Did you know humans are now consuming 400% more clothing compared to 20 years ago? & that the average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste every single year? We are buying more clothes than ever, but we’re wearing them a lot less. We can mainly explain this by the explosive growth fast fashion has known in the past two decades.
We want to preface this article by saying this post is meant for consumers who purchase more clothing than they need. We do not want low-income shoppers struggling to purchase from a sustainable brand if fast fashion is the only thing they can afford. However, these fast fashion brands only exist because of overconsumption. It’s about the amount we buy as consumers, and in the States, many of us have more than we need.
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
Fast fashion refers to brands that produce high volumes of clothing throughout the year. Brands are now making clothes at a fraction of the price they used to. As a result, consumers can update their wardrobes very quickly and affordably.
But this over-consumption of cheaply-made clothes is leading to the huge growth of textile waste, pollution, and the depletion of natural resources. It is raising social issues that we can no longer ignore, such as human rights violations.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A FAST FASHION BRAND?
Most fast fashion brands release new collections of clothing every week and use marketing techniques to encourage consumers to buy into new trends.
These companies are often very vague and not entirely transparent about their suppliers and how products are made. They don’t give any specific information about what exactly they’re doing to mitigate their environmental impact. They also do not provide evidence that they offer their workers decent and safe working conditions, as well as living wages.
Many fast fashion brands are greenwashing. They are disclosing misleading information to fool customers into thinking they’re an ethical and sustainable company.
Cheap prices are also a great indicator of fast fashion products and their poor quality. It’s impossible to produce a $5 t-shirt, pay garment workers fairly, and have manufacturing processes that do not harm the environment.
Here are 22 examples of fast fashion brands you should avoid if you want to have an ethical and sustainable wardrobe!
With over 20 million followers on Instagram, Chinese brand Shein quickly became popular thanks to social media. It adds 500 products to its website each day, at very cheap prices. Doing this, the brand contributes to the throw-away culture fast fashion brands are promoting, which comes at the cost of the environment. There is no evidence that Shein trying to mitigate its environmental impact. The brand also doesn’t share any information about where its products are made and is very opaque about its supply chain.
Shein assures that it doesn’t use forced or child labor and that it offers its workers above-average wages. Yet, it is hard to believe that the company pays its workers fairly, selling products that are so cheap. In 2020, the brand was widely criticized for posting on its website a necklace in the shape of a swastika as well as Islamic prayer mats.
Mango is a Spanish fashion retailer with a large network of stores in 110 countries. The brand has been making some progress to become more sustainable. It’s producing more and more clothing with organic cotton and recycled polyester, and it has taken steps to eliminate the hazardous chemicals PFCs.
While it discloses the precise numbers of its factories’ greenhouse gas emissions, Mango has not yet set a target to lower them. It has also not revealed how it plans to reduce them and has not published a list of its factories. The brand’s Code of Conduct reveals that minimum-wage workers are paid the “legal minimum, not the recommended wage level”. Mango should do better and pay its garment workers living wages!
The brand also refused to disclose its donation to the fund that was set up to compensate the families of the 1,134 garment workers who died in the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh back in 2013.
H&M, a famous Swedish brand, is the second-largest fashion retailer in the world, and one we should avoid! In 2018, despite its promises, the company failed to pay 850,000 garment workers a living wage. Many female workers are also physically & sexually abused.
H&M hasn’t implemented anything to stop these practices in their suppliers’ factories. The brand was also accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of garment workers who denounced inhumane working conditions leading to the deaths of more than 100 people.
Is H&M more sustainable than it is ethical?
The brand has made great progress in eliminating harmful chemicals, like PFCs, phthalates, and APs/APEOs from its products. It also has a textile recycling program, but only 35% of clothing gets recycled. The brand should do better to mitigate its environmental impact and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe H&M should start by donating its unsold clothes instead of burning them?
British fashion retailer Boohoo has been growing quickly in the past decade. The brand seems to make many promises, but doesn’t do much to improve in the social and environmental spheres.
The company states it’s going to disclose in 2021 its factory list and purchasing practices, as well as its social impact strategy to support local communities. We’re still waiting, Boohoo! The Sunday Times recently investigated and found that workers in a Leicester factory were making as little as £3.50 per hour. It’s far below the national minimum wage.
Workers were also compelled to go to work while being sick with COVID-19, and the company provided barely any protective equipment nor hand sanitizer. The Environmental Audit Committee published a report naming Boohoo as one of the least sustainable fashion brands in the UK. Not surprising for a brand selling so much bad quality clothing!
