As consumers become more aware of the damaging impacts of fast fashion, fashion brands and manufacturers are keen to become more sustainable. But is this commitment to sustainability too good to be true? While sustainability is essential from an environmental perspective, brands also use eco-friendly claims to boost their marketing activities, credit with consumers, and brand USP- ultimately benefiting their bottom line.

This article looks at whether sustainability commitment is legitimate by brands or more realistically, a great marketing hook with consumers.

Brands are investing in sustainability.

There is an increasing commitment to eco-friendly fashion options by brands across the fashion landscape. Boohoo and Missguided have responded to criticism by promising to become more sustainable, and fashion companies such as H&M and Zara have made a commitment to using more sustainable materials, as well as being more transparent on working practices in their supply chains.

Sustainability is a fashion marketer’s dream.

Making fast fashion more sustainable is a complex task. But while sustainability is a significant environmental and corporate responsibility goal for brands, it’s also a great marketing angle. Unfortunately, this can lead to questions surrounding sustainability claims. Vague statements, greenwashing, environmental buzzwords and budget-friendly sustainability promises are great for sales figures and consumer buy-in, but are they having a real sustainability impact?

Real sustainability needs better transparency.

Recently, H&M and Zara have been highlighted as using vague sustainability buzz words to describe and market their collections. Zara has claimed to prioritise using materials in their garments that are recycled or organic, implying sustainability with polyester fibres that isn’t necessarily true. H&M was referred to as being ‘misleading’, claiming that they produce their garments from ‘sustainable’ materials in their marketing, without specifying what these materials were. This highlights how clarity is still lacking for consumers.

These type of claims, while not necessarily false, can lead consumers to think they’re supporting brands that are making more sustainable choices than they are. Great for marketing, but not necessarily genuine sustainable impact.

Organic cotton: demand and transparency

One example of this is organic cotton and its powerful marketing potential.

recent report highlighted that much of the ‘organic cotton’ used in fashion garments might not be organic at all. India is a key producer of organic cotton, and recent findings discovered that much of the recent growth in Indian organic cotton is fake.

Organic cotton isn’t always the most eco-friendly option, although it’s often used as an essential eco-friendly claim by brands to demonstrate commitment to sustainability. Organic, sustainable cotton sounds great in marketing campaigns and materials, but organic claims are often misleading, if not wholly false.

Transparency, ambition and consumer behaviour will drive sustainability.

While many big fast fashion brands are committing to becoming more sustainable, many brands use misleading claims and practices to greenwash their marketing activities. Brands must do more to become genuinely circular and sustainable, including transparency across their entire supply chain. Consumers must also step up when it comes to their awareness of eco-friendly fashion by demanding complete transparency from brands, as well as questioning their own consumption.

To wrap up

The negative impact of fast fashion on the environment means that creating sustainable fashion options is crucial for fashion brands, suppliers, and manufacturers. But this can also lead fashion brands to make ambiguous sustainability claims to boost their marketing efforts and bottom line.

Introducing greater transparency in the supply chain for consumers is key to this, as well as holding fashion brands and manufacturers to the highest ethical standards.

Textile Consult operates worldwide, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.