What, Where and Why: A Guide To Greenwashing In The Fashion Industry


Misleading claims and the fight for supply chain transparency 

As the climate crisis continues, many of us are looking make better decisions about the clothes we choose to buy.

But it is often difficult for customers to make sense of the many labels and claims made about the environmental performance of products.  

Some environmental claims are not reliable and some brands are seeing the sustainability trend as a marketing opportunity, misleading customers and giving a false impression of of their environmental impacts and benefits. This practise is known as greenwashing, and the fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits. 

First use of the term greenwashing 

The term ‘greenwashing’, coined by environmentalist Jay Westervelt way back in 1986, when most consumers received their news from television, radio and print media such as newspapers. The combination of limited public access to information and seemingly unlimited advertising budgets enabled companies to present themselves as caring, trustworthy environmental stewards, even as they were engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices.

And still today, some companies use greenwashing tactics to take advantage of the climate crisis in order to boost sales. 

A recent study commissioned by the EU found that 53% of green claims give vague, misleading or unfounded information, 40% of claims have no supporting evidence, and half of all green labels offer weak or non-existent verification. 

Greenwashing in fashion

In a world where so many businesses brand themselves as ‘green’ at the surface, it can be difficult for the consumer to know who to trust. 

For fashion brands, ‘greenwashing’ is usually related to making questionable sustainability claims in their marketing about better processes and practices in the supply chain or developing sustainable clothing lines. Of course, in many cases, these claims are true and lots of fashion brands are working hard to improve their supply chain practices and make more sustainable clothes. 


So how can you know for sure? 


The answer lies predominantly in transparency. Supply chain transparency is when companies know where and how their goods are produced, based on reliable data, and then communicate that knowledge both to internal and external stakeholders, including customers. While many fashion brands may label themselves with a selection of green keywords (ethical, sustainable, conscious, planet-friendly, etc) a non-transparent supply chain is a tell-tale sign that a brand is more greenwashing than planet-saving.

But there are great benefits for a brand that can show transparency in their supply chain, if what it lays bare is positive. Aside from the ethical and sustainable merits, brand that are open and honest will receive more loyalty from their customers. 

Consumers are more than four times more likely to trust companies that are purpose-driven and are able to clearly communicate the conditions under which their products are made. They’re also more likely to make a first-time purchase from brands they perceive as more sustainable or ethical, with 40% choosing brands that have environmentally sustainable practices and 37% choosing brands that have “ethical practices.”

How to build a transparent supply chain?

It's not easy. Businesses need to develop strong working relationships with their suppliers - and there are so many in the supply chain, especially for a fashion brand.

For a simple cotton shirt, a typical fashion label might work with a cotton farmer, a cotton broker, fabric manufacturers, pattern makers, garment workers, sourcing agents and licensing agents - and that's before you even consider all the people involved in distribution, marketing, and the fullfilment side of the supply chain. But it is possible, and it's a long-term investment for the future. 

Building positive working relationships with sustainable partners, communicating effectively and on a daily basis, tracing the origins of all goods, paying workers fairly and treating them well, and simply making better products - all these things help to build a transparent and more effective supply chain, and one that is likely to attract talent and investors along the way. 


New EU plans to stop greenwashing

Infographic showing EU strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles: Overview of Proposed Policies (Source: Euromonitor)

In a bid to help consumers make better and more informed decisions, the EU  proposed earlier this year, a new law ensuring that environmental claims and labelling are fully credible. It may be a few years before the EU Green Claims Directive becomes mandatory, but businesses are being urged to start taking action now. 


The new directive will set out to establish clear criteria for environmental labels, that these labels are independently verified, and that transparency in general is much more closely governed. 


For the fashion industry, this crackdown means changing the way clothing is produced, sold and disposed of and effectively holding fashion brands and their manufacturers responsible for the waste they generate. It also means new taxes on carbon emissions and imports. These measures would encourage repair, reuse and circular fashion through better design, sourcing and recycling practices.

At Gen Woo, we hope these new initiatives from the EU will be adopted more widely around the world. 

Sustainability At Gen Woo

At Gen Woo, we’re firm believers in being as clear and as transparent as possible. and continually working to make all our processes and our clothes more sustainable. We want to be a part of the solution, working towards a circular fashion industry for a more sustainable future. And we're taking vital steps on this journey right now. 


These steps include continuously working to better the social conditions across our supply chain, sourcing and using as much sustainable fabric as possible, reducing our water/energy wastage at our family-run factory, and committing to make better and more sustainable choices across the board. Stay up to date on our ever-evolving green journey. We’re also always creating more informative and accessible blogs for you to read - find more of them here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on greenwashing, sustainability and everything in between. Follow us on socials to continue the conversation. 

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