Is Green Fashion an Oxymoron?

Fashion companies large and small are launching a wide array of green initiatives.

In the brutal aftermath of 9/11, in an effort to boost the nation’s economy and spirits, President Bush urged citizens to do something Americans are experts at: go shopping. Patriotic consumers bravely answered the call, and consumption rates jumped in the months after the terrorist attacks, with sales of homes, automobiles, appliances and luxury products reaching record levels, according to the Journal of Research for Consumers.

Now, facing another potential calamity—the destruction of our environment through global warming, depletion of natural resources, and deteriorating water, earth and air quality—consumers are again being encouraged to intervene with their shopping behavior. By purchasing the right automobile, household cleaner, brussels sprouts, washing machine, toilet paper and lightbulbs, just maybe Planet Earth can avoid its one-way trip to hell in a handbasket.

Today fashion companies large and small are launching a wide array of green initiatives, from sticking some bamboo fibers into underwear designs to building their own solar and wind facilities. However, while many of these efforts are truly beneficial to the planet in varying degrees, the headlong rush by apparel marketers to paint a green halo around their products also raises some interesting issues. Most basically, can an industry that thrives on disposable seasonal trends and the conspicuous consumption of status labels genuinely align its core values with the environmental ideals of moderation and conservation? After the hype around eco-chic subsides, will an industry that discards fads faster than you can say “trucker hat” remain committed to the arduous task of greening supply chains? And with consumers increasingly aware of “green washing”—i.e., false or misleading environmental claims—how do apparel companies effectively market their eco-fashions and burnish their environmental cred without garnering an eye-roll from shoppers?