The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Greenwashing

As green fashion is on the rise, unfortunately so is greenwashing. And it’s easy to fall for. Whether it’s that popular vegan shoe line generally believed to be made in Los Angeles (but check the soles and you’ll discover it’s made in China), or that very successful eco-friendly clothing brand which has quietly been moving its manufacturing from California to overseas (and I’m not talking about to England), or even the designer label celebrated for its commitment to animal welfare and sustainability which isn’t actually vegan and definitely isn’t fair trade, there is a growing list of examples across both big and small brands practicing false advertising, deceptive marketing, and encouraged misconceptions. 

And trust me, I absolutely share your frustration. Just like you, I’ve been fooled and disappointed by some seemingly “sustainable” companies, and have learned a lot about careful consumerism along the way. 

So, how do you know who to actually trust? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

The Smart Shopper's Guide to Greenwashing


There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with manufacturing in China, Bangladesh, or India – but there is something wrong with a company misleading consumers to believe they aren’t. If you’re shopping online, check the product page for information on where something is made. If it’s not listed or if the language is vague (“imported”), that should raise a red flag. If their marketing touts one thing (“Made in USA!”) but their products are listed with another (“Made in China”) you would be right to be skeptical. If you’re shopping IRL, Country of Origin Labeling is legally required here in America so you should be able to find this information on any product. And once you know, then you can determine if it’s what you expected and what you’re comfortable with.


Words like “sustainable” “green” and “eco-friendly” don’t actually mean anything in fashion. Or, perhaps more correctly, they can mean absolutely anything a brand wants them to mean. Don’t be satisfied with generalities –  instead look for brands that offer verifiable information. Claims like fair trade and organic have certifying agencies which should be listed. PETA has a seal of approval for vegan brands. Most companies who are going out of their way to do something good will let you know, so look for information about things like commitment to waste or water or energy reduction, or how they are giving back in ways that are actually needed (see below). Word choices are important, and brands that are doing specific sustainable work will have the language to talk about it.

The Smart Shopper's Guide to Greenwashing


One-for-one business models and “take back” programs are having a moment, and while they are great in theory (who doesn’t want to clothe the needy or recycle their closet?), they aren’t always what they seem. These “free” handouts are often unwanted, unneeded, or even compete with local small businesses, or worse: they are sold to developing countries where they may be unwanted, unneeded, or compete with local small businesses. Just to be clear: I’m not saying these kinds of business models are always a bad idea (there are some that are doing really great work), but these are two practices that I always encourage you spend a bit more time researching before believing.  


Brands are more accessible than ever. Reach out by email, facebook, instagram, twitter, or any number of other methods and ask your questions. And then pay attention to the answers. If a brand doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t give you the right answer, you have a right to be wary.

I consider myself a pretty savvy shopper, but I still have to contact companies with questions all the time. Even just recently, I got something that claimed to be vegan, but once it arrived the content label disagreed. I wrote to the company and asked them about this discrepancy and they insisted that it was totally vegan, which tells me either they don’t know what vegan means or aren’t closely overseeing their manufacturing. Either way, that’s probably not the kind of company I want to support. Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to ask questions, and then be willing to do something about the answers.

The Smart Shopper's Guide to Greenwashing


I know the owner of every single brand available at Bead & Reel, and it gives me a high level of trust. I have a sense of who they are and what their intentions are, and I know that they try their hardest to make the best possible choices, and will correct any mistakes made along the way.  And I hope my brand Bead & Reel can offer that for you. Perhaps you don’t know the owners of the companies you shop with, and maybe you and I don’t know each other yet, but I will always try to provide the clearest, most honest information I can about each product in my shop, and you can reach out to me any time with questions.

I know that it can seem pretty daunting to know what’s real and what’s not (#fashionfakenews) but take heart: the rise is greenwashing also means that there is a rise in the desire for green products, which is a great thing. Our job now is to try to make the best choices we can, and to continue to ask fashion brands to do the same. 


This was previously published at Bead & Reel.

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Sica Schmitz

Sica Schmitz is the founder and curator of Bead & Reel, the online ethical boutique for eco-friendly, cruelty-free, sweatshop-free fashion, and the winner of the 2017 Sustainable Business Council's Sustainable Business Award. With a background in costume design and sustainable styling, she is active in fair trade and vegan fashion both locally and globally as a Fair Trade LA board member, the Fashion Editor of Vilda Magazine, and the founder and host of the annual Fair Trade Fashion Show Fundraiser in Los Angeles. A frequent speaker and writer, she has been featured in dozens of publications including Bustle, Origin Magazine, The Good Trade, and Vegan Life Magazine.

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