Fashion: Why Green Is Not The New Black

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Part of the challenge of the environmental movement in the developed world is to get people to look more deeply into their lifestyles and consumer choices: to see, for example, that cellophane-wrapped beef probably comes from a cow that fed on grain grown on land cleared of rain forest, which accelerates climate change.
But while ethical eating has gained traction in the mainstream, one aspect of our lifestyle lags well behind: style itself. In clothing, green, it seems, is not the new black—at least not yet.
At least that’s according to a new, but small study, carried out by the International University of Monaco (IUM). In a survey of more than 100 Europeans and North Americans, researchers found that organic fashion did not have the same glamor as organic food.
“Although consumers are ready to pay a premium to purchase organic food, they do not yet see the interest in organic fashion,” Sandrine Ricard, Vice-President of IUM and part of the research team said in a statement released by the University. “There is a need to better inform consumers about the nature of organic fashion and to continue ‘glamorizing’ both the communication and the products.”

(Click here for TIME’s list of the top 100 Green designers)

Here is the pertinent parts of the press release provided by the university:

Researchers found that North Americans perceive green fashion more favorably, in part because eco-clothing brands have been launched by celebrities, such as the brand, Edun, run by Bono and his wife. North Americans associate green fashion with a woman in her 20’s, simple but sexy, who wears organic shoes and clothing.
On the other hand, European respondents perceive organic fashion consumers as unglamorous. A typical consumer would be a simple woman in her 40’s, wealthy, having a healthy lifestyle but unsophisticated. Because organic products are more expensive, Europeans associate organic with social status and showing-off.
The research team also concluded that the concept of green fashion is not clear to the majority of respondents. Consumers seem lost in the exact meaning of green fashion and lack information on norms and processes. In Europe, green fashion must become more attractive to the young generation to be a viable consumer option.

This last graph might be the most pertinent. What does green fashion actually mean? Non-toxic dyes? Organic wool? Ethical employment to offshore factory workers? Without certification program or governing bodies to assure consumers they are purchasing ethical products, fashion is open to all sorts of green wash shenanigans—such as one brand that recently tagged a clothing line as green because it used recycled paper price tags, without offering any more information on the production of the actual clothing.
It is not impossible to shift public consciousness about fashion—think of how the mainstream turned on fur 30 years ago. But clearly the clothing industry needs to be more clear on what they mean by going green.

(Click here to read TIME”s story on eco-friendly shopping bags).