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In this article, you can find a list of some of the most unethical fast fashion brands.
Fast fashion is a term that describes a model of mass-producing inexpensive clothing by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.
Unethical fast fashion brands sell cheap and low-quality clothing and they often use hazardous chemicals, unethical labor, etc.
Even though some of these fast fashion brands try to portray that they are eco-friendly, their business model is incredibly wasteful and unethical.
Furthermore, they rarely have any reliable proof to back up their sustainability goals or claims.
Without further delays, let’s jump right into the list of unethical clothing brands.
The 29 unethical clothing brands to avoid are:
1. Boohoo Group
Boohoo is a UK-based online fashion retailer that owns boohooMAN, PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal, and MissPap, all targeted at 16–24-year-olds.
Boohoo Group sells cheap clothing at low prices and fast turnaround. The brand does not use organic or sustainable materials.
They don’t showcase relevant information about its environmental policies or a list with countries for its supplies.
There is no proof of whether Boohoo pays a living wage at any stage of its supply chain.
It was found that in 2017, Boohoo (and other fast, fast brands) were paying workers below minimum wage.
- Vice found that on average, Boohoo uploads 116 individual garments, daily
- Boohoo doesn’t publish trustworthy information about its environmental policies
- They provide very little data about its supplies
- They use synthetic fabrics, and animal-derived products, including leather and wool
2. Nasty Gal
As a part of the Boohoo Group, Nasty Gal doesn’t have actionable and trustworthy goals. It provides no vague data about how it lowers its impact on the environment, the people, and the animals.
3. Pretty Little Things
They don’t use sustainable materials, and there are no future goals for eliminating hazardous chemicals during manufacturing.
PLT measures GHG emissions from the direct operation, and not their supply chain. There is no data on their supplier policies or audits, and no proof of paying a living wage in their supply chain.
Bershka is owned by the Spanish Inditex group, as well as Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius, and Uterqüe.
Inditex shares their environmental goals like minimizing textile waste or meeting their goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated from their operations. However, they don’t provide trustworthy results or any evidence.
Additionally, Inditex reported putting more than 1.5 billion products on the market (for 2017). Even with the most environmentally friendly practices and materials, producing that many items each year is unsustainable. Furthermore, the Fashion Report 2019 rated that 26-50% of facilities pay a living wage.
- Their model includes new trendy styles, arriving regularly
- No proof if they pay a living wage in its supply chain
- Bershka uses fur and leather, with no proof it traces any animal products to the first stage of production
- Bershka mentions that they reduced 20% of energy consumption, but that’s just in their stores, and it doesn’t take into consideration their supply chain
- Their goal of saving water and environmental policy is, in general, quite vague
- Bershka is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative
- They have positive goals including the total elimination of single-use plastics for customer sales by 2023, and the materials they use (cotton, polyester, linen) to be organic, or recycled fibers by 2025.
Zara is pushing into new markets by opening more physical shops and expanding its online presence.
While Zara is a partner with Partners of The Organic Cotton Accelerator, not everything is made with organic cotton.
Some positive goals Zara has, include reducing water use, lowering CO2 emissions, and zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the making of their products by 2020.
6. Pull and Bear
They are selling clothing made with unsustainable materials. They offer the Join Life sustainable collection, but not all items are made 100% of ecological materials. Some of the pieces are just with 15% recycled/sustainable content.
Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) is a Swedish multinational clothing retail company, and it is the second-largest global clothing retailer (after Inditex).
The company owns other brands, including – COS, Weekday, Monki, ARKET, and Cheap Monday (closed down in 2019 due to low sales).
- A member of the Better Cotton Initiative and Organic Cotton Accelerator
- They use a small percentage of sustainable materials, such as organic linen, lyocell, recycled materials, etc.
- H&M offers a recycling program and collects unused clothes you don’t need anymore. They donate 0,02 Euro to local charity organizations for every kilo of textile they collect (1)
- They enrolled in Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) programs to measure the used and emitted hazardous substances
- In 2011 H&M was accused of unsafe factories and horrible working conditions, exploiting children and adults, and paying the minimum living wage extremely low in developing countries.
