Examining the tags of any product in a fast fashion store, one of the first noticeable things is the green initiatives on the labels of their 100% polyester clothing. From Zara's "Join Life" collection to H&M's "Conscious" collection, many fast fashion brands have stepped into the world of sustainability. These fast fashion brands known for being unsustainable continue to make their foray into the realm of environmental consciousness. However, concerns of greenwashing prevent many consumers from supporting these brands. But how sustainable exactly are these lines? Here, we'll dive into the environmental impact of some of these faux-stainable brands.
It doesn't take much to find evidence that H&M's "Conscious" collection was unconscious of the environment, as a lawsuit was filed against the company for their greenwashing. H&M has now launched a replacement initiative called H&M Take Care to encourage consumers to get the most possible life out of their products. Zara's "Join Life" line came under fire for similar reasons to H&M, but no lawsuit was ever filed. Unlike H&M's initiative, Zara's did enforce a code of conduct to prevent unfair labor.
Despite this, Zara was found to have ties to forced labor in China. Their parent company, Inditex, had made and deleted a statement saying that reports of forced labor were "highly concerning." Along with this, they also deleted their company's statement regarding their zero-tolerance policy on forced labor.
Greenwashing aside— the fabrics and materials that go into these "sustainable" garments have to be at least a little better for the environment, right? Zara's Join Life collections do utilize recycled polyester and organic cotton in some of their garments. Organic cotton is considered a circular material, because it follows certain guidelines that help define the sustainability of a fiber. Recycled polyester does lessen environmental impact of a garment, but still produces microfibers. It is also important to keep in mind that any form of polyester is plastic, and recycled polyester may also contain recycled plastic. Polyester of any kind is not a fully circular material, meaning that it does not meet certain sustainability standards.
One material seen as a more green alternative to polyester is viscose. Viscose is comprised of cellulose from fast growing trees and plants. This makes it inherently more sustainable than polyester, but when used by fast fashion companies can be retrieved through cheaper methods that use a lot of energy.
So, where do we go from here? Knowing that polyester is better but still not great, perhaps it is better to shop for organic cotton garments over polyester ones to lessen our own personal impacts. To accomplish this, it is recommended to shop with companies that have tried and true environmental promises. Some brand suggestions for more sustainable garments are Toad & Co. and Reformation. These brands both utilize sustainable materials and are eco conscious in their shipping methods.
Large companies like H&M and Zara are known to greenwash, so overall going with smaller companies that are known to deliver on their promises is a safer bet. While our personal choices may not change the behavior of these fast fashion giants, it is nice to know that our money is going to businesses that deserve it and that strive to make this world a greener place.