How Trademarks Can Potentially Promote Sustainable Fashion


One of the fundamental tenets of trademark law is to safeguard consumers. Trademarks are a type of intellectual property consisting of a word, phrase, symbol, logo, design, or expression distinguishing products or services from others and identifying their source.[1] For fashion brands, the use of trademarks endows “customer loyalty and generates commercial value”, thereby protecting the brand’s creativity and vision.[2] However, trademarks have also been a powerful branding and marketing tool that has been used to build a “greener” brand through green trademarks.


A green trademark is a trademark, service mark, or certification mark that is used to distinguish and identify environmentally friendly products or services in order to inform potential consumers about the product’s or service’s impact on the environment.[3] According to statistics, the number of consumers who claim that sustainable business practices affect their buying decisions has surged in recent years. The 2023 Business of Sustainability Index (BOSI) survey demonstrates that 68% of American Consumers are willing to pay more for products that are environmentally sustainable, compared to 66% in 20222 and 64% in 2021.[4] Green trademarks are generally used on the product’s packaging to indicate that the product was sustainably made, or that the business utilizes sustainable practices to manufacture the products. Similar to traditional trademarks, the claimants of green trademarks have the possibility to register them with government agencies.[5] To that end, eco-advertising and green marketing campaigns have become commonplace internationally through the advertisement of trademarks to appeal to consumers’ concerns for the environment and companies to ‘go green’. For instance, clothing brands such as ‘People Tree’ self-advertise themselves to be a “Fair Trade” apparel with “truly conscious clothing” that prioritizes environmental welfare. A consumer choosing to purchase a garment bearing the People Tree trademark is also affirming their willingness to wear clothes manufactured according to fair labor practices and high environmental standards.[6] Many luxury companies are also leveraging trademarks to communicate their environmental engagement. Prada, for instance, registered the trademark ‘PRADA RE-NYLON’ to identify the products of a special collection executed in new regenerated nylon, Econyl.[7] Another example includes the EU Ecolabel, a European Union certification mark for eco-design products, which informs consumers about the origin and the environmental impact of the clothes they buy. Furthermore, the critical role of trademarks as a governance tool has been advocated by several scholars in the past two decades.[8] Thus, trademarks and certification marks hold great power in influencing textile standards through ordinary processes of advertising and competition.[9]


Above all, brands must be confident in the legitimacy of their environmentally friendly claims before using green trademarks, and failure to do so will inevitably create serious damage to the overall brand and risk “greenwashing”. Given that greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice, the inadequate use of green trademarks could help regulators and consumers bring potential greenwashing lawsuits. In Canada, our Trademarks Act currently carries a prohibition against making materially false and misleading statements about the character, quality, quantity, composition, geographical origin or mode of manufacture, production or performance of goods or services.[10] Internationally, applications for green trademarks have also been on the rise. According to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the number of green trademarks has increased from 1,600 in 1996 to almost 16,00 in 2020. Green trademarks account for 10-12% of all filings each year.[11] However, it is also important to note that trademark applications for marks that are clearly descriptive (such as calling a product sustainable, eco-friendly, or green) are likely to face refusal. Given that brands are getting more adept at finding ways to identify trademarks that qualify for protection (suggestive but not descriptive of the environmental benefit they promise), this is less likely to be an issue. On the balance, trademarks and certification marks have the potential in changing and shaping textile standards globally. Trademarks remain not only as legal instruments but also ethical guides reflecting the evolving dynamics between consumer consciousness and environmental responsibility.



[1] Trademarks Act, RSC 1985, c T-13, s 2.

[2] Lisa Rosaya, Luxury Fashion & the Importance of Intellectual Property, LUXURY SOC’Y (Apr. 18, 2016),



[5] Louis Vuitton, Prada, Moncler Among the Brands Adopting Sustainability Logos, The Fashion Law (July 18, 2022),

[6] Patrizia Gazzola and others, ‘Trends in the Fashion Industry. The Perception of Sustainability and Circular Economy: A Gender/Generation Quantitative Approach’ (2020) 12(7) Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland) 2809; Aaron R Brough and others, ‘Is Eco-Friendly Unmanly? The Green-Feminine Stereotype and Its Effect on Sustainable Consumption’ (2016) 43(4) Journal of Consumer Research 567.

