It’s no unknown fact that the fashion industry has an enormously negative impact on the environment. From unethically sourced labor to pollutive manufacturing practices, fast fashion causes irreversible damage to the planet.
With the alarming prediction of the fashion industry’s environmental impact expected to increase by 49% by 2030, it’s never been more crucial than now to make responsible choices and try to overturn the supply of unsustainable clothing. But, with SO many clothing brands on the market, it can get confusing to know what to buy and what to avoid.
Hence we’ve compiled this resource on 15 fast fashion brands to avoid and why.
The next time you’re shopping for clothes, keep an eye out for them and make sure to say a big: THANKS, BUT NO THANKS.
We also have suggestions for how to stay away from consuming fast fashion. Read till the end!
But before that, here’s some info to let you know why exactly you should avoid fast fashion.
What is Fast Fashion?
Three key elements which define Fast Fashion are:
- Produced in huge quantities
Fast fashion is produced at high speeds and low costs to ensure maximum profits. It is founded on and promotes the idea of overconsumption.
All in all, the main motive behind fast fashion is profit maximization.
Why is Fast Fashion bad?
What makes all this so bad?
Well, the ‘fast’ and low-cost procedure of mass-producing clothing is where the main problem lies.
Fast fashion is bad for these exact reasons:
It harms the planet
In the pressure to produce fast and at low costs, the fast fashion industry is immensely impacting the environment.
Fast Fashion brands use cheap synthetic fabrics like polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. which are non-biodegradable.
The microplastics – minute pieces of non-biodegradable plastic – they release while being laundered, makeup 35% of the ones found in ocean bodies.
The process of making these plastic fibers into textiles is a highly energy-intensive technique that consumes fossil fuels like petroleum and hence, contributes to global warming.
But even a ‘natural’ fabric like cotton is problematic. The pesticides used in growing cotton are physically harmful to the farmers and require huge amounts of water.
The textile dyes used in manufacturing fast fashion too, are extremely toxic and non-biodegradable and pollute the water bodies.
The fast fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water resources, with one shirt taking up to 800 gallons of water and one pair of jeans, 2000 gallons of water to be produced. Plus it consumes around 1.5 trillion of water per year to produce new clothing. This is highly concerning in the face of the global water crisis we’re facing today.
It harms people
Apart from being resource-intensive, fast fashion is also labor-intensive. Most of the time, we as consumers forget that a lot of labor is involved in making these clothes. From making textiles, and cutting the clothes to sewing them together, there are people involved in all the activities.
Most of the manufacturing happens in countries with cheap labor like China, India, Bangladesh, etc.
These laborers work in less than ideal conditions – in overcrowded workplaces, and with regular exposure to toxic chemicals.
They are also exploited and not compensated fairly for their work, so much so that most of them are unable to afford basic needs with their incomes.
It harms animals
A multitude of animals are killed every year, for byproducts like fur, leather, wool, animal hide, etc., which are used for making fast fashion. It seriously endangers the animals involved. The mass-production of real fur is so high that using it has become cheaper for fast fashion companies than using faux fur.
Not to mention, the microplastics and toxins released into water bodies and the environment while making fast fashion, get ingested by mammals and birds alike. Which disrupts their food chain and kills them.
Here’s the list of fast fashion brands to avoid to avoid at all costs:
Some of the worst fast fashion brands to avoid
Forever 21 is a huge fast fashion chain based in LA, California. It’s one of the first big fashion brands to file for bankruptcy in 2019 and shut down 15000+ stores worldwide. Unfortunately, they’re still in business, though.
Why to avoid: Almost all clothes made by Forever 21 are made of cheap, synthetic fabric, which as you already read above, is extremely harmful to the environment.
The brand has also been sued for exploiting its garment workers multiple times. Their workers are paid based on per piece of clothing produced, and the compensation is so low, that it does not even amount to a living wage. Forever 21 also refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which is an agreement between global unions and fashion brands formed after the Rana Plaza collapse. This shows how unethical the brand truly is.
Topshop is a fast fashion brand based in the UK, owned by ASOS. The owner of the brand, Philip Green, has been reported to evade the payment of a hundred million pounds of tax. The good news: Topshop is struggling to survive and very soon, might be the next fast fashion giant to go down.
