On youtube and social media I try to share how I live more consciously, but the part of my life you don’t see is the hours and hours I spend researching – looking into brands, reading studies, and catching up on the latest sustainable fashion news and blog posts. When I went to school for fashion design, I even wrote my thesis on slow fashion, and yet I always feel like I still don’t have enough information. As someone who still feels frustrated even with being able to dedicate a lot of time to research, I totally understand how difficult it can be for someone who doesn’t have that time to spend but still wants reliable information.
I was inspired to write this post after receiving this question from Kara on a recent video:
“I would love to hear your thoughts on how to find reliable information online for people trying to live zero waste/ sustainable lifestyles. It seems to me that a lot of people re-post content that they read on someone else’s blog (or many other blogs), without independently researching whatever topic they’re discussing… Are there organizations that cull and publish verified data relevant to zero waste alternatives? Or any organization that helps consumers decide which of several different choices is least harmful to the environment? It’s important to me that if I’m making such concerted efforts to do no harm, that my choices be backed by evidence!”
First, in response to your question, Kara, it’s really awesome that you care about evidence and verified data! There’s a lot of false and unsubstantiated information so it’s important to be skeptical, but the short answer is no, there isn’t a way to easily get verified data. There is both too much and not enough information, plus a lot of biased perspectives (including my own).
There are some things that can help though!
Project Just is a platform I really recommend for researching clothing brands. They compile information from the brand itself, from news reports, and from reports from organizations like Clean Clothes Campaign to give you a snapshot of the brand with links so you can do your own research.
There are also platforms like the EWG Skindeep where you can research beauty products and ingredients but it has it’s faults and criticisms. There are rating sites like Good On You, GoodGuide or Ethical Consumer, but you need to look into exactly what their ratings are based on in order to make sure they align with what you’re looking for. Ratings are also very difficult, because we each have different priorities and it’s unlikely the ratings weigh different things the same way you would. These can still be good resources and places to start from, but all of the sites I’ve found have their own pros and cons.
One resource that I definitely recommend for sustainable fashion information is Copenhagen Fashion Summit’s Pulse of the Industry Report. It includes a lot of information from studies, surveys, brands, and reports (you can also get more info in the references too). They will apparently also be updating it yearly, which is really wonderful – not only because it means that we can see changes over time, but also because we’ll have more current information.
In terms of making sure information is reliable, when reading a blog post or news article there should be links to facts and sources. Follow these links back as far as they go (like you mentioned this unfortunately might be through multiple websites); if you can’t get to the source or the source doesn’t seem reliable, try searching for other sources for more information. Ideally you want to find a credible news source or study. Sometimes you’ll come up empty handed, though; for example, I ran into this when researching the “fact” that “fashion is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world” – I tried checking and tracing this multiple times and never could find a proper source. Alden Wicker did even further research in her piece for Racked, We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment and found no actual studies proving this and yet this “fact” is everywhere.
Another issue is that stats and facts are always changing. Some things I learned in school 4-5 years ago are now completely different: there’s new technology, and also totally new issues- microfibre pollution for example wasn’t discussed at all a few years ago – so it’s really difficult to find resources that are updated.
I think there is always an element of gut-feeling and trust, though. When reading through a brand’s information, try to think about what they’re not saying. Vague and very general statements like “we care about our environment” I always see as a red flag. The brands I trust are those who are transparent, don’t seem like they’re trying to hide anything, are happy to answer questions, and will also admit that there are things they can improve.
As content creators, I think we can all do a better job of fact-checking, but I also understand why information gets relayed from blog to blog. It already takes so much more work to write a post about “5 eco-friendly products” than it does to write a more traditional fashion blog post like “5 lipstick colours for fall”. The conscious bloggers I know are all creating content because it’s something they believe in, and want to advocate for more conscious consumption and lifestyles. The majority do it in their spare time for next to no compensation, and no one has endless time or teams of people to research and fact-check everything. But more so than that, there is a severe lack of studies and information to reference in the first place. Fashion in particular is often not taken seriously as a sustainability issue; it’s seen as something frivolous, and brands have also worked hard to keep people unaware of how their clothes are made.
So what can you do as a consumer who wants more information?
- Look for articles or studies from reputable organizations.
- Trace back source links.
- Ask yourself “why was this written?” – is it just to promote a product or is it to provide helpful information?
- Assess a company’s transparency and ask them questions. (I have a video about researching brands)
- Look for trustworthy bloggers and content creators – I really recommend Ethical Writers & Creatives, a lot of the members are incredibly knowledgeable, passionate, and put a ton of research into their work.
- Finally, try your best, and support others who are also trying their best, but remember that no one is perfect and that’s ok.
The industry is changing; there’s always new information and hopefully with a growing interest in more sustainable consumption and lifestyles, that also means that over time, we’ll have more research and studies available. It’s a lifelong journey, though, and all we can do is keep learning and trying to improve.