Morality and fashion don’t always go hand in hand. While fashion brands, like any business, must consider consumer needs, production processes, and turning a profit, sometimes corners get cut, and consumers are misled. While consumer demands are altering and shifting towards being ethical and sustainable, brands often lie or exaggerate through their marketing. These changes in expectations, along with the speed brands need to maintain, results in an abundance of greenwashing. With the raging speed at which the fashion industry functions at, and changing target markets, many brands find themselves greenwashing. Fashionable items continue to be available to people of all classes for a range of different prices, therefore fast fashion has reached its pinnacle.
While some may say that fast fashion has helped to democratize fashion, it comes with a plethora of problems; the consumption of fashion has grown exponentially. The wants and demands of consumers are consistently growing, resulting in a higher level of pressure for fashion retailers, causing a much faster disposal time.
Due to a lack of knowledge surrounding where clothing ends up after it is discarded, consumers have little guilt surrounding endless consumption. The fast fashion business model is to re-create styles and trends as quickly as possible at incredibly low price points. The fast fashion industry offsets low profit per unit through mass production and by cutting corners. The entire industry is built upon low wages, little to no labor laws, and harmful chemicals and waste left in the environment.
As sustainable fashion becomes more popular, fast fashion companies are inventing less expensive ways to protect their tarnished reputations. Companies have introduced greenwashing, a type of marketing that promotes environmentally friendly or sustainable initiatives without integrating them fully throughout their business. Greenwashing is a means of brand image damage control which obtains high profits and consumer attention. As sustainable fashion becomes more prominent within the shopping experience, it becomes increasingly difficult to verify and recognize what is and isn’t sustainable. The consumer has to ask themselves if the brand is actually making a sustainable change, or if they are being manipulated.
Fashion consumers, though interested in sustainable fashion, are paying more attention to fast fashion retailers, attempting to support eco-friendly pieces at a bargain price range. As a result, fast fashion retailers are continuing the greenwashing trend, trying to stay relevant as the fast-paced industry moves. What we can commend the industry on is its speed; as soon as consumer demands switch, there are new ads to spark interest once again. These same retailers, however, only focus on the surface value of these issues, with the intention of making consumers believe they’re doing their part . The overall effects of sustainable marketing means fashion consumers are inclined to purchase eco-friendly fashion, while simultaneously being left in the dark by these companies.
H&M is one of the most well known fast fashion brands that attempts sustainability, and is especially recognized through their popular recycling program. With the goal of collecting approximately 1000 tons of recycled clothes from their consumers during Recycling Week, H&M plans on using only recycled and sustainable products by 2040. In 2017 alone, the company received 17, 771 tons of recycled textiles through this program. In comparison, research shows that with the use of current technology it would take H&M approximately a decade to fully recycle 1000 tons of textiles, their original goal during their first recycling week. The amount of dyes, finishes and overall quantity they produce strains the environment to such a degree that the recycling may have little to no effect. As of 2018, H&M has approximately 4.3 billion dollars worth of unsold clothes. Their mass production rate essentially cancels out their recycling goals.
Though the majority of what fast fashion companies such as H&M market in regards to sustainability is false, greenwashing has improved their consumer market. Results from a survey conducted amongst 343 college students shows that the majority preferred apparel brands when they were marketing environmentally friendly products or showing a sense of eco-friendly involvement. The majority of students surveyed seemed to be more interested in purchasing sustainable fashion and integrating it within their own lifestyle. Consumers, especially millennials, want to be sustainable, they want to make an environmental change, but navigating greenwashing marketing is difficult and it is easy to be misled. Considering the speed at which fashion buyers want to purchase clothes, they’re much more inclined to simply believe the ads they see a bypass the burden of heavily researching these companies.
Entering the conversation through marketing allows frequent fast fashion consumers to learn something about fashion’s negative effect on the environment. There is progress being made in terms of creating a fashionably sustainable future, though it is necessary for fast fashion retailers to follow the necessary steps. These steps will not take place unless consumers research ads that seem too good to be true, spread the word and basically boycott the brands participating. With profits altering, and consumers continuing the conversation, retailers have no choice but to become more transparent in terms of ethics and sustainability. Quick solutions are no longer an option; the earth is dying, and lying about the production of clothes to maintain profits is no longer an acceptable option.