It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging on the planet.
The high demand for new clothing combined with a lack of concern for sustainability has resulted in widespread pollution, water shortages, and human rights abuses.
But what if you could do your part to reduce this damage by simply avoiding certain brands?
The best way to ensure you're wearing sustainable fashion is to buy direct from the best eco-friendly fashion brands. But if you're planning a trip to the mall, you need to know which brands are the worst offenders.
Check out this list of fast fashion brands to avoid in 2022, and what exactly they do that is so harmful to the environment.
Fast fashion is a term used to describe the practice of mass-market retailers producing cheap, poor-quality clothing quickly and in bulk, to satisfy consumer trends.
In order to make the garments as inexpensively as possible, many fast fashion brands often use cheap labor and unethical working practices.
They also use harmful chemicals in their manufacturing process and favor the use of synthetics over natural fibers, which results in massive amounts of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The low quality and cost of the garments also mean they have a short lifespan, resulting in huge quantities of textile waste.
To find out more, see our full article on why fast fashion is so bad for the planet.
So now you have an idea of what the problem is, let's take a look at the main culprits.
Forever 21 is a classic fast fashion brand. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but still continues to operate and produce cheap clothing in vast quantities.
There are many reasons to avoid Forever 21. The company has a history of abusing workers, refusing to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
Forever 21 is also known for unethical practices in its LA factories. Workers are denied a fair hourly wage and are instead paid based on the number of garments they produce, making it very difficult to earn a living wage.
The brand has also been accused of body-shaming customers who ordered plus size clothes from them by sending diet bars instead, among other scandals
Shein should be avoided because it promotes the throw-away culture, has no transparency regarding its supply chain, and is insensitive to cultural appropriation.
Shein was founded in Nanjing by Chris Xu and Quist Huang as a website that sold 'global fashion' at very cheap prices. The company is based in Nanjing, China, and has since grown to sell more than 20 million pieces of clothing per year.
The "fast fashion" that Shein sells can be defined as a search for novelty and desire driven by consumer tastes. Their product mix is constantly changing, with 500 new items added every day on their website.
They refuse to provide any information about their supply chain or even where its products come from. So one can only speculate as to the poor working conditions its employees endure, or the environmental damage done by its manufacturing processes.
Shein often copies popular designs or styles that are currently trending in fashion, with extremely cheap prices, then sells them with (according to many reports) incorrect sizing information. Their clothing also does not last for more than a few months, which promotes the throw-away culture that needs to change.
Uniqlo is a fast fashion brand that should be avoided because of its negative environmental and social impacts. The firm has been criticized for violating human and labor rights, as well as its sizeable carbon footprint.
In 2021, the US blocked Uniqlo clothing from entering the country because it was believed that they were produced with cotton from the Chinese Xinjiang region, where there had been allegations of slave labor.
In addition, the company does not pay a living wage to its Chinese factory workers and forces them to work in an unsafe environment.
H&M is a Swedish company that is known for its fast fashion. The company produces trendy clothes at rock bottom prices. But it has been criticized for its environmental practices, as it has been shown to produce a high amount of waste.
There are a few reasons why we should avoid H&M.
Don't be fooled by their environmental claims. Look for genuinely sustainable brands instead.
Pretty Little Thing is a brand that we should certainly avoid, for our own health as well as for that of the planet.
Owned by Boohoo, they have followed other fast fashion brands in using social media to appeal to the younger consumers, but without telling them the environmental cost of cheap clothes.
Pretty Little Thing has at least been honest about the fact that their clothes may contain cancer-causing toxic chemicals (they announced this on their own website). But that is little consolation to the people that bought them!
Take a look at the sustainability page on their website and prepare to be appalled. It doesn't tell us a single thing about what the brand is doing to be more sustainable. Instead, it puts the focus on us and tells us how to care for our clothes. Yes, that is important, but fast fashion brands need to shoulder their share of the responsibility and tell us what THEY are doing to improve their practices.
Accusations that they simply rebadge and resell cheap Fruit of the Loom garments (for more than double the price) complete the picture of a classic fast fashion clothing brand that doesn't deserve your custom.
