Fast fashion is making our planet a mess. The main goal of some multinational corporations is profit-making without considering the environment. To do this, they take advantage of workers all over the world and litter our environment with cheap clothing.
On top of that, these companies trick people into buying their clothes by trying to promote unrealistic lifestyles, greenwashing and an exaggerated standard of beauty.
In this article, we will look at 23 of these unethical clothing brands that you should know; however, let’s start with what it means for a clothing brand to be unethical. Keep reading.
What makes an unethical clothing brand unethical?
1. Workers’ rights abuse
In order to make a lot of cheap clothes quickly, it is common to get materials from countries where the minimum wage is much lower than what is needed to live a comfortable life and where people are forced to work in dangerous conditions.
Clothing brands contribute to the mass exploitation of workers by putting pressure on suppliers to lower prices, setting deadlines that can’t be met in an ethical way, and paying suppliers months after they’ve sent products. Some will only pay once all of the stock has been sold.
2. Animal exploitation
Cows, silkworms, sheep, alpaca, rabbits, ducks, geese, insects, and a lot of other animals are used to make some of the clothes hanging in stores.
Animal skins, feathers, and fur are used in making clothing. Other parts of animals are also used in making dyes, glues, silk and more.
Making clothes as cheap as possible so they can be sold at low prices comes at the cost of animal welfare. For example, it costs less to raise an animal on a factory farm than to give it space to roam and forage.
3. Heavy carbon emissions
Between 2% and 10% of the world’s carbon emissions are said to come from making clothes, which is a big deal.
Most of the pollution that comes from clothes is created when the fabric is made. According to a WRAP study from 2012, wool is the material that gives off the most emissions. Acrylic and viscose are next on the list.
Polyester and cotton, on the other hand, have the biggest effect on the world because so many of them are used. When combined, they account for three-quarters of all fibre in clothing.
Spinning and weaving use a lot of electricity, and dying takes a lot of energy because it requires heating up a lot of water. China exports more than a third of all the clothes in the world, making it the biggest clothing exporter in the world. China gets most of its electricity from coal, so a lot of fossil fuels are burned in the process of making clothes.
Plastic-based fabrics like acrylic, elastane, nylon, and polyester are also used a lot in fashion. Between 2000 and 2020, these synthetic fibres were used twice as much.
Cotton production uses 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of the world’s insecticides. Also, nearly 75% of the world’s cotton is grown from genetically modified seeds. Because of this, there is less variety in life.
5. Unethical sourcing of materials
Materials like cotton could be sourced unethically by some brands. Cotton is often used, but it is a very controversial fabric because it is linked to forced labour. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are two of the biggest exporters of cotton in the world. Their governments force their people to grow and harvest cotton.
23 unethical Clothing brands
Greenpeace says that Nike uses toxic chemicals that are bad for the environment and dangerous for the people who work there.
A recent report says that between 2017 and 2019, the Chinese government moved about 80,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities out of Xinjiang and put them to work in factories around the country. This is very likely forced labour.
Hollister has just as many moral problems as its parent company, Abercrombie & Fitch. For example, it was involved in a scandal for being unfair to disabled people.
After Nike, Adidas is the world’s second-largest sportswear manufacturing company. Like its main competitor, the brand was known for using sweatshops and underpaid labour to make cheap products.
Additionally, several chemical treatments are used on Adidas clothes to make them more colourful, flexible, durable, or resistant to water. Over time, these things have made the water dirty and are bad for the ecosystems in the area.
4. Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret has been accused of a long list of unethical things, such as using child labour, suing over formaldehyde, and making its models work in a “toxic culture of sexual harassment.”
The brand isn’t clear about all the locations of its factories, but it is common knowledge that they use sweatshops in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Jordan. These people aren’t paid enough and sometimes have to work more than 14 hours a day.
Uniqlo is a fast-fashion brand in Japan that sells casual, comfortable clothes to people all over the world. But they don’t give their factory workers a relaxed, comfortable place to work. The brand used to be known for using child labour, but now they use forced labour or cheap labour from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and China.
6. Forever 21
Forever 21 is known for having factories in Los Angeles that don’t follow ethical production. Instead of getting paid by the hour, the workers at these brands get paid by the number of items they make. Not that this is a problem.
The problem is that they get so little money per garment that even an experienced sewist can only get $5 or $6 per hour, which is not enough to live on.
7. Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova is very good at marketing through influential people. Other than that, it sells cheap clothes made by underpaid people in Los Angeles in too many quantities for our planet to handle.
