The Fashion industry is the second largest industry in the world. Ethical fashion and shopping promotes sustainable sourcing and quality garment production. Fast fashion, while consumer friendly, has its drawbacks. This frenzy has made a part of the industry depend more on unsustainable resources, exploitative production and harmful work environments. Clean water, climate change, textile waste, wages and overtime in supplier factories are some key challenges the industry faces.
Below I’ve researched a few popular shops to see what efforts are being made to be responsible for the people that work for them and their impact on the environment.
- Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters are all under the same company. They say they are passionate about eliminating single use items, like plastic bags, and use multi purpose lightweight fabric bags. The corporate campus recycles and has collection points for cell phones, batteries and toner cartridges. The store also recycles. Since January 2015, they have had almost 730.5 tons recycled. In 2012, they also installed Bloom Box Energy system that has stacked fuel cells that convert chemical energy from natural gas and water into electricity. In 2015, the energy generated 4,901,816 kWh, which is equivalent to 50,680 trees grown for 10 years . They also have begun implementing a LED Lighting strategy in stores.
- In 2012, out of six board members at Urban Outfitters, none were female.
- Urban Outfitters discloses little about its supply chain and social impact. They have also been involved with numerous controversies about offensive products that have been sold.
- American Eagle became a member of the Better Cotton Initiative in 2015, working to support more sustainably produced cotton by using less water and pesticides. They have already begun use of the brand’s cotton mills with Better Cotton into their supply chain. Racked reported they were also incorporating the use of coffee grounds into their denim.
- American Eagle also collaborated with Better Work program and Business For Social Responsibility to fund the first HERproject in Cambodian factories. This project supports the health of female workers through a peer education system to raise awareness, increase health knowledge, like reproductive health and nutrition, and provides information for accessible health services available.
- No eco-friendly items or label.
- 50 percent of the factories audited in 2012 by the brand in Southeast Asia had non compliance issues related to work hours, fire safety, health and safety concerning work floor, housing and local law as well as code and labor contract violations. There has not been a report on any improved results since the audit.
- H&M has a lot of their information right on their website, which is really cool that they are capable of being that transparent. The approach is that looking good should do good too. All year round, sustainable basics, trending pieces and evening wear are made available to consumers. Each year, H&M launches the Conscious Exclusive Collection that is comprised of high end, environmentally friendly pieces that are helping move into a sustainable fashion future.
- #1 user of organic cotton worldwide
- They have strict demand on cotton suppliers that includes regulations in social and environmental impact that are in accordance to their sustainability commitment. H&M also holds the belief that the best way to support developing countries and protect human rights is to encourage partnerships and trade with them. H&M group has helped to create jobs, which creates economic growth and improved standard of living. They have created about 1.6 million jobs around the world, with approximately 2/3 of those jobs being held by women.
- Women hold 71% of management positions.
- H&M does not own factories, instead they work with independent suppliers.
- *Zara is also under the H&M group, which I did not research, but I did see on another site that they also have a sustainable collection called “Join Life” similar to H&M’s Conscious Exclusive. In 2015, They stated the goal was to have zero landfill waste by 2020.
- In 2013, it was reported in DailyMail that worker treatment was poor.
- In Turkey, in 2015, they admitted to identifying Syrian child labour in one of their factories.
- They were the first in Bangladesh to sign an Accord for fire and building safety in 2014, but in 2016, it was reported by The Clean Clothes Co. that after 2 1/2 years, none of the suppliers had met the standard, particularly lacking were fire exits. That February, 4 people were injured in a fire, and it was discovered that had the fire happened an hour later, 6,000 workers would have been inside.
- There have also been reported issues with their recycling program, identifying that if they aimed to recycle 1,000 tons of fashion waste that roughly equates to the amount of clothing they put out in 48 hours.
- The J. Crew Group, which includes Madewell, has New York offices that are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certified. This is a rating system that the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) uses to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.
- They are members of the Fair Factories Clearinghouse that facilitates the continuing improvements in the workplace.
- Madewell, owned by J. Crew has a take back denim program. They send donated denim products to Blue Jeans Go Green, which turns them into housing insulation.
- They have a code of conduct that covers eliminating child labor, forced labor, freedom of association, collective bargaining, prohibits discrimination and use of excessive overtime. In 2015, the brand committed to ending on-call scheduling. This is the practice in which companies wait until last minute to call in workers depending own how busy they are. They made a statement that read, “similar to other retailers, our supply chain is complex and we have less visibility of the indirect suppliers who provide fabric, trim and other components to our direct suppliers and even less visibility of the origin of the raw materials these components. Nevertheless, we recognize that we have a responsibility to identify risks and to work to improve working conditions throughout our supply chain. As a result, we regularly communicate with the mill and trim suppliers with which we do business.
- While they had published a list of countries where suppliers are located, the list has not been updated since 2013.
- Also in 2013, they partnered with Business for Social Responsibility to develop a program that would identify and reduce environmental wastes and factory operation costs. They assessed in the areas of water, solid waste and chemical management. They stated they would share these learnings and use them to inform supply chain initiatives, but have not reported anything since.
- The brand is a member of Better Cotton Initiative and has a target goal for half of its own label to be manufactured by BCI sources by 2020. They sell over 850 brands.
- In Dec 2013, The Guardian reported that Asos is the first verified online retailer to be carbon neutral and has such programs in Kenya, China and India.
