Teen Vogue’s misguided ‘natural’ campaign manipulates young readers

September 28, 2023

By Tim Worstall

Teen Vogue tells its teenage readers that going back to farming our dyes for clothes is the way to save the planet. This is not just hopelessly wrong. It’s dangerously wrong. Farming produces vastly more emissions and much less land left for wildlife than synthetic dyes. This is all a part of the insistence that doing things the “natural” way is better. But it isn’t – there’s a reason our ancestors changed from natural to artificial, from fields to factories. 

The complaint is that fashion has emissions – sure, so does being alive. There’s much worrying about polyester and that it’s derived from oil. OK – but it’s not oil being burnt; it’s oil (actually, usually, natural gas) being made into fabrics. The emissions come from the energy to drive the process, not the chemistry itself. Unlike burning fossil fuels, if the power came from renewables, then there would be few emissions from making polyester.

But the biggest example for us here of desperately harmful misinformation is this:

Aldighieri worries that at current production levels — by some estimates, the fashion industry produces over a billion jeans globally per year — growing enough indigo plants to replace the approximately 80,000 metric tons of synthetic indigo produced a year would take away farmland from food crops. A similar question has dogged bio-plastics.

But Dillinger pushes back against that narrative, pointing out that farmers growing indigo for Stony Creek Colors are switching away from tobacco, a non-necessary crop.

That’s missing the point entirely. Back when we did use plants to provide indigo – before jeans, this was too – “The demand for indigo in the 19th century is indicated by the fact that in 1897, 7,000 km2 (2,700 sq mi) were dedicated to the cultivation of indican-producing plants, mainly in India. By comparison, the country of Luxembourg is 2,586 km2 (998 sq mi).” Yes, Luxembourg is a small country, India a large one. But using nearly three country’s worth of land to produce “natural” dyes is not going to do the planet much good.

This is what the danger is here about these stories being told at Teen Vogue. Yes, we desire to reduce the impact of civilization on the environment. Yes, dealing with climate change is a very good idea indeed. But it isn’t true that “natural” or even “organic” is the way to do it. Things made in factories out of minerals often – not always, but often – have less effect on the environment and climate than plowing up vast areas of land to produce organic and natural products. 

It simply isn’t true that “natural” is better for the planet. And telling the teens that it is both lies to them and also damages the planet itself. Sure, it’s great for the folk selling the natural products, but that’s not quite the point of what we’re trying to do.   

We do grasp the marketing power of “natural” in this modern world. But we also insist that those attempting to “Educate the influencers of tomorrow,” which is Teen Vogue’s stated goal, have a duty to actually educate. Natural is not necessarily better for the environment. Telling the kids that both misleads them and makes the world worse, not better, when they act out on that disinformation.

We have a radical idea here. Tell the teens the truth. Who knows, the world might improve if we did.


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