Sustainability Eco-friendly & ethical shopping: What brands of clothing & shoes to buy and to avoid?

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Eco-friendly & ethical shopping: What brands of clothing & shoes to buy and to avoid?

We have all heard of climate change, plastic pollution, toxic wastes, the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation carried our 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 start acting now too by buying products that cause less harm and avoid the worst abusers.

I have done a bit of research to help you choose brands more responsibly. I started with three websites that rates all sorts of products 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.
  • Certified B Corporations : certification of social and environmental performance. Marked as B-corp below.
  • Bluesign : a sustainability standard for the manufacture of textiles that takes particular account of chemical safety aspects. Marked 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 marked as Animals+.
  • Animal Free Fashion : a project for ethical and sustainable fashion. Members are marked as Animals+.

Combining the ratings of all sites, I would like to give you here a summary of brands to buy and those to avoid.

All websites linked provide delivery to most Western countries. The country mentioned in brackets is just an indication of their home base and main market.

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

Armedangels (Germany/EU) Animals+
bleed (Germany/EU) Animals+
Dorsu (Cambodia)
Etiko (Australia) B-corp
H&M (Sweden/international) Climate+ Cotton+ Detox Supply Chain+ Transparent Animals+
Honest Basics (USA) Animals+
Rapanui (UK/international)
STORY mfg. (UK/Japan)

Jeans (+ t-shirts)

Kings of Indigo (Netherlands/EU - jeans) Animals+
Kuyichi (Netherlands/EU) Animals+
MUD Jeans (Netherlands/EU - jeans) B-corp Animals+
Outland Denim (UK/Australia) B-corp

Shoes

Eco Vegan Shoes (Netherlands) Animals+
Ethletic (international) Animals+
Vegetarian Shoes (UK/EU)
Wills Vegan Shoes (international) Animals+

T-shirts & shirts

A New York Affair (USA)
The Classic T-Shirt Company (USA)
Tuckerman & Co (USA - business shirts) B-corp

Womenswear

Alice + Whittles (USA)
Beyond Skin (UK/EU) Animals+
MATE the label (USA)
Miakoda (USA) Animals+
People Tree (UK) Animals+

B : Well rated brands

General

C&A (international) Cotton+ Detox Supply Chain+ Transparent Animals+
Ethical Wares (UK) Animals+
Levi's (US/international) Climate+ Cotton+ Detox Supply Chain+
Marks & Spencer (UK/EU) Cotton+ Detox Transparent Animals+

Sportswear

Adidas/Reebok (international) bluesign Cotton+ Detox Supply Chain+ Transparent
On Running (Switzerland/EU - sports shoes)

Outdoor & Hiking

Jack Wolfskin (Germany/international) bluesign
Kathmandu (New Zealand) B-corp bluesign
Patagonia (US/international) B-corp bluesign Climate+ Transparent
Picture Organic (France/EU)
Zamberlan (Italy/EU)

Shoes

Allbirds (international) B-corp
Freerangers (UK)
Po-zu (UK/EU)
Veja (France/EU) B-corp

C : Above average brands

Burberry Climate+ Detox
Esprit Detox Transparent Animals+
Gap (USA/international) Climate+
Nike (US/international) bluesign Climate+ Cotton+ Supply Chain+
Primark
Puma bluesign Climate+ Detox

D : Below average brands

ASICS Supply Chain- bluesign Climate+
Fjällräven
Gola
Gucci Animals+
Hanes
Inditex (Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka...) Detox Supply Chain+
Mammut bluesign
Meindl
New Balance
Otto Group (About You, Alba Moda, Bauer, Bon prix...)
Pier One
Regatta
Scarpa
Target Supply Chain+
Teva
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...) Supply Chain- Toxic
Columbia Sportswear Supply Chain- bluesign Climate-
Decathlon (Quechua...) Supply Chain-
Hugo Boss Supply Chain- Animals+
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 (brand)
Arcadia (Burton, Evans, Outfit, Wallis)
Boohoo
Carrefour
Chanel Supply Chain-
Clarks
Coach Supply Chain-
Crocs
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
Prada Supply Chain-
Ralph Lauren Supply Chain-
Richemont (Cartier, Chloé, Dunhill...)
Rip Curl
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 (boycott)

DKNY Supply Chain-Foot Locker
Max Mara
MUJI Supply Chain-Only the Brave (Diesel, Maison Martin, Margiela, Marni...) Toxic
Skechers

There are too many bad brands to list. This is just a summary.
 
