How to Tell if a “Sustainable” Fashion Brand Is Greenwashing

Here’s how to make sure your eco-friendly finds are legit.

It seems like every brand out there is calling itself sustainable. And that would be great—if they were all the real deal. Plenty of fashion companies dress themselves up as eco-friendly, but when you strip them down, they’re not as kind to the planet as they seem. For those of us trying to make better choices when shopping for clothes, it can be difficult to weed out sustainable brands from those that are “greenwashing,” or leading you to believe they’re more sustainable than they really are. 

We chatted with Selina Ho, owner of local sustainable fashion consulting agency Recloseted, about how to be a smarter shopper. Read on to for her advice on what to look for before you smash that “add to cart” button. 

Give Products that are “Designed in Vancouver” a Second Look

Just because a brand is designed locally doesn’t mean it’s good for the planet. “This doesn’t mean anything,” says Ho, “because the designer could live locally and the item could be manufactured unethically somewhere else.” Dig a little deeper to see where the clothes are actually made. 

But Don’t Count Out Overseas Manufacturing

That being said, just because a product is made outside of Canada doesn’t mean it’s not sustainable. “Manufacturing overseas often has a bad rap,” says Ho. “And of course there are carbon emissions and shipping to consider, but there are some really amazing factories overseas.” She recommends taking a look at the brand’s certifications to determine if they’re legit: for example, GOTS certified organic cotton and  WRAP certification are both indications of eco-friendly production. If you can’t find that information yourself, ask—send the company an email or Instagram DM. “If you’re a customer potentially wanting to support a brand, you shouldn’t be shy to reach out,” says Ho.

Beware of Great Deals

A large part of shopping sustainably is common sense. “If a t-shirt is $5.00 and the brand is saying it’s sustainable and ethically made, I would dig deeper,” says Ho. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Look at the Materials

It’s not just about where the products are made—it’s also what they’re made of. “Polyester is a common material some clothing brands use, and it’s made out of crude oil,” says Ho. Look out for recycled, organic materials like cotton, linen or hemp instead.

Just Don’t

Of course, the number one key to shopping sustainable fashion is to just not purchase new clothes. Buying used clothing or “borrowing/stealing from a family member” (her words, not ours) is a great way to limit your eco-footprint. 

Use Online Resources

Finally, online resources like Recloseted’s Handbook have done a lot of this research for you. Ho and her team have put together a list of almost 200 businesses worldwide that they approve of. “Clothing is something that touches everyone in our everyday lives,” she says, “and there are a lot of dirty secrets behind the industry that not a lot of people know of— that’s why I’m passionate about spreading awareness and educating people. Her website has additional info on starting a business of your own, as well. (Be the sustainable clothing brand you wish to see in the world, right?)