Photo by Alyssa Strohmann on Unsplash

How many people have come across companies that claim to be “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “sustainable?” Have you ever wondered if these claims are true? Many of these apparel brands are most likely adopting greenwashing tactics to promote the sustainable and eco-friendly appeal.

But what is greenwashing? Greenwashing occurs when businesses make consumers believe that they are doing more to protect the environment than they really are. This can mean investing time, money and capital to convince consumers to buy an eco-friendly brand.

It is a deliberately misleading marketing strategy used by businesses to spread false information about their environmental products and procedures.

Greenwashing is prevalent in the fashion industry. In 2020, companies were leaping on the sustainability trend, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers were beginning to question their buying patterns. Lyst’s 2020 Conscious Fashion Report highlights evidence of shifting attitudes.

Searches for sustainability keywords on Lyst have increased 37% since early 2020. Searches for ‘upcycling fashion’ have increased 42% in the last 3 months. Demand for used and used fashion items has increased by 45%.

The term “slow fashion” created social contact with more than 90 million people last year, marking the beginning of a change in shopping habits.

As consumers rethink their habits and become more environmentally friendly, brands are changing their approach to show that they are environmentally friendly to reconnect with their customers. But are their efforts really refocusing on sustainability? The harsh reality is that every green initiative initiated by the brand is just a ploy to increase profits. Here are some examples of how brands ZARA and Primark have implemented greenwashing strategies.

ZARAPhoto by Highlight ID on Unsplash

Inditex, Zara’s parent company, announced in July 2019 that they will only use sustainable, organic, or recycled materials in all of their clothing by 2025. An encouraging development, but it is undermined by their refusal to commit to producing less clothing or slowing down the manufacturing process. Their current business model has a five-week design-to-retail cycle and introduces more than 20 different collections per year – a model that cannot be sustained if Zara is truly committed to its 2025 target.


In September 2020, Primark unveiled the “A Better Future” campaign. They debuted new clothing and homeware collections made of recycled plastics or sustainable cotton.
Although these are positive steps, it is important to note that Primark continues to engage in unsustainable practises.

According to Forbes, it takes approximately 2,700 litres of water to grow enough cotton for one t-shirt, which has resulted in depleted water supplies in some parts of the world. It is also Primark’s most popular textile for clothing and homeware items like bedding and towels.

Laura Whitmore, a TV presenter, is the ambassador for Primark Cares, the retailer’s sustainability initiative. This demonstrates how celebrities are easily and inextricably entangled in the greenwashing agenda set by fast-fashion behemoths.

These of course are only two examples of brands that have implemented greenwashing strategies but the common denominator doe both brands is that neither brand has supplied public evidence that their suppliers pay a living wage. That means these companies can’t prove that the people who make their clothes make enough money to live on. Unfortunately, when it comes to paying workers enough to live on, brands do not give a second thought to workers in the fashion supply chain. It is not deemed worthy if it means less money in the pockets of shareholders.

How to find and avoid brands that greenwash:
  • Beware of buzzwords that have no clear meaning: this can include words such as “eco-friendly”, “sustainable” and “environmentally conscious”.
  • Examine for transparency: Check to see if a company is open about their suppliers and processes.
  • Examine third-party certifications: Third-party endorsements can help you confirm that the brand you’re purchasing from is truly sustainable.
  • Look for green images: Brands are more likely to use eco-friendly images. For example, forests, farms, wildlife etc. 
  • Examine the label: Examine the materials used in the clothing to see how they are broken down. Brands may claim that their clothing is made from recycled materials, but the recycled materials may make up only a small percentage of the clothing.
  • Examine third-party certifications: Third-party endorsements can help you confirm that the brand you’re purchasing from is truly sustainable.
  • Examine the price: Ethical and sustainable clothing is more expensive to produce (due to the use of environmentally friendly resources and the payment of a living wage to garment workers) and is definitively more expensive than fast-fashion clothing. Can they really be made ethically and sustainably if the prices are fast-fashion low?
  • Reconsider purchasing from fast fashion brands: Sustainability and fast fashion cannot coexist. If a brand mass-produces clothes at a low cost and then launches a sustainability campaign, they are clearly using greenwashing tactics.

In particular, fast-fashion companies go to great lengths to convince customers that their business does not harm people or the environment, so that they can shop without guilt. To combat their greenwashing practices, we as consumers must be fully aware of their strategies to avoid being deceived. So let’s use this knowledge to make better decisions about what to buy and what not to buy.