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Ethical clothing & footwear ratings

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What fashion brands are the most eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical?

Author: Maciamo Hay

We have all heard of climate change, plastic pollution, toxic wastes, the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation carried out for the sake of intensive agriculture, or the horrible working conditions in factories in the developing world. We may not all care about all these things. Or at least, some of us are more concerned about some of these issues than others. Our level of awareness and care depends on where we grew up and how much we were exposed to these issues.

As a child, I loved animals and became aware early of the number of species facing extinction because of human activities - especially the loss of habitat caused by deforestation. I admit that I didn't start worrying about working conditions in factories that produce the clothes I buy until I was in my 30's. And even though I was by then quite concerned about climate change and pollution, it is only recently that I started to think about changing my buying habits when it comes to clothes and shoes. It's never too late to do something to help the planet and other human beings. You can also start taking action now by buying greener and more ethical products and avoiding the worst abusers.

Buying eco-friendly clothes can also benefit your health in unsuspected ways. As Daniel Goleman explains in his book Ecological Intelligence: Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, cotton crops account for 10 percent of the world's use of pesticides. The soil is first prepared with organophosphates, which is linked to central nervous system damage to humans. Then, just before the crop is harvested, paraquat, a highly toxic defoliant linked to Parkinson's disease, is sprayed on cotton, with half of it ending up in streams and fields. This is why purchasing organic cotton is beneficial both for one's health and for the environment. But that is not all. Cotton yarn has to be bleached, dyed and finished with industrial chemicals such as chromium, chlorine and formaldehyde, each toxic in its own way, with large amounts rinsing off in factory wastewater that often pollutes local rivers and groundwater. So make sure the textiles you buy used of non-toxic dyes.

I have done a bit of research to help you choose brands more responsibly. I started with three websites that rates companies for their sustainability, eco-friendliness and workers' rights: Ethical Consumer (UK), Shop Ethical (Australia) and Good on you (Australia). I used them mostly to find the smaller brands dedicated to being environmentally responsible as part of their corporate ethos. For larger companies I used:

  • Sustainable Cotton Ranking: An index developed by the WWF, Pesticide Action Network and Solidaridad. Companies are scored on policy, traceability and actual uptake of sustainable cotton. Brands with a high score (above 60%) are marked as Cotton+ below.
  • Better Cotton Initiative: A global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world.
  • Fashion Transparency Index: Reviewed 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers and ranked them according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. The best scorers (60 to 73%) are marked as Transparent.
  • Supply Chain+ CITI Evaluation: The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), a non-profit environmental research organisation registered and based in Beijing, assesses brands on the environmental management of their supply chains in China. Best rated brands (60 to 77%) are marked as Supply Chain+. Worst rating brands are marked as Supply Chain- (0 to 35%).
  • Filthy Fashion Climate Scorecard: Stand.earth rates companies on their actual emission reduction (+ short and long term targets), use of renewable energy, and incentive programmes. Brands with a high score (above 55%) are marked as Climate+ below. The worst performers are indicated as Climate-.
  • Greenpeace Detox Catwalk: Assess if fashion brands removed priority chemicals such as Phtalates and APEOs, substitute PFCs with safer alternatives, and how transparently they report their data. Brands that passed all criteria are marked as Detox below. Those that failed all criteria are marked as Toxic.

Additionally, I have indicated in the list of fashion brands whether they possessed the following ethical certifications.

  • Certified B Corporations: Certification of social and environmental performance. Indicated as B-corp below.
  • Bluesign: a sustainability standard for the manufacture of textiles that takes particular account of chemical safety aspects. Indicated as bluesign.
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): An American animal rights organization opposed to factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and the use of animals in entertainment. Members are indicated as Animals+.
  • Animal Free Fashion: A project for ethical and sustainable fashion. Members are indicated as Animals+.

The following table summarises the ratings for sustainable cotton, green supply chain, fashion transparency, fashion climate and from the Good On You website. The overall score is an average of the five ratings with an additional 5 points bonus for members of Animal Free Fashion or PETA, and 5 points bonus for the brands who passed the Greenpeace Detox test. 5 points were withdrawn from brands that failed all three categories of the detox test. Note that you can sort the ranking for each column by clicking on the title.

