Green-washing is the term the sustainable community uses to describe when a company or organization is presenting itself to be sustainable but in reality it is not (it’s borrowed from the term whitewashing). Companies will appear to be “green” to appeal to a larger/newer audience for financial gain. Aside from being dishonest, this approach is detrimental to the sustainable movement. How we spend our money is just as powerful as our vote. If we are supporting misleading companies, the responsible ones will not thrive. Also, misinforming people creates bad habits and habits are hard to break. That’s why transparency is a major component in the sustainable fashion movement. More and more companies are revealing their policies and practices so consumers can make thoughtful purchasing decisions.
Not very long ago, Pineapple Clothing approached me to be an ambassador for their active wear line. They found me on Instagram. Having brand ambassadors is a trendy marketing approach that clothing lines use to generate brand awareness and sales. Since I hadn’t heard of them, I wanted to know more. I visited their website to check out their designs and noticed the term “eco-friendly” frequently used. However, what I did not see was an explanation of their process and what qualifies them as eco-friendly. This should be a red flag. A brand that is dedicated to being sustainable puts their processes and principles upfront and center. Pineapple uses the term eco-friendly, but wasn’t presenting any supporting evidence.
I asked for more details and their response was: “Our manufacturing process is eco friendly.” That didn’t tell me anything else. When it comes to manufacturing a garment in an eco-friendly manner, water consumption, energy emissions, chemical use and waste created during the raw materials and processing stages are taken into consideration. It is extremely rare for a brand to be 100% sustainable in the manufacturing process: even the greenest of the greens haven’t reached full sustainability yet. When a brand is truthful and thoughtful in its process, they know where their process is sustainable and where it needs to be improved. I asked for an expanded explanation and was referred to this supporting email:
“Pineapple’s products are made from sustainable materials, while waste is reduced through remanufacturing, reuse and recycling. Our Eco-friendly production is earth-friendly and not harmful to the environment. Thank you.” Again, another vague response. It did not explain what makes their materials sustainable, nor did it explain what is being reused and recycled. And I’m still not sure what they mean when they claim “remanufacturing.” Perhaps it is directed to the machines used in the manufacturing process because clothes can’t be remanufactured. I followed up twice, asking if they could explain more as to what made their materials sustainable and their production eco-friendly. I even offered to do the research myself if they didn’t know. I was more than happy to reach out to their vendors to learn more. Instead, they ghosted on me. Another red flag.
I went back to their website to dig deeper – maybe I was missing something. I started with the materials they use since the support staff brought it up first. I discovered that their active wear is made with microfiber polyester (82%) and spandex (18%).
Here are a few things one should know about microfiber polyester and spandex:
Microfiber polyester is bad.
- Microfiber is synthetic ultra-fine fibers, approximately 1/5 the diameter of a human hair. When washed, the fibers break down creating tiny threads shed from the fabric. These fibers are too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants so the tiny microplastics end up in our waterways and oceans. Fish consume them and now they are part of the food chain. In a recent global investigation performed by the non-profit organization Orb Media, 83% of tap water tested was contaminated by microplastics, potentially effecting billions of people worldwide.
- Microfiber that is made from polyester is not biodegradable.
- Polyester is made with petroleum (crude oil) and other chemicals. It takes a lot of energy to make. Once the garments ends up in the landfill, it will take around 200+ years to decompose.
Spandex is bad.
- Spandex is made with chemicals (and some toxic chemicals) and like polyester, takes a lot of energy to produce.
- Spandex can’t be recycled. In fact, the elasticity messes up the machines that recycle fibers for reuse. Any item made with spandex cannot be broken down.
- Spandex is not biodegradable.
To break down the response I got from the support staff:
“Pineapple’s products are made from sustainable materials….” No, they are not. They are made with toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment.
“…while waste is reduced through remanufacturing, reuse and recycling.” Well, the materials they use can’t be recycled or reused due to the spandex so waste is not reduced; and using the term remanufacturing in that sentence is still a mystery to me.
No where throughout their website could I find any information about their sustainable manufacturing process.
Their statement, “Our Eco-friendly production is earth-friendly and not harmful to the environment. Thank you” is inaccurate.
The people at Pineapple Clothing may not be aware that they are green-washing. The vendors they outsource to for manufacturing could have told them, “hey, we’re eco” and Pineapple was like “great, let’s do it” and didn’t dig any deeper into the process. However, in order for the fashion industry to switch to being sustainable, companies need to be held accountable for their actions. This would require them knowing the details of all the aspects of their business. Being uneducated is not an excuse. No way around it: green-washing exists. As a consumer I challenge you to ask questions and not accept everything you hear advertised from a company – as it may be a staged self-promoting agenda.
Many thanks to Alexandra McNair from Fashion FWD for being my second set of eyes on this and providing awesome feedback.