Ava Caudle ‘25
In a world where trends constantly evolve so do the desires of clothing consumers. As the urgency of environmental action increases, the standard is rising for clothing brands with growing numbers of customers drawn to companies that are able to make claims of sustainable fashion. These claims can range from using recycled materials to reducing the carbon footprint of the production process…but the mere proclamation of an environmentally-conscious fashion process does not equate to concrete action.
This in mind, many clothing brands who claim to fight environmental damage are in fact fighting themselves: the fashion industry is responsible for a significant portion of pollution and degradation towards the planet given their means of production, the rate at which their pieces are produced, and their waste output. Numerous trendy brands in response to the rising desire to see environmental accountability from the fashion industry have chosen to slap dubious labels of “green!” or “sustainable-chic-swag” on their new clothing lines in hopes of increasing sales. The clothing launches are typically (and conveniently) unaccompanied by elaboration from the brand on what makes this line different or how it actually saves materials. This occurs so frequently nowadays that the term “greenwashing” has been used to describe the practice. A recent example can be found in SHEIN-equivalent brand Boohoo’s newest “sustainable” launch touting Kourtney Kardashian as its lead “sustainability ambassador.” The decision to hire Kourtney Kardashian, a celebrity notorious for overconsumption without regard for the environmental consequences, as a representative of eco-consciousness is in itself tone-deaf. Add on the fact that the majority of the garments still have a polyester composition, which is non-biodegradable and emits microplastics, and one can paint this demonstration as the pinnacle of greenwashing.
This attempt at portraying sustainability to the public feels especially half-baked and frail when contrasted with the recent actions of a brand like Patagonia, which took its Earth-centric mission literally as it converted the entirety of its ownership into a newly structured trust and nonprofit (the Patagonia Purpose Trust and Holdfast Collective). As of last week, all of Patagonia’s profits will be utilized toward fighting climate change. While one can criticize any fashion brand’s approaches or business models, there is no doubt that we can learn from the headfirst dive that Patagonia has taken into advocating for the planet.
These two brands serve as polar opposites in this case. Both are profitable companies with more than enough means to make the positive environmental (and ethical) changes many consumers hope to see, so companies like Boohoo are running out of excuses to remain behind the curve in sustainability efforts. This is not to say that all clothing companies must take steps as drastic as Patagonia’s in order to better provide customers with a more eco-conscious product but to iterate that Patagonia is an exemplary standard to be followed. Its choice to convert its ownership into a nonprofit structure is unprecedented, but, more importantly, it demonstrates a constant desire to do better as a brand—to do better by consumers and the planet. If other brands could adopt a fraction of Patagonia’s persistence, creative solution-finding, and ability to listen to its shoppers, the massive resources of said brands would turn these enablers into soldiers in the battle against climate change.