The fast fashion industry is a roaring success that has been taking the world by storm for the past few decades. Staying true to its terminology, the fast fashion business model operates by rapidly producing runway trends, in massive amounts, quickly sent to flashy stores and websites to entice consumers. But while shoppers feel happy about getting their hands on cheap deals, it’s the garment makers and the planet that is paying a much higher price.
As conscious beings, it is our duty to know which fast fashion brands to avoid so that we do not become a part of the destruction they are causing. Because fast fashion companies prioritize their financial success by keeping the people and the environment at stake. As a result, these brands use sweatshops and benefit from an approach that causes horrifying environmental damage!
Advocating the ‘throw-away’ culture, no doubt the fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, releasing an estimated 8-10% of toxic greenhouse gas emissions annually. But we can be the change! This feature aims to create awareness of the worst fast fashion labels to avoid and help you make more informed clothing choices that are sustainable and ethical. Time to dig in!
What is Fast Fashion & Why it is Bad?
Fast Fashion refers to producing colossal volumes of clothes at breakneck speed in sweatshops inspired by the latest catwalk or celebrity culture. Typically made from cheap fabrics, these garments attract shoppers because they get to indulge in high fashion and look like a fortune without hurting their pockets!
In today’s scenario, fast fashion brands are flourishing as a result of years of brainwashing the masses to prioritize trending fashion over everything. It tricks you into the idea that outfit repetition is a huge fashion faux pas, and if you want to look admirable, you have to sport the latest looks. This business model focuses on keeping manufacturing low. Hence, most labels turn to third-world countries where labor is cheap and human rights violation is not a big deal.
The fast fashion industry’s sole motive is to appeal to customers at a maximum level by offering lucrative fashion deals, encouraging them to overconsume. Because the more you shop, the more these prominent players can reel in oceans of profits.
How to Check if a Brand is Fast Fashion or Not?
Checking whether a brand is fast fashion or not is no rocket science. There are some major red flags that all these labels have in common.
- Look for low-quality materials. To cut on costs, these brands use cheap polluting fabrics like polyester, nylon, viscose, acrylic, etc. These materials are energy-intensive and are hazardous to both the planet and human health.
- Frequent launches of new styles. Fast fashion brands believe in overproduction and overconsumption. The more designs they drop, the more consumers will shop.
- Duplicate styles from famous designer houses or recent fashion shows. The idea is to produce cheaper versions of the most sought-after looks to make the most of sales.
- They keep their collection extremely affordable. Everybody wants to look fashionable, but most people, especially the youth, are always on a budget. Hence, fast fashion brands keep pricing low to appeal to the masses.
- Discounted offers, and flash sales are regular with these labels. It is a trick they play to clear old stock and make place for new.
- Fast fashion brands do not maintain a transparent supply chain. You would find absolutely no information about its ethical practices, production methods, or factories. At max, they would reveal their sourcing countries and nothing else.
- These brands don’t have any sustainability goals to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, choice of fabrics, wastewater treatment, or recycling initiatives.
- Fast fashion brands are never certified by recognized third-party certifications like B-Corp, Bluesign, Cradle to Cradle, Climate Neutral, Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Trade Certified, etc.
30 Fast Fashion Brands to Stay Away From
Our list of fast fashion brands to avoid includes Shein, Romwe, Zara, Fashion Nova, Cider, Nasty Gal, J.Crew, YesStyle, J.ING, Jaded London, Banana Republic, UNIF, Emmiol, Halara, Princess Polly, Lululemon, Shekou, L.L. Bean, Motel Rocks, Cotton On, Buckle, Zalando, Ted Baker, Killstar, Demonia, H&M, Aeropostale, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, and Primark. These labels are the worst lot, because they not only exploit labor rights but also leave behind massive carbon footprint.
Driving young fashionistas crazy across the world, Shein is the world’s largest online fast fashion retailer offering the most trendsetting clothing and accessories. As famous as it is for its collection, it is also a regular with controversies. The Chinese conglomerate uses a network of sweatshops in China for manufacturing its products, and there is every chance that even child laborers are employed there. Thousands of fresh designs are dropped weekly on its website, priced extremely cheap, to entice consumers into overconsumption. Plus, it is also accused of stealing designs from small independent creators and crediting them as its own.
