10 Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid for an Ethical & Sustainable Wardrobe


Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid

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. 

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. 

The best thing we can do, as consumers, is to stop supporting this industry. We should avoid fast fashion brands and start supporting sustainable clothing brands instead. 

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 10 examples of fast fashion brands you should avoid if you want to have an ethical and sustainable wardrobe!

10 fast fashion brands we should avoid

1) Shein

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.

2) Mango 

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. 

3) H&M 

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

4) Boohoo

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 

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. 

7) Primark 

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. 

8) Missguided 

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. 

9) Zara 

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. 

Final thoughts

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. We should avoid shopping at fast fashion brands and start purchasing from sustainable and ethical brands

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! 


About the Author:

Eva Astoul is a French freelance writer, specializing in content related to sustainability, simple living, and a growth-focused healthy lifestyle. She runs her own blog, Green With Less, to inspire people to live a more minimalist and sustainable life.


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