- In 2013, H&M made a promise that they will aim to deliver all textile workers “living wage” by 2018, which did not happen (1) (2)
- No evidence for their goals of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
- In 2017, SOMO found that the brand uses child labor in their factories in Myanmar and paying as little as 13p an hour (1)
- Their supply chain is certified by labor standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages or other labor rights
8. Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova is a US-based fast fashion retail company, founded in 2006. In 2019, there were scandals, and the brand was accused of paying illegally low wages in their US-based factories (less than $3 an hour)
- Fashion Nova does not publish information about its environmental policies, or any goals or proof on providing the living wages and safe workplaces.
- There is no information about its supplier policies and audits
- They do not make share animal-derived materials they use
9. Forever 21
Forever 21 is an American fast fashion retailer headquartered in Los Angeles, California. They have been facing various lawsuits for violating labor practices and for paying their employees less.
Furthermore, they paid a fine of $100,000 because, in 2014, they were caught using severe safety hazards in different retail locations.
In the Fashion report for 2019, they got a pretty low result – D-, which looks at traceability, a living wage, worker empowerment, environmental management, etc.
- They don’t share any information about their environmental future goals
- Their ecological policies are vague, and there is no proof of anything they say
- Forever 21 uses animal-derived materials, such as wool and exotic animal hair
- Their share minimal information about their supply chain and they do not have certifications that ensure labor standards, such as safety, living wages, and other rights, for their workers
Missguided is a UK-based retailer selling clothes for 16–35-year-old women.
Established in 2009, it is getting plenty of criticism for its environmental and labor policies.
- A member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).
- In 2017, Misguided was selling a pair of shoes advertised as having faux fur, but as it turned out, it contained real fur (1)
- Missguided doesn’t publish any trustworthy information about its environmental policies
- A 2019 report found that Missguided do not reuse or recycle unsold stock, and it does not have a sustainable clothing action plan, nor it uses organic or sustainable materials
- There is no evidence of worker empowerment initiatives, even though they claim that’s one of their missions
- The brand lack of transparency regarding its labor practices
- In 2019, they got criticized for selling unsustainable, cheap, and unethical bikini for £1
- The brand claims to offer “rapid” fashion, with 1,000 new products landing on the site every week
- No evidence for taking action to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals or reduce water usage (1)
11. Brandy & Melville
Brandy & Melville is an Italian clothing brand, established in 1970 in Italy.
Their products are for teenage girls and young women. In 2009, the brand opened its first store in the US and became immensely popular relatively quickly.
The brand is criticized for its sizing policy, which is “One size fits all.” Yet, it is more than obvious that they target super-thin teens. The only size they sell is S, and when you scroll through their online shop, you can only see skinny girls.
- They have no information on their production practices, the impact on the planet, the people, and the animals. They do not share any future goals on becoming more sustainable.
C&A is a Belgian-German-Dutch chain of fast-fashion retail clothing stores, including the brands: Angelo Litrico, Canda, Clockhouse, Here+There, Palomino, Rodeo, Westbury, Yessica, Yessica Pure, and Your Sixth Sense.
Fashion Revolution is tracking global fashion brand’s and retailers’ progress annually. The evaluation is conducted by industry experts and is based on five categories.
For 2020, C&A achieved high scores in their Policy, Governance, and supply chain traceability (between 70-100%).
It got a lower score in – Supplier Assessment and Remediation (59%) & Spotlight Issues: Conditions, Consumption, Composition, and Climate (51%).
- More than 50% of their garments with sustainable materials, including certified organic cotton, and recycled materials
- They have a section with “More sustainable Fashion”
- They claim to have reduced 20% of their CO2 emissions from C&A stores, distribution centers, and offices.