Why to avoid: Topshop is also another brand to have made its fortune at the cost of underpaid and exploited workers. Not only the garment workers, but even the brand’s store cleaners are also apparently paid less than a living wage and were bullied on protesting about it.
Topshop has released a sustainable shoe collection but continues to produce cheap, trendy clothing, which makes its core practices unsustainable and unethical.
Mango is a huge Spanish fast fashion giant with a wide network of stores in 110 countries. They have been making more attempts at sustainability by making clothes out of sustainable fabrics and avoiding the usage of toxic chemicals and animal skin, etc. However, the brand remains under a lot of doubt when it comes to its ethical practices.
Why to avoid: Mango has mentioned in its Code of Conduct that its garment workers are paid the ‘legal minimum, not the recommended wage level’, which is not ethical.
In the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, only 9 countries out of the 29 which had factories in the plaza, compensated the victims of the disaster. Mango was not one of those brands.
It’s also rated ‘Not Good Enough’ in Good On You’s sustainable brands directory. Mango is definitely one of the fast fashion brands to avoid.
Primark is one of Europe’s largest fashion brands, based in Ireland. Although the company is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, it has not been very transparent with regard to information on its ethical practices and carbon footprint.
Why to avoid: Primark came into the spotlight in 2014, when a customer found an ‘SOS’ note in a pair of jeans she purchased from the brand. The note mentioned that Chinese inmates working in clothing factories were severely exploited – made to work for 15 hours a day. Primark claimed the whole thing was a hoax, but another similar note was discovered in the same year.
Primark isn’t very transparent about its labor practices and continues to produce big quantities of fast fashion.
If you’re a woman and use Instagram and Facebook, there’s no way you haven’t come across Fashion Nova. The brand is an American fast fashion retailer, which became popular thanks to intensive influencer advertising on social media.
But, how unsustainable is Fashion Nova?
If certain indicators are to be believed, then: highly unsustainable.
Why to avoid: The brand takes the ‘fast’ in fast fashion to new heights. With over 600-900 new styles being released every week, it’s promoting hyperconsumerism like crazy. And all of those clothes are made of non-biodegradable synthetic materials.
In the Fashion Transparency Index in 2021, the brand got a score of 0%. This shows how highly non-transparent Fashion Nova is.
Not to mention, the brand also underpays its workers, with employees earning around $3 per hour, which is much lower than even minimum wage.
Fashion Nova is surely one of the worst fast fashion to brands to avoid.
Is it even a ‘fast fashion brands to avoid’ list, without Shein being mentioned at least once?
Chinese clothing retail giant Shein is one of the most popular amongst Gen Z. Shein too, like Fashion Nova, has social media to thank for its quick rise to popularity.
There’s probably no woman who shops for clothing online, who hasn’t at least once purchased something from Shein. And been duped by it. 🙂
Why to avoid: The brand brazenly duplicates designs from other brands, selling them at extremely cheap prices. The result is you buy something completely different from what you saw in the photo. But who cares when you’re paying, like, 10$ for it. You can just throw it away.
But what happens when all those clothes made of cheap, synthetic fabrics end up being dumped? More waste in the environment that does not decompose.
With 500 new styles added to its website every day, the brand is encouraging throw-away culture at breakneck speed. And Shein does not mention anything about its manufacturing practices and the impact the brand is having on the environment, anywhere.
It is also very opaque about its supply chain and labor practices.
Boohoo is a British fast fashion retail company that has also grown rapidly in the past decade. Their target audience is women between the age groups of 16-30 and they only sell online.
Boohoo is known for its ridiculously low-priced garments, which are manufactured within the UK itself. No wonder, it is named one of the least sustainable fashion companies in the UK.
Why to avoid: With those extremely low-priced clothes, it did not come as a shock when it was discovered that Boohoo was criminally underpaying its garment workers in the Leicester factory. Their fee was far below the minimum national wage rate, at £3.50.
To add to that, the workers were made to work while being infected with the Coronavirus – without protective equipment, and something as essential as hand sanitizers.
