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Care What You Wear

The Eco Guide to Big Ethics

Is it good news or bad when environment-friendly brands are bought out by major industry players?

At a recent event held by the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia I detected a sheepish air. Nothing to do with eco wool, but rumours that the company was about to surpass a $1bn turnover.

In the normal run of capitalism these thresholds are celebrated. But Patagonia was founded by Yvon Chouinard to sell (greener) apparel to fund the environmental agenda. Always alert to the paradoxes of green consumption, Patagonia took out newspaper ads on Black Friday (the world’s biggest shopping day) in 2011 asking consumers not to buy their product.

Personally I find Patagonia’s success energising. Given their efforts to mitigate our consumerist impact, I’d rather market share went to them than brands without discernible values.

But when a pet ethical brand joins the big league it can leave loyal consumers in a spin – especially when that ethical stalwart is acquired by a monster mainstream corporation. Recently Ecover and Method have been acquired by SC Johnson and Pukka teas by Unilever.

Is this good or bad? The jury is divided. Ethicalconsumer.org drops acquired companies down their ratings but bcorporation.net does not.

Should you be concerned? It’s old-fashioned advice, but check the label. You can tell the character of the brand by the certification they keep. For example Pukka is certified by FairWild and Fair for Life to ensure it uses sustainable herbs (one in five wild plant species is now under threat). Meanwhile, nearly 40% of Patagonia’s ranges are now certified by US Fair Trade.

These are good products with impressive back- stories that fought hard to get into your wardrobes and cupboards. If they’re the best in the business at going green, I recommend sticking with them.

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