Fashion is fun. The clothes we wear help show off our personality and mood, and develop our sense of style. They allow us to experiment with designs, colours, textures, sizes and more. And these days, there are so many cute and trendy brands that cater to a wide audience, offering different styles and aesthetics so that everyone can find a garment that will make them feel good.
But fashion has a darker side: much of the fashion industry is incredibly harmful to the environment and to people. In fact, it’s one of the most polluting industries in the world, and since the collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013 (which killed more than 1,000 workers in a Bangladesh factory making clothes for European and American brands), light is being shed on a number of human rights issues within the industry. More recently, after lockdowns started rolling out in March 2020, stories emerged of big fashion brands cancelling orders and leaving vulnerable suppliers high and dry.
Luckily, the tide is turning. In the last few years, there have been more and more signs that consumer demand for sustainable fashion is on the rise. Many more people now actively look for sustainable clothes from ethical brands. An increasing number of fashion brands are taking note of this consumer interest, and new ethical labels and collections are created every day.
Together, we can have a real impact, with the one powerful weapon we all have in common: the ability to choose. By choosing sustainable brands that do good over those that don’t, we’re driving the whole fashion industry to be more ethical and fair.
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By being curious, doing some research, and asking questions. This is where tools like Good On You become helpful. Good On You is the world-leading sustainability ratings platform for fashion. It reads between the seams of hundreds of reports and pulls all the information together to give each fashion brand an easy-to-understand score. Good On You allows you to know how your favourite brands impact the planet, people, and animals—and discover new brands that are changing the industry for the better.
The Good On You ratings are based on the key idea that you have a right to know how a brand impacts the issues you care about. As citizens and consumers, we have a right to make responsible and sustainable choices. Brands have a corresponding obligation to be fully transparent about how their operations impact the issues consumers are passionate about.
Good On You collects up to 500 data points per brand across more than 100 key sustainability issues, indicators, and standards systems (including Fair Trade, Cradle to Cradle, OEKO-TEX STeP, and the Global Organic Textile Standard). Where available, it brings in relevant data from third-party sources like the Fashion Transparency Index and CDP Climate Change and Water Security projects.
When considering certifications and third-party data sources Good On You takes into account both the scope of the issues covered and the quality of their assurance, for example, how well they ensure brands comply with the standards they set. It doesn’t take any private information from brands, standing firmly in the shoes of the consumers who should be able to find the information, in turn incentivising greater transparency and progress from brands.
Good On You’s system aggregates this data into a simple 5 point score—from 1 ‘We Avoid’ this brand to 5, this brand is ‘Great’. You can find Good On You’s ratings on its app and directory, which list nearly 3,000 brands from all over the world.
Here are a few examples of trendy brands listed on Good On You that don’t make the grade on important ethical and sustainability criteria:
One of the fastest growing online fast fashion retailers, SHEIN was founded in 2008 and now boasts an Instagram following of over 18 million people. It sells clothes at alarmingly low prices and of very dubious quality. No stranger to controversy, in 2020 the brand was accused of selling offensive items, from Islamic prayer rugs as decorative mats to a necklace in the shape of a swastika.
SHEIN relies on social media influencers for its marketing, and appeals in particular to young women on a budget, but when it comes to how it impacts people, the planet and its animals, it’s as opaque as a brand can get. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a contact number on the website, let alone information about their supply chain.
SHEIN receives the lowest possible score of ‘We Avoid’ overall on Good On You. The brand has a lot of work to do!
Fast fashion chain Brandy Melville launched in Italy in the 80s, but its real popularity began when it hit the streets of LA in 2009. It now boasts almost 4 million Instagram followers and an extensive range of affordable and trendy clothing and accessories for teen girls—or anyone who likes a 90s throwback.
Brandy Melville also receives the lowest rating of ‘We Avoid’ on Good On You. It does not provide sufficient relevant information about if or how it reduces its impact on the planet, people and animals. Transparency is vital in sustainable fashion, and you have a right to know how the products you buy affect the issues you care about!
