Hot topics within the fashion world at the moment are ‘sustainability’, ‘ethical’, ‘ organic’. Many of the top brands and fashion houses are scrambling around to stay ahead of the customer with a brand message that reflects the wind of change and is seen to provide ‘brand alignment’ to the more discerning shoppers.

What does this all mean?

For starters, there is not a single legal definition for their marketing friendly terminology, such as “green”, “sustainable” or even “environmentally friendly”. These are words that can mean different things to different people so everyone has a different interpretation of what that company stands for.

Larger fast brands and fashion houses are jumping on the ‘ethical’ bandwagon and it all seems like we are moving in a caring, planet friendly direction. So what do we do? We just keep on buying because we are comforted that their “sustainable” range has materials that have been considered for their impact. But is that the case?

A Fast Fashion Brand 100% cotton shirt takes, on average, 20 000 litres of water to produce. Is this sustainable? That is 250 full baths of water!

The average adult in the UK should drink 1.2 litres of water a day. 

It would take 45 years to drink that amount of water!!

We are told there is a water crisis looming. Is this shirt sustainable?

Fast Fashion brands with “Conscious” clothing ranges, fronted by popular celebrities, are no more “sustainable” than their other offerings but at an inflated price. 

Established Luxury Brands are no better. Launching new initiatives with commitments to a circular economy, based on recycled materials, minimising use of new raw materials is all very admirable and sounds great to a customer in terms of brand alignment, but is it simply another vanity project?

The focus from both high and low end fashion brand is on the material choice, but they all cleverly avoid discussing the human cost.

If you state “Made in Italy” there is a presumption of good working conditions, fair pay and you believe this is part of the reason the sale price is so high. The lustre is certainly tainted when this same fashion brand has a Chinese run factory (in Italy), paying substandard wages in substandard conditions to its Chinese migrant workers. A fire in 2013 killed 7 of these Chinese workers, but the brand can still say “Made in Italy”.

How does this fit with an ethical business model?

These words are meaningless and the greenwashing that all high and low end fashion brands continually carry out is for one thing only – to get you, the customer, to continue to spend money on items you don’t need by stroking your ego, letting you think you are helping the planet.

Sustainability for them is nothing more than a marketing tool for a competitive edge. Until there is transparency on how these businesses treat their workers, their third-party suppliers (as important), where they source their materials and open up on all aspects of their circular model they are simply waving organic cotton flags at you, hoping you stay distracted.

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