Green Marketing vs Green Washing- Defining Sustainability in Fashion

Green Marketing vs Green Washing- Defining Sustainability in Fashion

Marketing Techniques and the Difference Between Green Marketing and Green Washing

Victoria’s Secret and Fenty both sell lingerie, but neither of them directly market the product. Victoria’s Secret markets being sexy for the male gaze, being a perfect “angel”, a sense of superiority, and womanhood. Meanwhile, Rhianna’s Fenty offers industry shaking inclusivity and sexiness for oneself rather than for others.

The only goal of for-profit businesses and brands is to make sales and turn a profit. Obviously, you need to produce something people want. But marketing and sales strategy drive growth. Strangely, many companies that make large amounts of sales don’t even market the end product or service. Instead, they advertise the problem it solves, an emotion, the price point.

Apple is a great example of a company that uses this strategy. Steve Jobs mastered the use of story telling with emotional marketing to create customer loyalty that almost no other brand has been able to match. 

Problem Solving marketing describes when a company sells the end result or how the product will fix your life. Many beauty and skincare brands use the promise of clear skin (solving acne) as their sales method. 

A fast fashion giant such as H&M sells basics at an unbeatable low price. This is an example of price point incentive. Brands like SheIn, H&M, Forever 21 and BooHoo use low price points as such an incentive that people don’t even get upset when the product is falling apart after a few wears because it is what they expect. The prices are so low that they will keep buying new pieces over and over. Marketing the low price points themselves and not even the actual product demonstrates the power of sales strategy over product quality..

Lifestyle marketing, and emotional marketing are the most commonly used tactics implemented today. The two tactics are almost always used together or overlap. When you use (insert any brand name) you will be (insert an adjective such as cool, trendy, happy, etc).

Another strategy under the umbrella of lifestyle marketing has become increasingly popular,  Research didn’t give us a suitable term for the technique. In the meantime, we have coined it “Platform Marketing”

Platform marketing is the use of a social/political agenda/policy by a brandto market their philosophy and ethos to socially aware consumers through their product or service. 

A common platform companies build on is inclusivity (bodywise for underwear companies, shade ranges for makeup companies). Charity or helping others is another platform (think of Tom’s “buy one, and they give one to someone in need” model). Recently there has been a huge rise in the platform of ethics, sustainability and environmentalism. This platform is one we have seen rapidly growing due to growing awareness and concern for climate change and environmental degradation. This platform will become the norm over the next 50 years. We might as well talk about it a bit more.

Is any company actually sustainable/completely ethical? 

In short: no. 

Sustainable development, as defined by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, “.meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

The two definitions of sustainability provided by Oxford Dictionary are (1) the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. And (2) avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

By any of these definitions, no company can be completely sustainable because many companies do not vertically integrate or own all stages of production for their products. These companies rely on labor provided in factories they sub-contract from in developing  countries that rely on unethical labor conditions.

Even large companies that own their factories or own two or more stages of their production do not own the land where raw materials are sourced or the mills that turn these materials into fabric or other wholesale materials. The sheer amount of raw materials consumed by businesses in itself can not continue indefinitely without damaging land and future generations. Furthermore, supply chains for raw materials are not 100% traceable. Materials such as raw cotton usually can not be tracked back 100% to the origin because the cotton can come from multiple plots or be mixed from multiple batches. 

Changing production methods or 100% vertically integrating every aspect of a business would still not be enough. Companies would have to produce smaller quantities to prevent having waste and excessive sales and produce less collections in a year as well. Historically, clothing companies released 5-6 collections a year for Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer and Resort. Now, fast fashion distribution models thrive with upwards of 20 collections a year as championed by Zara. This model has brainwashed consumers  to constantly expect new goods at progressively lower price points, convincing shoppers to buy more more often. 

Some companies including mine are making efforts to be as sustainable as possible, but it’s really, really hard. It will not make you rich.Ethicality will cost you a lot in production. This raises the cost of the product for the consumer. “Due to their high prices, many ethical brands could be considered unsustainable, since their product cannot be purchased at reasonable intervals by average people in their market. A company that claims to be 100% sustainable or 100% positive for the earth or environment is usually lying.

Many companies are striving towards sustainability by addressing one problem at a time. For instance, some brands will not exploit child labor or unfair wages in their factories. Some companies  are reducing their production batch sizes. Other businesses are switching to recycled material packaging, implementing fair mark-ups, and using lower-impact, less synthetic materials. When a company is more specific about how or why they are sustainable and not just brandishing the word with no context, we find they are usually more authentic and a better choice. 

