Alden Wicker is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. She covers sustainable fashion and living, personal finance, and other curiosities.

THIS Is When You Know A Fashion Brand Is Full Of It

THIS Is When You Know A Fashion Brand Is Full Of It

You know that woman who uses all the right feminist and enlightened vocabulary, but is still a conniving you-know-what at heart? “You need to lean in tonight and reach your full potential,” she’ll say as she dumps work on your desk at 6 p.m. Or, “I’m making space in my life for positivity,” she’ll coo when she flakes on you for the fourth time and you call her on it.

Well, that’s the way I feel about some fashion and beauty companies. They’re putting out press releases with the words “sustainable” and “artisanal,” while churning out toxic fashion that poisons the environment and exploits workers. This sort of behavior is called “greenwashing,” and consumers are getting wise to it. 

Just take the sleuths behind The Fashion Law blog — they’ve made it their business to call out any company that is getting ahead of itself. In an article last month, they cautioned consumers, “Next time you see a massive PR campaign about a fast-fashion brand’s wonderful efforts, be sure to think twice. It may not be as wonderful as it seems.” 

I personally think this article is a little too harsh. While the author makes a good point that the fashion industry as a whole is rife with human rights abuses and toxic materials and dyes, she has a very wide definition of greenwashing, going so far as to criticize Zara’s commitment to eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. That’s something that Greenpeace specifically campaigned for and celebrated!

The point is, these issues don’t neatly fall into “good” and “bad” categories. You’ll see vigorous debate among activists about what exactly constitutes greenwashing. But here are some pretty good indicators that you can’t trust a company’s promises: 

1. It’s putting a Band-aid on a mortal wound. 
We can only roll our eyes when Forever21 sends out a press release about using solar panels on its company headquarters in California. The fact that its white collar employees have their laptops powered by solar panels doesn’t negate the fact that most of its clothing is made of polyester, a textile made from petroleum, in overseas factories that don’t use solar power, and then shipped here — all super carbon-intensive activities. Plus, fast-fashion clothing that is worn and quickly thrown away (that is Forever21’s business model) emits 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than a garment kept for a full year and worn 50 times, Forbes reports. 

I mean, yes, solar panels are great. I applaud emerging brands that get all their power from renewable sources (and that’s usually one sustainable initiative among many they are pursuing). But unless solar panels provide more than half of your total energy consumption — including stores, corporate headquarters, shipping, and production — and you’re offsetting the rest, they are just distracting from the main issue. And providing a good photo opp, of course. 

Read the rest on Refinery29.

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