The company made promises regarding improving its supply chain practices but hasn’t taken any action so far. They are also not transparent about how their cheap quality clothing is adding to the UK’s throwaway culture and non-biodegradable waste.
Nasty Gal is another of ‘nasty’ fast fashion brands to avoid.
The company is owned by Boohoo and has risen to fame through influencer collabs. (Influencers really need to be held accountable for promoting fast fashion to thousands – or even millions – of followers, though.) It had stated that it would furnish details regarding its supply chain practices in 2021 but is yet to follow through.
Why to avoid: Although Nasty Gal has launched a line of sustainable clothing and has a sustainability plan on its website, it has very little to show for it. Almost all their other clothes are made from cheap, unsustainable fabric and they continue to produce hoards of them.
Nasty Gal is also very opaque about the environmental effects of its clothing production practices and its supply chain.
In 2015, there was news of Nasty Gal’s employees describing the work environment in the company as ‘toxic’ and ‘a horrible place to work’ for a pregnant woman.
Overall, Nasty Gal cannot be trusted. So, avoid!
H&M, a Swedish company, is another household name when it comes to fashion. It’s the second-largest clothing retailer in the world and produces nearly 3 billion garments per year, out of which clothes worth $4.1 billion were unsold in 2019.
No wonder it’s one of the biggest contributors to waste in the fashion industry.
Why to avoid: In 2018, the company failed to pay its 850,000 clothing workers a minimum wage. And there have been reports of female workers facing physical and sexual abuse. H&M hasn’t done anything concrete to stop these malpractices. Clothing made at the cost of exploited workers? A big NO-NO.
H&M continues to produce a massive amount of non-biodegradable clothes every year, contributing to the ever-increasing fashion waste, and doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon.
Though it has made an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by its operations, there’s no significant progress yet and H&M could do a LOT better.
Pretty Little Thing
Pretty Little Thing is another British fast fashion brand, owned by none other than Boohoo.
The brand is aimed at a young female audience between the ages of 14-24 and has risen to fame through social media marketing.
It is yet another brand among the likes of Shein and Fashion Nova, producing cheap unsustainable clothing and promoting throwaway culture.
Why to avoid: In 2019, the brand was claimed to have relabeled cheap brands like Fruit of the Loom and resold them at double the price. Customers found cheaper brands’ labels attached to the clothes they ordered – they were originally priced half as much as they’d paid Pretty Little Thing. How dumb is that?
They’re also not transparent about their supply chains and whether they use animal products to make their clothing.
Nor do they reveal anything about any efforts to reduce carbon emissions or eliminate hazardous chemicals from their production practices.
Pretty Little Thing received a 0-10% score in the Fashion Transparency Index.
Final verdict: Avoid.
Urban Outfitters is one of the biggest fashion retailers in America, founded 50 years ago. The brand is targeted at young adults and apart from fashion clothing they also sell activewear, beauty products, footwear, homeware, etc.
However, the brand is most definitely not very close to being sustainable.
Why to avoid: In 2015, the company was accused of underpaying its employees and making them work on weekends in the guise of ‘team-building activity’. They’ve also been claimed to use LA sweatshop labor for manufacturing their clothes.
Though recently, there has been no proof of Urban Outfitters using unethical practices to produce clothes, there also hasn’t been any disclosure made by the company about its supply chain practices. There is no evidence that Urban Outfitters is paying its workers minimum wage.
The brand also does not mention anything about its greenhouse gas emissions or taking actions to reduce its environmental impact.
They, however, continue to produce clothes made of synthetic materials.
Based in Japan, Uniqlo is a fashion company that is pretty famous worldwide for basic, comfy clothing. As of now, they have 2,300+ plus operational stores all over the world.
Though, at first glance, Uniqlo might not seem like fast fashion, – the brand focuses on essentials more than trends – it is exactly that, as it produces thousands of clothing for billions of profit every year.
Why to avoid: In the year 2015, Uniqlo abruptly closed down two of its manufacturing facilities in Indonesia and has to date, withheld $5.5 million in severance pay. It has also been suspected of using forced labor by Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China and in 2021 US blocked Uniqlo shirts because of this controversy.