- They have goals to reduce water usage and waste until 2025, and to ensure living wages and safe workplaces
- They do not have too much proof to back up their claims
- They use animal-based materials, and while they are RDS-certified (meaning that they put a high emphasis on animal welfare), they do not prove that
They seem to have positive goals for the future and be more sustainable, but they still have a long way to go, and as they say, “a lot remains to be done in this field.”
13. Cotton On
Cotton On Group is Australia’s largest global retailer, with over 1,500 stores in 18 countries.
It employs 22,000 workers globally and currently operates 8 brands.
- Their goal is to improve labor conditions across their supply chain
- In July 2016 they joined the Better Cotton Initiative
- They use unsustainable materials such as conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester which require large amounts of energy, water, and the use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process
- The brand uses leather without specifying sources
- While their goal is to implement a living wage throughout their supply chain, they don’t currently insure and proof that they are paying a living wage to all workers
Esprit Holdings Limited is a publicly owned manufacturer of clothing, footwear, accessories, jewelry, and housewares. The brand operates more than 429 retail stores worldwide.
- Their target is to reach 100% more sustainable cotton by July 2021. Esprit is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative since February 2016, too
- Esprit has a project to improve wages in its supply chain
- They provide a suppliers list and update it every 6 months, including information on each factory
- They are a member or ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals), and they require wastewater testing
- They use tiny amounts of sustainable fabrics
- They use less than 1% of recycled polyester (intending to reach 30% until July 2021)
- No proof of minimizing textile waste or reducing greenhouse gas emissions (even though they say it’s their goal).
- They use animal-derived materials
15. Gap Inc.
Gap Inc. is another American clothing and accessories retailer. The company operates six other retail brands. While they seem to have some future environmental and labor goals, they have many things to work on.
- Their report from 2018 shows that they have goals such as saving water, working on using 100% cotton from sustainable sources
- Gap is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Their goal is to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2020, and they are using Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, to report on its carbon emissions
- Gap is a partner of Better Work
- In 2015, they had a goal to “Divert 80% of waste from landfill across their US facilities by 2020.” They claim that they reached 47% of their plan in 2018. What is bothering is that they have 3,688 company-operated or franchised stores in more than 40 countries. There is no information on their goals for stores outside the US
- No information about the welfare of the animals and workers in the production process
- They use polyester, spandex, and nylon – materials, derived from nonrenewable, petroleum-based sources
- They source a tiny amount of sustainable fiber
Guess is an American clothing brand and retailer.
- They have goals to reduce emissions generated from its owned operations by 15% until 2021
- Partner with The Better Cotton Initiative
- GUESS claims that I saved over 2.5 million liters of water with their tGuess Eco collection
- No evidence for reducing or eliminating hazardous chemicals
- No proof of paying a living wage to its workers
- While their goal is to use more sustainable alternatives, in 2019, the company sourced just 10% of its materials were more sustainable
- They use animal-based materials including leather, down (feathers), and wool
Mango is another Spanish clothing design and manufacturing company.
- Mango joined the Fashion Pact and Sustainable Apparel Coalition, promoting environmental sustainability in the textile and fashion sectors
- In their sustainability report 2017, they mention environmental actions they focus on, like energy adaption, optimization of transport, but there isn’t any further evidence
- They claim their efforts to respect the environment, but again, there are no examples or proof on how they do it
- They use just a small portion of sustainably sourced fabrics, intending to increase it to 50% until 2022
18. New Look
New Look is a British global fashion retailer founded in 1969.
- a member of the Better Cotton Initiative
- They have a vegan footwear collection
- Though they have goals for reducing their impact, there are no proof for action to eliminate hazardous chemicals, nor water reduction target
- In 2017 an investigation revealed that the brand pays £3 per hour to its garment workers in UK sweatshops
- New Look is suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock “indefinitely,” due to Covid19
19. New Yorker
New Yorker is a German clothing retailer, primarily targeting people between the age of 12-39.
The brand does not share any data on its production conditions, climate, environmental goals, or animal welfare.
