Gen Z and Millenials will soon become the most extensive consumer base in fashion, with 143 billion dollars in spending power. (Fashion Takes Action). The concern of these markets for sustainable clothing is growing every day, as they start to be able to afford sustainable fashion and support businesses with sustainable practices.

In response to this matter, many fashion companies are doing their best to adopt sustainable practices that will make their products appealing to sustainably conscious consumers. But this transition cannot occur in a short period as if it was a simple curtain replacement. So in an attempt to be sustainable quickly, many companies are doing the bare minimum (or nothing whatsoever).

The Guilt Free Campaigns

Guilt free is one of the most common slogans or phrases that fast fashion companies portray in their advertisements. They want consumers to buy without the thought that they contribute to harmful effects on the environment. And the truth is, some great fashion companies are doing a fantastic job in making their clothes as sustainable and possible, and there are some who just focus on the perception of clothes looking "sustainable."

Today, we'll talk about how to identify if a fashion product is truly sustainable and is truly a guilt-free product or if it's just a great marketing strategy making you think you are buying sustainable clothes.

Red Flag 1: The Fiber Percentages Are Off

Cotton is the most used natural fiber worldwide. Image Courtesy of Heddels.

By law, every garment sold and distributed in the United States must have a label with the fiber content and care instructions. This is very beneficial for the consumer because this helps us make smarter decisions based on our wash and care preferences, and of course, our fiber preference. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicates that you can have a blend of different types of one fiber, so if you have a t-shirt with 10% organic cotton and 90% regular cotton, the fashion company can technically put in the label 100% cotton, or 10% organic cotton, 90% another cotton". 

There is room to be inaccurate and misleading.

It may sound like it's not a big deal how much of each cotton is in one t-shirt, so let's talk about the difference between organic cotton and "other" cotton.

Conventional cotton

It takes about 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt.

The fertilizers and pesticides used to grow conventional cotton threaten the quality of soil and water. (World Wild Life).

These chemicals threaten the health of biodiversity with the release of toxins. And in the long-term, due to the accumulation of these toxins in rivers, lakes, and soil.

Nearly half of the clothes worldwide have conventional cotton to some extent, it is the cheapest way to manufacture this fiber, but even though it comes from a natural source, it's very damaging to the environment.

In contrast, organic cotton

Uses 62% less energy

36% lower carbon emissions

26% lower soil erosion.

62% lower energy demand

  • 46% lower CO2-emissions
  • 26% lower soil erosion


Navy organic cotton hoodie by Awolken.

In the long term, the difference in your choice between a cotton hoodie and an organic cotton hoodie could mean a significant amount of water and carbon emission reduction. Choose sustainable and ethical clothes as your budget allows you to. 

When a garment is truly made of recycled or organic fibers, the tag will specify the percentages accurately. If you see vague tags with no specific percentages, it is very likely that the sustainable fiber was barely used. If a company is using materials that are good for the environment in a generous way, they won't hide it.

This might be just fine for many consumers; just make sure you buy what you think you are buying and don't let vague tags fool you with how much sustainable material you are wearing. 

Red Flag 2: I Don’t Have a Good Reason to Buy It

Social media platforms expose us to millions of images related to fashion products that we can buy in a matter of seconds. Image Courtesy of Cosmopolitan.

It is getting easier and easier to buy clothes online. Amazon lets you buy products with one click. Many fashion brands set up an online store through Instagram so that you can purchase items without leaving the social media app. It is very easy to see an appealing piece of clothing on your favorite influencer or celebrity and buy it within a matter of seconds. Without enough time to digest how the garment would look on you, where would you wear it, how much do you even like it, and how long may it be in style?

All of these questions are very relevant when purchasing clothes. After all, one of the quickest and most effective ways to practice sustainable fashion, is by reducing our consumption, so we must reflect on how much we want/need a piece of clothing before purchasing it.

Remember that all bodies and skins are different, so it is very likely that the clothes that your favorite celebrity is wearing on the Instagram post will look different on you. That is part of our uniqueness as human beings. So think about how the clothes you are about to buy online may fit you and adapt to your body shape. If possible, the best way to know this is to go to the store and try it on first. 

No filters, no corny captions, just you and the piece of clothing in front of a mirror.

How easy can you combine it, how often will you use it, is it a fad or a classic?

Red Flag 3: The Quality is Sketchy

Tik Tok has become a great platform for honest reviews on the quality of clothing and other products. Kylie Jenner’s swimsuit line review. Image Courtesy of Distractify

The quality of a garment can be very easy to see in many cases. You've probably seen a fast fashion bag made of plastic leather, where the material feels very fragile, and it starts to peel off after a few weeks. Then there's also the extremely thin fabrics that are almost transparent and won't survive more than three field trips to the laundry. 

It can be embellished, beautifully packed, or creatively advertised, but a crappy piece of clothing will always be a crappy piece of clothing.

