Greenwashed

By
April 21, 2008

Taking advantage of star-studded efforts to promote environmental consciousness, retailers have learned to make green from green. Under the new marketing strategy, dubbed “greenwashing,” retailers are churning out affordable green-themed apparel, mostly targeting young girls.

In the past couple of years retailers including JC Penny, Wal-Mart and Target have introduced a green section on their floors, only some of their garments are not actually environmentally friendly.

True green clothing is made from environmentally sustainable products like organic cotton, hemp or bamboo.
Instead, the popular green “statement” shirts are just that; green statements pressed on 100 percent conventional cotton.

In the U.S., commercial cotton farms use approximately 600,000 tons of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers each season. The runoff from irrigation seeps into the ground and surface water and contaminates it, harming the environment, wildlife and humans.

Because of this, Target shopper and self-described “hardcore recycler,” San Leandro resident, Jessica Gilbert, 21, said she feels the trendy green garments with messages like “stay green” are hypocritical.

“Just having a message like that on your shirt when it’s not
actually made of recycled materials isn’t going to do anything,” said Gilbert. “It’s more proactive to do things like recycle and turn off the lights when you leave the room.”

The green-colored marketing strategy has trickled down from chic international designers to department store knock-offs.

In June 2007, London designer Anya Hindmarch released the “I’m not a plastic bag,” tote bag to overnight success. On the day of its release, the originally $15 canvas tote fetched $400 on E-bay. The tote bags, like “green is the new black” tees, are popular with starlets like Paris Hilton.

Young girls emulating conservation-hip stars are the biggest consumers of eco-chic merchandise. It’s making some feel that industry and consumer choices have less to do with the environment and more to do with fad fashion.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Gilbert. “What’s the point? Just to make you look good?”

At the JC Penny in Richmond’s Hilltop Mall, “envi-ronmental tees” are big sellers, but only in the girls’ department.

Colorful stacks of yellow, green and pink shirts are strategically folded to display the “Live Free” statements etched into butterfly and panda bear-covered tees.

Remove a shirt from its vibrant stack, and in very small gray font, the tag of the ecologically advertised tee is stamped 100 percent cotton, made in USA. Next to it, a colorful shirt reads “100% Organic.”

In the boys’ section, truly green tees are advertised as “Novelty Tees,” made in El Salvador from organic cotton. The camouflage-printed “recycle” and “stop animal testing” shirts are priced at $9.99 compared to the $19.99 priced girl tops.

Although the boys’ shirts are less expensive than the girls’ greenwashed shirts, JC Penny employee Hardip Kaur, who has been stationed at the cashier booth between the boys’ and girls’ section for three years, said the true green boy shirts do not sell as often.

“Only when we mark down to a clearance price like $4.99 or $3.99, then yeah, the moms will buy them,” said Kaur. “But the girls’ ones, we sell a lot always. Especially in the junior [girls’] section they sell a lot.”

There were no environmental shirts in the junior boys’ section.

At the Wal-Mart next to JC Penny, green statement shirts were only found in the ladies’ department.

“We have them here yearround and they say all kinds of green things,” said Assistant Manager Loraine, who would not give her last name. “But they’re not environmentally based. The girls love them though…they’re always restocking this section.”

Some would-be eco-consumers, argue that real eco-products are financially demanding, and green statement shirts and purses are affordable alternatives that at least get the green message out.

Gilbert disagrees. “It [sends out] a good message, but at the same time it would be even cooler if [they were] made of recycled materials.”

Although true sustainable living can get quite pricey,
organic cotton or recycled polyester can be reasonably priced.

On its Web site www.eco-apparel.ca, Eco Apparel, sells kids,’ men’s and women’s clothing at affordable prices.

A lime green men’s shirt with a pressed Rosie the Riveter look-a-like reads: “Nature’s Calling. It’s for you.” This organic cotton top is priced at $12.

Non-statement apparel made from eco- cotton and bamboo are also sold by Eco Apparel.

While shopping with her mother at the San Leandro Target at Bayfair Mall, Eliza-beth Amador, 13, said she prefers a shirt with a cute logo that isn’t sustainable over a plain shirt that is sustainable.

“These shirts are just cuter, you can buy matching green bracelets and hoop earrings for them,” said Amador. “I’m gonna wear this with skinny jeans,” she told her mom as she grabbed the “Stay Green” shirt imprinted with a squatting, mellow-looking frog.

Mom then swiftly skimmed through the rack of “recycle today for tomorrow” tops before comparing and matching a green headband with a “green is good” printed extra small for her daughter.


Greenwashed was published on April 21, 2008 in Features

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