The Sustainability Spectacle: Subtle Greenwashing

Sustainability is not a trend. But for many who do not understand it, it is. For people who continue to make bags out of petrochemical based plastics and deem them sustainable luxury, who make ‘vegan fashion’ also made of plastic- which has a history just as if not more cruel than the animal agriculture industry, for people who often speak a bit too soon without thinking critically, sustainability can be and is a trend, a spectacle.

People who are spectacles themselves can get caught in this debacle. Spectacles are blinding. One example is the Stella McCartney brand-  whose eponymous designer was born a spectacle to much privilege. Let us look closely at a Stella marketing campaign for ‘sustainable viscose’.

The video is entitled, ‘A Story of Sustainable Viscose’, but there isn’t any mention of how the sustainably sourced wood actually gets converted into soft viscose fibres. If you google this, it is usually a chemically intensive process (that doesn’t sound very sustainable).

At a recent event held at the Fashion Incubator San Francisco during Fashion Revolution Week, I asked Anni Gulingsgrud, Director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition on Textiles, about viscose at Stella (with whom she proudly worked with) and whether the chemical process to convert the wood pulp to fabric indeed was closed loop, but in her response she avoided my question. Even if the process were closed loop, let’s say there’s an accident at the factory- where will all the toxic chemicals go? Like an oil spill, like Fukushima, the chemicals will go back to our environment.

Don’t even get me started on ‘vegan’ fashion- plastic. How can Stella McCartney, and other ‘vegan’ fashion brands for the matter, tout sustainability, creating a spectacle, either purposefully or accidentally, easily amidst her own spectacle as the daughter of Paul, that blinds people who are a part of the spectacle to think that bags made of plastic are the new modern luxury? As Juan Diego Gerscovich, Co-founder of Industry of All Nations once said, people in the vegan-fashion industry making things out of plastic and calling it vegan are a bit confused.

Now let’s take a look at Gucci, part of the Kering group that also touts sustainability.

gucci example .png

Luxury bags these days are usually made of coated canvas, which is essentially plastic covered cotton. But the descriptions on these luxury items won’t tell you this. What does ‘low environmental impact’ really mean and why is Gucci saying this without providing any more explanation? Is this Greenwashing? Another point: Anyone who understands fabrics knows that cotton and linen are two different fabrics grown from two different plants- so what is cotton linen lining?

Subtle greenwashing once again.

Let’s take a look at Everlane.

everlane example three

Everlane believes that:

The ethical choice is the right one

Doing the right thing not only feels better, we think it pays off in the long run. Whether we’re choosing a factory, being transparent to customers about our costs, or making sure our colleague is being treated fairly—there’s a right choice, and we want people to make it.

(see Everlane’s website for more of their beliefs).

This really sounds amazing. And Everlane really has put in a lot of effort and the Venture Capital money they received to clearly market themselves as ‘Ethical’ and ‘Radical’. Everlane never says that they’re ‘sustainable’, but to many, people assume that Everlane is sustainable. Through their marketing Everlane strategically or accidentally curates a semantic field of ‘sustainability’ that thousands of consumers buy into, thinking they’re helping the planet and themselves. However it is only a spectacle without substance. Everlane hasn’t chosen to use pesticide free, non-gmo cotton to prevent further cotton farmers from committing suicide in India by doing so, or from protecting the health of their global market. Choosing natural pigments, non-gmo, and pesticide free would be the right ethical choice, but are they taking it?

Looking closer at Everlane’s product offering, none of their cotton is pesticide free nor non-gmo. Everlane still uses synthetic dyes and polyester fabrics (microplastics!).

To sum it up, Everlane is ethical when it comes to labour practises, but not ethical when it comes to making the right choice for the materials they use for all their products. However, ‘Radical transparency’ is truly a marketing tactic that Everlane is built on, and one could argue that H&M, and the GAP are even more transparent than Everlane . 

A final commentary. ‘You can be sustainable and stylish all at the same time’, but by saying this yourself to completely dodge the question asked of you by Vogue and not describing what your clothes are made of, is a clear sign of subtle greenwashing. (Not to mention Miley using her buttocks as means of avoiding probing media attention). P.S. As a fashion insider I was told by a reputable source that Stella McCartney only broke even as a brand after she did a collaboration with Adidas selling sportswear made of micro-plastic emitting sportswear.

Please look before you place your money into someone else’s spectacle.

Love and peace,

-Al

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