How to Know If a Brand is Sustainable, Greenwashing, or Just Hoping You Won’t Ask

Look, some clothing brands are like your toxic ex. They only pretend to clean up their act when they’re afraid you’ll leave them. That’s what we call greenwashing. The term has been floating around for years but is especially relevant as the idea of sustainability continues to gain popularity in the fashion world. In an article for the Guardian, Bruce Watson defines greenwashing as the name for when businesses “present themselves as caring environmental stewards, even as they [are] engaging in environmentally unsustainable practices.” Figuring out who is telling the truth, who is a good liar, and who isn’t even trying can feel messy, so I am detailing a few different ways to check up on a business’s sustainability practices.

Start on the website. Sometimes it is simpler than you think. If a brand is really transparent, they’re going to have the information easily accessible from their homepage. Being a responsible brand takes a lot of work, so bragging is of upmost priority. Compare, for example, the website’s of  Patagonia and Forever 21. “Inside Patagonia” lives at the top of the screen on Patagonia’s main menu bar, linking you directly to their sustainability practices. In contrast, you won’t find any information on Forever 21’s homepage until you scroll all the way to no-man’s-land at the bottom of the screen, where a “Social Responsibility” tab is found. Sometimes these tabs will have titles like “about” or “ethics statement” instead. If you’ve done all the clicking you can on your favorite brand’s site to no avail, then there is pretty much no chance they are sustainable. They aren’t even trying to pacify you. Although sometimes eagerness is a sign of greenwashing, generally brands that are green are going to be upfront about it.

Know difference between evidence and fluff. Ask yourself if the brand is just stating broad claims or if they are answering the question of how. I’m going to stick with our previous examples. Some companies’ whole idea of sustainability is writing somewhere on their website “We love the earth and care about our workers!” But, like, what does that even mean? How? In what specific ways are they proving that they care? If their CEO just sits in an office somewhere and thinks really, really hard about putting positive vibes into the universe, that’s not good enough. Look for meaningful and tangible evidence at a structural level. Sticking with our past examples, Patagonia’s information spans from how their cotton is produced to where their wool is sourced from to what a living wage means to them. That is evidence.

Fluff can take many shapes and forms. Often the brand’s fluff is some type of once a year event, like employees planting trees or a recycling drop-off, which may sound nice but in reality is irrelevant to what we are interested in– how the company functions on a structural level. The article “Selling and Sustainability Primer for Marketers” published by Futerra is actually meant for businesses to read rather than consumers, but it has an easy to read list of commonly used greenwashing techniques to look out for on page 11. Forever 21 is guilty of many of these, such as “Emphasizing one tiny green attribute when everything else is un-green.” It’s like throwing down a smoke bomb so they can run away. The first bullet on their sustainability page states that their shopping bags are recyclable. Cool beans, F21. I’ve never met a plastic bag that couldn’t be recycled. What’s going on in your factories?

Give that bad boy a google. If you’ve read the sustainability page and are still feeling a little uneasy it’s fine to start broadly with Google. If it is a very large company, you may be able to find lots of articles or reports on it. If it has had any scandals, those will pop up pretty quickly. Use keyword like “ethics,” “sustainability,” or “factories.”

Know the difference in expectation for different business models. We have to have different expectations for different types and sizes of businesses. For instance, for a large brand it is important to look for information on factory emissions and fair wages. In comparison, when researching small businesses or local businesses, you may not need quite as much information to know that they are sustainable. When a business is small, they don’t have the means to be wasteful. If items are handmade and the staff is small, then there is no need to reject them for not having factory information because they don’t even have a factory. Unless they are outsourcing, just by the way that they are structured, smaller businesses are not going to be an issue. By the same logic, a fast fashion company cannot be truly sustainable by definition because they profit off of the concept of cheap, fast, and disposable. If you see a cute sweater in the window and know you can check back next week to find it on the clearance rack, the store is functioning under the fast fashion model.

It may feel daunting to do the research at first, but it gets way easier as you get used to it. As consumers, we decide what practices we are willing to condone with our dollars. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter.

