Fast Fashion’s 6 Part Relationship With Sustainability

“Fast Fashion”, a term associated with negativity and criticism, is a structure believed to be inherently flawed. “Fast fashion is a term used to describe a highly profitable and exploitative business model based on replicating catwalk trends and high-fashion designs, mass-producing them at low cost”. The main goal is to maximize profits and minimize costs, like any profit-based business model. However, this becomes a detriment when the line between ethical cost reduction and unethical cost reduction is blurred, when slave labour and overpollution become the norm. 

Nevertheless, we live in a capitalist society where fast fashion has become the go-to avenue for clothes shopping for the middle and lower class. As a result, I will be organizing this shortlist of six fast-fashion brands from best to worst, because I believe that if you do have to shop fast fashion you might as well shop the more relatively sustainable brand. 

Now, this list of brands are as such; 

  1. H&M (Best)
  2. Uniqlo
  3. Bershka
  4. Zara
  5. Urban Outfitters
  6. Forever 21 (Worst)

I shall talk extensively about the best and worst brands out of the six and provide links for an in-depth analysis of each brand in order to inform yourselves on the topic. 

  • H&M: They have an overall 3 out of 5 rating of “It’s a start” on the good on you website which measures brand sustainability. Likewise, they rank highly, with a 68% final score ranking on the fashion transparency index as of 2021. This index is an annual review of 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers ranked according to their level of public disclosure on human rights and environmental policies, practices and impacts in their own operations and in their supply chain. Now, this tells you how clear H&M is with the infrastructure of their brand which in turn displays their efforts to make distinct changes within their brand on all fronts including sustainability. Specifically, in the fashion transparency index, H&M ranks in the 81-90% range for governance responsible for highlighting the social and environmental impacts of a fashion brand. H&M uses some eco-friendly materials including recycled materials. It has fast fashion traits such as on-trend styles and regular new arrivals. It has a policy approved by CanopyStyle to prevent deforestation of ancient and endangered forests in its supply chain. It has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain but there is no evidence it is on track to meet its target.
  • Forever 21: They have an overall 1 out of 5 rating of  “We avoid”. This speaks lengths on the type of brand and structure forever 21 is built on. They aren’t even properly ranked on the fashion transparency index because they do not communicate sufficient information about their environmental policies. As a result, you as a consumer remain unaware of the products and practices you buy into. Likewise, they have a very poor labour rating which explains their lack of care for their workers. None of its supply chains is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages or other labour rights. It received a score of 0-10% in the Fashion Transparency Index. It publishes zero or very limited information about its supplier policies and audits. It does not disclose any information about forced labour, gender equality or freedom of association. There is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. It does not disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

These two brands should serve as a scale of what to avoid and what to buy into when looking at fast fashion brands. Fast fashion is prevalent due to its accessibility, price and size inclusivity amongst other variables. Now, this list is not one you have to follow as buying into it is not necessarily wrong, especially if you’re unable to afford anything else. However, buying into it becomes an issue when you overconsume it. Fast fashion is becoming more sustainable as time goes by and more people raise concerns about overproduction and fashion’s impact on our environment. We may not have all the solutions yet, however, if we keep working towards a more eco-friendly and labour-friendly industry we will find it in the future.


Fashion Transparency Index Dataset 2020/2021:

Fashion Transparency Index 2021:

Good On You Ratings:

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