5) Forever 21
Forever 21 is an American fashion retailer that sells very cheap clothing, but this comes with a social and environmental cost. On its Social Responsibility page, we can read: “Forever 21 also shares the goal of eliminating child labor and forced labor”. Does it mean that the company still uses these abusive working practices?
US Labor Department investigators found that workers at a factory in Los Angeles were paid as little as $4 per hour, much less than the state minimum wage. Forever 21 also refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which shows how much the company cares about its workers.
The brand is not transparent about how its products are produced and where. We also do not know if it’s doing something to mitigate its huge environmental impact. Alongside many other scandals, Forever 21 was accused of body-shaming after sending diet bars to customers who ordered plus-size clothing.
6) Urban Outfitters (also Anthropologie & Free People)
Founded more than 50 years ago, Urban Outfitters is one of America’s largest fashion retailers. But does it mean we should shop there?
Apart from saying that it installed LED lighting in its stores and solar panels on the roof of its distribution center, Urban Outfitters doesn’t disclose any specific information about what it’s doing to help the environment, probably because it’s not doing much! Customers do not have access to information about the brand’s supply chain and where its suppliers are located. There is also no evidence that the company’s workers are paid fair wages.
Back in 2015, Urban Outfitters asked its employees to work for free on the weekends, as it would be a “great team-building activity”. In 2020, the company was, once again, accused of stealing the design of an Australian indigenous artist and using it to sell outdoor rugs.
Irish company Primark is one of Europe’s largest fashion retailers. As the brand outsources the manufacturing of its products, it has no influence over the working conditions of garment workers.
So even though Primark states that factories must follow a Code of Conduct, there is no evidence that workers are paid fairly and that they work in decent and safe conditions. Customers have found “SOS” messages in Primark clothing, written by Chinese inmates working in garment factories. They were claiming to work for 15 hours each day and denouncing inhumane labor practices.
While Primark shares the locations of most factories it is working with; there’s room for improvement in terms of transparency. The company is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and it has been donating unsold clothing to charities. Yet, there is not enough relevant information about what Primark is doing to reduce its huge environmental footprint. It also should do better to mitigate it.
Missguided, a UK fashion retailer, markets itself as not only selling fast fashion, but also “rapid fashion”. Indeed, the brand launches 1,000 new styles every week! With this practice, Missguided is promoting over-consumption, which contributes to the massive amounts of textile waste we produce each year.
Apart from disclosing vague information on its Corporate Social Responsibility page, the company doesn’t seem to be doing anything specific to reduce its environmental impact. It’s not so surprising that, like Boohoo, Missguided was named one of the least sustainable fashion brands in the UK.
While the brand’s mission is to “empower women”, female workers are paid significantly less & are less likely to receive a bonus compared to male employees. We also don’t know if these workers are paid living wages. In 2017, the brand was caught selling products that were supposedly “faux fur”, containing real fur from cats, raccoon dogs, minks, and rabbits.
Zara is a Spanish fashion brand that belongs to the group Inditex. While the brand uses recycled packaging and has a textile recycling program, it is not transparent about the number of resources that go into the production of its clothes.
We also do not know if it’s on track to meet its target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. A positive point is that Zara’s supply chain is less opaque compared to other fast fashion brands. The company revealed a list of suppliers, but not for its whole supply chain.
It’s conducting audits of subcontractors to review if they’re following their Code of Conduct, but results aren’t entirely public. The company also doesn’t pay its garment workers living wages. In 2017, Zara customers in Istanbul found secret messages in clothing. They were written by garment workers who claimed they had to work for free before the manufacturer producing clothes for Zara went bankrupt.
10) Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret is one of America’s most famous lingerie brands. The company signed the Greenpeace “Detox my Fashion” campaign aiming to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its products and supply chains by 2020. At this point, we do not know whether the brand met its target.
It does not seem to have done anything to reduce its environmental footprint, and its products are mostly made from unsustainable materials. Victoria’s Secret is not doing better in the social sphere. As its supply chain is not certified by official labor standards, we cannot be sure that garment workers are paid a fair wage and treated ethically.
While ten years ago, the brand was accused of using child labor, it is again at the heart of another scandal. Many models were sexually harassed and bullied by two top executives, and those who complained about this lost their jobs shortly after.
11) Brandy Melville
Brandy Melville is an Italian fashion brand founded in the 1980s in Italy. It opened its first store in the United States in 2009, and it quickly became very popular among teens.
The most striking issue with this brand is its unique sizing. Brandy Melville states that “one size fits most”, so almost all its clothes are made in size XS/S only.
Doing so, the brand promotes the idea that all women should be very skinny, which makes many girls feel uncomfortable in their own skin and want to lose weight, even when they don’t have to. The brand’s body-shaming is inadmissible!