Romwe is another e-commerce fast fashion hub based in China, which is popular for its high-fashion womenswear and accessories. Majorly targeting youth around the world, this label was acquired by Shein in 2014. It introduces hundreds of fresh styles every week, made of cheap toxic fabrics at super-affordable prices. As a brand that uses untraceable materials, Romwe made it to the news for selling real fur marketed as faux fur. It sources its merchandise from a chain of Chinese factories, and there is no information on whether it audits these facilities to ensure fair trade practices and sustainable production.
Zara needs no introduction! The ‘Original Gangster’ of the fast fashion world, Zara has a cult following around the globe. Revered by its clientele for its super-chic and fashion-forward clothing, it introduces 12-14 collections per year. Majority of its products are made from virgin synthetics and other high-impact materials that harm the planet. It also uses animal-derived textiles like different categories of wool, leather, and down, but neither of these materials are traceable. It operates under its parent organization Inditex Group and has made it on the news for employing child labor in its factories in Argentina, Brazil, and Turkey. Zara is also accused of sweatshop production, where workers are not paid the bare minimum wage and work under ‘slave-like’ conditions.
4. Fashion Nova
Based in the US, Fashion Nova is one of the biggest fast fashion brands specializing in super-hot and trend-led garments for women. Launched in 2006, the multinational retailer drops about 600-900 new styles weekly and has a loyal clientele worldwide, including Instagram Influencers. But, Fashion Nova uses the worst sort of hazardous materials in its apparel and fiercely encourages the ‘throw away’ culture. In addition, it allegedly uses sweatshops to manufacture its products, where garment workers were being forced to work for free or paid the lowest wage possible for working 7 days a week. Also, the label does nothing to address its insane level of carbon emissions.
Cider is a digitally-native fashion label that operates on a Direct-to-Consumer business model. It offers an ocean of womenswear that is supremely aesthetic and inspired by the latest celebrity trends. With trucks full of styles dropped every week, Cider is just one of those nasty fast fashion players tempting Gen Z to overconsume. It doesn’t maintain a transparent supply chain and sources its products from China, where labor is cheap and human rights are violated every minute. It claims to be a “social-first fashion brand,” but honestly, what it actually does is ‘greenwashing’ without taking some real actions to reduce its carbon footprint.
6. Nasty Gal
Once named as the “Fastest Growing Retailer,” Nasty Gal houses an extensive line super-cute and stylish womenswear. The brand initially started by selling vintage garments on eBay, but later shifted to its own website and expanded the product line with volumes of ‘trending’ garments. Unfortunately, Nasty Gal has been extremely guarded about its production units and processes. Hence there’s absolutely no information on its website addressing who makes its clothes and in what conditions, or whether the garment workers are paid decent wages. Due to a string of uninformed decisions, the company got bankrupt and was taken over by Boohoo in 2016.
American fashion retailer J.Crew is a common name across U.S. households. It operates as a flagship label under the J.Crew Group and offers a wide range of peppy clothing and accessories for men and women. With decades of experience and networking in the apparel industry, J.Crew’s products are manufactured in factories scattered all over the world. Majority of its merchandise are sourced from countries offering cheap labor, like China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, so there’s every chance that unethical trade practices are at work here. In fact, workers in one of its Philippines factories planned to sue J. Crew for illegal dismissals and union-busting.
YesStyle is the first Asian online marketplace that sells beauty, fashion, and lifestyle products to customers worldwide. With over 300 famous Korean, Japanese, and Chinese brands under its belt; its products are quite affordable and represent the latest designs straight from pop culture. The e-commerce retailer claims that it uses eco-friendly materials, but most of its products are made from high-energy fabrics. Also, a considerable amount of its merchandise are manufactured in China and Taiwan, infamous for poor labor rights policies. Investigations have revealed that garment workers in these factories are exploited terribly and made to work under unsafe
Based in Hong Kong, Halara is an athleisure label that became an overnight sensation through its TikTok fame. With its collection of super-fun and flattering activewear, Halara promotes a healthy lifestyle. However, its concoction of raw materials is as unhealthy as it can be for the environment. Activewear can only remain long-lasting if they are made with synthetic fabrics, but despite of having the option of using recycled materials like rPET or ECONYL, this label uses virgin synthetics. What’s worse? Its products are manufactured in unknown factories in third-world countries like Vietnam, China, and the Philippines. Plus, it has no goals of eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions or recycling its wastewater generation.
Emmiol is a famous fashion label hailing from Hong Kong. It caters to men and women with its apparel, accessories, and makeover products. Launched during the pandemic year of 2020, it calls itself an ethical brand but maintains secrecy about its supply chain. Emmiol’s products are sourced from factories all over the world, but their locations are unknown. While it claims to have strict guidelines for its suppliers, where’s the evidence? Where’s the manufacturer’s list? Plus, its website has no labor welfare policies, even though it is quite a successful online shopping platform. Declarations and all are only good when some real action follows them!
