Why greenwashing will stop the fashion industry reaching its potential

Woman in green dress at Fashion Week

Words by Nathália Grisard

As Fashion Week comes to London, Conduit member and GNGR Bees founder, Nathália Grisard, reflects on what her experience working as a model and entrepreneur has taught her about greenwashing, consumer responsibility and the potential for a cleaner and more creative fashion industry.

I threw on my puffer jacket & beanie and wandered down towards Kensington Gardens with my golden retriever, Sammy.

It was a mild yet bright September morning and we saw a few familiar faces, as well as lots of unfamiliar ones. I paused for a moment – the images of people in Pantone colour-coordinated outfits was both perplexing and strangely familiar. I quickly put two and two together: it’s Fashion Week.

I smiled to myself: a world that was once so familiar to me now seems so distant. Teenage Nathália was captivated by the trappings of the fashion world – the bright lights, catwalk, hair and make-up, private drivers and travelling – ignorant to what lay below that shiny surface. As my time in the industry went on, the façade started to fracture, giving glimpses of something I realised I didn’t want to be a part of.

Sammy and I stopped by a tree and watched the models for a while, waiting backstage before they passed through the curtains, gliding down the runaway. Though it looked like any other fashion show, this year there was a heavy undercurrent. The fashion world has long been criticised for various reason but it felt as though for the first time this year that criticism had gained mainstream momentum. As I watched the show get underway, I felt reassured of the position I had taken when I decided it was time for me to change paths.

I was first exposed to the inner workings of the fashion world when working as a model for big fashion houses. For all the critique I may level at this industry, at its best fashion was, and is, an art form; it holds the incredible power to be transformative. On the other hand, the industry does itself a disservice because all of this beauty is built on ugly foundations. I don’t want the fashion industry to be destroyed – in fact, I want the complete opposite.

The rise of greenwashing

As we are all increasingly aware, the fashion industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to the environment, human rights and animal welfare. A trend that perhaps has the most to answer for on all three of these fronts is fast fashion. Fast fashion is the concept that by the time you have bought an item of clothing from the shop, taken it home, cut its tags and put it on your body, it is already outdated – and this is purely done to drive profits. The fear that anyone could be seen on social media in the same outfit more than once is enough to terrify any teen (and maybe not just teens).

Although we are becoming more conscious as consumers, this has led to a new, and even more worrying trend: greenwashing. Greenwashing is a two-way street: the responsibility lies not only with brands but also with individuals. We’ve entered into a greenwashing bargain, where we tell the fashion industry, ourselves and anyone that listens, that we want to be green. The fashion industry responds by taking token steps that are just enough to appease our fickle conscience. Looking closely, however, it’s obvious that these half measures (at most) aren’t going to be enough to make a lasting social and environmental impact. The most significant casualty in this greenwashing bargain continues to be sustainability.

Balancing profit with purpose

It is because I have so much love for fashion that the current system disappoints me. It is, after all, possible to live in a world where businesses are not only driven by profitability but also by the exciting chase of creating products that align with the current sustainability agenda for the world we all want to see in the future. We must disrupt the greenwashing cycle but to do that effectively, both companies and individuals must sign the deal.

So, how is it that we do this?

I don’t know an absolute answer but here are some ways we can begin: for companies, it is about making your social and environmental impact just as important as your profits and aligning yourself to be open and honest about what your company is doing well and what it can improve. For the individual, is not about shifting responsibility onto companies and governments before first looking at, and changing, our own habits: the way we think, consume and act.

For now, each time I come out of the station and walk down New Bond Street on my way to The Conduit, I find those glossy window displays and new outfits less and less appealing.

About Nathália Grisard

Nathália is an entrepreneur with a passion to raise and inspire others in the field of sustainable fashion. She is the founder of GNGR Bees, an activewear brand that aims to continuously reduce waste and environmental impact on every part of its supply chain. GNGR Bees works with social enterprises and charities around the world in order to reclaim, recycle & up-cycle disposed materials to make every component of the business’ supply chain – from the product to the packaging – with as little waste as possible. When Nathália isn’t working, she is playing with her two golden retrievers in the park or doing something active with her husband. She loves boxing, travelling, meditation and acro yoga.