us to the sale section, explaining that the Conscious Collection wasn’t out anymore. This came as a surprise, showing that the collection wasn’t even a permanent range, simply a capsule.

  

We did eventually find four pieces, even though the assistants hadn’t realised there were any left. But it was a short lived victory, as I read the green tag that swung from a pair of denim overalls, that simply stated it was made with 20% recycled cotton. What made up the other 80%?
If that’s how little H&M needs to deem a product more environmentally sustainable than the rest of their garments, I hate to think what materials and waste is being created through their typical production.

    

H&M aren’t the only ones trying to ride the sustainable wave without putting in one hundred percent of the work, even if McCartney has shown this is achievable. Zara can easily be named one of the largest fast fashion brands alongside H&M, and they are no stranger to using ‘initiatives’ to brighten up their image too. Their parent company, Inditex, has developed a “Master Action Plan” to aid in reducing the waste of water, and yet has not given any evidence of targets that will do this. Not to mention, with the mission of bringing new styles in store every thirteen days, it’s evident that this rate of production is too high to be considered stable. We can’t forget online stores like Fashion Nova, the brand that causes internet sensations through Kardashian and Jenner endorsements, and really kick fast fashion up another gear to what has been dubbed ‘ultra fast’. Their website may claim to have programs based on funding charities, but that’s where it ends. The programs have not been backed up with any examples of charities being aided, or even an amount of what has been donated so far.

 

It is easy to make a difference if you know what you’re looking for, to make sure the clothes you wear aren’t just good for your body, but also the world you live in.  

 

Before you close your purse thinking you may never be able to trust a company ever again, don’t fret, because there are plenty of options out there that deserve your business. Starting local, Arnsdorf is a label that prides itself on transparency, and has gone so far as to have their own factory in Melbourne. Keeping everything in-house allows Arnsdorf to know exactly where and how everything has been made before it is sent out to customers. There must be something in the air in Melbourne, as its fashion production doesn’t end there. A.BCH is a self-proclaimed circular fashion label, manufacturing in Melbourne with sustainable materials such as recycled polyester, organic cotton and linen, and Tencel. Not only that, but it provides products that are completely vegan, to promote animal welfare and support the cruelty free lifestyle. Turning to a something a little more mainstream, even Nike has been putting considerable effort into transforming their outlook on sustainable and ethical practices. A much needed change, as some of you may recall the slew of controversies the brand faced regarding child labour and abysmal working conditions in sweatshops. Now with an entire ‘Sustainable Business and Innovation’ team to monitor the brands sustainable performance, it seems as though Nike has finally caught on. While there is still a way to go, current actions such as using recycled materials like cotton and polyester, are definitely a start. Experimentation has also led Nike to research plant based dying processes, in an attempt to reduce particles found in wastewaters.

 

  

It is easy to make a difference if you know what you’re looking for, to make sure the clothes you wear aren’t just good for your body, but also the world you live in. Digging deeper into the true intentions of a campaign, that has most likely been perfectly cultivated by a marketing team, can break down the façade and keep you from falling victim to greenwashing schemes. If a company is being transparent about the development, sourcing and content of their products, it is a much clearer sign that the label can be trusted. Question any vague statements made for marketing, and harness that amazing power you have as a consumer, by choosing to use your money for change.

 

Written by Jordyn Kerr

Photography by Karina Tess, Jason Leung, Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

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