When people think of environmental threats, they tend to picture huge oil refineries and trash dumps — not about the brands behind their favorite clothing and accessories.
In truth, the fashion industry has been historically hard on the environment. Too many designers and retailers depend on consumers steadily buying new clothes that they don't actually need, while the relentless production of "fast fashion" leads to wasted water, water pollution and textile waste. Global powerhouses such as Nike and H&M have been working to overcome criticism for wasteful manufacturing practices for years, but today the sustainability movement is challenging brands of every age, size and product category to produce their goods more responsibly.
The most glaring holdout against sustainable business practices are, unfortunately, the manufacturers and sellers of counterfeits passed off as authentic branded products. With no reputation to protect, the counterfeit industry has zero incentive to invest in innovations that reduce waste, improve product quality, or increase worker safety. Instead, they free-ride on the good name and reputation of brands doing the hard work of change — and undermine the global sustainability movement with every disreputable sale.
Fake fashion manufacturers are assaulting the planet one counterfeit pair of shoes at a time.
These are not law-abiding citizens, so they have little or no concern for following even the weakest local environmental guidelines. And there are a lot of them: Counterfeits made up 2.5 percent of global imports in 2013.
China, in particular, accounts for a significant portion of the world's fakes. While China has taken recent steps to clean up their environmental act, they have years of neglect in their past. Extreme water pollution, toxic chemicals released into the environment and tons of dumped refuse are realities that counterfeiters have no incentive to confront.
Trendy or Toxic?
Counterfeit goods themselves are frequently toxic, and not just to the economy. By hijacking sales from legitimate customers, counterfeiters undermine brand revenues and cost workers thousands of jobs each year. Consumer safety is an afterthought, if it’s considered at all : merchandise that ignores health guidelines can quite literally make one ill.
For instance, counterfeit handbags have been found with metal straps containing cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope. Fake leather goods cause skin problems due to improper washing after chemical tanning processes. And no one is monitoring the safety of dyes used in fake clothing and accessories, either.
The problem goes beyond individual suffering. Fake merchandise that is discovered and seized needs to be disposed of, and that generates its own environmental concerns. Local and federal governments cannot simply toss these dangerous items into the nearest landfill without risking chemicals leaching into the soil. Identifying, confiscating and eliminating these items is costly, but turning a blind eye to them is not an option. Fake fashion merchandise is dangerous at every level.
Product Authentication for the Planet
The strongest antidote to counterfeit fashion is authentic, sustainable fashion produced by reputable and concerned designers and manufacturers.
Demand is growing from consumers who reject fast fashion and make it a point to buy quality goods that are built to last and manufactured with respect for environmental risks. The natural next step is empowering these consumers to authenticate the products they choose so they can be certain that an item was actually manufactured by the brand on its label.
By preventing counterfeiters from passing off fakes as real, product authentication restores the critical connection between responsibility, reputation, and revenue — and returns power to consumers and brands who are doing the right thing for sustainability.
Well be writing more about sustainability on the Certilogo blog throughout the month. Click here to subscribe and receive an alert each time a new blog is posted!