What Is Greenwashing in Fashion?

Don’t applaud every ‘green’ initiative you see in clothing stores

Back to Zero
Published in
6 min readMay 5, 2020


Photo: Robin O’Kane

Fashion means different things to different people, and it can be anything from a means of self expression to a source of annoyance. Irrespective of anyone’s personal feelings, manufactured clothing is an enormous global industry that has a massive impact on human society and on the planet.

In the past, new clothing was purchased on a more occasional basis, the average person switching out pieces when they were worn out or when the seasons changed. But in recent decades, clothing became more “affordable” as runway trends hit stores weekly and online shopping became a popular pastime. As a result of demand and rapidly changing industry norms, fast fashion has progressively encouraged more and more waste.

Photo: Silviu Beniamin Tofan via Unsplash

Almost all of us are familiar with brands like Forever21, H&M, and Zara. These low-cost, low-quality retailers are always on trend. These brands allow people from almost every demographic to enjoy the luxury of keeping up with fashion. Sounds good, right?

Some of these brands are even making moves to produce more sustainable and environmentally conscious collections and initiatives. Upon first glance, this looks like a positive step in the right direction, but if you take a closer look, you’ll find something more sinister lying beneath the surface.

The term “greenwashing” was first coined by Jay Westerveld in 1986 as a response to Chevron ads that promoted a green image for a corporation that had a bad environmental reputation. This tactic of using environmentalism, green imagery, and popular buzzwords associated with protecting the planet is typical of greenwashing campaigns. The Magazine for Corporate Responsibility defines it as “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.”

Companies know that consumers are interested in conservation and have concerns about waste. Among millennials surveyed by Bruce Watson for the Guardian (2016), a whopping…



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Hi! My name is Mara and I’m a recent MES graduate who’s passionate about making complex concepts accessible. Environmentalism and Social Justice.