Balancing the Benefits of Fashion Greenwashing

The balance of sustainable fashion lies within your every purchase.

A year or two ago this article would have been entitled “Fashion Giants Ride Sustainability Wave.” At this stage in the game talking about companies like Wal-Mart, Target, H&M, Gap Inc doing their bit is like greenwashing the chairs on the Titanic. With climate change officially confirmed, fashion companies have an irrefutable responsibility to green their manufacturing and products. But, given the choice, would they?

We often go back and forth discussing the future of the fashion industry here at EcoSalon. I don’t know if the model is broken and needs to be dumped on its stylish head, or if we can fix it with some earnest action and better designed products. Maybe both need to be happening at the same time. You can do both by going ahead and protesting against the concentration of wealth among the privileged few by shopping local fashion from small independent merchants this holiday season, but also check out the fruits of the big brands’ eco initiatives. Their partnerships to minimize energy waste and hazardous chemicals help to encourage eco-fashion at reasonable prices too. Well, some of them.

Here are the latest developments from three of fashion’s well-known brands, Levi’s, Havanianas and Manolo Blahnik.

Levi’s goal is to support the 300 million people currently engaged in cotton farming around the world.

At a cocktail reception last week, Levi Strauss & Co. announced that 2 million pairs of its Denizen and Levi brand jeans now contain a blend of cotton certified by the Better Cotton Initiative. In partnership with other leading brands such as H&M, Adidas, IKEA and organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, Solidaridad and PAN-UK, they’re adhering to the standards of Better Cotton – cotton grown in a way that is less harmful to both the environment and some 40,000 farmers in India, Pakistan, Mali and Brazil. Levi’s executives say their goal is to eventually support the 300 million people engaged in cotton farming around the world.

Sales of Havaianas limited edition “Conservation International” collection have raised approximately $100,000 per year for the Brazilian marine organization.

According to an article in the New York Times yesterday, Havaianas, the Brazilian company that makes about 200 million pairs of flip-flops each year, has just introduced Eco Havaianas that are made from scrap materials incurred during regular production. Other products include Havaianas IPÊ, which designates 7 percent of its revenue for the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. Another style, the CI-Brazil, funds projects for the protection of local endangered species and in its first year sold more than 500,000 pairs.

The shoes are sustainable. Is the price?

Fish skin is very much the medium of the moment with Alexander Wang unveiling a collection of sneakers with fish skin detailing for Spring 2012 and Sex in the City favorite, Manolo Blahnik, announcing recently that he was using the “fish leather” in his new range of eco shoes. Made from sustainable tilapia skin, raffia and cork, the collection is part of a collaboration with eco designer Marcia Patmos. Patmos told Womens Wear Daily, “I love the idea of Tilapia skin because it is a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise be discarded, but it’s actually a beautiful material perfect for small leather goods’. The shoes will be sold at Manolo Blahnik shops for $895, WWD reports.



Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.