11. Jaded London
Jaded London’s apparel is not for the faint-hearted! The UK-based streetwear house offers a sick collection of styles from the ’70s, Y2K-aesthetics, patchwork denim, and graffiti patterns for men and women. Its products are made in factories in China, Turkey, and Morocco, and that’s all the information it cares to share with its audience. The brand does support some charities, but that’s its only philanthropic effort for the planet. Furthermore, it claims to be sustainable, despite of the fact that most of its clothes are made of hazardous fabrics like virgin polyester and nylon.
Lululemon is a prominent athleisure label that offers high-end yoga-inspired activewear to help you fulfill your most sweaty pursuits. With a worldwide fan following and some famous celebrities on board, it prides itself on making the best selection of leggings, sports bras, biker shorts, and other workout essentials. But Lululemon has never embraced fair trade practices. Reports by The Guardian prove that garment workers in its Bangladesh factory are not paid decent living wages for making its best-selling leggings. They claimed that the cost of one pair of these leggings was more than their monthly pay. Plus, they are regularly abused, both verbally and physically if they leave break any rules.
13. Banana Republic
Owned by Gap, Banana Republic is a clothing label that sells workwear and casualwear for men and women. Its collection of dresses, outerwear, suits, and denims is pretty unique and classic and cannot be really categorized under fast fashion. But it still has a long way to go to become sustainable and ethical in the true sense. For starters, Banana Republic uses some eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton and recycled materials. It also has a science-based target to reduce carbon emissions across its supply chain, but there’s no evidence to track its progress. Furthermore, none of its factories are certified for fair trade— meaning there’s no guarantee that workers’ health, safety, and other labor rights are taken care of. So until it becomes more responsible, it’s better to avoid Banana Republic.
14. Princess Polly
A global fashion destination for young women worldwide, Princess Polly offers the prettiest ‘on-trend’ looks on a budget. It started as a small brick-and-mortar store by the beachside and soon grew to be an iconic brand within a few years by utilizing social media marketing to showcase its products. We appreciate the fact that it has taken a transparent approach by disclosing its supplier list and partnering with some certified factories. But it is to be noted that many of its factories are still not traceable, so there’s no telling how these facilities are operating. Also, at present, only 20% of its clothes are made from sustainable fabrics.
New Zealand-based Shekou sells super-cute trendy clothing for young lassies obsessed with fashionable looks. Its collection ranges everything girly from tops, dresses, and skirts to fun knits, jeans, and swimwear. Oh! And they do cater to men as well. But, unfortunately, just like most fast fashion labels, Shekou manufactures its clothing from uncertified Chinese factories. And while the brand claims to provide fair wages and safe working conditions, there is no proof to verify these declarations. Moreover, calling itself sustainable, only 30% of its collection is made from organic fabrics. The remaining 70% is still created using non-biodegradable synthetics like polyester, nylon, spandex, and so on.
L.L. Bean is a reputed outdoor apparel and gear company that has been around for over a century. A familiar name across American households, this retailer started out with selling its iconic ‘Maine Hunting Shoes,’ and today, generates hundreds of millions in revenues. However, as a veteran brand built for exploring nature, L.L.Bean is way irresponsible and does nothing to revive the planet. For instance, its merchandise is manufactured in hundreds of uncertified factories, and most of them are located in the developing countries of China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Rumors are that many Chinese factories it has tied up with force Uyghur laborers to work under deplorable conditions. And nothing can be cruel than benefitting from modern slavery.
J.ING is an Asian apparel label that focuses on creating fashion for women, regardless of size, shape, or color. With the goal of creating fits that look ‘tailor-made’ and empower women to feel confident in their own skin, J.Ing’s clothes are quite popular everywhere. However, while it addresses that it uses low-impact fabrics and works with ethical factories, where’s the proof? Because there are no impact reports tracking its sustainability goals (if it even has any) and no transparency in its supply chain. And if you take a closer look, you’ll find that most of its clothes are made from chemically-processed fabrics like polyester and conventional cotton. Doesn’t sound sustainable to me!
