“Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them” - Marc Jacobs
Christabel Allen - Account Executive
THE 3 T’S: TRACEABILITY, TRANSPARENCY AND TARGETS
When was the last time you bought something new to wear? Personally, I have always wanted to look individual, which is something that shopping at the ‘fast fashion chains’ doesn’t allow. You look right and left, and see people all wearing the same thing - an army of Boohoo robots who will dispose of their garments after just a few wears or shares on Instagram. These end up
churned into landfills or shipped overseas - such as the 'clothes graveyard' in Chile’s Atacama desert - sometimes masquerading as charitable donations because we now live in the unfortunate age of Greenwashing - defined as activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is .(Cambridge Dictionary)
Back in 2019, the Curious PR team reached out to the world’s media to highlight just how many UK online retail purchases ended up in landfill sites or incinerators if they are returned to the retailer by the customer: A staggering 50% of garments! Why does this happen? Because of the logistical and financial challenges of sending those returned goods back to inventory.
Fortunately, the media listened and told this story far and wide, whilst pointing to one potential solution, namely, Globechain - an online platform which provides ESG data (environmental, social and governance) in return for listing goods which others can pick up - for free. (Formerly a client.)
There have been years of consistent overpromises and underachievements when it comes to sustainability targets within the fashion industry, with most giant corporations failing to fulfil their pledges - pledges which many believe are out of date and achievable. Will it be possible to fulfil the UN's Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action which aims to “Drive the fashion industry to net-zero Greenhouse Gas emissions no later than 2050 in line with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees” - ? We will see...
With additional regulations emerging to stamp out greenwashing, more brands are using specific certificates based on ESG parameters, including the Higg Index, Arzoo, Bigcommerce, Volusion and Assembly. The popular Higg Index has been accused of
being unhelpful due to being a ‘cradle to gate’ tool rather than a ‘cradle to grave’ indicator, and for using aggregated LCA (life cycle analysis) data which can hide complexities in unhelpful ways.
A lack of focus on the transparency or traceability of the entire life cycle does not give increasingly- sophisticated consumers the regenerative information they are now demanding, thus breeding lack of trust in supposedly reassuring certification standards.
CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS + GREENWASHING GIANTS
Certainly, consumers are becoming more aware of what greenwashing is, and have started to search for it. In January 2021, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network found that as many as 40% of environmental claims could actually be misleading consumers. The high levels of ‘cherry picking’ of information included in fashion campaigns has, arguably, been outrageous. Over the last 3-5 years, several major corporations have attempted to pull the cloth over our eyes with clever advertising and marketing techniques that tap into our emotions via large-scale fashion campaigns which have become more and more calculated.
To Curious PR, as experts in sustainability communications, we always worry that ‘the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater:’ consumers will give up caring because it’s just too complicated to fathom, and they will turn back to their previous buying habits and disregard sustainability altogether. Interestingly, the same thing happens when healthcare messages are deemed too confusing - or too much work to enact. Witness the confusion over food nutrition labelling, and the failure to come up with an effective traffic light system to guide what to place in the shopping trolley.
Unfortunately, we see greenwashing occur on a daily basis. Recently highlighted was a faux-pas on the part of high street giant, H&M, which Fashion United reported thus:
"An investigation led by Quartz, a global news resource for purpose-driven professionals, says H&M’s environmental scores are “misleading” and “outright deceptive.”
H&M’s ethical ‘Conscious Collection’ was slated for using ‘more synthetics than in its main collection, with 1 in 5 items analysed found to be made
from 100% fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials,’ and was misleading, according
to (The Guardian). (Similar stories have appeared in Vogue Business and Fashion United.)
The same 'red thread' ran through a piece by Euronews which reported on the latest fashion greenwashing scandal of 2022. Zara claimed to be making clothes ‘out of carbon emissions,’ which many would deem as being disingenuous. This is not to say that the work of collaborator and carbon recycler, LanzaTech, is not noteworthy. However in the words of Euronews, brands are responsible for -
“Perpetuating a culture that encourages people to consume as much clothing as possible, allowing them to continue producing tonnes of clothing every day which likely will end up in a landfill with an extremely short lifecycle.”
LOVE ISLAND LOVES 'PRE-OWNED'?
