By Andrew Yurcik ’15
The fashion industry, always being on the forefront of social awareness, has previously played a significant role in environmentalism through donations and fundraisers. However, recently the rising trend of eco-fashion, a practice in which designers assure that their products are produced only from environmentally friendly materials and production practices, has brought in a new scope of how we define ones sustainable practices. Upon learning of this new trend, I wondered whether those buying these clothes actually were making an impactful decision or just following the next fashion trend.
Outside of materials or the production cycle for sustainable fashion, factors including extended shipping and special care or treatment needed for some “sustainable clothing” may be causing harmful impacts that are otherwise not apparent. Major fashion designers do not know all the ins and outs of sustainability so often aspects such as these are over looked when claiming their work to be sustainable created. Regardless of eco-fashion direct impact, its ability to raise awareness among fashion producers and the community at large is unquestioned. Most major fashion companies are moving towards more sustainable practices in their production even if their products cannot be completely deemed as eco-fashion. These changes are noticed by consumers who will lean towards sustainability if it economically feasible. However, the vagueness associated with producers claiming to be eco-friendly can be misleading to most shoppers. “When you only look at the raw materials to ask if something is really green, you are like the blind person holding the tail of the elephant,” said Chris Van Dyke, chief executive of Nau, a three-year-old outdoor clothing line founded on the principle of sustainable practices throughout its production cycle.1 Most consumers will not look beyond the tag that says “eco-friendly” on their new pair of organic cotton jeans.
So how can consumers and producers assure that they are actually being sustainable without overwhelming either side with litigation or long outlines on each part of sustainable fashion production?
One alternative is increased government involvement and regulation to determine what can be deemed sustainable clothing. In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission revised its Green Guidelines to ensure that marketer’s claims they made about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive. In order to get a green certificate marketers must pass the outline requirements however it’s still possible for marketers to claim to use sustainable practices without needing a green certificate. In order to ensure true changes the FTC must implements more stringent requirements on green marketing.
A second adjustment including increased transparency between the producer and consumers allows for more educated decisions when buying eco-fashion. In industries, including food production, producers must outline the production process of their products. Similar practices could be required of fashion companies who wish to claim to be ecofriendly. By listing materials sources, and production processes, including all steps from creation to shipment and maintenance at stores via online websites, consumers will be able to fully informed on the products they are consuming. Thereby, consumers know if their purchases go beyond a social trend and are actually making impactful differences.