Saying your brand is sustainable is great but a consumer such as ourselves should easily be able to find proof of this besides just a few key words tossed in advertisements and packaging that is colored earth tones for marketing purposes.

Green Marketing vs. Green Washing?

Green Marketing is exactly what it sounds like. Shopify’s definition, that appears as the first result on Google, reads, “Green marketing is the marketing of environmentally friendly products and services. It is becoming more popular as more people become concerned with environmental issues and decide that they want to spend their money in a way that is kinder to the planet.

This type of marketing is not inherently unethical or harmful.  There is nothing wrong with showing off environmentally conscious production methods….unless you’re just lying about it.  When a brand exaggerates or lies about their environmental friendliness, they’re not green marketing. They’re Green Washing. 

According to Investopedia, green washing is “…The process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

Companies green wash to convince ethical consumers that their brand upholds these values. Most of the time, the companies have technicalities to substantiate their claims but mislead the consumer on the level of how substantial their efforts truly are. Some companies only market specific pieces as eco-friendly or sustainable while the rest of their company continues to damage the planet.  These companies can point to these few pieces and act as if everything they make is ethically manufactured. 

Brands such as Everlane and Reformation have recently made headlines because their entire marketing scheme was about being the antithesis to fast fashion and being. While they have upheld certain standards and made clothes in a more transparent manner, both brands put themselves and their companies on an impossibly tall pedestal. When the public discovered the companies’ mistreatment of employees, racism in corporate environments, and began questioning areas that were less transparent in both businesses, their reputations plummeted. It stands as a fair warning that brands need to communicate clearly and leave room for improvement. 

Transparency + Traceability 

Transparency applies to how the company communicates to the consumer. To be transparent  is to be clear about where things are made, how they are made and the conditions in which they are made. It should be easy to access this information, not shrouded with paywalls or kept hush hush. Companies should be required to publish reports on these things the same way they are required to provide quarterly financial reports.

Traceability relates to internal functions of the company. They should be able to trace their supply chain, it should work as an actual chain (every link leads to the next link). If they are subcontracting work or buying from third parties, they need to ask questions and investigate their methods.

How do I know if a company is actually as “good” as they claim?

If they seem too good to be true, they probably are. Doing a quick search on the internet, asking questions or emailing the customer service line to ask questions we might have is one way to see if a company is good. 

Some companies, such as our own small brand, have pages on our site that detail our efforts (check out our Sustainability page here https://runandfollowshop.com/pages/sustainability), and we welcome consumers questions and try to answer them to the fullest extent.

Many resources are available. One reputable source is the website “good on you” (https://goodonyou.eco/how-we-rate/) which rates brands on “people, planet, animals, and information sources. 

There is also “ Ethical Consumer” (https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/about-us/our-ethical-ratings) which “…[P]rovides the most in depth research into corporate ethics available to the public”. 

Another company provide a list of rankings is The Good Shopping Guide (https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/

Independent brands and smaller brands tend to be better to shop from because they are more transparent about the “person behind the curtain”, therefore you know exactly who your dollar is benefiting. These smaller brands will not necessarily be on these resources big lists. 

Other things to look for from big or small brands are certifications such as having fabric that is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) compliant, fabric that is deadstock or recycled, dye methods that are closed loop using 100% recycled water, using carbon offsetting sites, recycled packaging, producing limited batches of clothes, or trading plastic buttons for corozo nut based buttons are all things to look for.  
It is apparent that the issues behind sustainable and ethical brands are stacked high and the industry itself needs to be changed in almost every way. The more you learn, the worse it gets. It may feel overwhelming and you may want to simply say “screw it, I am going to buy cheap clothes because I deserve it and everything is messed up anyway.” This is exactly how the bad guys want you to feel. Consumers are the majority of the fashion industry. Their dollars, your dollars, tell the minority, the producers and sellers, how to produce and sell. If you don’t buy their slave labor, turn the rivers rainbow colors, $20, rips in three months clothing, they will stop making it and trying to sell it to you. They will need to change or go bankrupt. The industry wants consumers to feel they have to simply buy what they sell, but this gatekeeping, industry-led propaganda is not true. Consumers and customers and everyday people rule the industry. Becoming a conscious, educated consumer, using your buying power to buy smartly and simply buy less, and asking questions is the most powerful way to create truly sustainable brands.

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