18. Motel Rocks
Motel Rocks houses clothing that has all the vintage, edgy, and indie vibes. Hailing from the United Kingdom, it is dedicated to bringing you the hottest of trends, filling the apparel market with an overwhelming volume of clothes at low prices. The brand is very discreet about its production units, so there’s no way of knowing where its factories are located, what their policies are, and if workers are treated fairly. Just like its other aspects, Motel Rocks is also tight-lipped about its animal welfare guidelines, so again, there is no assurance that its clothes are cruelty-free. Also, the label doesn’t show any attempt to incorporate low-impact fabrics as most of its item’s composition is of polyester, viscose, elastane, etc.
UNIF, short for ‘Ur Not In Fashion,’ is an apparel label that creates clothing for people with a taste of everything ’90s and vintage. Heaven for a fashion junky, this brand offers its trendy collection of daring styles and funky accessories that will take you down memory lane. But beware! Because its grim reaper looks come at a brutal price! It doesn’t disclose information about how it impacts the people, animals, and the planet. Some of its clothes are tagged ‘Made in LA,’ but the lion’s lot is marked ‘Imported.’ Subtle move on how it faintly brushed away the need to know these overseas factories’ origins!
Leading online retailer Zalando isn’t satisfied with offering tons of swanky pieces. So it also houses a whooping range of sportswear for men, women, and children. Never leaving on an opportunity to churn in profits, I see! Planning to be sustainable, the Berlin-based brand has started taking baby steps by showing transparency in its supply chain, but it still has a long way to go. Plus, it excessively uses chemically-engineered harmful materials like conventional cotton, polyester, viscose, elastane, etc. These fabrics are high on hazardous toxins and discharge an alarming amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and yet Zalando doesn’t seem to bother cutting on them. It does talk of increasing the amount of recycled and organic materials in its product line. But can we see more actions and less talking?
21. Ted Baker
Affordable luxury brand Ted Baker is renowned for its latest fashion products, including menswear, womenswear, accessories, fragrance, homeware, and so much more. With new season edits and iconic designs, its collection has a loyal fan base far and wide. But the lifestyle company still has a lot to work on in its ethical and sustainable standards. For example, its top manufacturing spots are China, Turkey, Portugal, and Vietnam. Raising concerns about labor risks in these countries has led Ted Baker to take initiatives to ensure fair trade policies. While it has started to map its Tier 1 suppliers, there’s way lot to be done to achieve complete transparency. Plus, its goal to use sustainable materials throughout its product line is still a dream.
22. Cotton On
As a one-stop clothing shop, Cotton On deals in affordable and stylish menswear, womenswear, and kidswear. Operating under Australian retail giant Cotton On Group, this brand has over 1400 stores in 18 countries. For all this success, you might expect it to be more responsible towards the planet, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Cotton On produces a huge amount of cheaply made garments from unsustainable materials, including conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester. Moreover, it has been accused multiple times for cutting garment workers’ wages. Cotton On is a participant of the ACT initiative, which includes monitoring greenhouse gas emissions reduction. It has also signed the ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,’ but some meaningful action is yet to be taken.
Killstar is a clothing and lifestyle brand that offers alternative gothic designs with a twist of darkness. Leaning strongly towards fast fashion, its products are for those who love to dress up in a variety of dark punk-inspired apparel. But, in terms of being environment-friendly, Killstar is a disaster. It frequently launches hordes of new collections, and its products are made of conventional cotton and synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc. There’s no guarantee that it uses fair trade practices across its supply chain because neither of its factories are certified, nor it maintains transparency. So we have no idea where its clothes are produced or who are making them.
American fashion retailer Buckle operates as a marketplace where multiple brands come together to sell their latest merchandise. With a large selection categorized under men’s, women’s, youth, and jeans sections, Buckle’s clothes are all about ‘what’s trending.’ However, there is no evidence that its products are manufactured ethically and sustainably. Furthermore, Buckle doesn’t have any strict guidelines concerning the planet for any of its labels. So there’s no idea where these businesses are sourcing their garments from. Also, it neither addresses initiatives towards incorporating animal welfare policies nor takes any effort for its greenhouse gas emissions
Demonia is an alternative footwear label that specializes in a wide selection of edgy, gothic, and funky boots and shoes. With a cult-like status amongst youth who love to make a strong footwear statement, Demonia’s collections are entirely vegan. However, it is doubtful if its shoes are ethically made or eco-friendly in any way. First of all, Demonia has outsourced its manufacturing to China, and it doesn’t disclose its supplier list. China is infamous for human rights violations. Hence extra caution is suggested for brands who source their products from Chinese factories. But fast fashion companies like Demonia turn to these facilities because they are extremely cheap. Moreover, it claims to offer vegan shoes, but does it use sustainable and harmless materials? Because just offering cruelty-free products doesn’t mean a label is eco-friendly.