- The brand has dedicated part of its website, The Eco Edit, to selling sustainable fashion and beauty goods. For an item to meet this criteria, it must support one of the following: building communities, developing fair trade and alleviating poverty, preserving craftsmanship and artisanal skills, addressing climate change challenges, preserve natural resources, remove waste or advance animal welfare.
- Fashion transparency Index gave them a 43%. Like stated above, they sell over 850 labels, to only be concerned with their personal label is weak.
- The brand does not fully disclose a complete list of countries where suppliers are located.
- In 2015, Vice called Asos warehouse a ‘modern day sweatshop’. Employees said they were exhausted by demands of target regime and a “flex system” where shifts are worked based on demand.
- Topshop is owned by the Arcadia Group and has been a member of Better Cotton Initiative since 2015.
- Brand reports that 100% of the energy it centrally purchases for its stores is from renewable resources.
- Fashion Transparency Index gave Topshop a 49%.
- Signed the Accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh.
- Working toward factories with a green rating and fewer factories with out of date audits.
- Banned wool sourced from locations using mulesing of sheep to prevent flystrike.
- Menswear brands in 2015 tried use of recycled wool in coats and sweaters from offcuts of other clothing production.
- In 2015, Arcadia products are made in 49 countries. It’s top ten sourcing countries accounted for 91% of its products. The top 5 have 71% and included China, Turkey, Romania, India and Bangladesh. The other countries they manufacture in are not disclosed.
- The brand does not publicly share if the supply chain can be traced.
- Arcadia reported that its brands sell organic cotton ranges including Topshop MOTO organic cotton jeans range, but a search of the website had no results.
- In March 2016, The Guardian reported that when contracted cleaners demanded a fair living wage, Topshop removed documentation that stated the brand supported a living wage from its website.
- Accused in a 2007 newspaper investigation of using slave labor.
- In Sept 2015, Sourcing Journal reported that Arcadia wrote suppliers saying it wanted a 14.25% discount for orders manufacturer s had already agreed to fulfill.
- Gap is a higher transparency company with fair worker treatment and charitable donations that made Forbes global 2000 list. The company includes Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime and Athletica. Gap inc. has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emmissons from its operation by 20% in the US.
- Redesigned product packaging has eliminated 57000 tons of cardboard and 63 million yards of plastic bands annually from gaps us operations. They’ve also reduced electircity consumption by replacing over 16000 light bulbs with energy efficient ones.
- 100% of branded denim is made in compliance with the company’s water quality system. Waste water from laundries is properly treated before its discharged into public water systems.
- They have worked with PACE (personal advancement and career enhancement program) to teach 5,000 female factory workers life-and-work skills that was introduced in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
- Did not sign the Greenpeace detox manifesto.
- In 2013, Greenpeace exposed a toxic water scandal in India.
- In 2014, 2.8% of Gap factories were not in compliance with laws for child or under age labor. Almost 26% did not provide a day off in a week.
- Their program ensures that factory workers receive time off, association rights, non discrimination, environment all protection, security. They prohibit use of forced, slave, child and prison labor. To make sure the fair treatment happens they pay visits to the factories to evaluate by the “vendor compliance team”.
- They are very active in charity work. Its give to love love to give brand raised $9.5 million for charity in 2011. They also partnered with FEED to source environmentally friendly artisan made material with fair labor production. They also provided 71,120 meals for African families and drill 40 wells in Samburu, Kenya to help 26 villages almost 1500 people have access to clean water.
- In 2014, PETA reported they had ceased use of angora.
- According to US Department of Labor in 2012, clothing is being produced in LA factories with “sweatshop” conditions.
- Fashion Transparency Index gave them a low rating because there is no information on their supply chain or environmental impact.
- In 2015, Rainforest action network reported results of irresponsible fabric sourcing, human rights abuse, even deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia. (Fast fashion company’s use tree based fabric production to create materials like rayon and viscose.)
- Website Transparency was last updated June 2016 that says they abide by a business code of conduct and ethics.
- Follow the California Transparency Supply Chain Act that requires an effort to prevent sale of products made without use of slavery or human trafficking.
- Vendors that work with Charlotte Russe sign an acknowledgememt that they are in compliance with local and international law, rules and regulation. This includes conditions like wage and hour, child labor, health and safety, labor and worker rights and practices, discrimination and environmental law and regulation.
- Lead contaminated purses, belts and shoes are sold with above legal amount, even after signing agreements to limit use of heavy metals in products. Lead exposure is particularly bad for women, as its been linked to higher infertility. Accumulation in bones is harmful to pregnant women and fetus, and lead increases risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure.
- No eco friendly items or label.
- L brand, which owns Victoria Secret, is member of zero discharge of hazardous chemical group. Their goal is to eliminate 11 chemical categories in conjunction with manufacturing apparel in 2020.
- Factory workers have 60 hr/work week cap and are required to take a day off a week.
- 88% of companies paper was Forest Stwerad Council Certified (FSC).
- Joined Greenpeace detox for better environmental impact by 2020 and was found Putting in a low effort.
- Rank a brand gave Victoria Secret an E the lowest score on sustainability.
American Apparel and Footwear Association reported in 2012 that Americans alone annually purchase an average of 8 pairs of shoes and 68 pieces of clothing. 61% of online shopping in Europe last year was for clothing. While it would be amazing for companies to be as green as possible and educate consumers on products they are are selling for purchase, it ultimately falls on us to be aware of the impact of our clothing purchases.
Information from Project Just, Urbn, Fashionista, Refinery29, Huffington Post