Why Greenwashing is a Problem

How do you make a product that has zero impact on the world? You make it with nothing but air. 

Which is to say, you don’t make it all. 

If you haven’t realized already, we are not in fact launching a new collection made of air. Instead, Cuyana’s “Made With Air” campaign was an act of friendly provocation, one intended to spark introspection and conversation in the sustainable fashion space. 

The stats you’ve probably heard before bear repeating: The fashion industry makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, with 85% of textiles ending up in landfills. Greenwashing — the practice of embellishing or falsifying claims to overstate an organization’s positive impact on the environment — is present in at least 50% of sustainability marketing. 

On the one hand, our campaign was intended in part to criticize this widespread practice. But conversely, we also wanted to highlight the fact that it’s not possible to be perfect. In the hope of sparking a constructive dialogue, we intentionally embellished and misled you in order to make two key points. 

First, we believe that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. There is no 100% perfect or zero-impact way of producing and selling clothes and apparel. Furthermore, there isn’t even a singular definition for sustainability, let alone one shared vision that the industry adheres to. Therefore, the phrase “sustainable brand” isn’t a particularly useful qualifier. 

So when you come across marketing messages as a responsible consumer, we encourage you to always pause and consider: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. False or embellished marketing creates distrust between brands and consumers and desensitizes us to the larger problem. 

At Cuyana, we are focused on impact reduction at every step in our product’s journey, from producing responsibly, maximizing wear, extending the life of the garment and providing end-of-wear solutions. For example, with our Traceable Alpaca, we ensured every step in the production process, from farm to finish, minimized environmental impact. With our Single Origin Cashmere, we also minimized our impact on the planet by sourcing our materials from a single place and using 100% unblended and unbleached cashmere. These are just two examples of our production processes, but first and foremost, we ask ourselves: Does this product even need to be made? We humbly invite all brands — not just the ones that the press touts as “sustainable” — to join us on this journey and ask themselves that question as well. 

Our second point is that we believe it’s time for a shift in the conversation in sustainable fashion. We want to see it move away from blanket sustainability claims to true impact reduction measures. At present, we see an industry that spends far too much time deconstructing and picking holes in each other’s progressive efforts, rather than learning from each other’s successes. We’d like to see industry players champion and collaborate with one another to effect meaningful change, rather than criticize the steps others have taken. 

We invite you to discuss the nuances and tradeoffs brands make every day in their design and manufacturing choices, as we’ve tried to elucidate in this campaign and blog series. We hope you’ll join us in being a positive voice in this discourse. Thank you for being a part of Cuyana’s journey.

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