Crayon Box Colors

I write a lot about where to and not to shop, but another side of sustainability deals with how much to shop as well. I’m often tempted to buy gobs of new cozy sweaters at Goodwill the seconds the temperature drops in the slightest. This season I’ve made it a goal to purchase as few pieces as possible while still keeping my look fresh for fall.

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Nothing about this look is tired even though every item except one is from AT LEAST a year ago. Getting the full use out of my items is a big part of creating less clothing waste. I kind of enjoy the creative challenge of restyling my old pieces into new outfits.

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Playing with accessories and layering is one of the best ways to make an old outfit new. I bought this vintage coat from Re-Runs in Kansas City and it is going to make my entire wardrobe feel like new. This coat is a 1960’s piece that probably originally came in a set with a matching dress or skirt. It is unexpected to pair it with some ripped jeans, but I love styling a vintage piece in a modern way. If you’re in a bit of a rut, try searching out one or two pieces that really intrigue you instead of getting a whole new wardrobe.

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These pictures were taken by my favorite creative collaborator, Andrea Schultz. If you want to see more of her photography, check out her new website https://andreaschultz.blog/.

Rainbow Bright

Every once in a while I put on a outfit so perfect that it seems to have the supernatural ability to improve my mood by 200%. This outfit makes me feel like a sunbeam.

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This darling handmade vintage dress is from Jenny’s Thrift in Oklahoma City. It is such a lovely, locally owned vintage store with the kindest owners. Stop in if you are in the area.

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My adorable friend Hope gave me this woven handbag a few years ago. It is just begging to carried around with me all spring. I love woven/wicker purses; they make everything feel like a picnic.

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Pastels are gorgeous, but an entirely pastel outfit can be little flat sometimes. That’s why I love the addition of this vibrant orange velvet ribbon, which I stole shamelessly from my mother’s sewing room.

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Sunnier days are ahead of us, friends. Happy Good Friday.

Tulips in the City

Tulips are my favorite flower. I’ve always dreamed of frolicking through the enormous tulip farms in Holland. When in the middle of Oklahoma City, unexpectedly stumbling upon a planter of the beautiful bulbs does my heart just as well. I’m learning to bask in the glimpses of beauty around me, taking them for what they are without stealing my own wonder with comparison.

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This outfit gives me serious Madeline vibes because of the hat and tie. If you did not grow up watching or reading Madeline, you seriously missed out. She is the tiny, fierce, French little girls’ empowerment icon we all deserve. This outfit has a school girl feel but with a little more adventure.

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This spring I am fully embracing color. I am going to get as close as humanly possible to dressing like a clown while still feeling cute. A lot of people are scared to wear too much color because it is gaudy or attention grabbing, but it makes me feel vibrant and alive. Life is short; play dress-up as your favorite flower.

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My neck tie, previously debuted on this blog as a hair tie, is a vintage piece I bought along with this super unique button down from a thrift store in Springfield, MO. (I just have to brag for a moment that they each only cost me a dollar.) My mother’s impeccable taste strikes again, as she gifted me this sunny yellow beret. The jeans are old news, but the metallic is a lot of fun and makes up for the fact that this outfit is lacking any print. Interesting textures, such as my jeans, and interesting structures, such as this scalloped collar, can add a lot to an outfit that is solely color-blocked.

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My spring break was for friends, coffee, exploration of my city, and packing my heart extra full to last the rest of the semester. Once again, I have my talented friend Andrea to thank for taking these pictures and taking me to coffee shops. (This one is Clarity Coffee in OKC.)

Here is to finding our miniature tulip fields all around us.

Pastel Dream

Happy 2018, friends. Today I am kicking the garbage fire that was 2017 goodbye by bringing you a fresh and bright photo set from my New Years Eve (one of the outfits I wore, at least) taken by my dear friend, Andrea Schultz.

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If you will pardon my bragging on my friend for a minute, I was super blessed to be shot by Andrea this week. Her photography improves this blog post by like 400%. Plus, she was willing to freeze her fingers off to take these. If you want to keep up with her (and you should) you can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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This outfit is a pastel dream. I had a lucky day vintage shopping and found this orange creamsicle colored vintage jacket and this chunky, colorful statement necklace at one of OKC’s best local shops, Bad Granny’s Bazaar. I cannot stress enough how excited I was to find this necklace. I had been picturing a colorful, pastel statement necklace just like this for months and, at this point, no one can convince me that I did not will it into existence with the power of my mind.

