How you can tell if a brand is being honest about its sustainable practises

When asked to give a short introduction, we always say that VILDNIS is a sustainable fashion brand, and we use words such as ethical, eco-friendly, responsible and committed on our website, as do many fast fashion brands. So how can you tell whether a brand is genuinely sustainable and honest about their practises – or if it’s simply trying to ride one of the fastest growing current trends; sustainable fashion?

In a recent review carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), 40% of 500 global websites claiming to be eco-friendly were found “to be using tactics that could be considered misleading”.

No wonder if consumers are sceptical. To be honest, I too am quite sceptical about any ethical or environmental claims being made by brands when I shop fashion and beauty for myself, and luckily my experience in the fashion industry has taught me how to spot greenwashing from a mile away. However, many consumers find this hard and, for this reason, I welcome future regulation in this area.

So how can you tell if a brand is being honest about their sustainable practises? How do you know if they are genuinely walking the talk?

Here’s what we, VILDNIS, mean when we the following five key words – and what we suggest you check when you come across them on websites while shopping.

ETHICAL

An ethical fashion brand respects those in the supply chain, pays them a living/fair wage and provides them with good working conditions. It is caring for animals and stays away from potentially harmful practises.

What this entails for VILDNIS as an ethical brand: inspecting factories we work with, checking reports from third party SMETA audits, pushing for SA8000 certifications (the gold standard in our opinion), checking wage sheets and having conversations about the female/male ratio etc.

In terms of animal welfare, we generally steer clear of using animal fibres. In the rare case we do, we use recycled fibres which we confirm through GRS certificates or other proof of recycling.

What you can check of other brands: does the brand have information on its website about the makers? Does it sound like it genuinely cares about the wellbeing of its workers? Is it transparent about its supply chain and does it know its suppliers well? Is it checking the wage sheets at the factories? In short, does it go into detail or is it just writing something wishy washy about having asked its suppliers to follow its ethical code of conduct?

The more information, the better with certifications like SA8000 or Sedex (SMETA) audits being a plus. That said, it’s worth noting that many small/artisan suppliers cannot afford these and yet they can still be an ethical business without them.

In terms of animal welfare, they check if the brand is making any statements about animal welfare and which fibres it’s using. If using wool, does it mention that it’s certified non-mulesing? If mohair and cashmere, is it sourced from responsible sources? And is the silk peace silk?

ECO-FRIENDLY

An eco-friendly brand is passionate about protecting the planet and demonstrates this through its choice of materials, processes and practises.

What this entails for VILDNIS as an eco-friendly brand: using only the most eco-friendly materials across our entire collection, using eco-friendlier dyes, choosing the most water-saving and least polluting processes for our printing and finishing, using packaging and labels made solely from recycled/organic materials, carbon offsetting all of our courier journeys and more.

What you can check of other brands: is the brand’s entire collection made from eco-friendly materials? Are its fabrics genuinely organic/recycled etc or a blend of organic/recycled fibres and conventional fibres? What processes is it using; is it choosing dyeing, print and finishing methods that have the smallest impact on the environment? What is its packaging made of?

And finally; check if any organic cotton fabrics are certified (GOTS or OCS are the best certifications in my view). It IS possible to buy organic cotton without certification, but there is no guarantee that it is actually organic and any brand that is serious about their commitment to make/sell eco-friendly products would want such guarantee.

SUSTAINABLE

A sustainable brand takes a holistic view of its business, to ensure that it leave the world in a similar, if not better place than it found it. It concerns itself with the preservation of the planet by leaving enough resources for future generations; and it embraces social justice. It is the singular word that encapsulates VILDNIS.

Unfortunately, certain parts of the industry are misusing the term sustainability to further promote fast fashion; and thereby giving it a somewhat bad reputation.

What this entails for VILDNIS as a sustainable brand: operating with a triple bottom line; making continuous progress in both social, environmental and economic areas. Publishing a yearly sustainability report showing our targets and progress in each area, being transparent and thinking about the bigger picture when making decisions.

What you can check of other brands: is the brand addressing social, environmental and economic in its sustainability statements? Does it publish an honest and detailed annual sustainability report? Will its targets have a significant impact on the planet or is it setting itself easy targets?

There are examples of fast fashion brands which sign up to various programmes that will make them look good and publish yearly sustainability reports, yet when you look at the detail it is obvious that it’s mostly for marketing purposes. E.g., if you are committed to being more sustainable then you work towards paying all workers in the supply chain a living wage – it’s not enough to use recycled fibres in some products or change all light bulbs in the stores to LED (although it certainly helps).

COMMITTED

A brand that is committed to sustainable practises is a brand that cares deeply about leaving the planet in a better place, treating people well and preventing animal cruelty. It’s in its DNA. This is true for most small brands as behind them are usually quite passionate owners who wants to make the difference.

What this entails for VILDNIS as a brand with a commitment to sustainable practises: holding ourselves accountable by a sustainability report that shows how we are living up to our commitments, and being transparent about both our successes and failures.

What you can check of other brands: does the brand sound like it really cares? how does it expect to meet its commitments? Is it transparent about its practises? And is it honest about its progress?

RESPONSIBLE

A responsible fashion brand produces its products in a better way than what is the norm, putting a spotlight on the current unsustainable, irresponsible practises in the fashion industry.

What this entails for VILDNIS as a responsible brand: seeing the bigger picture and doing demonstrably better than the norm in all areas. Ensuring that we never do anything that is unethical or has a high environmental footprint.

What you can check of other brands: Is it clear exactly what makes the brand responsible? Is this ‘responsibility’ shining through in its general opinions and values when you read its blog and/or social content?

 

Influential environmentalists/bloggers are frequently calling on brands to stop using the above-mentioned terms entirely due to the high level of green washing in the industry. It’s not as simple as that.

Genuinely sustainable/ethical/eco-friendly/etc brands would struggle to survive without these terms. This is how customers find them/us when searching online.

The CMA is currently investigating whether it’s necessary to introduce regulation to prevent greenwashing across several industries. I’m a great advocate of such regulation, believing that it will be better for both consumers and brands who are truly making an effort, and welcome any initiatives aimed at stopping greenwashing.

Right now, it’s a jungle out there, but there are so many great brands doing genuinely good things and, with a little 'digging', you will be able to find what you are looking for without having to compromise on your values.

Ulla

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