Uniqlo has made a considerable attempt at sustainability – using textiles made from recycled materials and a less resource-intensive mechanism for making jeans. However, it remains unspecific about metrics regarding the sustainability goals listed on its website.
Uniqlo could make more concrete efforts toward showing through on its promises.
Founded in 1977, Victoria’s Secret is one of the most well-known lingerie brands in America.
With over 800 stores in the country and famous fashionistas modeling for them, the brand is notorious for its striking lingerie styles.
But the brand scores pretty low on the sustainability card.
Why to avoid: With most of its clothing made from unsustainable materials, the brand is still not doing anything about minimizing the impact of microplastics on the ecology. There’s also no evidence about it setting any carbon emissions standards.
Their supply chain is not verified by official labor standards regarding workers’ health and safety, minimum wage, and other rights. They do not disclose any information regarding their manufacturing practices.
About ten years ago, Victoria’s Secret was claimed to be using child labor for its ‘Fair Trade’ products and in recent times, many of the brand’s female models and employees have accused top executives of extreme misogynistic behavior, bullying, and sexual harassment.
Victoria’s Secret is a hard pass for us, thank you.
Owned by Inditex, Zara is a Spanish fashion company, with around 2007 stores in 90+ countries.
One of the most famous fashion retailers in the world today, Zara has both initiated and perfected the art of fast fashion. They release over 450 million pieces and make US$13 billion-plus, every year.
While the brand is making efforts at sustainability, there’s a lot more ground to cover.
Why to avoid: Although the brand now has a recycling program and uses recycled packaging, it hasn’t reduced the humongous number of clothing it produces every year and continues to contribute to the hyper-consumption culture. Nor does it reveal the number of resources that go into its clothing production.
Zara has been alleged to use inhumane labor practices in its supplier countries like Brazil, Myanmar, Argentina, and Spain, and underpaying the garment workers. The company also resorts to selective disclosure when it comes to its supply chain.
In 2017, Zara customers in Istanbul found labor complaints in the clothes they bought. There were accusations of the brand exploiting the workers by not paying wages.
Zara has some way to go to be less problematic. Hence – avoid.
Gap is an American fashion retailer based in San Francisco. It has 2,800+ stores worldwide and 500+ stores within the States. Based on sales revenue, it is the fourth largest fashion brand in the world.
Gap owns smaller brands like Old Navy, Athleta, and Banana Republic.
There are several reasons to avoid this unsustainable fashion retail giant.
Why to avoid: Gap doesn’t reveal where and how it sources its raw materials from. It has a ‘sustainability’ page on its website and claims to have set carbon emissions standards, but there’s no active evidence of it.
Gap also has a fair share of labor issues. There is no proof of the company paying fair wages and offering safe working conditions to its workers. In 2007, there were allegations of the company being involved in child labor, and in 2018, Gap was accused to have mistreated factory workers.
In 2021, Gap was fined $200,000 for violating Canada’s anti-spam law.
How to avoid fast fashion brands
Buying clothes has never been more convenient with so many varieties of fast fashion available in the market. It can get hard to ignore them. But, here are a few simple and easy steps you can follow to avoid fast fashion:
- Choose sustainable brands when shopping. (We have compiled a master list of amazing affordable sustainable brands here.)
- You don’t always need to buy more. Sometimes, it’s better to use whatever you already have in your wardrobe. Trust us, repeating clothes is totally IN right now.
- Repair and upcycle. Mend your clothes and DIY new pieces out of the stuff you no longer use. There are tons of creative tutorials on the internet!
- Thrift, thrift, thrift! You might come across some great bargains in your local shop or on eBay.
- Rent clothes for special occasions. If you’re only going to wear a gown once, why not rent it? It’ll save you a ton of money and space.
- Unfollow trends. Trends don’t last. You shouldn’t have to spend money and effort on it. Stick to your personal style and spend on clothes which last.
A tool to help you find alternatives to fast fashion brands
Our convenient little chrome extension is specifically made to help you find sustainable alternatives for not-so-sustainable consumer products. While browsing sites like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc., using our extension, you can redirect to one of our ethical partner’s websites and make a more conscious choice! It’s simple to use. Plus we also give you coupons that will encourage you to continue making sustainable choices.