Next is a British multinational clothing, footwear, and home products retailer.
The brand doesn’t have a formal animal welfare policy, and it uses leather, wool, and exotic animal hair.
Additionally, they have some positive goals, but there is no evidence it implements all of their initiatives in its supply chain.
Primark is an Irish fast-fashion retailer, and it is one of the biggest fashion retailers when it comes to volume of stock, and their model is – “buy once, wear once.”
Due to Covid-19, more than a million Bangladeshi garment workers have been sent home without pay or have lost their jobs after western clothing brands (one of which Primark) canceled or suspended £2.4bn of existing orders.
22. s. Oliver
s.Oliver is a German fashion company that provides incomplete information about its goals.
They use animal-derived materials, and there is no sufficient information on reducing environmental impact.
Topshop is a British multinational fashion retailer, owned by Arcadia Group, together with Miss Selfridge is a UK high street store, with shops across the world. Miss Selfridge is Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Burton, and Topman.
Topshop was criticized for its sourcing policies. Philip Green (founder) was accused of taking £571 million of BHS (British Home Stores) as dividends and leaving a £208 million deficit in employees’ pension funds.
24. Miss Selfridge
As a part of the Arcadia Group, there are vague claims and no real proof for eliminating hazardous chemicals, reducing water usage, and improving their supply chain practices.
The brand uses leather, wool, and down without specifying sources.
25. United Colors of Benetton
Benetton Group is a global fashion brand, founded in 1965 in Italy. Even though the brand has some positive goals, it’s hard to tell if all its claims are valid.
26. Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters is a retail corporation headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania., operating around the world.
The brand doesn’t share information on its supply chain, and it provides no information on where they source its clothes from.
A spokesperson from Urban Outfitters that the brand has some sustainability programs in place, but “they cannot be publicly disclosed.“
Uniqlo is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer, and retailer. In 2015, the brand was accused of labor rights violations in China. These accusations continued in 2016.
Uniqlo scores 31-40% in the Fashion Transparency Index, and it doesn’t publicly list all of its suppliers.
28. Victoria Secret
Victoria’s Secret is an American lingerie, clothing, and beauty retailer.
The brand does not publicly disclose its supplier names and addresses or reports of its current social or environmental impact.
Furthermore, there has been a lot of controversies around Victoria’s Secret. To mention some –
US investigators found forced child labor in an organic and fair-trade cotton program of Victoria’s Secret in 2012.
Additionally, Hundreds of Victoria’s Secret bras were thrown away in a bin at the beginning of 2020.
ASOS (As Seen On Screen) is a British fast-fashion retailer that sells more than 850 different brands with their clothing line.
ASOS seems to be interested in becoming more sustainable; however, they have a long way to go.
They don’t sell much clothing made with eco-friendly materials, and most are made from plastic-derived materials, cotton (pesticide and water intense), and viscose (using chemically intensive processes in highly polluting factories).
ASOS is selling products from companies, that are using hazardous chemicals in the production process, and that have unsustainable practices.
Additionally, they ship the clothing in plastic packaging, and they still use animal-derived products, like leather, skin, wool, and other animal hair.
What can you do about it?
If you don’t want to support these brands anymore, but you are confused about what to do to make a positive impact, I got you covered!
Read Part 1 of this article that is focusing on Why fast fashion is bad (more in-depth), How to spot fast fashion brands, and What you can do to help!
Usually, things aren’t black on white – these companies have wasteful and unsustainable practices, but it’s better not just to boycott them, but also to demand change.
My goal is not to promote any of these fast fashion brands by including their “good” sides, but to show you that if we put pressure on them, they have to change sooner or later.
Yet, just by looking at their business model and the speed these brands release new clothes, it’s hard to verify whether their environmental and ethical goals are real and not greenwashing.
What I can recommend is always to do your research. Even after this article, if you want to know more about a particular brand – read more!
In a nutshell – remember to be skeptical but also acknowledge the steps that these companies are taking.