This Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) corduroy skirt was gifted to me by a family member during the holidays. I noticed an extra tag stating that it contained “responsibly sourced cotton” and got curious about what this label really meant with the concern that maybe this was another case of greenwashing. M&S is a well known fashion retailor from the United Kingdom that sells a variety of clothing and beauty products. As stated on their website, they are comitted to helping growth the sustainable fashion industry through ethical cotton sourcing and making annual progress through their corporate Plan A. They are also the first major retailor to go carbon neutral and have plans to eventually become a zero-waste business.
Overall, this skirt doesn’t appear to be a case of greenwashing. M&S has been putting in the effort to become more sustainable through lessening its environmental impact and having labour policies against the unfair treatment of workers. For the skirt itself, the ratings are lowered because of the use of elastane, difficulty in tracing cotton fibers used, no information on the material of the buttons, and lacking some transparency in the production process.
Pros: Affordable (≈ 12 USD) and fashionable, cotton sourced with more sustainable practices, respect for labour rights and taking steps to lessen their environmental impact
Cons: M&S continues to release new seasonal collections and new styles similar to the pace of a fast fashion brand and lacks transperancy in how it’s made
Composition: 98% cotton and 2% elastane (no mention on the dyes or what the buttons are made of)
M&S states that 100% of their cotton is ethically sourced from suppliers that must meet at least one of the following principles: lessening water use, reducing the dependency on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, improving social welfare for farmers, and supporting the economic sustainability of farmers. Most of this cotton is sourced through Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), with the remainder coming from organic, recycled or Fairtrade certified cotton. Although, it is not stated on the skirt label what exact blend of cotton is used. Cotton is renewable and biodegradeable with a renewable, and is great in comparison to synthetic fibers than can take lifetimes to degrade. However, the environmental impacts of cotton are costly if it is not farmed sustainably as it tends to use large amounts of water, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.
Elastane, also known as spandex or lycra, provides elasticity and strength in clothing garments and can blend well with other fabrics. However, it is not very eco friendly since it is non-biodegradeable, made from polystyrene that’s derived from oil, and has a production process that requires a lot of energy. When clothing items containing elastane are washed, small micro fibers of plastic are released into the water stream and are difficult to filter out. Some more eco friendly alternatives to elastane that can still provide stretch are tencel and innovations such as 100% cotton elasticated fabric.
With the available public information, I think that M&S holds to their principles for the type of cotton used in their clothing. Positive claims have been backed up by their annual progress reports, outside articles, and their partnerships with credible organisations such as the WWF and the Better Cotton Initiative. Although, there is still room for improvement regarding transperancy on other materials such as the buttons, the use of elastane, or even potentially moving towards other sustainable fibres like bamboo.
There is not a lot of information available online about the actual production process of clothing garments to know how this skirt was made, but M&S states that they operate rigorous quality management systems on a precautionary principle. This means that their policy approach allows for them to adopt preventative measures that address potential risks to the public or environment. The company is also supported by a range of on-site audits and product testing, which is not done on animals. Suppliers are also required to meet a range of quality, safety, environmental and social standards.
M&S does not do animal testing or use animal products in their clothing. Then to note, their clothing stores have “shwop” bins for customers to drop off clothes that they no longer want. These are then recyled or resold to fund Oxfam projects to aid in lessening the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill.
The rating is a not a perfect 3 given the lack of transperancy. I would like to know more about the skirt’s origins with the locations of its factories, how it was designed, its emissions and water usage, supplier, and what the material of the buttons are.
M&S makes sure that their supplier programmes are supporting livelihoods and improving the wellbeings of their workers, and also provides public information on where their suppliers are with an interactive map on their Plan A website (https://interactivemap.marksandspencer.com/). They are also certified by the SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit that looks at human rights in business practices and global supply chains.
M&S requires for suppliers to declare the cotton country of origin and does not permit cotton knowingly sourced from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang regions. The company also endorsed the “COVID-19: Action in the Global Garment Industry” to help facilitate the distirubtion of emergency relief funds.