Urban Outfitters is a fast fashion retailer that was founded more than 50 years ago. The company is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
There are many reasons to avoid Urban Outfitters. The company has a history of (allegedly) exploiting its employees, using sweatshop labor, and stealing designs.
CEO Richard Hayne is also accused of being homophobic and has donated to organizations that have anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion agendas. The company's values clearly don't align with those of its customers.
Victoria's Secret is a designer of women’s clothing and lingerie. According to a Greenpeace report, they use toxic chemicals in their supply chain and manufacturing process.
Additionally, they have a long list of allegations including formaldehyde lawsuits, child labor, and sexual harassment towards their models.
Victoria's Secret should be avoided because their products are made from unsustainable materials, they have a poor environmental track record, and some of their executives have been accused of sexual harassment.
Primark is an Irish retailer and one of the most recognizable fast fashion companies on the high street. Clothes from Primark are well-known for their low pricing and often even worse quality.
However, they should also be avoided because of the inhumane labor practices that have been reported.
Workers are asked to work 15 hours per day, and often work in unsafe conditions. The company also has a lack of transparency, meaning that it is difficult to track what they are doing to improve their sustainability practices.
Topshop is a UK-based fast fashion retailer. The company is owned by Philip Green, who has been accused of tax evasion and mistreatment of employees.
Topshop claims to be working on adding more eco-friendly materials to their products, but they have not set any greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, or any targets to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals.
Additionally, the company's low prices come at the cost of sustainable and ethical business practices.
Cleaners who worked at the Topshop stores in London were paid less than the minimum living wage. When they asked for better wages, they claim that they were bullied and victimized.
Mango is a Spanish fast fashion brand with an international presence. They should be avoided because they do not disclose their suppliers, how much they pay to their workers, and what rights they provide them.
In addition, they have very vague commitments to sustainability and have even switched to a faster business model in recent years
Furthermore, they were one of the brands that did not offer compensation to the victims of the 2013 building collapse in Bangladesh (in which one of Mango's garment factories was destroyed).
Zara is one of the most iconic fast fashion brands in the world. It is reported that they produce more than 10,000 new designs every year! But I guess bad-quality clothing does need to be replaced regularly.
Workers get a terrible deal here because despite not getting a living wage, their factories have been reported to have very poor "slave-like" conditions. At the same time, the owner of the company Amancio Ortega is the 6th richest person in the world.
On top of that, Zara's environmental footprint is questionable. To date, they have not revealed their supplier list entirely or made any pledges to slow down factory production.
Zara claims that it will use 100% sustainable materials by 2025, but many are skeptical of whether or not this is true.
They may be one of the best-known clothing and sports goods brands in the world, but here are a few reasons why Nike should be avoided. First, they create a LOT of waste. This is a brand that sells more than 2 million pairs of shoes a day, and whilst it is obviously hard to sustain that volume and still be a sustainable brand, they are not making much effort to use ethical practices.
Second, according to Greenpeace, they use toxic chemicals in their manufacturing process which harm their workers as well as the environment.
Finally, Nike has a history of using sweatshops to make their goods and paying their workers very low wages. It is true that conditions have improved to an extent in recent years. However it was reported that labor rights experts have not been permitted access to factories in Nike's supply chains, so we can't be sure that workers are receiving fair treatment.
Boohoo is one of the worst fast fashion brands around, and a classic example of everything that is wrong with the modern clothing industry.
First, their workers are paid below the minimum wage. Second, they forced garment workers to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic, even when sick. Third, their environmental impact is high due to their use of unsustainable materials and low-quality clothing. This is not a company I would want to affiliate myself with.
Boohoo is good for people who love low prices, but it comes at a price of poor working conditions and environmental damage. In the long run, it's better to spend more on quality clothes that come from sustainable fashion labels. There are many brands out there that make great clothing!
Fast fashion companies like ASOS should be avoided because they produce a lot of cheap, low-quality clothing made of synthetic fabrics. They also don't do enough to ensure the sustainable sourcing of materials or worker health and safety.
They are not transparent with their practices. The ASOS brand does use some eco-friendly materials, but there is no evidence that it makes any effort to reduce textile waste during its manufacturing process.