Zara, the Inditex Group’s flagship brand, has a reputation as the ultimate destination for affordable European fashion, with nearly 3,000 stores in 96 countries and billions of dollars worth of profit each year.
As one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, Zara has an opportunity to lead the way into a sustainable future. And the company has in fact taken some steps towards good supply chain management, such as the Closing the loop programme. However, its business model is based on an unsustainable production rate—Zara prides itself on giving consumers the ‘latest fashion trends’ every 13 days! The promotion of such rapid consumption is inherently harmful to both people and the planet. There is work to do across the board before Good On You gives the brand a higher rating than ‘Not Good Enough’.
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This one might be surprising! Californian online retailer Everlane has built its brand with the tagline ‘radical transparency’ and positioned itself as a leader in ethical practice. It says it is committed to revealing the true costs behind all of its products—from materials to labour and transportation. But behind the sleek advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements, how do Everlane’s claims stack up?
Good On You gave Everlane an overall rating of ‘Not Good Enough’. To its credit, Everlane focuses on timeless designs over short-lived trends, emphasises the high quality and craftsmanship of its products, and acknowledges that brands ought to be transparent. But there are essential ways in which Everlane does not yet live up to its own hype. Ultimately, Everlane’s claims of ‘radical transparency’ don’t stack up against its inability to trace most of its materials and its failure so far to provide information on its environmental impact, auditing processes, and source of animal materials.
Though it seems that everyone owns a pair of Nikes, not so long ago, the Nike image was synonymous with sweatshops and unethical manufacturing. Nike is a leader in some areas, notably, it has set science-based targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and some of its supply chain is certified by the Fair Labor Association. It also received a higher score than most in the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index.
But as one of the largest brands in the world, it’s clear the company could be doing more, including paying a living wage and protecting workers in the supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19. With annual revenue of over $37 billion, it can certainly afford to! Good On You rates Nike ‘It’s A Start’.
But there’s good news too! More and more brands are creating trendy, contemporary, and fun clothes that do good for the planet, people, and animals. These 5 brands are sustainable and in vogue:
nu-in is a European brand that features activewear, loungewear, and underwear collections, as well as trend-led men’s and women’s ranges. It prioritises the planet by using a high proportion of eco-friendly materials and reuses offcuts to minimise textile waste. The brand is inclusively sized and features an extended sizing range up to 6XL! What’s not to love?
Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and sustainable practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern, sustainable woman. By limiting each garment to short runs, Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, reduces packaging waste, and takes care of precious water resources. Find most products in XS to XL.
Sustainable fashion pioneer Veja is a French brand designing ecological and fair trade footwear. The brand uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton. Veja pays its co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30 per cent and 100 per cent above the world market price. By not advertising, Veja can invest more money into strengthening its ethical practices. You can find Veja shoes in women’s EU sizes 35 to 46 and men’s 35 to 47.
Afends is a Byron Bay-based fashion brand leading the way in organic fashion. It uses eco-friendly materials like organic hemp and organic cotton to create its youthful pieces and incorporates renewable energy into its supply chain to reduce its climate impact. The use of eco-friendly materials limits the number of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production, which is excellent news for the planet! You can find the full range in sizes XS to XL.
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Girlfriend Collective creates minimal, luxury women’s activewear made with certified fair labour, certified by the Social Accountability International SA8000 Standard. The brand uses recycled polyester and low-impact non-toxic dyes and is entirely Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified. Inclusively sized Girlfriend Collective offers products from 2XS to 6XL.
Et voilà! There are hundreds of brands being ranked by Good On You, and chances are your go-to-shop will be on there too. Wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on behind its doors?
Most people know that person. They’re the type who reposts stats about the amount of water it takes to make a pair of jeans while eating mangoes from Whole Foods and sitting beside their bursting closet. When they’re drunk on lightly limed vodka sodas, they pull up Lauren Singer’s TED Talk on their phone. As they sip from their chartreuse aluminium water bottle and exude Aesop scents, their presence seems to radiate Reformation’s slogan, which is: “being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.”
