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Greenwashing Red Flags to Note Before Your Next Denim Purchase – Sourcing Journal

Greenwashing, or making exaggerated or false claims about sustainability, has become a major concern as brands publicly announce aggressive climate targets and launch numerous collections with an earth-friendly label. Companies in the fashion industry and beyond feel compelled not only to make more environmentally and socially responsible business decisions, but also to effectively communicate those decisions to consumers.

Earlier this year, the UK Competition and Markets Authority began conducting a fashion and footwear-focused review of environmental marketing claims suggesting products are ‘sustainable’, ‘better for the environment’ or made from recycled or organic materials. If the agency finds breaches of consumer law, it said it could take appropriate action before a formal investigation even begins.

Although brands are tasked with the difficult task of communicating the value of sustainable fashion to consumers, the language around sustainability has become so overused that it has lost its impact, especially in denim, where the words to fashion are regularly included in marketing.

As a result, many consumers are skeptical of brands’ environmental messages. A recent survey by business sustainability organization Changing Markets Foundation and global data firm YouGov found that 62% of consumers in Germany, France, Spain, the US and the UK are wary or are unsure of the eco-friendly claims made by the fashion industry. Looking at UK respondents only, 74% expressed skepticism about this.

And it turns out that consumer skepticism is justified: a report by the Changing Markets Foundation found that 59% of all eco-claims made by European and UK fashion brands are misleading. Some of the worst offenders are “sustainable” lines such as H&M’s Conscious Collection, in which synthetics made up 72% of its collection, a higher proportion than its fast fashion line, which contained 61%.

While there’s no easy way to decipher the lint from the facts, there are several phrases and red flags to note when inspecting a garment for greenwashing.

Rivet enlisted consultants from across the denim space to weigh in on the most common keywords and concepts used by brands that overstate their sustainability efforts. Here’s what to look for:


Often, jeans will be labeled as “recyclable” even when it is impossible – or when there are so many barriers to recycling that it may as well be impossible – to do so.

Experts agree that including any percentage of polyester hinders the recyclability of a textile, as there are few recycling technologies equipped to separate the plastic-based fiber. But according to Mohsin Sajid, owner and creative director of jeans brand Endrime, if a garment contains less than 2% polyester, a company can still claim it is recyclable.

“It’s horrible how many brands are greenwashing and confusing everyone,” he said.

And while the fabric is a big part of the garment, the trims and thread should also be considered. Sajid noted that “almost every brand” that claims an item is recyclable uses metal trim that cannot be removed from the garment or uses polyester in the interlining or yarn.

Instead, he recommends looking for jeans made from cellulosic fibers such as cotton, hemp and linen, all of which can be recycled, mixed and then recycled again. Jeans that provide instructions for removing buttons or use buttons that unscrew are also positive indicators. In 2020, French accessory supplier Dorlet invented the Diabolo, a removable button specifically intended to facilitate recycling.

recycled plastic

(See also: ocean plastic, recycled PET, recycled polyester)

Since it’s so difficult to recycle clothing that contains even a small percentage of plastic-based fibers, any mention of plastic in a company’s sustainability efforts could be cause for concern. Recycled PET, recycled polyester, and ocean plastic are still forms of plastic that are difficult to separate from other materials and either slowly degrade or cannot degrade.

“Any mention of recycled polyester or ocean plastic instantly sets off my greenwashing alarms,” said denim design consultant Anne Oudard. “Plastic cannot and should never be associated with any kind of sustainable solutions.”

Plus, according to Ani Wells, sustainable denim and communications specialist and founder of Simply Suzette, recycled polyester almost never comes from recycled polyester clothing, and can instead come from recycled plastic bottles, and that’s a problem. considering that other industries could reuse the plastic. in a way that extends its circular life cycle.

For example, a plastic bottle can be recycled repeatedly into other plastic bottles, but once it is recycled into clothing, its future recycling potential decreases.

And while “ocean-bound” or ocean plastic — in which plastic waste from the world’s waterways is spun into fiber — sounds like an eco-friendly effort, that’s not always the case. Wells said the source of the plastic waste is difficult to verify.

“Be careful with ‘ocean plastic,’ especially if you don’t see legitimate certification,” she said, advising consumers to look for traceability of such claims.

Sustainable collection

A brand touting a “sustainable capsule collection” or “sustainable collection” is another red flag for experts, who say it typically represents a tiny fraction of a brand’s overall product lineup, while it giving the lead to claim that it is a responsible brand.

“It’s time we stopped looking at ‘sustainability’ on a product-by-product basis and instead looked at the overall impact of a brand,” Wells said. “Once you start digging into a brand’s story, you’ll be able to decipher who’s authentic and who isn’t.”

Wells suggests checking the brands’ sustainability sections on their websites for specific information on sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping. Similar facts can be found on content tags, though Wells advises against taking hangtag messaging to heart.

“A hang tag may read ‘made of natural materials,’ but if you look at the contents of the tag, a company might have introduced 1% spandex to give you the stretch you need” , she said. “Always read the fine print and if there isn’t any, ask the brand directly.”

Items too good to be true

Expensive jeans are not an indication of sustainability, as even luxury brands can be guilty of environmentally and socially harmful business practices – for example, Burberry and Louis Vuitton have destroyed unsold products in the recent past. However, a low price can be a sign that something is up, as fibers like organic cotton and hemp are available at a premium, and fair labor is often reflected in the price.

“You can be sure that no jeans can be eco-friendly or garment-worker friendly under a certain price,” Oudard said.

In the age of transparency, there is no excuse for vague or grandiose claims. Tracking technologies such as PaperTale and FibreTrace have made it possible to follow a material back to the farm on which the cotton was grown. For this reason, Oudard advises caution against claims that seem exaggerated.

“A combination of the words ‘jeans’ and ‘economy’ is a total red flag for me,” she said. “We can all agree that we won’t save the planet by making more jeans, or clothing in general, and any brand that claims to do so is only greening their actions.”

Oudard says to look for scientific data and third-party audits on the brand’s website that can back up these statements. It is also important to note the pace of production of the brand.

“When a brand releases new products every day or even every week, it’s called overproduction,” she said. “There’s nothing lasting about it, whatever they claim.”