Take some time to analyze how good or bad the quality of a garment is before you buy it. As an informed customer who is spending money on a brand, you deserve clothing that will serve its purpose, and will last a decent amount of time. 

Red Flag 4: Greenwashing

Greenwashing is about making things look sustainable even though they remain harmful to the environment. Image Courtesy of UNAM Global.

As consumers who want to make smarter decisions on shopping, we may feel attracted to these unbleached tags with a tree drawn and a recycling icon printed on them. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the clothes are actually sustainable.

It is very easy to include words related to sustainability in advertisements, labels, packaging, and signs. After all, there are no legal restrictions that prohibit greenwashing advertisements, so  fashion companies can lie about how sustainable or not their products are. So when we run into a piece of clothing that says it is sustainable, we must ask ourselves: "Well, how is it sustainable?" if the answer is hard to find in the tags, the signs of the store, or the information the associates have, then it's very likely that it is not a sustainable piece of clothing. 

Greenwashing advertisements prefer green colors and don’t explain how their product or service is truly sustainable. Image Courtesy of BBC.

To make greenwashing even worse, fast fashion companies like Zara are sending a misleading message with their "Join Life" tags. These tags have a message that says that the product was made with ethical water stewardship, which is nice and a huge improvement; however, this only refers to the tag and not to the full garment!

Some fashion companies are sending sustainable messages on their tags, but the clothes are not sustainable, just the tags! Image Courtesy of Moda Es

As a client, you deserve to know the true values of the company you are supporting. You deserve to have accurate facts about the clothes you wear. You don't deserve lies! Truly sustainable fashion won't lie to you about the clothes they sell; they will share proudly with you what their efforts are on this transition towards a more sustainable way of consuming fashion.

A truly sustainable garment will have an accurate description of how a garment is actually sustainable. It may describe the way it was manufactured, the origin of the materials, their efforts in recycling textile waste to make new clothes, and overall, how they are not so harmful to the environment.

In a fashion world where many clothing companies want to be sustainable, make sure to dig a little deeper.

Red Flag 5: The Fashion Company Has Poor Grades

Consumers are demanding transparency from fashion companies. They want to know how their clothes are made. That is Political Fashion! Image Courtesy of Texas Standard.

When we were in school, our behavior, our "intelligence," and our overall performance at school were summarized in a letter grade. This letter grade was (in most cases) determined by a variety of factors and encouraged us to improve in certain areas to get better grades.

Since many fashion companies are facing challenges being transparent with their path towards sustainable clothing, other organizations are taking an extra step by doing further investigation on fashion companies. Good on You, for instance, is a global organization that rates fashion companies from different parts of the world, considering these four factors:

  • People (Policies and practices on child labor, worker safety, gender equality, and workplace environment).
  • Planet (Carbon Emissions, water stewardship, microfiber pollution, chemical use)
  • Animals (Animal welfare policies and practices).

With deep research and key data sources, Good on You gives ratings on where are these fashion companies in these three areas and why their rating is high, low, or somewhere in the middle. 

As we’ve mentioned here in Political Fashion, in order for fashion to be sustainable, it should be ethical as well. Ethical clothing comes from a place where workers are treated fairly, materials are managed ethically, and animals and natural resources are respected in the process.

This information is a response to the lack of transparency and misleading advertisements that fashion companies keep sending. Do your own research, and don't rely solely on the information that these companies post on their website and social media.

Red Flag 6: A Recycling Bin that Makes you buy more

Throwing clothes into a recycling bin doesn’t guarantee these clothes will get recycled. There’s so much textile waste and not enough recyclers yet. Image Courtesy of Times Of India.

In an effort to bring more consciousness to textile waste, many big fashion companies started to include recycling bins in their physical stores, where consumers can put their old clothes and get a discount to purchase new clothes.

 Let's analyze this strategy one more time…

Fashion companies are giving you a discount to buy more of their clothes if you throw yours in a recycling bin. Buying more clothes only because of a coupon is not a sustainable practice, and it shouldn't be encouraged this way. In order for us to reduce waste, we need to reduce our consumption. If we need to reduce our consumption, we must make smarter shopping decisions and evaluate what is really missing in our wardrobe that we actually need and what we can leave hanging in the store if it doesn't fulfill an essential need. 

Separating your clothes from the rest of the trash is a great practice, and putting them in a recycling bin gives more chances for your old clothes to get recycled. But we need to draw a line when the stores want us to buy new clothes that we don't need. It can be very tempting as you hold a coupon with a timely expiration date, but think about the money you can save and the textile waste you'll stop producing!

We live in a world of filters that change people's faces and bodies, apps that change people's voices, and companies that pretend to be sustainable even when they are not. Our best tool to face these red flags is to be curious because knowledge is power, and knowing where our clothes come from and how they are made will make us more informed and more ethical fashion consumers.