The recognisable colour palettes and simple cuts of Reformation garments have in some ways become a virtue signalling of sustainability. But, is it possible for such prevalent, wide-scale brands like the Californian label to remain truly eco-friendly once they hit a certain threshold? At what point can a brand reach success until it’s necessary to fall away from its original message to keep up with the inundated, widespread demand for its floral tops?
In 2019, the founder and former CEO of Reformation, Yael Aflalo, said to Vogue Business that her brand is like “Zara but with a soul.” The California native went on to explain that “people love Zara, but the issue is that they don’t feel like Zara shares their values from a sustainability and inclusivity perspective.” Starting off as a vintage shop and then growing into its own in 2009, Aflalo’s label is underpinned by a penchant for sustainability. But, this inherently contradicts its aim to emulate the success of a fast fashion company.
This Zara-infused inspiration is reflected in Reformation’s ‘Sustainability’ page on its website. Here, it states that “at Ref, a sketch can become a dress in about a month,” echoing the Spanish fast fashion giant’s ability to turnover designs in about a week. Harvard Business School reports that while most retailers commit 100 per cent of their designs ahead of the season, Zara strategically waits to design 50 per cent of its clothes, drawing on what’s trendy. Reformation follows a similar approach, saying that it’s “designing and making what you want to wear right now.” As the brand grows, this turnover rate increases, bloating the supply chain and output immensely.
Reformation strives to create garments with primarily natural, renewable, or recycled fibres. While its factories are based in Los Angeles, it does supply fabrics from Turkey and China, similar to Zara and most other labels at its level. The company’s effort is commendable—in its latest sustainability report, the brand published that 97 per cent of its fibres meet A/B ratings. 2 per cent are C tier like the fabric econyl and less than 1 per cent are D/E ratings. But, with the trajectory of this brand from a small store rooted in environmental morality to the nearly global availability of its products today, it seems almost impossible that it could keep up its original green mission.
Although Ganni could fit into the upper end of this category—that being expensive, somewhat fast fashion—the Danish brand has taken a different approach. Ganni openly declares on its website that it “doesn’t identify as a sustainable brand,” acknowledging the disconnect between cyclical fashion at a large-scale level. Instead, it states that it “recognises the inherent contradiction between its current fashion industry that thrives off newness and consumption, and the concept of sustainability. So instead, we’re focused on becoming the most responsible version of ourselves.”
This honest approach echoes the label’s Danish origins and its signing of the UN’s 2019 Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The charter’s primary goal is to work with its signatories to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Copenhagen-based company clearly lays out its shortcomings and its extensive plans to reach measurable goals annually, integrating this approach into its day-to-day, rather than flagging it within its marketing campaigns and perpetuating complacent consumption towards an illusive cause.
By contrast, online shoppers can purchase not just clothing, but Climate Credits on Reformation’s website. These credits are intended to offset carbon usage—like that burned for domestic flights, weddings, or your day-to-day life—by donating the money to verified projects through Native Energy. By conflating its clothing with metric tonnes of carbon, it’s webbing sustainability into the lifestyle it wants the brand to project. While Reformation does outline its plans in a similar fashion to Ganni on its website, its emphasis on sustainability takes on an almost passive, California-cool tone.
While the second most sustainable option definitely isn’t Reformation, in a time of saturated globalisation, the most environment-friendly clothing options are most likely those in your own neighbourhood. Rather than propelling small stores—like the California brand once was—into global producers, fashion lovers invested in sustainability should consider supporting local designers who use fabrics native to their immediate area. In an alternate world on the cusp of carbon neutrality, Reformation most likely would have never left the West Coast and Ganni would only be seen in the streets of Copenhagen. However, of course, this isn’t the case. Now that we have a global appetite, it will be hard to diet and satiate ourselves with materials produced within our local vicinity.
Due to this taste of globalisation, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever go back to buying 100 per cent local. For that reason, Ganni states that it remains in the industry because it believes that “fashion can be a force for good, and a vehicle for change,” and that because of this it would “rather go to work every day and focus on creating a responsible fashion industry,” than shut down its business. And at this level of global consumption and supply chains, this awareness and transparency seems like the truly most sustainable option.
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