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The silver metallic overlay of these jeans add a lot of character to this casual outfit. The idea that an outfit can have style while still being casual was a concept I did not understand for a long time. Recently, I have been having a lot of fun making my casual outfits just as playful and interesting as my more extravagant ones.

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Statement necklaces are an easy way to add some fun to an every day t-shirt, like this one. They are everywhere these days, but I have a hard time finding them in my style. Vintage shops and thrift shops are the perfect places to find more unique styles, so you look a little less like a suburban mom while wearing them (unless that is your thing, then by all means). This one gives me some Iris Apfel vibes, although it obviously does not hold a candle to her queenly style.

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This year was rough for most of us, and there is not a huge chance that 2018 will be without pain or trouble either. But I hope you all still find joy and light within it, find time to make art, and find time to love one another and allow yourself to be loved. I know it does not have much to do with fashion but, like the nerdy English major I am, I want to ring in the new year with a quote of a poem.

In his poem “The Mower,” Philip Larken writes, “We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Happy (or, at least, better) 2018, everyone.

What the H*ck is “Ethical Fashion,” Anyway? (1 of 3)

How “Ethical” are Your Clothing Choices?

This is a relatively new question that many people have never taken time to consider. Ever wonder how it is possible that there are $2 camisoles at Forever 21? Usually we are too excited about the cheap prices to consider that there may be some corners cut along the way to make these prices possible. In short, the question of fashion “ethics” is a question of whether one’s wardrobe choices are positively or negatively affecting the world around them. It is a complex issue, but hold on tight; I’ll try and make this as painless as possible. (Spoiler: finding out some of your favorite stores use slave-labor is going to be painful.)

There are TWO main concerns when it comes to ethical fashion, to put it simply. How does the fashion industry affect humanity and how does it affect the environment? Both of these are concerned with the conditions of the factories where clothes are made. The biggest culprit causing the fashion industry to be detrimental is fast fashion.

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Defining “Fast Fashion”

Fast fashion is the industry that produces the cheap, trendy, low-quality items that you find in most mall stores. This industry profits off of our fast-moving culture. They produce clothing at rapid speeds, we buy, we get bored, and two days later the shelves are restocked and the process begins again. However, to be able to produce clothing so quickly that the average person can afford to keep buying on a weekly basis, companies need insanely cheap labor, which is just as sketchy as it sounds.

Humanity of Fashion

Our clothing is not made in a vacuum. In order for Forever 21 to grace us with their latest $9 pizza-graphic crop top every week, they are basically using slave labor. (Nice try with that “John 3:16” on your bags, F21, we see through you.) If the prices in your favorite store seem too good to be true, they probably are. It is easy to ignore this happening, as it is quite literally out of sight out of mind.

Most businesses place their factories in other countries, where there is a great need for work, making it easier for them to exploit workers by paying far, far below living wages. These low-budget factories are often hazardous, meaning that workers’ lives are at risk as well (e.g. the 117 who died infamous factory-fire in Bangladesh, 2012). This Huffington Post article written by Shannon Whitehead Lohr reveals that inexpensive beaded items are often a sign of child labor, as the equipment required to do bead-work is more expensive than low-cost brands can afford. While many companies have been outed for this slave labor, some refuse to disclose information on their employees and factories entirely. If they don’t want us to see it, we can infer that there is probably something disgusting they are hiding. Our blind support of these companies directly allows, and even promotes, the exploitation of real human lives to continue without challenge.

This website has information on what businesses are disclosing factory information.

This blog post is part one in my three part series explaining ethical fashion. Stay tuned for my seconds part on how the fashion industry affects the earth, and finally my third part on tips to becoming ethical in your wardrobe choices. This information is not meant to guilt anyone into change, but rather to help get the ball rolling on this important conversation. Many people cynically believe that one’s personal choices cannot affect industries at large, but many companies have been known to change their ways based on pressures from the public. You are more powerful than you know. Together we can make the fashion industry a more conscious place.

I appreciate you taking the time to read about a topic I am passionate about.

Never stop learning!