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Greenwashing: Consumers Confronted by Dubiously 'Conscious' Fashion

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Clothes For a Change Page, Fair Trade & Social Justice Page and our All About Organics Page.

Moa Zettervall loves to go shopping. She visits H&M, Zara, Mango and other stores of international apparel brands about once a week, and buys at least one new item per month. But she has also heard from friends and read online about the textile industry's frequent harsh treatment of its workers, along with its impact on the environment.

"In Bangladesh, for example, it is not fair. The people that work and make the clothes don't get enough money and their work conditions are bad," said the 19-year-old Zettervall, in a shopping mall in Stockholm. "And also it is not good for the environment that the clothes are made there and flown here."

Zettervall is not alone in worrying about her clothes-shopping habits. Surveys conducted by the Global Poverty Project and by universities throughout the Western world - in places such as France, Wales and California - all point to increasing consumer awareness to negative social and environmental effects of the fashion industry.

And the leading brands are starting to respond - at least on the surface. Many fashion industry labels employ "green" and "ethical" marketing to target "conscious" consumers: H&M's Conscious collection, made of organic cotton and recycled polyester; Puma's biodegradable InCycle Collection; Adidas' Design for Environment gear; Uniqlo's All-Product Recycling Initiative; Zara's eco-efficient stores; and the Gap's P.A.C.E. program, to benefit the lives of female garment workers.      

But it is not that simple. Advocates say the challenge for consumers like Zettervall, who says she wants to shop responsibly, is to discern the difference between those companies seriously engaged in minimizing the social and environmental cost of fashion, and those employing mere marketing gimmicks - often dubbed "greenwashers."         


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