Fashion brands (icon by Andrei Yushchenko, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Companies/Brands
Sustainable Cotton (icon by Rineesh, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Sustainable Cotton
Green Supply Chain (icon by Becris, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Supply Chain
Fashion Transparency (icon by Wichai Wi, TH, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Fashion Transparency
Fashion Climate (icon by denimao, ID, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Fashion Climate
Good On You rating (icon by carlos gonzalez, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
Good On You
Overall score (icon by ic2icon, TH, The Noun Project - Creative Commons CCBY)
OVERALL SCORE
H&M 77.4 70 73 65 60 79.08
Adidas/Reebok 79.2 70.88 69 48 66.67 71.75
Levi Strauss 64.5 76.96 48 80 53.33 69.56
Marks & Spencer 66.1 55.88 60 40 73.33 69.06
C&A 69.5 73.48 70 43 60 68.20
Patagonia 60 55 86.67 67.22
Esprit 39.8 52.16 64 38 53.33 59.46
Puma 57 58 46.67 58.89
Nike 60 68.04 55 57 53.33 58.67
Kering (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent) 48 58 66.67 57.56
Burberry 37.44 36 65 66.67 56.28
Primark 69.72 38 40 54.24
VF Corp. (Eastpak, North Face, Timberland) 23.4 44.74 59 58 60 49.03
Gap 43.6 54.8 50 62 46.67 46.41
Lindex 35.64 50 53.33 46.32
Inditex (Zara, M. Dutti...) 15.9 69 43 38 40 46.18
Hanes 39 17 80 45.33
Target 25.1 61.56 37 43 53.33 44
New Balance 26 57.32 48 48 40 43.86
ASICS 17.78 46 58 53.33 43.78
Fast Retailing (Uniqlo...) 16.6 44.36 40 53.33 43.57
Otto Group 69 20 38 42.33
Mammut 31 38 53.33 40.78
Benetton 40.3 6 55 40 40.33
Next 25.3 36 40 38.77
Lululemon 4.5 44 27 40 38.50
Bestseller (Jack & Jones, Name It...) 51 31.68 30 60 38.17
Hugo Boss 31.6 11.72 41 46.67 37.75
Tom Tailor 33.5 18 60 37.17
New Look 19.5 43 46.67 36.39
PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) 35.9 12.64 54 48 50 35.11
American Eagle Outfitters 14.5 25.32 17 73 40 33.96
Columbia Sportswear 35 32.9 28 5 66.67 33.51
Decathlon (Quechua...) 57.6 9.52 23 40 32.53
Berkshire Hathaway (Brooks, Fruit of the Loom) 0.3 25 66.67 30.66
Arcadia (Burton, Evans, Outfit, Wallis) 11 38 40 29.67
Mango 5 22 46.67 29.56
Walmart 10.3 23.08 28 38 40 27.88
Abercrombie & Fitch 14.66 25 40 26.55
Guess 7.84 19 38 40 26.21
S Oliver 12.3 16 40 22.77
Valentino 2 10 40 22.33
Deckers (UGG, Teva, Sanuk...) 1.48 17 46.67 21.72
Amazon 0 25 40 21.67
Under Armour 4.3 29 0 53.33 21.66
Lacoste 6 25 33.33 21.44
Coach 5.14 19 40 21.38
LVMH (KENZO, Givenchy, Fendi...) 25 14 40 21.33
Carrefour 6.3 36.7 20 21
Ralph Lauren 6.3 6.24 27 40 19.89
Prada 7.06 18 33.33 19.46
Giorgio Armani 0 3.2 9 40 18.05
Chanel 3 11 40 18
FILA 0.72 8 40 16.24
MUJI 1 10 33.33 14.78
Macy's (Alfani, Bloomingdale's, Bluemercury...) 3.12 16 3 40 12.42
DKNY 0 2 20 7.33
Max Mara 0 0 20 6.67

Listing of fashion brands by ethical rating

A - Most ethical and eco-friendly brands

(Note that, apart from H&M, these are all small companies that made ethics and environment their business model)

General

Jeans (+ t-shirts)

Shoes

T-shirts & shirts

Womenswear

B - Well rated brands

General

Sportswear

Outdoor & Hiking

Shoes

C - Above average brands

  • Burberry Climate+ Detox
  • Esprit Detox Transparent Animals+
  • Gap Climate+
  • Kering (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent...)
  • Nike bluesign Climate+ Cotton+ Supply Chain+
  • Primark Supply Chain+
  • Puma bluesign Climate+ Detox

D - Below average brands

  • ASICS Supply Chain- bluesign Climate+
  • Fjällräven
  • Gola
  • Hanes
  • Inditex (Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka...) Detox Supply Chain+
  • Lindex
  • Mammut bluesign
  • Meindl
  • New Balance
  • Otto Group (About You, Alba Moda, Bauer, Bon prix...)
  • Regatta
  • Scarpa
  • Target Supply Chain+
  • Topo Athletic
  • VF Corporation (The North Face, Timberland, Eastpak) bluesign Climate+

E - Could do better

  • American Eagle Outfitters Supply Chain- Climate+
  • Berkshire Hathaway (Brooks, Fruit of the Loom)
  • Bestseller (Jack & Jones, Name It, ONLY...) Supply Chain- Toxic
  • Columbia Sportswear Supply Chain- bluesign Climate-
  • Decathlon (Quechua...) Supply Chain-
  • Hugo Boss Supply Chain- Animals+
  • Lululemon
  • New Look
  • Next Animals+
  • PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) Supply Chain- Toxic
  • Tom Tailor
  • Uniqlo Detox
  • United Colors of Benetton Detox Supply Chain-

F - Unethical brands (to avoid)

  • Abercrombie & Fitch Supply Chain-
  • Amazon
  • Arcadia Group (Burton, Evans, Outfit, Wallis)
  • Boohoo
  • Carrefour
  • Chanel Supply Chain-
  • Clarks
  • Coach Supply Chain-
  • Crocs
  • Deckers (UGG, Teva, Sanuk, Hoka One One) Supply Chain-
  • Dolce & Gabbana Toxic
  • Dr Martens
  • Ecco
  • FILA Supply Chain-
  • Geox
  • Giorgio Armani Supply Chain- Toxic Animals+
  • Guess Supply Chain-
  • John Lewis
  • Karrimor
  • Lacoste
  • LVMH (Céline, Dior, Fendi, Givency, Kenzo, Loewe...) Climate- Toxic
  • Mango Detox
  • Mizuno Supply Chain-
  • Office Holdings
  • Prada Supply Chain-
  • Ralph Lauren Supply Chain-
  • Richemont (Cartier, Chloé, Dunhill...)
  • Under Armour Climate-
  • Valentino Detox Supply Chain-
  • Versace Toxic Animals+
  • Walmart Supply Chain-
  • Wolverine World Wide (Cat, Chaco, Hush Puppies, Keds, Merrell...)

G - Worst brands (to boycott)

  • DKNY Supply Chain-
  • Foot Locker
  • Macy's (Alfani, Bloomingdale's, Bluemercury, Charter Club, Style & Co..) Climate- Supply Chain-
  • Max Mara
  • MUJI Supply Chain-
  • Only the Brave (Diesel, Maison Martin, Margiela, Marni...) Toxic
  • Skechers

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