As we continue to ride the wave of sustainable fashion into 2019, I’m starting a new series looking into brands that appear ethical, but deserve a little digging. First up: ARKET. Is ARKET’s clothing truly ethical?
I first came across ARKET after a friend recommended the store to me. She’s usually spot on when it comes to ethical choices, so I was a little taken aback at the sheer scale and speed at which ARKET has popped up – whizzing past the usual slow, steady path that my favourite ethical brands tread.
This month, I visited two ARKET stores for a look around, and purchased this mohair cardigan too. It’s warm, soft, and judging from my first few wears, well made. But is it ethical? I wanted to know more – and I imagine if you’re here, you want to know more too.
Defining Ethical Fashion
Before I started my review of ARKET (and similar brands over a subsequent set of posts), I wanted to establish what ethical fashion means. In my guide to switching to ethical fashion, I explained that there are a few different buzzwords being thrown around that actually mean different things:
- Slow fashion: clothes that are not governed by seasonal trends, classics, investment pieces
- Sustainable fashion: clothes made from materials and practices that are earth-friendly
- Ethical or fair fashion: clothes that pay a fair wage to their producers, garment workers, etc.
So while I’m using the phrase ethical fashion here, I’ll be considering how ARKET measures up to all three…
So, Who Is ARKET?
ARKET is a relatively new fashion brand, starting on London’s Regent Street in August 2017 and online. The prime real estate was easily snapped up because ARKET is one brand in the H&M empire. Over the last year, they have quietly popped up across Europe and the UK too – now calling the Birmingham’s Bullring, Kent’s Bluewater Shopping Centre, Liverpool’s Paradise Street, and Stratford’s Westfield Centre home.
Let’s make it clear: I’m not one to sniff at an ethical arm of a not-so-ethical business. Burt’s Bees is a similar situation, and I’d rather big businesses see how there truly is a demand for ethical business and invest in better practices, than ignore it altogether.
Now, don’t get me wrong. H&M is one of the big bad wolves of the fast fashion machine. Despite their Conscious Collection, and one of the largest buyers of organic cotton globally, they are a fast fashion brand predicated on exploitation of people, planet, and climate. You can read my full thoughts on the brand here.
However, ARKET is seemingly marketing themselves under the phrase “ethical fashion”; their Google Ads pop up every time I search the phrase. So, how do they really measure up?
What Does ARKET Stand For?
ARKET calls themselves a modern-day market, offering essential products for men, women, children and the home. At first glance, they look like a blend of A.P.C. and Uniqlo: block colours and simple cuts dominate their collection.
ARKET even dabbles with disarming sketches, and attest to a Nordic heritage (rather than French or Japanese). Their name means “sheet of paper” in Swedish.
So far, I’m drooling over the aesthetics and storytelling. Their prices are also mid-range for the high street, which feels like a good deal for “well-made, durable products, designed to be used and loved for a long time”.
Is ARKET Ethical?
Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. What lies behind the beautiful brand?
Ethical fashion brands ensure that the raw material growers, thread spinners, and garment workers are paid fairly and work in a safe environment. As we’ve seen from many documentaries, this isn’t a given, so the first question I’m posing is: does ARKET treat its workers fairly?
After an unsuccessful enquiry to ARKET, I was directed to H&M’s overarching Sustainability Report. When looking at H&M’s huge supplier list and their supplier compliance table, it’s impossible to see which factories serve ARKET, and which factories serve the rest of the H&M empire.
On the basis that all these factories serve ARKET, I feel uncomfortable to report that:
- 75% of all their factories lack any trade union representation
- 73% of all their factories go over legal monthly overtime limits
- 72% of all their EMEA factories do not provide legal conditions for workers younger than 18
- 0% of all Far East factories pay the legal minimum hourly wage
While I appreciate the report does tick the transparency box, it doesn’t make H&M or ARKET look good. It’s also impossible to see which factories do well, which ones don’t, or the ethics of each item of clothing. It means as a shopper, I can only make one decision – to buy, or not to buy from ARKET.
And based on this data, how is ARKET any different from H&M, & Other Stories, Afound, Cheap Monday, Cos, Monki, or Weekday? None of them are ethical.
Is ARKET Sustainable?
Sustainable fashion is all about raw materials. On a typical sustainable fashion rail, you’ll find bamboo, organic cotton, wool reared ethically, and upcycled or recycled materials. While there’s much debate around the treatment and water usage for each of these, there’s a general consensus that these materials are of a lower impact than their usual counterparts.
On ARKET’s mannequins, you’ll find a combination of these materials, as well as elastane, polyamide, polyester, viscose. It’s good to see their yoga wear is principally made from recycled polyamide and polyester, but virgin polyamide and polyester can be found elsewhere.
In truth, it’s unclear how much of ARKET’s range is sustainable. Organic cotton items don’t tell you the percentage organic, or if they’re GOTS certified. Some wool garments are explicitly stated as non-museled, some are Responsible Wool Standard certified, others aren’t.
I did appreciate where buttons were identified as mother of pearl, and of animal-origin. If you’re into vegan fashion, it seems you can shop with confidence at ARKET.
However, it’s hard to tell if there’s any real focus on sustainability, or if it’s simply an added extra here and there.
Is ARKET Slow Fashion?
Slow fashion is all about careful creation, and often, seasonless garments.
