Why Science-Backed Clothing Labels are Key to Stopping the Epidemic of Greenwashing
Photographed by William Lords
This is the month we have all been waiting for, as world leaders and organizations from all over the world met in Glasgow for the COP26 summit to decide our fate.
Why is this the only thing we should be talking about? Well, let’s start with the earth and its ecosystems, because that is where we must begin all our conversations. We are in a dual crisis: a climate and a nature crisis. As UN secretary-general António Guterres put it so well, this is code red for humanity.
Alberto Candiani, president of Candiani Denim, inspecting spools of cotton
In ecology there exists the concept of the sliding baseline. It’s a tragic term coined by the oceanographer Callum Roberts. Every generation takes their current ecological circumstances as their reality. They don’t know that they should enquire about the birds and the butterflies and the flowers that were there before but are now lost. Each generation inherits a more degraded version of nature. This speeds up. Eventually we are left with nothing.
The fashion and textile industry is an ecosystem too. It has been consistently degraded until we can’t remember how much we’ve lost. Occasionally we get glimpses, and we remember that this could and should be an ecosystem of producers, designers, and manufacturers, working within the limits of nature. We are reminded that human livelihoods and social sustainability are as important as technical plans to decarbonize. But most of the time we accept a degraded and degrading system as reality.
Make the Label Count
What are the solutions? From supporting young leaders or emerging designers to researching new business models or ways to make our clothes less polluting, while also insisting on living wages and social justice across the supply chain, each month I try to give you a glimpse of what our sustainable fashionscape could look like. And this month I would like to stress how important it is that we get educated about the clothes we wear, starting from the fibers our clothes are made of. We have long argued that people who buy fashion – I do not like the term consumers, as it is reductive – should have more information and be more strongly connected to the garments they buy. Labelling is part of preventing that slide into complacency. Done right, it could be much more. Through regenerative agriculture and better science about the production of natural fibers, we should be able to reflect this ambition with labels. Fashion doesn’t have a labelling system like food, and this is why, last month, I supported the launch of a campaign called Make the Label Count, because we really can, but only if we base all the underpinning methodology on science – real, fact-based evidence.
Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, where tons of disposed fast fashion ends up
We are in danger of doing the exact opposite. Today, the pressure is on building that label on a base of misinformation and skewed science and, at this point, it would be unforgivable. It could potentially unleash billions more items made of non-biodegradable petrochemical plastic polymers onto a patchy global waste system that is already unable to cope. We must correct course, and we must do it now. We have seen poor, incomplete, and skewed science promising the world solutions before. We all remember the distorted information used in the automotive emissions scandal and in the case of green biofuels. These are not just ugly chapters, they double the workload elsewhere. It can take a generation to get back on course. We do not have the time. There is an epidemic of greenwashing in our industry. Overclaims on sustainability are damaging all of us because we will simply fail to deliver on the cuts we need to ensure a liveable planet. We need to check where our clothes are coming from, who made them, what they are made of, and if the claims are actually true. We must insist that brands do better and are more transparent with their processes.
This is what the science tells us. We don’t negotiate with the science, we don’t distort the science, we just use it to form our pathway. We need to use cutting-edge science as our mandate; innovation as our tool; and knowledge as our superpower. Remember, actual sustainability is simple. It’s just a fancy word for change. And I fundamentally believe that not only must this change come from each one of us, but that, as citizens, we must wear our superhero clothes well.
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Originally published on November issue of Vogue Arabia