What Should We Expect From Sustainable Brands?

What Should We Expect From Sustainable Brands?

As ideas around sustainable fashion have started to become more mainstream, many companies want to join the trend, without doing the work. A purchase from a sustainable brand is different from that from a regular brand: it is an agreement for the brand you are supporting to support certain values. When consumers find out that they have been lied to about what those values are, they feel a deeper sense of betrayal than they would from shopping with a brand that does not claim to be sustainable. When brands do this and claim to be sustainable when they are actually not it is called greenwashing, according to the UN, Greenwashing “promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action” (UN.org). When we give our money and support to sustainable brands, we are owed transparency in return, and an approach that does as much good as possible by helping both people and the planet. 

Transparency is extremely important in the sustainability field, because there is no official definition of what a sustainable brand is, so we as consumers are owed an explanation on what makes these brands that claim to be sustainable actually sustainable. Transparency means seeing what the brand is doing in the world, and what is going into the clothes they are making. Many mainstream brands refuse to address where their clothing is manufactured, making transparency something that can set sustainable brands apart. When clothing is made, the supply chain can be complex and hard to understand, but disclosure of who is making the clothing, how they are being supported, and what the production is doing to the local and global environment is essential. 

A holistic approach to sustainability is also essential. Many companies have been advertising themselves as ethical and green brands because they use a small percentage of recycled or organic materials with no mention of their other environmental impacts, or whether their workers are treated ethically or not. This ignores the overwhelming exploitation of women and girls committed across the fashion industry, even by brands that are environmentally conscious. Over the weekend, I found myself in a Forever 21 for the first time in a few years, and found it incredibly absurd that they are now trying to advertise themselves as a “green” brand, when their cheap, throwaway clothing contributes to pollution worldwide. They had a tag (Pictured left) that bragged that they used organically grown cotton, while the shirt was on sale for only $5. No truly ethical brand would be selling a shirt for $5, and these tags together perfectly illustrate the way that fast fashion companies will try weak and half-baked approaches in order to trick consumers. Because this has become such a popular approach, we should expect a focus on both workers and the planet from brands that want to be considered truly sustainable: one or the other is no longer enough in today’s climate.

 The majority of consumers care about sustainability, the planet, and ethical treatment of people, and this means that sustainable brands are getting more and more popular. While we are willing to pay more for the peace of mind that our clothes are not harming anyone, that should come with transparency about what we are paying extra for, and a focus on both people and the planet. While many mainstream brands are trying to take advantage of our care, we can stay vigilant and uphold these expectations to determine which brands really have the best intentions.

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