With the cheesy and rather sleazy Love Island back on UK TV screens, it has come as a breath of fresh air to wave goodbye to fast fashion mogul, I Saw It First (owned by Boohoo), which sells some clothes for as little as £2.50. The brand had been official sponsor for the show- one of the most popular reality TV series of all time, with 2.4 million people streaming it on ITV2.
This year, Love Island is partnering with eBay. Bravo! we say, it’s high time those sun-creamed socialites started to ride the pre-loved clothing wave! eBay’s Head of Fashion Buying, Jemma Tadd, believes Love Island, “Has the power to change consumers’ perceptions around secondhand clothes, and also change their spending habits in relation to fast fashion,” as reported in (GQ). Speaking to The Guardian, she added, “ It’s a really exciting opportunity for us to change the conversation around fashion. I really hope that is going to lead to meaningful change in the industry.” We all love some occasional ‘cheap and cheerful’ shopping, but if the superficial sphere of Love Island can make the change, then so can all of us!
GARMENT GRABBING AND CREATIVE APPROPRIATION
Yet, it’s not just the planet that’s being ripped off. Fast fashion brands are also known for appropriating creative ideas. Sadly, existing copyright laws within fashion do not give enough support or security to small scale, indie designers and creators, leaving them exposed because legal action is hard - or impossible - to pursue. Julie Zerbo, the lawyer and journalist behind ‘The Fashion Law Blog’ says,
"The reality is, in most cases, it's perfectly legal to knock off a dress design."
However, the tide may be turning somewhat on brands that attempt such ‘daylight robbery’. On TikTok, the "boycottShein" hashtag has been viewed upward of 3 million times, as reported in NPR. Likewise, the media is giving the smaller brands moral support. Being small and independent allows for agility and, probably, better traceability and thus sustainability, which is something that celebrities and influencers are tapping into to boost their own green credentials and reputations.
INVESTING IN THE CREAM OF THE CROP: A FLIGHT TO 'QUALITY' OVER QUANTITY?
It has become the norm to see Generation Z addicted to the constant scroll of
shopping on apps such as Shein - the most installed shopping app in America, ruling even over Amazon (TechCrunch). Yet whilst scrolling spans may be shortening, appetite for fashion that endures is growing. Add in the current cost of living crisis, and consumers want to invest in ‘quality rather than quantity’ - a move
away from fast fashion. This is being witnessed via a surge of second hand shops, clothing swap platforms, upcycling and repair companies by enlightened shoppers. Yes, even charity shopping has become a competitive, ‘jostling for pole position’ sport!
There are a fair few ‘good eggs’ who are championing the circular/
sustainable fashion movement. My former classmate, Josephine Philips, founded the app, Sojo, dubbed, ‘the Deliveroo of clothing repairs’: an app allowing users to have garments altered or repaired via a team of seamsters and bicycle couriers across London. She reflects in an interview with Vogue Business,
“Repair is a key part of circularity that was almost totally untapped.”
Ganni is a brand that has partnered with Sojo, offering their sustainable services as a brand that prides itself on transparency, without making outrageous sustainability claims. The Danish brand’s founder, Nicolaj Reffstrup, says,
“There is no straight line to being sustainable in fashion … It’s about holding ourselves accountable”.
In the words of its Sustainability and CSR Director, Lauren Bartley, via Drapers, Ganni publishes an annual responsibility report to show that sustainability is a “moral obligation, rather than something that has been put on us by investors or our customers. We want to leave the fashion industry better than we found it, and show that Ganni can be a vehicle for positive change.”
BEING BRAVE, VULNERABLE & HONEST
Brands with a transparent supply chain are offering the consumer an informative approach to fashion, the inference being that, ‘We can’t be perfect, so accept our faults, and illustrate how to improve on them!’
Furthermore, as PR experts, we know that 'doom and gloom' messages don’t work on their own. Advertising, PR and marketing teams should be wary of disengaging the buyer through overt negativity. Evidence shows that ‘hopeful/positive’ consumer engagement creates a willingness to share, whilst negative ones do the opposite, as reported in Forbes. Fashion designer, Stella McCartney, is well known for condemning her industry as,
“incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment,” but there are more positive voices on the block. So we leave you with these brilliantly chosen words of one of our fashion heroes, the British designer Vivienne Westwood, as reported in The Guardian Live.
“Buy less, choose well, make it last...”