After H&M launched its “conscious collection” of “sustainable” clothes—which was then called out as greenwashing—students at Imperial College London and Royal College of Art had an idea: What if, when you were shopping for clothes online, all unsustainable companies were automatically blocked? They made a web plugin to do just that.
Their AI-powered plugin, called shADe, blocks the digital marketing from companies with poor sustainability scores, and instead suggests items from brands that have the data to back up their environmental claims.
“We are hoping that fast fashion brands recognize that if we can make consumers very aware of their digital marketing strategy and it actually turns [consumers] away from them, they’re going to have to change what they do,” says Fatimah El-Rashid, one of the founders of shADe. The plugin is the winner of the student category of Fast Company‘s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.
After that deceptive marketing from H&M, El-Rashid says, “we thought, ‘here’s an opportunity for us to be able to design something that empowers consumers themselves to be able to make responsible choices.'” To get a brand’s sustainability scores, shADe collaborates with Good On You, which collects 500 data points from fashion brands across three main categories: people, which includes issues like living wage and worker safety; planet, which covers sustainability practices from resource use to microfiber pollution; and animals, which includes a brand’s animal-welfare policies.
When shopping on a marketplace like ASOS, as you scroll through the clothing from different brands, shADe blocks the items that get low Good On You ratings. Orange frowny faces and red ones with x’s over the eyes accompany the poor choices; yellow smiley faces appear next to the high-scoring products. The plugin also allows shoppers to click and get more information on what a brand’s rating means.
The team expects a beta version to be available soon, and hopes shADe can bring more awareness to the unsustainable practices of fast fashion, and make it clear to brands that people are paying attention to their environmental impact. “All we’re doing is providing a tool that makes it easier for them to choose,” El-Rashid says, “and I think because of that, companies will have to hold themselves more accountable.”