Can Large Fast Fashion Retailers Truly Be Sustainable?

London Sleeveless Warp Top

Can large Fast Fashion retailers truly be sustainable and produce sustainable fashion or are they just Greenwashing because sustainability is trendy?

What exactly is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the practice of using PR and marketing deceptively to make unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of products, services, technology or company practice to promote the perception that the products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Does a company spend significantly more money or time in promoting “green” than actually on environmentally sound practices?

Sustainability is trendy

Sustainable and environmentally conscious fashion seems to be trendy at the moment but will the large fast fashion retailers actually make big enough changes to be truly sustainable? Are they really concerned about environment, jobs, working conditions and local communities or just interested in increasing their profits every year? If fast fashion retailers keep producing large quantities of fashion in the quick turn fast fashion cycles how can they ever truly be sustainable?

Becoming truly sustainable surely means drastic changes are required in production processes and the quantity of clothing produced. Do we actually believe that most large fast fashion retailers would be happy to drastically change their business models and change the way they make their profit? Putting a clothing recycling bin in shops for people to put their old clothes in doesn’t really cut it if nothing has changed in the production processes. Especially when there has been questions raised as to where the clothes from these recycling bins actually end up in.

How Can You Tell If a Fashion Brand is Greenwashing?

Are they promoting Impressive-sounding initiatives to reduce carbon emissions at head office? It’s a start but not nearly enough. Brands should be addressing their supply chain, production facilities, transport and shipping methods and the environmental impact of source materials as a priority if they want to be truly sustainable.

“Production accounts for a massive 70 percent of the overall carbon footprint of the fashion industry. (Good On You)

Are they promoting minimal, recycled or “recyclable” packaging, as a sign that they are reducing waste? It all helps but this alone is not nearly enough to make up for un-sustainable production processes.

“The biggest sources of waste in fashion are the textile waste at the production stage and the surplus of clothing being produced.  Recently, luxury fashion brand Burberry caused outrage by burning 28 million pounds worth of unsold clothes and perfume, but many have pointed out that it’s a common practice for fashion brands.

Then there are the cheap fast fashion brands that encourage throwaway culture with clothing and can never be truly sustainable. When brands like these talk about reducing waste, without changing their business models, then the greenwashing alarm bells should be ringing.” (Good On You)

Are they outsourcing their waste reduction to you? It’s great to produce ‘timeless’ fashion that is not trend led but the quality needs to match this. If the garments are cheap, mass produced and manufactured from cheap fabrics no amount of timeless design is going to make them last or be any better than trendy fast fashion. They’ll just end up in the bin sooner rather than later.

Are they making a big deal about ‘Energy efficiency’ that in many cases is actually just the law or standard practice – this does not make a company more sustainable.

Are they making big claims and setting impressive sounding targets?

“Brands are more or less free to set targets for their environmental impact that are comfortable to achieve, sound good and may or may not be impactful.

A good way to decipher this is by looking for the fine print.  For example, if the emissions reduction is expressed as a percentage of production volume – yes you used 15% less energy to produce a single t-shirt, but you’re producing ten times as many t-shirts so your overall emissions have gone up!” (Good On You)

Are the workers they are using actually being paid a living wage and treated fairly? Although many countries do have a minimum wage this can be very different to a living wage. Living wage is the minimum amount a worker should earn to feed themselves and their families, to pay for their accommodation, healthcare, transport and education.

“The majority of garment workers in Bangladesh are earning little more than the minimum wage and far below what is considered a living wage. Companies that shout about ensuring the minimum wage is being paid are doing the very least and don’t deserve a pat on the back.” (Good On You)

When large production facilities are located in different countries to the brand itself it is difficult for the brand to control how the workers are treated, even if they wish to do so, and whether the workers health is put at risk. Transparency is essential!

Are they marketing an aspect of sustainability when the company itself is not sustainable? An increasingly common marketing tool with fast fashion labels is to advertise their own “organic” or “sustainable” range. But be aware! Often this is a tiny proportion of their overall production and doesn’t mean that they have all of a sudden changed their business models and become sustainable. They are most likely hoping that by advertising an element in their range that is “organic” or “sustainable” will make you think that the brand as a whole is green and doing their bit for the environment. It’s not really this simple to make fast fashion ethical and sustainable. So don’t believe the hype without further investigation!

“Unless the brand has set clear targets to increase their ethical range to more than 50% of their products, or are working towards making their whole business ethical – it’s greenwashing.” (Good On You)

What can you do as a consumer?

Have you considered looking for small local brands whose ethos is about slow fashion and sustainability? Who want to make fashion locally supporting local jobs, skills and communities and reduce carbon footprint by cutting out shipping from across the globe. Who believe in bringing out only few timeless high-quality collections a year. Brands that care about wages, working conditions and where their materials come from.

This is close to our hearts here at Essential Noir. If you want to know more about our vision scroll down our front page to the Our Vision section. If you want to know more about us check the About Us section on the website. And you can find out more about the Lenzing Modal fabric used in our Fashion Essentials Tops here.

If the demand for constantly cheaper quantity over quality fast fashion continues what is the incentive for fashion industry to change its ways?

You as the consumer can have a massive impact on the way the fashion industry works. If You demand change and stop buying cheap fast fashion the industry surely will have to respond by truly changing their practices and business models. Rather than just signing initiatives to make them look good whilst still producing fashion in exactly the same manner as they always have done.

The environmental impact of fast fashion is too high. We simply cannot just look away anymore.


What is greenwashing? – Definition from – SearchCRM