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Here is the summary of the four ratings for major fashion brands. I only included companies that were included in at least three indices for the average.

BrandSustainable CottonGreen Supply ChainFashion TransparencyFashion ClimateTOTAL
H&M77.470736571.35
Levi Strauss64.576.96488067.36
Adidas/Reebok79.270.88694866.77
C&A69.573.48704363.99
Nike6068.04555760.01
Marks & Spencer66.155.88604055.49
Gap43.654.8506252.6
Esprit39.852.16643848.49
VF Corp. (Eastpak, North Face, Timberland)23.444.74595846.28
Burberry37.44366546.15
New Balance2657.32484844.83
Otto Group69203842.33
Target25.161.56374341.66
Inditex (Zara, M. Dutti...)15.969433841.47
ASICS17.78465840.59
PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger)35.912.64544837.63
Bestseller (Jack & Jones, Name It...)5131.683037.56
Benetton40.365533.77
Fast Retailing (Uniqlo...)16.644.364033.65
American Eagle Outfitters14.525.32177332.45
Decathlon (Quechua...)57.69.522330.04
Hugo Boss31.611.724128.11
Columbia Sportswear3532.928525.22
Walmart10.323.08283824.84
Guess7.84193821.61
Carrefour6.336.72021.00
Ralph Lauren6.36.242713.18
Under Armour4.329011.10
Giorgio Armani03.294.07
 
Here is an updated ranking incorporating the rating from Good on you (combing the 3 ratings on 5 and converting the total in percentage). The addition of a 5th rating component allowed me to include more brands as it would have been misleading to use only two ratings per brand. I gave 5 points bonus to members of Animal Free Fashion or PETA, 5 points bonus to brands who passed the Greenpeace Detox test and withdrew 5 points to brands that failed all three categories of the detox test.

BrandSustainable CottonGreen Supply ChainFashion TransparencyFashion Climategood on youTOTAL
H&M77.470736560.0079.08
Adidas/Reebok79.270.88694866.6771.75
Levi Strauss64.576.96488053.3369.56
Marks & Spencer66.155.88604073.3369.06
C&A69.573.48704360.0068.20
Patagonia605586.6767.22
Esprit39.852.16643853.3359.46
Puma575846.6758.89
Nike6068.04555753.3358.67
Burberry37.44366566.6756.28
Primark69.723840.0054.24
VF Corp. (Eastpak, North Face, Timberland)23.444.74595860.0049.03
Gap43.654.8506246.6746.41
Inditex (Zara, M. Dutti...)15.969433840.0046.18
Hanes391780.0045.33
Target25.161.56374353.3344.00
New Balance2657.32484840.0043.86
ASICS17.78465853.3343.78
Fast Retailing (Uniqlo...)16.644.364053.3343.57
Otto Group69203842.33
Mammut313853.3340.78
Benetton40.365540.0040.33
Next25.33640.0038.77
Bestseller (Jack & Jones, Name It...)5131.683060.0038.17
Hugo Boss31.611.724146.6737.75
Tom Tailor33.51860.0037.17
New Look19.54346.6736.39
PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger)35.912.64544850.0035.11
American Eagle Outfitters14.525.32177340.0033.96
Columbia Sportswear3532.928566.6733.51
Decathlon (Quechua...)57.69.522340.0032.53
Berkshire Hathaway (Brooks, Fruit of the Loom)0.32566.6730.66
Arcadia (Burton, Evans, Outfit, Wallis)113840.0029.67
Mango52246.6729.56
Walmart10.323.08283840.0027.88
Abercrombie & Fitch14.662540.0026.55
Guess7.84193840.0026.21
S Oliver12.31640.0022.77
Valentino21040.0022.33
Amazon02540.0021.67
Under Armour4.329053.3321.66
Lacoste62533.3321.44
Coach5.141940.0021.38
LVMH (KENZO, Givenchy, Fendi...)251440.0021.33
Carrefour6.336.72021.00
Ralph Lauren6.36.242740.0019.89
Prada7.061833.3319.46
Giorgio Armani03.2940.0018.05
Chanel31140.0018.00
FILA0.72840.0016.24
MUJI11033.3314.78
DKNY0220.007.33
Max Mara0020.006.67
 
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Thank you so much for such detailed information. I actually want to buy sports shoes and kits. I read many reviews and information about brands on different forums. I have read mizuno's great reviews, What do you guys suggest?
 

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