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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Green is the New Black: Fashion’s Ongoing Greenwashing Farce


Recently social media’s most notorious fashion sleuth Diet Prada called out Italian-based fashion brand Loro Piana for their unethical practices after a recent Bloomberg exposé. The exposé highlighted that the brand used unpaid Peruvian labor in harvesting vicuña fiber for knitwear, which can retail for over USD 12,000. “They get about USD 280 for a sweater’s worth of material,” reads the Instagram post. This is barely enough to pay everyone needed for the harvest. “Hired outside laborers get about USD 20, but locals are expected to work for free, corralling 50 kg of wild animals over far stretches of land before essentially tackling them to avoid injuries during the shearing process.” Loro Piana’s greenwashing becomes apparent as the brand has set up the practice under the pretense of helping the local indigenous Peruvian Andes community but it is essentially making them work for free.

This is in contradiction to what is currently on Loro Piana’s website which as of writing, states in part “…in 1994, Loro Piana, head of a consortium, signed an agreement with the Peruvian government and the Andean communities, granting the exclusive rights to purchase, process and distribute the fiber obtained only from vicuñas sheared whilst alive according to CITES regulations along the whole supply chain.” The statement goes on to say that Loro Piana’s commitment was renewed in 2008, with the creation of the first private nature reserve in Peru, named after Franco Loro Piana. Bloomberg exposé speaks to a broader issue of how garment workers are underpaid if they are paid at all for their labour.

Then there is the double standard of Botter’s autumn/winter ’24 Dark Waters collection. The collection was in collaboration with Reebok and saw a dark post-apocalyptic style hoodie with the “Shell” logo, underneath which read “HELL”. One could argue this was Botter and Reebok’s way of critiquing large oil companies and their environmental impact. However, Reebok’s usage of polyester, spandex, nylon, and other synthetic materials are in fact, made from oil. Instagram user sustainablefashionfriend noted this stating that Reebok has a weak commitment to phasing out synthetic fibres which is a direct contradiction to what the piece was effectively trying to highlight.

Then there is the hellish landscape of greenwashing in fast fashion. Shein — one of the largest online-only fashion retailers — is notorious for its ultra-unsustainable fast fashion business model that has now morphed into an extreme “ultra-fast fashion” model. According to The Fashion Law, Shein is relying on AI-powered design algorithms. Instead of hiring trend forecasting companies like most fast fashion models, Shein effectively uses the aforementioned AI-powered algorithm to scout for items with the highest views on social media regardless of brand or price to recreate those items at the lowest prices. As the Business of Fashion reported, fast fashion brands are struggling to cope with Shein’s production pace and exceedingly low prices. Inditex (who owns Zara) has been forced to increase its prices to protect profit margins from inflation as part of a “shift towards upmarket customers”.

Fast fashion has gone from copying high fashion designs to their own high-street competitors resulting in a faster rate of production, higher quantity of production, lower quality of products, lower rate of usage from the consumer and ultimately a higher production of waste. According to Greenpeace.org, cheap clothes produced by (ultra) fast fashion brands end up on huge dump sites, burnt on open fires, along riverbeds and washed out into the sea once their short lives are over resulting in severe consequences for people and the planet.

However, the tide seems to be turning for fast fashion as at the end of March 2024, various British retailers including ASOS, Boohoo and Asda underwent a greenwashing clampdown by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which is the principal competition regulator in the United Kingdom, tasked in part to prevent and reduce anti-competitive activities. CMA also prevents high-street brands from misrepresenting their sustainable claims which includes specific criteria for a range to be deemed a “green range”, and the prevention of using green imagery to represent a brand as greener than it actually is. Plus if users looked up “recycled” products in the brand’s search, only items made from predominantly recycled material can be included.

As consumers, greenwashing makes it increasingly harder to make educated choices in our sartorial purchases. That being said, changing consumer behaviour is an easy fix — education, transparency, ethical practices and holding brands accountable is but a few steps toward a sustainable future.

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