Brandy Melville also does not seem to do anything to reduce its (huge) environmental footprint, and it is far from being an ethical company.
Many employees reported being fired for cutting their hair or gaining weight. Others stated that your appearance determined the pay rate and that “you will not get hired at a Brandy store if you are black”
Garage is a Canadian fashion retailer that has over 230 stores across North America.
The brand could do a lot better in terms of transparency: it does not disclose anything about how its products are made and where, and there is no information about the factories involved in the manufacturing process.
Garage’s supplier code of conduct is very short, and it states that factories must set their working hours, wages and overtime pay in compliance with applicable laws. However, if the clothing is made in developing countries where those laws are non-existent, workers’ rights might not be respected. It is probably the case when we look at how cheap the brand’s products are!
Garage’s clothing is made with a lot of synthetic fabrics, which are very unsustainable. The company started a “sustainable denim” line, praising the fact that its jeans are made with organic cotton. But when we look closely, the fabric is made using only 25% of organic cotton. Garage, you can do better!
YesStyle is an online retailer that sells fashion, skincare and lifestyle products from multiple Asian brands.
The main issue with YesStyle is how opaque the brand is. As consumers, we are allowed to know where the products we buy come from and who made them!
The brand does not disclose anything about its supply chain, how the products on its website are made and where. YesStyle also does not have any greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, and it does not seem to take steps to reduce its environmental footprint.
YesStyle does not have any code of conduct for the brands it works with and their suppliers. It means that there is no evidence that these brands ensure fair wages and decent working conditions for their workers.
Some customers reported that they had received misshapen and damaged clothes
It is not surprising as all the products sold on YesStyle are extremely cheap, which probably reflects their poor quality.
Founded in 2010, fast-fashion brand Romwe encourages people to “discover new things you didn’t know you needed” on its website. This statement already says a lot about the brand and how it promotes hyperconsumption.
Encouraging its customers to buy more and more clothing and accessories, Romwe’s business model is inherently unethical and unsustainable. Its prices are extremely cheap, so I highly doubt that the workers who make Romwe’s clothing are paid fairly.
The brand’s customers regularly complain about sizes being completely off, deliveries taking months to arrive, and clothes being so cheaply made that they quickly fall apart. Romwe’s customer service is almost non-existent, and it is very hard to get a refund if you want to return a product.
The company was also caught selling animal fur that was marketed as cruelty-free and vegan faux fur. Plus, Romwe doesn’t seem to do anything to reduce its environmental footprint.
15) Nasty Gal
Nasty Gal is a Los Angeles-based retailer owned by Boohoo that sells cheaply made clothes for young women.
Even though the brand launched a (small) sustainable line, the initiative seems minuscule compared to the fact that the vast majority of Nasty Gal’s clothing is made from synthetic materials.
Nasty Gal is also very opaque and should disclose more information about its supply chain. The brand stated that it would publish its factory lists and purchasing practices in 2021, but nothing has been done. What is it waiting for?
We cannot know if its workers are paid fair wages and treated humanely, but it is very unlikely they are. In 2015, Nasty Gal was sued for firing four employees after they became pregnant and were about to go on maternity leave. The company has also been widely criticized for its toxic work environment.
Nasty Gal, another nasty brand we should avoid!
16) Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova is an American retailer that was the most searched fashion brand on Google in 2018. It became so popular thanks to various Instagram influencers and celebrities.
However, the brand is one of the most opaque we can find, as it received a score of 0% in the Fashion Transparency Index in 2021.
The company’s business model is also far from being sustainable. Fashion Nova releases around 600 new products each week, thus promoting hyperconsumption. Not to mention that most of its clothes are made with synthetic materials, like polyester, acrylic and nylon.
To top it all, Fashion Nova has been accused of working with Los Angeles factories that underpay their workers, offering them less than minimum wage. Some of these employees were paid as little as $2.77 per hour! Others reported that the working conditions were very bad and that they worked alongside cockroaches and rats.
17) American Eagle
Founded in 1977, American Eagle is a lifestyle, clothing and accessories retailer that has over 1,000 stores around the world.
The company seems to have taken a few steps to become more sustainable, like with its sustainable jeans collection made from 100% organic cotton. But, there is still so much the brand can improve!
American Eagle states it plans to become carbon-neutral by 2030, but it does not provide information for us to know if it is on track to meet its target. The brand was ranked among the worst in Remake’s second annual accountability report published in 2021.
American Eagle recently decided to stop selling plus-size clothing in its physical stores, and it is now only selling them online. This discriminatory practice is a good enough reason to stop shopping there!
