According to the Oxford dictionary greenwashing is disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. We can’t discuss anything here at Stitch before explaining what greenwashing really means in practice.
Most brands greenwash their customers in a way that they promote the use of natural fibers which actually means that they’re using plant-based textiles which are not necessarily organic or environmentally acceptable in other ways (for example cotton is a natural fiber but it can still be grown from a GMO seed and treated with pesticides before its harvested and treated with hazardous bleach and chemicals for dyeing). But let’s use a more complex example – conscious collections made by high street brands.
Most of the biggest high street fashion brands in the world have special collections that they like to call conscious. H&M has H&M Conscious, Zara has Join Life, Mango has Committed. The problem with these collections is, well, they’re not really ecologically responsible. Mostly they’re either made of organic fibers or from recycled textile waste. Organic fibers are problem number one. Organic cotton or linen fibers are extracted from plants that have been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but according to Cottoned On initiative, textile products don’t have to be certified in order to be described as organic as food does. An organic cotton T-shirt might only contain a small percentage of organic cotton.
According to the non-profit organization Textile Exchange, H&M is the biggest user of organic cotton and right now 59% of all cotton they use is organic (Sustainability report 2017). However, they don’t mention anything about the processing of raw cotton fibers. That is a process that requires a lot of water and energy as well as toxic chemicals for bleaching and dyeing the fibers – a process that is still not transparent for so many companies that use organic cotton.
Our next problem is recycled fibers. Don’t get me wrong, we need to recycle textile fibers in order to maintain the circular economy model. But let’s take polyester for example. It’s one of the worst fabrics you can wear on your skin because polyester is essentially plastic. It’s a fabric made of yarn made of polyethylene terephthalate also known as PET also known as plastic. Polyethylene terephthalate is derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. Yup. You read that right. It might not wrinkle but you’re wearing coal and petroleum on your skin.When you recycle polyester it’s still going to be coal and petroleum, and when you wash it, it’s still going to release microplastics into our oceans. This ecological problem is still not well understood, but according to some studies it “has the potential to poison the food chain, build up in animals’ digestive tracts, reduce the ability of some organisms to absorb energy from foods in the normal way and even to change the behavior of crabs” (Laura Paddison for The Guardian, Sep 2016).
Of course, these issues are here to talk about. There’s no easy way of making a shift towards a fashion industry that is completely sustainable and not harmful for the environment. But it’s important to keep your eyes open and stay aware of the fact that not everything that’s presented in the media or ads as sustainable is in fact sustainable. (Maybe we should find another word for products that are 100% sustainable? Do such products even exist?)
And lastly, there won’t be any greenwashing at Stitch. This is a place where both you and I come to learn about a more sustainable way of life.