Greenwashing is a concept conceived by Jay Westerveld in the 1980s as a term to explain the overuse of environmental marketing on products or services to increase sales and change public perception. The process of greenwashing is simple. A product may be marketed as 100% natural wool, but in reality contains 96% polyester and can never be recycled. Brands may use earthy, woody neutrals to suggest ideas of tree bark and wheat grass. The truth is murky, with a side of inconclusive. Counterfeit authenticity is running rampant in the fashion industry. Fast-fashion retailing giant H&M has their own “Conscious” line, even though they are sitting on $4.3 billion in unsold clothing from 2018. The true cost of greenwashing is that smaller, truly conscious brands are being overlooked for larger imposter brands. This practice leaves ethical brands grasping for recognition and market share. OOKIOH (pronounced o͞okēō ) is a prismatic collection of hues; their candy-colored swimsuits induce a longing for watermelon soft serve and lavender scented meringue. Only a year old, the brand is based on the feelings of nostalgia, leisure, and community. Less advertised is their position as a conscious brand. “I didn’t start with sustainability as a motivation, or to build a moat around the brand. I never thought that there was another option; true sustainability is a responsibility, and that is part of OOKIOH’s DNA,” said Vivek Agarwal, the founder of OOKIOH. Their swimsuits are a combination of post-consumer waste, such as fishing nets, fluff from carpet tops, and rigid textiles, and pre-consumer waste, using the byproducts from polyester and nylon production. To Agarwal, OOKIOH’s honest marketing relies on very careful wording. “Greenwashing has a significant impact on brands that are trying to be more responsible. Responsible, not sustainable, because sustainability is loosely used in the industry. If a brand is promoting the consumption of items that are carbon positive, it isn’t sustainable; repurposing or wearing used/old clothes is sustainable,” Agarwal said. Carbon positive is another term used to describe being climate positive or carbon neutral. For a brand to be climate positive means that they are going beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions, and are actually removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “We stay away from calling ourselves a ‘sustainable’ brand. We have been very mindful of using that term. However, others aren’t. They are conscious of the choice of words used to mislead the customers,” Agarwal said. Agarwal’s strategy to counteract the low price standard set by fast fashion is to produce products of greater quality at a more reasonable price point. “We offer suits at $98 and use the same materials as some $150 plus suits. We do this by lowering our profit margins. We don’t believe in using ‘sustainability’ as a pricing tool. To grow our brand and impact, we have been working on our product offerings and categories,” Argarwal explained. Agarwal recognizes that this strategy isn’t a quick solution to overcome the challenges created by fast fashion. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with brands that are using cheaper and unsustainable materials, greenwashing customers, and raking in millions that go back into their marketing blitzkrieg,” Agarwal said.
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