Undeniably one of the biggest fast fashion brands, H&M is a go-to shopping destination for fashion, home, kidswear, and beauty products. With a loyal fanfare around the world, the Swedish multinational company is swimming in an ocean of profits, but by exploiting people and destroying the planet. Despite being a fashion giant that can bring substantial global change, H&M has been exploiting its sweatshop workers and employing child labor in some of its factories. Reports of sexual abuse and murder have also surfaced in one of its factories, where female workers and teens are forced to work for laborious hours without receiving minimum wages. What’s funny is— though it announced to practice sustainable fashion, H&M reportedly burns tonnes of unsold inventory, causing massive greenhouse gas emissions.
27. Victoria's Secret
The ‘Guru’ of sensational luxury lingerie, Victoria’s Secret is a most loved brand among young women. But as beautiful as its collections are, its secret is darker than you could imagine. The billion-dollar intimate and nightwear label uses sweatshops in cheap-labor countries like Bangladesh, Jordan, and Sri Lanka. Reports have shown that girls as young as 14 were forced to work and were physically abused if the daily production quotas weren’t met. In addition, the factory workers aren’t paid decently despite of working for more than 14 hours a day. Bloomberg reported child labor, assaults, and sexual abuse in cotton farms of Burkina Faso, a country in West
28. Forever 21
Another leading name in the fast fashion industry, Forever 21, is a multinational label founded in 1984. With its never-ending collection of the latest fashion picks, this brand targets teens and Gen Z with tempting deals on clothing and accessories. A regular with controversies, Forever 21 has been reported ample times for maltreatment in its supply chain. Workers are forced to work for long hours in unsafe factory conditions and are denied fair compensation. Forever 21 is also accused of employing child labor in the infamous Uzbekistan cotton farms, where cotton is processed at dirt-cheap prices because of the availability of cheap labor. And if that wasn’t enough, it has refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety— where brands are legally bound to ensure safe working conditions in factories.
Considered as one of the most significant apparel companies in the US, Aeropostale offers fashion-forward men’s and women’s clothing. However, it fails to be responsible for the entire planet. In its vast range of merchandise, very few items are made from eco-friendly materials. And it practically makes no effort to eliminate or reduce its carbon emissions. Furthermore, even though Aeropostale is one of the largest American retailers, with hefty sales, it shamelessly indulges in engaging with sweatshops to cut on manufacturing costs. To top it all, this label is also accused of using conventional cotton sourced by forcing child labor in the cotton farms of Uzbekistan. While Aeropostale denies these allegations, it couldn’t provide concrete evidence to back its innocence.
Popular in the UK and neighboring countries, the Irish fast fashion chain Primark is a hit among the masses. It offers designer replicas and the latest trends at dirt-cheap prices. Even though Primark is a successful enterprise, its collection is made in sweatshops of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and China, using low-quality materials. And it doesn’t have any sustainability goal to eliminate its carbon footprint by treating its wastewater and reducing its use of high-energy resources. Primark has been involved in child labor and modern slavery cases before but has reportedly taken steps to eliminate workers’ exploitation by fixing its Vendor’s Code Of Conduct. However, it cannot ensure fair trade practices as many of its factory workers are still not paid living wages or provided with safe working conditions.
20 Best Sustainable Alternatives to Fast Fashion Brands
Lately, raising concerns about global warming and conserving the planet have seen a surge in eco-friendly brands that advocate sustainable fashion. With ethical practices and sustainability in their DNA, these labels focus on bringing to you slow fashion pieces that are classic and timeless and will last you for years. In their way of giving back to the planet, these labels do a lot more than just sell their merchandise. And that’s all the world needs right now. Let’s check them out!
To Wrap it Up...
The fast fashion industry is flourishing because of the wrongdoings of the above-mentioned companies. Due to their intense marketing strategy, it is only fair that they would link to your mind for a long time. After all, that has always been their goal— To feed into the consumers’ conscience of always keeping up with trends!
But as mindful consumers, you can help bring drastic changes! You already have the access to the list of fast fashion brands to avoid. All you have to do now is take your shopping trips to compassionate labels that strive to create a positive impact on the environment. Remember! By supporting fair trade fashion brands, we can divert the apparel industry in the right direction and make a difference for future generations.
* All brand images in the article are from official Instagram accounts of the respective brands