[7] To showcase the processes behind the Re-Nylon initiative, the company partnered with National Geographic and produced the video series What We Carry, aimed at promoting the reduction of plastic pollution. See National Geographic, ‘what we carry. The Prada Re-nylon Project’ See <>



[10] Trademarks Act, RSC 1985, c T-13, s 7.


5 responses to “How Trademarks Can Potentially Promote Sustainable Fashion”

  1. Doris

    Grace you have really got my head spinning with this article!

    Surely some of these companies are using deceptive practices as a means of boosting their sales. I love the idea of using trademark as a means of limiting greenwashing. Is there any other statutory regulation to address any “inconsistencies” between legitimate environmentally green practices? Perhaps Consumer Protection?

    The other material that I have seen marketed as being “green” are the fake leathers. Ironic seeing as though many of them made with plastics and aren’t as biodegradable as leather. Have you heard about the company MycoWorks? Apparently they have figured out a way to make their version of leather using…mushrooms. The product they produce is apparently (allegedly?) indistinguishable from real leather. Here is a link
    Now that would be a reasonable green alternative to leather.

    Thanks again for the interesting read!

  2. smacd223

    I enjoyed this topic! A thought that came up for me in today’s class (Dec 4) is just how terrible it is for the environment to order the destruction of goods for trademark infringements… Professor Festinger gave the example of burning knock-off Super Bowl shirts and all I could think about was what a waste of perfectly good shirts and resources – all for the sake of protecting a brand! I would be interested to see how environmental considerations play into intellectual property going forward within the public interest debates… I would love to see trademark law take a step against greenwashing – it would certainly help consumers avoid confusion and make more educated purchases.

    To add on to Doris’ point about leather – I’ve also seen it being made from cacti and mangos! I’ve also seen cork marketed as an alternative for bags (but having a cork pencil case myself I can attest it doesn’t have the same longevity). Just in case you were interested in looking into these!

  3. nehagupt

    Hi Grace,

    What an informative blogpost! I have to say, I totally agree with the previous comments — I think legitimizing sustainable practices through trademarks is a great idea! By creating a threshold brands will have to uphold before claiming a “green” trademark is a great way to encourage those who have not to do better and congratulate those who have. Not to mention, I think by allowing consumers to make informed purchases, but also giving them the power to potentially penalize companies for false advertising, companies will be encouraged take their promises of sustainable fashion more seriously.

    However, I am curious to see how long it will take for eco-trademarks of high fashion brands to be duped by fast fashion websites. Will Shein and AliExpress start producing clothes that mimic Prada’s re-nylon line, completely disregarding why the trademark was created in the first place?

    Also, just to add onto the alternative leather discussion, the brand Matt & Nat have an apple skin collection, where they use the apple waste from the apple juice industry to create vegan leather. It’s a super neat idea and the products tend to last fairly well!

  4. hougrace

    Hi Doris,

    Thank you for reading!

    Supposedly the Consumer Code provides a general provision prohibiting misleading commercial practices, including misleading advertising. Given that “green washing” is commonly based on false allegations and misleading information as to the essential characteristics of a good or a service, I think this would be very relevant!

    I agree with what you said about faux leather and how they are often made with plastics and aren’t as biodegradable as leather. Perhaps the same problem persists with faux fur, many of which are often made with acrylics and plastics as well.

    Mushroom leather sounds very promising, and for MycoWorks in particular, I think they have a very promising future ahead of them – check out their collaboration with Hermes!


  5. hougrace

    Hi Smacd223,

    Thank you for reading!

    I completely agree with you – I remember reading a news article a while back where a designer brand was burning their unsold merchandise just to maintain their “brand value” and the goodwill of the company. It was reported in a NY Times article ( and allegedly other brands including Louis Vuitton and Richemont were doing the same. In the article, Burberry claimed that they only “destroyed only items that carried its trademark” — it indeed underscores your point about brands taking drastic measures to safeguard their image. I’m also intrigued about the potential role trademarks can play in fostering sustainability within the fashion industry in the future!