Most brands are quick to advertise their sustainability credentials. However, as a consumer, how can you tell if a company is truly sustainable? And why does it matter?
Sustainability is about how companies embed environmental and social concerns throughout their operations. For fashion brands, this is related to how and where they source their materials, how they market their clothing and accessories, as well as efforts they make to enable recycling. It is about the partnership they form and whether those businesses put sustainably at the heart of their operations. Importantly, sustainability goes beyond mere materials – it relates to how companies treat and pay their staff, and the way they collaborate with their local communities.
Consumers – notably Gen Z – are more environmentally aware than ever. In the US, Gen Z is the generation most worried about climate change (38% of the population). They are also the most concerned about negatively affecting the world’s future (32%). These beliefs translate into how they shop.
It’s not easy being green
It is no surprise, then, that thousands of brands claim to be sustainable. But that does not mean they always are. Greenwashing – i.e., misleading customers about your environmental credentials – is a huge problem.
Take internet clothing manufacturer Shein. Its sales were booming during Covid lockdowns. However, it soon came under fire after negative reports emerged about employee working conditions and the company’s use of harmful toxic chemicals. The backlash was huge. The company has since agreed to overhaul its operations. This was not unique to Shein, other High Street brands were found to be guilty of similar procedures.
However, we do not all have time to find out if a company is truly sustainable or if it is simply good at Greenwashing. To help you find out, we have put together ways you could research this.
Friends with benefits
As you will know, your friendship circle is always a reliable source of firsthand information. They will often share their own experiences when it comes to brands, the clothes they own and any horror stories they might have. On the plus side, they will also happily tell you about positive experiences, including when it comes to the sustainability or environmental credentials of the clothes they own.
The first clue to look out for is supply-chain transparency. We recommend you check the company’s website to see where it sources its materials. A business that does not list its suppliers might have something to hide. On the flipside, you can have more confidence in a company that details where and how it sources its materials. This includes third parties with which it is happy to be associated.
On that theme, there are numerous third-party sustainable fashion certificates that confirm a brand meets specific standards from an environmental or ethical point of view. These include Better Cotton Initiative, Bcorp and Fairtrade International. So, check if a brand carries any reputable certificates. If it is not, ask why not?
A positive influence
Most fashion firms use social media platforms, and influencer marketing to promote their brands. The first thing to ask, then, is what kind of influencer is talking about the company? Is it someone with a strong record on sustainability or environmental issues? Is it content that has been paid to be advertised? (Paid for content will have the hashtag #Ad in the caption). More widely, which celebrities are associated with the brand? Has there been any public backlash recently? Influencer marketing is designed to encourage consumer interaction and feedback – and a blog’s comments section usually has lots of feedback. When browsing various brands, see what everyone else is saying. The internet is never shy about pointing out another’s failings. Brands that are misbehaving are usually called out quickly.
Crunch the numbers
With so many of us out there checking facts, there are many sites that list the data behind the dollars and consumer behaviour, and it is easy to find figures that relate to authentic sustainability. Decide how deep you want to dive into number crunching, as you will still need to check the credentials of a source. (Did we mention the internet was a minefield of misinformation?).
Are they the full package?
A company’s commitment to sustainability does not stop once the item is made – it includes how it’s packaged, delivered, and returned. Again, look to see how transparent the company is on its website. Does it talk about the environmental impact of its packaging? Does it offset its carbon footprint or set lower emission targets? Does the final delivery come with surplus cardboard and paper? Things like this will give you indications of the sustainability of the rest of its operations.
Your role in sustainability
We all have a role to play when it comes to saving our planet. That includes how we eat, travel, shop and more. When it comes to fashion brands, we must ask ourselves how important we view sustainability. We must be realistic: not everyone has the budget or time to live a truly sustainable life. But there are simple things we can all do. For example, we can use sites such as Depop, eBay or Vinted to buy and sell used clothing. Or we can move from ‘fast’ fashion brands to those that advocate a slower approach to fashion. Importantly, we can vote with our hard-earned cash – and hold companies to account when they harm the environment, mistreat their staff and more.
We hope our handy tips will help you shop more sustainably in the future. Good market research is at the heart of a worthy cause, by its very design, it sets out to discover what the customer needs and then works to deliver.
Use your voice at Angelfish Opinions, by joining our community of people taking part in vital market research.
We are currently recruiting people with an interest in the fashion industry, and ways in which brands can better their efforts. We are especially keen to speak to anyone with intrigue in the sustainability ethics of brands. You will be part of a community supplying essential feedback on current trends and sustainability issues.