‘Greenwashing abounds’ and fast fashion is the biggest culprit – Sourcing Journal | Fashion

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H&M, Boohoo, Asos and George at Asda might be the first brands to come under fire for their green claims, but they likely won’t be the last.

“Greenwashing abounds” in the fashion sector, according to a recent report from StyleSage, which points to research showing that many brands regularly misrepresent their environmental impact.

The market intelligence platform found significant growth in products labeled with sustainability claims when it analyzed information on more than 300,000 items from 50 US retailers and descriptions.

Every country saw increases of at least 250 percent since the beginning of 2020, with terms like “recycled,” “organic” and “sustainable” used more frequently to describe clothing. “Vegan”, “sustainable” and “recycled” were most often used to describe footwear.

StyleSage said that there is little real science to back up these claims. It found a 298% increase in inaccurate claims, compared to a much smaller 69% increase in the use of certifications and audits from organizations such as Oeko-Tex, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), USDA Organic, B Corp, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Trade International or Forest Stewardship Council.

“Looking at generic sustainable keywords used in product descriptions versus those using sustainable certifications, we saw that the number of items using generic terms currently exceeds certified sustainable clothing by more than six times,” she wrote. The United States leads in adoption of sustainable certifications, but vaguely labeled items still outpace that progress.

According to StyleSage’s analysis, low-price retailers and fast-fashion brands engage in greenwashing fads more often than more expensive brands. Zara appeared to characterize 99 percent of its merchandise as sustainable, using terms like “environmental,” “responsible,” “recycled,” “conscious,” and “upcycled.” The Spanish brand Mango used these terms to characterize 57 percent of its assortment. “With large percentages of labeled ‘sustainable’ items in your mix, it doesn’t fit the consumer business model,” said StyleSage. Meanwhile, online marketplaces Shopbop and Net-a-Porter described just 2 percent and 12 percent of products using such keywords, respectively.

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Many retailers are simply not specific enough about the composition of the product. About 10 percent of the retailers surveyed used “recycled materials” or “recycled fibers” to describe product inputs, “a somewhat vague reference and difficult to verify,” StyleSage said.

However, StyleSage’s research showed a high adoption of recycled polyester. In Germany and the UK, more than 60% of retailers described some products as being made from cotton, compared to 53% in the US. Between 12% and 14% of all retailers surveyed also use cotton recycled in their assortments, according to product descriptions.

Complete sales of sustainable-labeled products are similar to rates seen on regular items, despite higher prices. StyleSage said this highlights an opportunity for companies producing sustainable fashion, which has not reached its market potential.

For example, footwear labeled with green claims represents only 6 percent of the market, but sustainable shoes sold out at a rate of 27 percent, compared to 20 percent for non-green offerings. The rate was even closer for sustainable and non-sustainable denim offerings, at 19 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, sustainable denim makes up just 24 percent of product for sale in the US, UK and Germany. Activewear sold out at a rate of 21 percent, regardless of its sustainability label, with only 27 percent of products designated as eco-friendly.