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Toms shifted gears to producing its clothes offshore after the costs of producing sustainable clothes locally proved too great, Walker says. And that experience made Walker skeptical of the commitment of high-profile companies to sustainable business. "There is so much greenwashing going on," Walker says, employing the term for companies who use a sustainable creed only as a marketing tool. "When you scratch below the surface, you realize the integrity is not always there."
(Toms did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.)
Does eco fashion or surf and skate fashion made in a sustainable way command anything more than a niche audience? Making clothes eco by using organic fabrics and certifying it as fair trade could be a risk to any company's bottom line. But Nichelson said the risks are small. Depending on materials involved, fees charged from going eco could range from nothing to $10 extra per clothing item sold at a store. But boosting prices could put companies at a disadvantage when competing at the market, often with fast fashion companies, which always are slashing prices.
"There's a certain emerging demographic that will support this," he says. "They will come up with a couple of extra dollars more if they knew they were investing in a worthy cause and a greater good."
To the action-sports industry's credit, individual skate and surf companies never seem to come up in exposés, such as the recently released Greenpeace International report, Toxic Threads, which documents pollution and destruction of ecosystems by sleazy Third World contractors, which do factory work for high-profile apparel companies. However, Greenpeace does not have the resources to monitor every company, says John Deans, who works on the environmental organization's toxics campaign.
According to Scura, someone has to show how green fashion can make the proverbial green. "These are hugely competitive guys," he says of the leaders of the action-sports industry. "And if you show them victory, they'll step up to the plate. All it takes is leadership."
This article was altered on July 17 to correct two errors. In the original version, it was written that SIMA produced a sustainability boot camp on June 28; the boot camp had been postponed. Also, the original noted that Volcom will seek to phase out PVC and plastics from its products. Volcom only intends to phase out PVC.