What Green Fashion Needs – A Nutritional Label

I see many shades of green- especially when it comes to fashion.  Vintage, second-hand, sweatshop-free, organic, re-purposed, recycled… there are so many ways to participate in eco-friendly fashion.  Below are some picks from fellow Eco Etsy team members TheSlowCatwalk, PierogiPicnic and VeraVague.

Team Eco Etsy Fashion

Awareness is growing and more consumers are interested green fashion, and I’m sure that includes many readers of this blog.  Huge brands like H&M even offer sustainable options and have released a CSR.  But green fashion is still considered a small, niche market within the industry as a whole.  There’s been a barrier to gaining wider acceptance and appeal from the majority.

So what’s stopping more people from going green when it comes to their wardrobes?  I believe what we have on our hands is an image problem– green fashion is seen as alternative, separate from “real” or traditional fashion.  It’s become the outsider in an industry where what you want is to be “in”: each have their own fashion weeks, their own magazines and blogs, and usually their own stores or sections within stores. In other words, green fashion is not seen as normal.  Not by retailers, not by the media, and not by most shoppers.

Eco fashion

This makes being green in a society where green is abnormal quite difficult, even for those of us who care about being responsible, eco-minded fashion lovers.  Most people look to others around them to help them make decisions on what styles to follow and which garments to buy- we check out our favorite blogs, magazines and stores, and look to see what celebrities are wearing.  We are social creatures, and we want to fit in and be normal.

What green fashion needs is a nutritional label, or rather a version of it- one easy to understand, authoritative source for the facts.  Until nutritional labels appeared on the back of packaged foods in grocery stores (1990 in the USA & 2003 in Canada), you’d rarely find shoppers poring over ingredient lists in the aisles, trying to decipher amounts of fibre and fat.  But once industry standards were implemented, shoppers began to consult the labels, and to change their behaviours.  Today it is normal to make purchase decisions at the grocery store based on that label alone.  How great would it be if it were the same for fashion?

Eco Fashion Certification logos

Of course, some labels do exist already.  There are hundreds of certification bodies which serve to alert shoppers to the ethical and environmental benefits of certain garments: GOTS, Oeko-Tex, Eco-Cert and  Ecolabel are just a few.  But there is no consistency in the presentation and explanation of these certifications, as each is independent and covers a different area.  This puts the onus on the consumer to do their research, and provides little clarity in the moment a shopper is browsing the racks.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier, if on each tag beside the fiber content and country of origin there was a section that made some small mention of eco credibility and corporate responsibility?

proposed hangtag

I don’t presume to have all the answers, but I think it’s important to have discussions about our ideas and identify possible solutions. I would like to see green fashion gain popularity, but I believe it needs to be accomplished by normalizing desired behaviors- by being inclusive.

What do you think?  Is shopping for green fashion a challenge?  Do you feel there are green options out there that suit your needs?  Would you describe yourself as a ‘green fashionista’ to family and friends?

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  1. So interesting this article Melanie. When I started to approach sustainable fashion so many surprises came to me. I didn’t thinks that I could find so many eco fashion brands and so many alternatives to “normal” fashion.
    And now I’m so happy to be part of the Etsy community which is full of alternatives from the “normal” world:)

    • Thanks for your comments. Some people are comfortable being labeled as alternative, but I believe many outside this community prefer to identify as “normal”. This is why I stress an inclusive approach and solution.

      Love your shop!

  2. Aloha Melanie,
    what a great first blog post!My plan back in 1989 when I graduated high school was to attend art school with a focus on textile and fashion design.At the same time I graduated I had an awakening to how sick the fashion industry was,as well as environmental issues.I realized I didn’t want to be part of the problem and so my life took a different turn.Many years later,I came full circle living off the grid n Hawaii and realizing I could be a part of the solution and create eco friendly fashion that was beautiful,comfortable and not so harmful to the Earth.
    I love all the extensive comments here..you guys rock and I am so happy to be connected to so many conscious women!
    I don’t see the label being a negative either…until we have a massive paradigm shift I am happy to be held apart from mass produced fashion that harms humans and the planet.With each item I make I pray we are one step closer to seeing that shift!Until then I will keep hugging trees 😉

  3. This is an excellent article. It brings up some good points, too. I like the idea of having a generic label for fashion savvy eco-friendly clothing.

    And, yes, green fashion is actually the norm in my communities in in NorCal. However, this might have a little to do with my BEING a fashion savvy eco-friendly DESIGNER ♡

    • Thanks for your comments, Taluah. Lucky you in Northern Cali! A consistent, industry-wide marker that can help foster new behaviors is what I hope to see someday in the future.

  4. Very interesting article.Thank you for sharing it!

  5. This is an excellent post Melanie.

    Another part of the image problem green fashion has (as well as anyone promoting green lifestyles and greener purchasing decisions) in the US is that we have huge propaganda machines, in place to protect and promote corporate interests, that work around the clock to convince people that global warming is not man-made, environmental practices and requirements kill jobs, etc. The other side of the movement needs a better story than ‘green is better, buy green’ – something that touches people more personally.

    I have stores that ask me to remove the word ‘hugger’ from my tree hugger necklace because it turns people off. The tell me their customers think it sounds ‘preachy’. Americans do not want to be told what to do – we know this.

    I think you are correct in saying green fashion needs to be more inclusive – green in general needs to be more inclusive because otherwise so much of our message backfires with people who do not have the time to understand the issues, are given incorrect information, are worried about what any changes will mean to their family’s finances, etc – all valid stuff to a lot of people. We need to give people a reason to care. We can’t even get GMO labeling here. There are so many people not being reached with the current message ….

  6. Such a well-written and thoughtful article Melanie!

    I think that your suggestion to require labeling of textiles is spot-on! Whether to acknowledge ethical production practices, or to identify additives (like the carcinogenic anti-inflammatory additives in children’s pajamas), it would be an incredible step forward for the eco-friendly movement.

    And we already see so many consumers who are becoming savvy along these lines. With the recent and tragic sweatshop fires bringing the issue to the public’s attention, I’ve seen more and more people looking at labels for production origins. They’re consciously choosing “made in the USA” or “fair trade” designations. It’s a promising sign!

    And I think that the green lines of products are considered separate and different, but I don’t see that as being negative. I think because sustainable products are an exception, rather than a rule, you will see them highlighted and touted.

    I dream of the day when I can drop my “eco-friendly” label because it becomes secondary to my designs. But at this phase, people are specifically seeking out sustainable products because they are still a rarity. Once we are in a world where it is more of a norm we’ll start to see the blending happening with greater frequency. And from the rapid growth of my business, and the demand for my handmade eco-designs, I am optimistic that it’s beyond the green-washing trend and that consumers are truly becoming more conscientious. But a textile nutrition label would help propel that even further and faster.

    • Thanks for your comments, Lydia! As a fellow designer I share your perspective.

      When it comes to those factory fires in Bangladesh, public awareness certainly increased. Here in Canada a label called Joe Fresh was found to be contracting there, among others. However, after the tragedy 6 months ago at Rana Plaza where over 1,000 people lost their lives, sales at Joe Fresh remained unchanged. Even increased, according to some reports.

      I think this highlights the fact that it is not consumers’ attitudes we need to change- nobody would condone those working conditions uncovered by the tragedy -it is their behaviors.