H&M has a Conscious Collection that they claim is more eco-friendly but is considered more greenwashing. When you look at that collection, you can see that it uses more eco-friendly materials but mixes them with other fabrics to keep the prices low.
It becomes a problem when you find out that fabric blends can’t be recycled, which goes against the whole point of the brand’s recycling campaign.
This company isn’t very transparent about its practices as they don’t say who its suppliers are, how much they pay its workers, or what rights they give workers.
When it comes to sustainability, the brand doesn’t say much. In the last five years, Mango has even switched to a faster way of doing business. Every two weeks, they now show off a new collection.
Shein copies popular designs from other stores and sells them for very little money. Sometimes the picture is of the real thing, but what you get looks nothing like it.
If a dress costs $8, who cares? Well, we should care because if their clothes look like garbage, you won’t wear them, and they’ll probably end up in landfills.
Inditex, which also owns Zara, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, and Oysho, is in charge of Bershka. All of these brands make cheap clothes and rely on selling a lot of them for a low price, on trends that change quickly and don’t last, and, of course, on cheap labour.
When a brand sells bikinis for £1, you know there’s something off about them. You can’t make a piece of clothing in an ethical way for that price. By selling cheap, throwaway clothes, the brand has no regard for workers’ rights or the current environmental crises.
On Wish, you can buy things from sellers all over the world, but most of them are from China. Most of the time, there aren’t any middlemen, which makes the prices even lower. But it also makes Wish a riskier place to buy clothes than other stores.
Wish is just a marketplace, so it doesn’t have to make sure that the items are made in an ethical way or that you get what you ordered. Unfortunately, some of the workers who produce the clothings on wish may be underaged.
Clothes from Primark are known for having very low prices and maybe even lower quality. The brand is rated “Not Good Enough” on Good On You because it has a huge carbon footprint, makes a huge amount of waste, isn’t transparent, and uses materials that aren’t sustainable.
People in the UK criticized Boohoo for promoting a “throwaway clothes culture.” In 2018, the brand was called out in Parliament for making $5 dresses that were so bad that even thrift stores wouldn’t want to resell them again.
The Guardian says that this poor quality is made in Leicester and Manchester, where workers make less than minimum wage.
16. Nasty Gal
Nasty Gal began as a vintage resale shop in 2006, but it quickly grew into a giant in online shopping. The brand went bankrupt in 2016, and Boohoo bought it the next year.
Nasty Gal is now one of many fast-fashion brands that make cheap, low-quality clothes from cheap, synthetic materials.
17. Pretty Little Thing
At least Pretty Little Thing gets an A+ for being honest since the brand itself told its customers that its clothes might contain chemicals that could cause cancer.
The brand’s website has a page about sustainability, but it’s mostly about teaching people ways they can take care of their clothing.
18. Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters has been in the news for a number of bad reasons in the past. One, in particular, was about how its clothing factory was like a sweatshop. Even worse, the company has been caught asking workers to work for free on the weekends.
This happened in the United States. One can only guess what might be going on in other places that haven’t been exposed.
19. Free People
Free People is another URBN company that is similar to Anthropologie in that it doesn’t seem to be fast-fashion because it costs more. In the past few years, the brand has been trying to be more open, but there have been a lot of talks and little action.
NA-KD has a line called NA-KD Reborn that is made from sustainable materials. It looks like a very good idea. It is made with organic cotton, cotton that has been recycled, recycled polyester, EcoveroTM viscose, and TencelTM Lyocell.
The price is also very low. Other NA-KD collections still need to be more sustainable, even though NA-KD tries to show itself as a brand that cares about the environment. That’s called “greenwashing.” NA-KD also sells clothes from other fast fashion brands that are not at all sustainable.
Walmart is unarguably one of the biggest and most popular stores in the US, but they are not at all ethical or environmentally friendly. The quality of their clothes is so bad that they wear out quickly and end up in the trash very quickly.
22. River Island
In 2019, River Island had to recall clothes because they were made with too many toxic chemicals that could be harmful.
River Island says it pays everyone in its supply chain a living wage, but an undercover reporter found that the brand pays its garment workers in UK sweatshops only £3 per hour.
Riachuelo is a fast fashion brand from Brazil. Like other fast fashion brands, it makes cheap, low-quality clothes out of materials that aren’t good for the environment, like polyester and nylon. The brand also takes advantage of people who don’t make enough money to live on.
As more and more clothing companies use unethical ways to make money in a global market, we as consumers must do our part to ensure that these brands change the way they do business for the better.