Why greenwashing will stop the fashion industry reach its full potential
As Fashion Week comes to London, Conduit member and GNGR Bees founder, Nathália Grisard, reflects on what her experience working as a model and entrepreneur has taught her about greenwashing, consumer responsibility and the potential for a cleaner and more creative fashion industry.
I threw on my puffer jacket & beanie, and wandered down towards Kensington Gardens with my golden retriever, Sammy.
It’s was a mild yet bright mid morning, 12°, which seems perfectly acceptable for mid September and we saw a few familiar faces as well as lots of unfamiliar ones. I pause for a moment - the images of people in Pantone colour coordinated outfits is both perplexing and strangely familiar. I quickly put two and two together: it is fashion week after all - the outdoor fashion show confirms it.
I smiled to myself - what was once a world so familiar now seems so distant. Teenager Nathália was a willing captivate of the wonders of the fashion world - bright lights, catwalk, make up and hair, private drivers & travelling - how naive I was, ignorant to all the laid below that shiny façade. A façade which as my time in the industry went on, started to crack and fracture giving glimpses of something I knew I didn’t want to part of.
Sammy and I stopped by a tree and watched the young and beautiful models for a while and from where we stood, we could see them fleeting about in the backstage just before they passed through the curtains, gliding down the runaway. Though it looked like any other fashion show - perfect lighting, music and designs that were on the surface as wondrous as ever - this year, below the surface there was a particular heavy undercurrent that accompanied Fashion week. Whilst there were for a long time been critics of the fashion world it felt as though for the first time this year, there were more people critically looking at it than ever before and as I watch it all develop, I felt reassured of the position I had once taken when I decided it was time for me to change paths.
My train of thought is broken as Sammy starts barking - a gust of wind has blown the blue dress of one of the models much to Sammy’s excitement and we carry on in our search for balls, squirrels and four-legged friends.
Modelling for big fashion houses was the first exposure I had to the inner workings of the fashion world and for all the criticisms I may level at this industry, fashion was and is at best, an art form, a thing of beauty - it holds the incredible power to be transformative to a person and it could be so much more than what it is but it does itself a disservice because all of this beauty is built on the top of ugliness. Destroying the fashion industry is not what I want - what I aim for is the complete opposite. It is to get its essence and make it as wonderful as it has the potential to be. I have a great deal of respect for designers that work hard to leave their mark in this world and that mark holds itself highly when we understand what the context of what brings fashion together is. What stories it tells and how and why each piece is created.
The rise of greenwashing
As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the fashion industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to the environmental, human rights & animal welfare perspective. One of the most recent trends that perhaps has the most to answer in all of three of these fronts is fast fashion.
Fast fashion is the concept that by the time you have bought the clothing from the shop, taken it home, cut its tags and put it on your body, it is already outdated - and it is purely done to drive profits. The fear that anyone could be seen on social media in the same outfit more than once is enough to terrify any teen. And maybe not just teens.
Although we are becoming more conscious and whilst this in overall a good thing, there is an emerging trend that is linked to this: greenwashing. Greenwashing is a two way street and it is not just for the fashion houses to be blamed, it is also on the individuals. We’ve entered into a greenwashing bargain, where we tell the fashion industry, ourselves and anyone that listens, that we want to be green. The fashion industry responds by taking in token steps that are just enough to appease our fickle conscience but if they and we are honest about the impact these things are having we would know that these half measures (at most) aren’t going to be enough to make a lasting social and environmental impact. The most significant casualty in this greenwashing bargain continues to be sustainability,
Balancing profit with purpose
It is because I have so much love for fashion that the current fashion system disappoints me - it is, after all, possible to live in a world where businesses are not only driven by profitability but by the exciting chase of creating new and better products that align with the current sustainability agenda for the world we all want to see in the future. We must disrupt this cycle of greenwashing bargain and to do that both companies and individuals must sign the deal.
So how is it that we do this?
I don’t know what the answer is but some of the ingredients include: for companies, it is about making your social and environmental impact just as important as your profits and aligning yourself to be open and honest about what your company is doing well and what it can improve. For the individual, is not about shifting responsibility onto companies and governments before first looking at and changing our own habits: the way we think, consume and act.
For now, each time I come out of the station and walk down New Bond Street on my way to The Conduit, I find those glossy window displays and new outfits less and less appealing.