Monki’s Lazy Loop sustainable denim program, introduced late last year, is a comprehensive effort to make fast fashion sustainable. The H&M-owned brand’s jeans are exclusively made with recycled or organic (i.e. pesticide, fertiliser plus GMO-free) denim, which has been reviewed by independent bodies including the Better Cotton Initiative, the Organic Content Standard, and the Global Organic Textile Standard. Monki has concurrently published a list of materials it has pledged not to use, and another of industrial substances it prohibits its factories from using. On its website, the retailer actively advises buyers to conserve resources and reduce the impact of detergent runoff by washing clothing less frequently — only spot-cleaning between washes — using less detergent, fully loading laundry machines, and avoiding tumble dryers. Used garments of any origin can be deposited at Monki stores, before being passed on to textile recycler I:CO.
The jeans look pretty great, too; so far, so good. But why am I only cautiously enthusiastic?
In 2019, public frustration with whitewashing led to a proliferation of minority representations in western popular entertainment, if only in quantity and not quality. By comparison, we still fall over and over for greenwashing, i.e. the adoption of externally sustainable business models to mask less PR-friendly modus operandi. Bar a few exceptions, major brands and retailers at every level of the market maintain their opacity, refusing to submit to external inspection while making unverifiable statements about the sustainability of their goods. If one finds it difficult to know who to trust in the marketplace, rest assured that it’s the result of a concerted effort.
As disasters in other industries like tech (remember Cambridge Analytica?) have reminded us, companies’ promises that self-regulation is enough hold less water than a PVC raincoat. Despite this, we seem unable to cut the cord with these unconscionable, deep-pocketed players; we stay with brands that don’t align with our values or altruistic aspirations because there appear to be few other, equally convenient options.
During conversation, it’s easy to retreat into cynicism, making glib, witty jokes about unethical businesses and our devil-may-care lack of morality. Buried within our self-preserving complacency, however, lies defeated resignation to forces far beyond our control. That the odds are stacked against the consumer is true to a certain extent; industrialisation, then globalisation have made life unfathomably complicated for the individual.
As modern consumers, making responsible choices can sometimes feel futile. It’s almost as though we were set up to fail. But we must continue to educate ourselves, and be bolder in making demands of the world’s largest corporations. In short, get excited about Monki’s Lazy Loop and research its methods — and its affiliated programs — further. The aforementioned Better Cotton Initiative, for example, has been repeatedly accused of conflict of interest due to its reliance on companies like Monki, Gap and Levi’s paying them for accreditation; nobody’s credentials can be taken at face value. By consequence, we must take mental notes of the gaps in the brand stories or our knowledge, and spread the word when there’s something to praise. Or equally, something to condemn.