Customers shop at a store of Forever 21 to close down at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, 20 May 2019. A growing number of foreign fast fashion brands that used to fill the wardrobes of young Chinese have been going out of style. On Thursday afternoon, the three-story Forever 21 store on Changde Road in Shanghai was in disarray. The store was holding a big fire sale to liquidate its inventory, with all items selling for 30 yuan ($4.38) or less. Some counters were cluttered with piles of dumped shoes and clothes, and customers were rummaging through the piles as if searching for treasures in a rubbish heap. A salesperson at the store told the Global Times on Sunday that Forever 21 is soon going to exit the mainland market, but she said she hadn't heard from the company about the exact date.  (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Has greenwashing worsened amid sustainability’s rise?

According to a survey released Wednesday from San Diego-based biotechnology company Genomatica, based on insight from 2,000 U.S. consumers, nearly nine out of 10 consumers (or 88 percent) remain distrustful of brands’ green claims and half say the industry has earned a reputation for “greenwashing.”

Many consumers remain at odds with how to source or vet credible options.

Amid the confusion, some 31 percent of consumers would even support a “fast-fashion tax” for companies on clothing that’s unsustainable, which reinforces growing themes toward fashion activism. Brands like ThredUp, Allbirds and Amendi, initiatives like PoliticallyinFashion and designers — among them Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney — are already taking an active stance against greenwashing.

“The good news is, consumers want to make more sustainable choices when they’re purchasing clothing, and many would pay more for those options. However, consumers don’t inherently trust brands’ sustainability claims and believe greenwashing is common,” said Genomatica’s chief executive officer Christophe Schilling, in line with October reports from firms like Compare Ethics.

Noting the challenge ahead for fashion brands to prove themselves trustworthy, Schilling said the brand front-runners will, or already have begun to embrace “clearer labeling and wider availability for sustainable options in clothing.”

According to the survey, half of consumers would support sustainability labeling to help them identify sustainable clothes while shopping.

Schilling believes carbon footprint labeling — like those efforts seen from Allbirds — for clothing will see a renewed drive. Calling it a “competitive differentiator,” Schilling said “brands have the opportunity to use labeling to educate consumers about an item’s carbon footprint and beyond to include the clothing’s full life cycle — from the materials used, to the production processes, to bringing the product to market — giving them a holistic understanding of what’s behind their claims.”

With venture capital funding pouring into zero-waste marketplaces and solutions, the imperative to match consumers with an all-in-one sustainability clothing store may come soon. The survey found one in three U.S. consumers would do all of their shopping at a sustainable clothing store — if “only one existed” (exemplifying the lack of know-how).

A plethora of sustainable luxury platforms like FashionkindThe House of LR&C and The Folklore have grown in awareness in recent years.

The Genomatica survey also noted how the pandemic sculpted shopping behavior. Prior to the pandemic, 30 percent of people said they used shopping sprees to pacify anxiety, depression and loneliness but the purchasing dropped off during the pandemic. Half of consumers reported feeling less pressure to “wear a different outfit every day.”

For More, See:

Only 20 Percent of Consumers Trust Brand Sustainability Claims, Study Finds