There’s no such thing as sustainable Zara. The concept of fast fashion, quickly produced and released lines you can buy on a budget, require cheap labor and materials. Most of the high street brands are very far from ethical and very close to being great supporters of pollution, sweatshops, and child labour.
It is indeed almost impossible to avoid shopping in them though. They are everywhere, they are convenient, easy, and cheap. Their collections mirror the runway ones, and their quality is just as good enough to survive until you grow bored of them. There is no way to shop completely ethical in high street, but this is a list of the brands that are the closest.
H&M CONSCIOUS COLLECTION
The collision of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was the deadliest disaster in the history of the global apparel industry that left 1,140 workers dead. Two years later, in 2015 H&M still failed to take safety measures in it’s fire hazard Bangladeshi factories, where they produce 25% of their garments, or raise living wages in their Cambodian factories, where workers are malnourished and underpaid.
H&M produces 600 million garments a year. Their turnover in 2012 only was almost 17 billion euros with a profit of more than 2 billion euros, and that was at 550 million garments. They make sure to spend a significant amount of this money on campaigns for their Conscious Collection, an eco-friendly line made out of organic and recycled materials. They hang in the front of their shops, supermodels giggle around in them, and come on, it’s even called Conscious!
Unfortunately this propaganda is enough to mask the fact that their mass production business model is making sustainability virtually impossible, and that the organic cotton tops are still produced with slave labour. To be honest, most H&M items end up in the bottom of that gigantic trash bag we use to sort out our wardrobes at the end of seasons anyway, and they barely have any resale value. If you insist on shopping there, Conscious Collection is the best you can do.
The biggest fast fashion provider in the world is following H&M’s magic tricks closely. The Inditex group includes brands like Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti, and Oysho, and puts owner, Amancio Ortega on the throne of richest man in Europe. Zara released 1,177,784,343 – more than one BILLION – articles of clothing and accessories in 2015, so we can’t even mention the word “sustainable” in this case.
Their Join Life capsule collection hit the stores last year. According to their website a garment can get the label if it meets a series of internal qualifications. The primary fabric must be Better Cotton Initiative approved cotton, Lenzing Modal, organic cotton, Tencel, recycled cotton, or recycled polyester and recycled polyamide. It must be manufactured with one of Inditex’s “Green to Wear” technologies, which includes water recycling. Factories that wet process that primary fabric (meaning, treat it with chemicals) must earn a grade A or B in Inditex’s environmental sustainability standard.
Baby steps in the right direction, Zara also took initiative to recycle their textile and packaging waste, and started a clothing recycling program. Sounds great, but as The Guardian already pointed out when H&M started it’s program, that it would take 12 years to reuse the 1,000 tons of waste they produce in 48 hours. Anyway, you can shop those 20-something pieces here.
ASOS ECO BRANDS
Did you know that one of the world’s biggest online retailer has an eco-friendly section? Currently about 900 styles are available. Clothes, shoes, accessories, and beauty products, all of them from ethical brands like Toms, People Tree, Melissa, or Fjallraven. On top of that they established a fair-trade clothing label called ASOS Made In Kenya, made in partnership with SOKO Kenya, so if you’re looking for quality items, funky prints, they are here to please. They offer quite a wide selection of basics, hoodies, t-shirts, long sleeves, great denim, leather accessories, available in Petite, Tall, and even Curve!
When it comes to sustainability and ethical brands, Monsoon is one of the champions. They were founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and base their whole production on the code of the ETI. They accent the importance of animal welfare, they only use leather that’s a by-product of the meat industry. Also, they support an initiative that helps Indian cotton farmers to convert to organic production, and ethical designers who show at the London Fashion Week. The brand also does their best to reduce energy usage in their shops, and make environmental friendly packaging. Go, go, go!
MARKS & SPENCER
Just like H&M, Marks & Spencer knew they needed a huge change, but instead of a worldwide bullshit campaign, they restructured their whole business. M&S have trained their workers on employment rights, healthcare and financial literacy. They assessed every single supporting factory, and they factor their garment workers living wages into their pricing, and were the first fashion company to launch a recycling program.
Might look like just another giant, but they’re safe to shop!
According to several online rankings (like rankabrand.org) here is a quick rundown. From rank A – most environmental friendly, to E – least environmentally friendly fashion brands. Unfortunately most of the cases there’s not enough data, so this isn’t a reliable list, just an approximate.
A: Saint Basics
B: People Tree, Nudie Jeans, Patagonia, Monsoon
C: Monki, H&M, G-Star Raw, COS, C&A, Zara, Birkenstock, Puma, Adidas
D: Levi’s, Jack & Jones, Reebok, Nike, Primark, New Look, Only, Vero Moda, Esprit, Next, Mango, American Apparel
E: Vans, Deichmann, Claire’s, Victoria’s Secret, Cinque, Quechua, Roxy, Lonsdale, Fila, Promod
All illustrations by Lainey Molnar, 2016