The brand also works with Chinese factories that are using sandblasting to make jeans, a dangerous process that can cause a fatal respiratory disease called silicosis.
18) Abercrombie & Fitch (also Hollister)
Fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch was created 130 years ago and it has been very popular among young people for the past 20 years.
The company could be more transparent with its customers. Although Abercrombie & Fitch published a list of factories it is working with, it does not provide evidence of any third-party audits that might have taken place to monitor the working conditions.
It is hard to believe that labor rights are respected as the brand failed to sign the new Bangladesh Accord on workers’ safety in 2021.
The company has been regularly criticized for its discriminatory and body-shaming practices. For a long time, XL and XXL sizes were not made and sold by Abercrombie & Fitch. CEO Mike Jeffries stated that he “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store” and that they “hire good-looking people”.
While it has started to take action to be more eco-friendly, Abercrombie & Fitch’s clothing is still mainly made from unsustainable and synthetic materials. There is a lot of room for improvement!
19) Old Navy
Old Navy is an American clothing retailer that is owned by Gap Inc, and it has more than 1,000 stores across the world.
In 2013, Old Navy was accused of working with factories that employed girls as young as 12 years old. In other partner factories, workers were regularly beaten and pregnant women were fired or forced to work for 100-plus hours a week.
As Old Navy’s supply chain is not certified by any labor standards, it is difficult to determine whether these unethical practices have stopped.
The company received a score of 49% in the Fashion Transparency Index in 2021. While it is far better than many other fast fashion brands, it is still not enough. Old Navy should provide more information about the manufacturing process to its customers.
Old Navy has been using water-saving techniques to produce its denim as well as some sustainable materials. But a large proportion of clothing is still made with synthetic fibers, and the brand could do better to reduce its environmental footprint.
Gap was founded in 1969 and it is now the fourth largest fashion retailer in the world, based on sales revenue. The company owns other smaller brands like Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy.
We have no evidence that Gap pays fair wages and offers decent and humane conditions for its workers. Over the years, the brand has been accused of partnering with factories using child labor and it is hard to know whether the company stopped this practice.
Gap also does not disclose anything about where its materials come from. And, even though the brand states that it has been working on using more sustainable materials, it remains unclear on the topic.
We do not know if the company achieved its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in 2020. Did Gap’s silence mean it did not meet its target? Probably!
More recently, in 2021, Gap was fined $200,000 for violating Canada’s anti-spam regulation. Another reason for avoiding this brand!
Uniqlo is a Japanese retailer created after World War II that has expanded around the world and it now has more than 2,300 operational stores.
The brand has been caught violating human and labor rights on various occasions over the past few years. Workers in Uniqlo’s factories are compelled to work excessive hours in an unsafe environment, earning unfair wages, and they are regularly punished.
A former Uniqlo employee in Australia reported that they had to fold seven shirts per minute, work 18-hour days, and everyone developed some form of PTSD because of the toxic bullying culture.
In 2021, Uniqlo shirts were blocked at the US border because they were suspected to have been made with cotton from the Chinese Xinjiang region where there have been cases of forced labor.
Although the company has a recycling program and it uses some eco-friendly materials in its products, Uniqlo is still far from being sustainable. The brand doesn’t seem to be doing much to reduce its carbon footprint.
Topshop is a British fast-fashion brand owned by ASOS and it is yet another brand we should stay away from.
In 2010, many demonstrations took place in the United Kingdom to protest against Topshop’s owner, Philip Green, who deliberately avoided paying hundreds of millions of pounds in tax.
While Philip Green’s net worth was £4.3 billion in 2016, cleaners who worked at Topshop stores reported that their wages didn’t cover rent and food as they were paid below the London living wage. When they asked for decent wages, the staff was bullied and victimized.
Topshop recently created a vegan shoe collection and a clothing line using sustainable materials. However, the brand hasn’t set any greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, nor has it implemented anything to reduce water usage and hazardous chemicals in the supply chain.
The company also produces very cheaply-made, trendy clothing, so its business model itself is unsustainable and unethical.
All these fast fashion brands are promoting disposable fashion. Their business model is inherently unsustainable and unethical. They’re producing too many poor-quality clothes at too low prices, encouraging consumers to buy and dispose of more clothes than ever before. Doing so, these brands are having a huge environmental impact and putting the lives of garment workers at risk.
Fortunately, we do not have to support these practices. Instead, we should avoid shopping at fast fashion brands and start purchasing from sustainable and ethical brands, shopping secondhand, and loving the clothes we already have. If you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, this in-depth guide will help you understand everything you need to know to get started!