Only a minor portion of the ASOS supply chain is certified by labor standards that assure worker safety and health, adequate pay, and other rights.
Rip Curl is a popular Australian surf and ski wear company that has been accused of using products made in a North Korean sweatshop.
In addition, their goodonyou environment rating is 'very poor'. They use hardly any eco-friendly materials, have no evidence of reducing their carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and have taken no meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals.
Their textile waste is also not minimized when manufacturing their products.
Missguided is a brand that should be avoided because it promotes over-consumption, doesn't do anything to reduce its environmental impact, pays its female employees significantly less than male employees, and sells products that contain real fur.
Fast fashion and rapid fashion brands like Missguided should be avoided because they contribute to the massive amounts of textile waste we produce each year.
Furthermore, Missguided's practices of illegally using fur from cats, raccoons, and rabbits for their shoe lines and selling bikinis for a pound under the appearance of promoting women is deceitful and should not be supported by consumers.
The principal reason to avoid Stradivarius and other fast fashion brands owned by Inditex is because they have a negative impact on the environment. They produce low-quality clothing which harms the planet due to the high amount of waste it produces.
Additionally, they use unfair labor practices, paying their garment workers very low wages. This results in unethical treatment of both the environment and the people who make the clothes.
Zaful should be avoided because of their horrible environmental track record.
They do not take any measures to protect the environment or ensure that their products are ethically made. Additionally, they produce very poor-quality clothes that are likely to end up in landfills.
Guess may not be seen as fast fashion by some, because their products are quite expensive compared to some of the other brands on this list. However, not much of that money passes down the supply chain.
The brand has workers' rights issues dating back to the late 1990s when (according to the LA Times) demonstrators accused them of having "exploited women who work under inhumane conditions."
There are several reasons why Fashion Nova should be avoided. First, the brand promotes hyperconsumption, releasing around 600 new products each week.
Second, most of their clothes are made with synthetic materials that are harmful to the environment.
Third, Fashion Nova has been accused of working with Los Angeles factories that underpay their workers.
Finally, their workers were paid as little as $2.77 per hour in 2019!
Fast fashion brands are designed to provide consumers with the latest trends at a very low price.
Unfortunately, the clothes produced by these companies offer little quality and soon need to be replaced. The garments are usually made cheaply in sweatshops with harmful materials and pollute the atmosphere with their creation.
The fast fashion industry is uniquely difficult to oversee because of its many international locations and the large number of suppliers it must work with in order to keep its prices so low.
Thus, the industry can frequently perpetuate unethical business practices without being held accountable for them.
It's hard to say who is the worst brand because it depends on your perception. Is it worse to treat your workers poorly and refuse to pay a living wage, or to pollute the environment and emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases in the name of profit?
Personally, I would not want to be involved with a brand that does either.
Therefore, any label that has made the above list of fast fashion brands to avoid is definitely one that I would not personally buy from under any circumstances.
There are many sustainable fashion labels out there. Companies that pay fair wages, use recycled materials or sustainable fabrics like organic cotton. You just need to know where to look.
Our list of the best eco-friendly clothing brands is a great starting point.
Zara, the flagship of the Inditex Group stands as one of the leading fast fashion brands. Known for its quick turnover of designs, Zara is a known entity in the fast fashion world.
Fast fashion brands are a dime a dozen, but not all of them do the environment justice. In this article, I’ve highlighted some fast fashion companies that have been linked to environmental harm and given some reasons why you should avoid shopping with these brands.
Maybe a brand you like or have bought in the past is listed here. In fact. given that these are some of the best-known fashion labels on the planet, that's highly likely. If so, don't feel too bad about it. Many of these brands are good at greenwashing or hiding their true environmental impact. But now that you have the facts, you can make an informed decision.
Fast fashion will continue to be a huge problem for the environment until something is done. And the best way to do that is by hitting them where it hurts the most - their profits.
If we all simply stop buying from these brands, they cannot survive.
Do you know a fast fashion brand that should be added to this list? Let me know who it is and why. I will investigate and keep the list updated with the latest culprits.