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Sustainability, greenwashing, and Kourtney Kardashian


By Sarah Gill
15th Sep 2022

@kourtneykardash

Sustainability, greenwashing, and Kourtney Kardashian

Who had Kourtney Kardashian becoming a sustainability ambassador for Boohoo on their bingo card for 2022?

Please hold all eye rolls and sighs of exasperation until the end.

On Tuesday 13 September, online fast fashion retailer Boohoo debuted a 45-piece collection of ‘sustainable’ garments at New York Fashion Week with Kourtney Kardashian Barker in her new role as the brand’s sustainability ambassador.

In an exclusive statement to Women’s Wear Daily, the eldest Kardashian sister revealed that when Boohoo first approached her to collaborate on a line, she was reluctant to get on board. “I was concerned about the effects of the fast-fashion industry on our planet,” she said. “Boohoo responded with excitement and a desire to incorporate sustainable practices into our line.”

“It’s been an enlightening experience speaking directly with industry experts. I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my platform to drive conversations that lead to ongoing change and use my voice to share actionable tips with consumers on how we can play our own part. There’s still lots of work to be done and improvements to be made, but I truly believe that any progress we can make when it comes to sustainability is a step in the right direction and will open up the conversation for future advancements.”

Currently available online, the line includes garments made with recycled polyester and recycled cotton, as well as two vintage biker jackets. There’s also a Blink-182 t-shirt that “has vintage throwback written all over it,” according to the website, but isn’t actually vintage.

The partnership will also encompass a series which will see Kourtney chat with sustainability experts to better understand challenges and opportunities in the fashion industry and comes a year after the brand launched Upfront, a commitment to focusing on using more sustainable materials and practices.

In an Instagram post announcing the collaboration, KKB wrote: “Boohoo approached me to be a sustainability ambassador, and though I knew it would get backlash because the two just don’t go hand in hand, I thought about the fact that fast fashion, or the fashion industry in general, isn’t going anywhere.”

The Poosh founder goes on to mention her intentions to hold Boohoo accountable in their sustainability efforts and her satisfaction that the collaboration is “definitely making some noise.” The noise she’s referring to here is more than likely a universal groan.

Always quick to dispel greenwashing, PR stunts and the paradoxical nature of the fashion world, Diet Prada reminds us that “Boohoo was named one of the least sustainable fashion brands by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in 2019, and was found to be paying Leicester garment workers £3.50 an hour the following year.” The Instagram account also points out that in 2021, ShareAction reported that the brand had failed to make a meaningful improvement with worker protections of their supply chain, citing “low prices paid by Boohoo, its encouragement of price competition among suppliers and demand for short order times” as “drivers for illegally low wage payments and poor working conditions,” as reported by The Guardian.

Naturally, people had a lot to say.

In the wake of the collaboration’s announcement, many were reminded of the recent report that Kourtney and her sister Kim were among the big celebrity names accused of violating unprecedented drought restrictions in California. Youngest sister Kylie Jenner also made headlines of late for ‘climate criminal’ behaviour as she couldn’t decide which private jet to take for a 17 minute flight. Jesus wept.

Fair fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna branded the move as an arrival at “peak fashion greenwashing”, and laid the statistics on the table. “There are 13 fast fashion brands under the Boohoo PLC group. Together, they sell 207 million items every year,” she explains. “Over the next three years, Boohoo’s CEO is set to receive a bonus worth 200% of his salary.”

“They boast that they’re proactively working on sustainability, even though they were named as one of the two least sustainable brands in the UK.”

Kourtney Kardashian Barker did respond to the criticism by extending an invitation to experts who may have ideas and suggestions on potential areas for improvement. “I want to help and from my experience so far working with the team I work with at Boohoo, they do too,” she wrote. “I will be elaborating on their changes, how we’ve made this line more sustainable, and what I’ve learned we as consumers can do to help… all to come!!”

For those who may not be aware, ‘greenwashing’ refers to the insidious practice of consciously misleading customers into believing that they’re supporting a brand making efforts towards sustainability and eco-friendly behaviours that are never actually seen in practice. Essentially, it’s paying lip service to a cause the brand doesn’t actually care about.

But is this even greenwashing? They’ve appointed KKB ‘sustainability ambassador’, but they’re capitalising on her 200 million strong Instagram following and doubtless influence to sell more products and promote (over)consumption instead of platforming sustainability advocates in the know.

We’ve seen how these things play out time and time again. In attaching the well-known face of a young woman (think PLT Girl Boss At Large Molly Mae), the public have someone onto which they feel free to pile a barrage of frustration. Instead of directing dissatisfaction at a faceless corporation that seems to answer to no one, an influencer-cum-entrepreneur gets shackled to the sinking ship.

Today, 83-year-old Yvon Chouinard — founder of US outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia — has announced that he has given away his company in an effort to combat climate change. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children have transferred their ownership of Patagonia, valued at about $3 billion, to a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organisation. They were created to preserve the company’s independence and ensure that all of its profits — some $100 million a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.”

That really does put this whole Boohoo-Kardashian-Sustainability oxymoron into perspective, doesn’t it?