Having a sense of style is free, but unfortunately, the environmental and social costs of the fashion industry are high. There are always new players arriving in the $1.5 trillion industry, with compelling ads on social media and slick branding making us want the trends, now. Where fast fashion adds hundreds of styles a month, drop-shipping means infinite styles are being sold on social media and made in unsafe working conditions.
Amazon, Shein, along with hundreds of other sellers popping up have green claims, beautiful imagery, and low prices, too. Here’s how to be a greenwashing sleuth to find out if the shop you’re looking at is truly green or just greenwashed to hide climate and labor abuses.
What Is Drop-Ship Fashion?
Of the new companies popping up in fashion, many are drop-shipping companies, which are online storefronts that sell directly from factory to customer. Anyone can set up these storefronts and logistics online, without ever having to set up factories or even visit them. It is concerning because there might not be anyone in a drop-ship fashion company who truly understands where items are coming from, how they’re made, by whom, and under what conditions.
How to Spot Greenwashing
Companies may claim products are recycled, biodegradable, made of eco-friendly materials, produced in small batches, sold direct to consumers without a go-between—what does it all mean?
Start by looking for a sustainability page on a company’s website that has commitments, not vague statements. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of certifications. While these certifications are a great start in holding companies accountable, ostensibly, third parties are coming in to inspect practices. Jean Tong, Green America’s labor justice campaigns director, says labor abuses and greenwashing have still been found under various clothing and textile certifications—and no certification covers all environmental and social concerns. How the company reacts when they find abuses or errors speaks volumes about the company—but the public does not always find out.
Before You Shop, Read This
When it comes down to it, Tong says she still looks to “reduce, reuse, recycle” as her north star.
“It’s easy to remember and is still the greenest way to think about fashion, in a world where it’s extremely hard to verify claims made by companies about their supply chains,” Tong says.
How can you apply the three Rs?
Reduce: There’s a reason this one comes first—because it’s the best option—reduce your own demand for new items. You don’t necessarily have to reduce the items in your closet. Reducing how many new purchases you make per month and per year is the best bet for greening your closet (or truly, any part of your life.)
Reuse: This can be more fun than you think—there are all sorts of fashion resources across the internet for showing multiple ways to style a piece and tips on mending your favorites. Mending can be very empowering to do yourself, or, if you’re not confident in your skills, support local jobs by bringing your items to an alterations shop.
Plus, with reusing comes swapping styles with friends: try inviting a few friends over to swap clothes they would otherwise donate to the thrift store. Neighborhood free groups on Facebook and Nextdoor can also be good places to post a category of clothes (say, women’s tops in size large) for round robins of swapping throughout your neighborhood or around town.
Recycle: Clothing donated to thrift shops does not always make it into another person’s closet. Goodwill, for example, moves donations from regular stores to outlets and then auctions, then to recycling centers, which is a common process for donated clothing. Unfortunately, most thrift stores don’t track what happens to all their items or won’t release that information to the public. In the last year that the EPA has reported data, 2018, 17 million tons of clothing were generated, and 14.5 million tons were sent to the landfill or incinerated, with only 2.5 million tons being recycled. Recycling or up-cycling at home, by using old clothing for patches, cutting up for rags or yarn, crafting with them—all counts as reuse!