By Mica Anderson
It seems that almost every single brand we see, advertising every single product under the sun, is claiming to be 'ethical' and 'sustainable'. It speaks right to a longing so many young people have, but don't dare to speak aloud; to be the most progressive person in your social circle, the most aware of the atrocities committed by our capitalist world order and how not to buy into them. If you're not toting a bamboo toothbrush, buying shampoo bars from Lush, shopping from charity shops only- you're worried you're contributing to the problem.
This isn’t a bad worry to have. We, as a society, are becoming more and more aware of the waste we put out into the world through the garment industry; and of the epidemic of fast fashion. But with this added awareness, and with such a mindset now becoming en vogue, there is an increased demand for ethical and sustainable companies to meet.
Here's where the all-dreaded capitalism comes in; where before we had companies like H&M flogging t-shirts emblazoned with 'FEMINIST', while paying their female sweatshop workers pennies (The Guardian), we now run the risk of creating another unethical cycle.
This is a modern-day dilemma, and for the time being there is no way to accredit companies, officially, on a large scale, as to whether they are doing what they promise. A handful of official bodies are in place to judge some aspects of production in particular- Fair Trade and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) are examples of this. And of course, various articles and studies can attempt to do so - but we live in a world where online shopping only takes the pressing of a few buttons. An ad, on Instagram, for example, for 'ethically made, sweatshop-free masks' may pop up on our feed. Given the current mindset of society, this ticks two boxes - we're protecting ourselves and others from spreading the virus, AND we're doing it in a sustainable way! Who wouldn't want that ego boost? Chances are, your order is already placed before you even think about a Google search to accredit companies. This is both the beauty and the folly with modern living - the genuine companies attempting to put something good back into the world are at our fingertips; but so are copycat operations attempting to monopolise on people's good intentions. This is where the term 'greenwashing' comes from; wherein a company claims to be environmentally friendly when in reality they are anything but.
An article published by Leonela Leon for Beyond Berkeley discusses her own difficulty dealing with the hodgepodge of companies available, and her usage of the 'Good On You' app, created by Ethical Consumers Australia. They judge so-called 'sustainable' companies on a scale of 1 to 5, advising consumers along the way as to whether they should avoid or engage with their products. They take a look at 'People', 'Planet', and 'Animals' to judge how well a company is doing. And it's not just small-name collectives - what does it give the H&M Conscious Collection out of 5? A 3- 'it's a start.' But statistically, how likely is it a common consumer would even think of researching this app, and not just take H&M's availability and affordability, with an added unfounded claim of sustainability, at face value?
Overall, it’s good to know that there are companies out there with the best intentions, and are putting out products with as little harm as possible. Unfortunately, with widespread greenwashing, it's up to the consumer to do the proper research behind the claims of companies. Is this annoying, taxing, something that shouldn't have to be done because companies shouldn't try to actively harm the Earth/animals/other people? Yes, but welcome to modern society! It's a small sacrifice on your part to do a quick Google search; and I know better than anyone that I can slip and be tempted by a good Topshop sale. In my opinion, any effort is a good effort, and hopefully this surge of sustainable companies is a glimpse into our future- where all fashion is gorgeously sustainable - or maybe pigs will fly.
Point is, do your research - don't take every claim as it comes. Shop smart, avoid fast fashion, purchase locally - it's a small start that can really add up.