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 It has become common practice for fashion brands and companies to present themselves as sustainable to attract customers. Learn more about how this false advertisement is harmful for consumers and how we can spot greenwashing!

Words By Varnika Srivastava



What is it?

The past decade or so has seen a significant rise in consumers making an active choice to live and consume more sustainably.
This has led to brands presenting themselves as more environmentally and socially conscious than they actually are.
This phenomenon, called Greenwashing, has become more and more prevalent with brands spending more time and effort to advertise their products as ‘green’ rather than actually making them ‘green’.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines greenwashing as
 “dissemination of misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”.
Greenwashing is viewed as an unfounded argument to trick people into thinking that the goods of a business are environmentally friendly.
Also referred to as ‘green sheen,’ it is an effort to capitalize on the desire for environmentally sound goods, whether they be more sustainable, cleaner, chemical-free, recyclable, or less destructive to natural resources.
This false narrative often forces consumers to buy products that have a steep price tag, from companies that they wouldn’t necessarily buy from.
Even fast-fashion brands like H&M have attempted to present themselves as sustainable, by routinely releasing products in their H&M conscious line.

Greenwashing brands generally outline how their products are different and more sustainable from their rivals in an attempt to attract consumers. In contrast, the manufacturers of genuinely green goods are precise on their advantageous features and concentrate more on their own products rather than making comparisons with other companies. For example, the Allbirds website states why its sneakers are made of merino cloth, with recycled plastic bottle laces, and insoles containing castor bean oil.


A real example of sustainable brand


A real example of sustainable brand

But how exactly do companies practising greenwashing get away with it? The lack of public mainstream attention on what really goes on behind the scene is one big reason. Many buyers were ignorant of the production chain of apparel before documentaries like The True Cost. Though created anywhere else, clothing labels might say ‘Made in Spain’ while only getting the tag sewn on in Spain. Many choose natural fabrics, calling it a more ‘environmental’ alternative, but less recognized is the fact that it requires 2700 litres to produce one cotton shirt. In brief, to continue regurgitating misleading facts, brands will take advantage of the lack of enforcement and public education.

The “Ethical” Marketing

 As AlJazeera states “Many fashion industry labels employ “green” and “ethical” marketing to target ‘conscious’ consumers: H&M’s Conscious collection, made of organic cotton and recycled polyester; Puma’s biodegradable InCycle Collection; Adidas’ Design for Environment gear; Uniqlo’s All-Product Recycling Initiative; Zara’s eco-efficient stores; and the Gap’s P.A.C.E. program, to benefit the lives of female garment workers”. Additionally, the lack of a clear measurable description of what ‘sustainability’ is makes it difficult for law enforcement to promote accountability in these brands. Words such as ‘ethical’ or ‘eco-friendly’ have no legitimate sense because the legislation does not keep businesses liable for their acts (or lack of them). The lack of scientific evidence and government-sponsored studies on the effects of fashion is partially due to this nuance around sustainability. 

How to avoid the trap 

The obvious next question is how do we avoid falling into the trap of greenwashing? One of the biggest steps that we can take is to recognise when greenwashing happens. Let’s take the example of H&M. H&M shared fresh sustainability statements with WWD earlier this year, including a promise to use only recycled or organic products by 2030. H&M also came first in Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020. Do these two facts not make it sound like a brand that is actually sustainable? But many see these examples as the brand just ticking boxes rather than doing business in a holistic way. In truth, what makes a brand truly/genuinely sustainable is not just that it is environmentally conscious, but also that it is socially conscious, manages its waste and does not abuse human rights.

“Real sustainability is a complex discussion that applies not only to the fabrics used or the working environments but also to the scale of production and use,” says Aditi Mayer, an advocate of sustainable fashion and social justice.


The best way to spot greenwashing is to do research. If a brand is saying that it is environmentally conscious, but not releasing any facts and figures, chances are that it is greenwashing. Moreover, consumers need to understand that the transition from fast fashion to conscious fashion is not always easy or cheap. Many environmentally and socially sound products are much more costly than their alternatives from fast-fashion brands.

Dig a
little deeper

Consumers need to realise that every time they choose to buy from a sustainable brand, they are also promoting ethics, fair wages and small businesses.
Fashion brands that are genuinely organic are more likely to state facts about their manufacturers, manufacturing plants, products used and the effect of their choices. The first step toward integrity is always honesty and transparency.
Most notably, consumers need to keep in mind that there are also persons involved who go unheard because of how complicated the apparel supply chain is.

It is important to dig a little deeper, including where the cotton of a company is harvested or reclaimed from polyester, where it is coloured and manufactured, and where small items such as buttons or zippers are sourced.

Curated Lists
by Staiy 

In their greenwashing attempts, brands have become skilled and subtle, making it difficult and even impossible for us as conscientious customers to determine if these firms are actually walking the walk.
We can be easily confused by the concepts, suggestions, and tips that the internet throws at us while attempting to figure out what sustainability entails.
It is not easy to do extensive research every time one wants to buy a sweater or a gift for a loved one.

We here at Staiy want to bridge this gap. For every brand that gets featured on our website, we do extensive research on how the brand sources its raw materials, carbon emissions, wages etc. Through these parameters, we quantify and evaluate whether it will get featured on our website or not. Moreover, we also bring to you Curated Lists to ensure that you have a range to choose from, whether you are just looking for the latest fashion trends, or simply picking a Valentines’ gift.