ARKET’s stores definitely give the impression of slow fashion: well-lit, sparsely decorated, and with their own in-store cafés, you can sign a breath of relief upon entering. The classic Nordic interiors and good coffee definitely hail back to the hygge trend of yesteryear, and they also only serve vegetarian and vegan food. I like that there’s a place where you can sit and contemplate your purchases before heading to the checkout – it gives you a chance to mindfully plan what you need, and what rule out what you don’t.
ARKET’s archive collection is the core of its clothing, and has been designed to last through the seasons – fashion and nature alike. That doesn’t mean it is seasonless, though. Taking my cardigan as an example, I found it in their post-Christmas sale with a percentage reduction. Yet it’s now sat on their New Arrivals page in two new colours: green and pink, evidently for Spring.
What Does ARKET Say?
With all brands I look into, I prefer to work with them rather than against them. I got in touch with ARKET to ask them four vital questions:
- Who makes ARKET’s clothing?
- Do you ensure your workers are in a safe and healthy environment? If so, how?
- Do you use sustainable materials?
- How many seasons does ARKET produce each year?
ARKET responded in a record 48 hours, but that’s about as good as it gets. Their response was a simple copy-and-paste answer, with absolutely no new information, nor any answers to the questions I’d asked:
“As part of the H&M group, we follow the same sustainability regulations and consciousness promise. You can read all about our involvement in sustainability, through our Corporate Social Responsibility here.”
As frustrating as that is, I wasn’t expecting much. It may be years before ARKET – and H&M – achieve full transparency, and that will only be after implementing good ethics in their factories and third party factories too.
ARKET isn’t an ethical fashion brand. Its factories are shared with the rest of the H&M empire, and that means its garment worker policies are too.
ARKET does use sustainable materials, but not as a principle. Just like H&M Conscious, you can find plenty of organic cotton pieces, as well as well-scouted picks from sustainable brands in-store. If sustainable materials are important to you, make sure to check each garment when shopping at ARKET.
ARKET is the high street equivalent of a slow fashion brand. ARKET certainly puts Nordic design and durability at the forefront, going against the usual high street trends, which is brave. Whether its collections are completely seasonless is yet to be seen, and the fact it uses economies of scale to increase production and reduce prices means the care and attention isn’t quite there. However, I do think it introduces the average consumer to a new way of shopping, and that paves the way for more ethical fashion brands – which is always a good thing.
I’ve worked at ARKET so I can give a bit more insider information, hopefully it won’t get me in trouble!
It definitely still operates like a fast fashion brand with an average of 3 weekly deliveries. These can range from 5 to 50 totes worth of stock. More often than not, the stores have hundreds of thousands of items in stock and management complain when the store looks too ‘light’.
The good thing is that ARKET does repeat certain items season after season, like basic t-shirts, jeans, and pieces of knitwear. So in that aspect it kind of promotes slow fashion. But if the item is an old season (ie a few years old), it’s allowed to be put into sale.
It’s mostly greenwashing, but it’s definitely not as trend-driven as other high street stores (like you mentioned) and the garments there are good quality so they can last for years.
This is a fantastic insight, thank you so much for sharing. Interesting to hear their cycle of clothing is potentially slower than other H&M brands, but still has hundreds of thousands of items in each store!
Very nice article. Looked into this myself and can see that Arket provides its own supplier list now. Would be interesting to know whether this changes the conclusion, do you know how one can check if a specific factory has good labor conditions?
Best regards, H.
Thanks for the heads-up Helene! I’ll take a look and be sure to update again. Great to know they’re working on improving, although I do question whether any brands of this size can be wholly sustainable – it would require a complete evolution of their business model!
You Are welcome☺️ I agree that it is unlikely that they are wholly sustainable, but i am curious whether they have higher requirements for factories. I did notice that they use some factories that H&M did not use! Looking forward to your Update!
Thank you so much for this article! I just came across it while researching Arket.
I just stumbled across them now and I love their designs however I do try to be a conscious buyer.
Honestly reading your article really helped me.
Wishing you a lovely day,
Happy to help Lou!
Thank you for this very informative and helpful post!
Ah my pleasure, thanks for the nice comment Hannah!
Thanks for doing the legwork, Besma! This was very informative. I have been curious about Arket, although they stopped shipping to the U.S. I’ll search around for any secondhand items, hopefully I’ll find a gem that needs a new home.
Hi Can I ask you to put some link where you find these information about arket?
Hi, thanks for the comment. Alongside emailing directly to H&M’s Customer Service team, I used their 2019 reports. H&M appears to have removed a lot of the reports that I used now, but fortunately the Internet Archive has them stored here:
H&M Supplier Factory List
H&M Supplier Compliance.
They removed all of these, despite being named the ‘most transparent large fashion retailer’ on the Fashion Revolution Index this year. Oh, the irony.
Thank you – really informative! I was looking for men’s ethical jeans that didn’t cost the earth, in every respect. I found an organic cotton pair from ARKET and thought I was home. But, you have helped me see past that. Its still tempting as I cant see many alternatives without spending over £100 but my quest will continue….
Happy to help Will! Unfortunately jeans can be quite pricey, my favourites (Nudie Jeans) were around the £100 mark as you say. I did get my boyfriend a great denim jacket second-hand, so perhaps you could look at second hand sites?
My guide to jeans: https://www.curiouslyconscious.com/2019/04/best-ethical-jeans-denim-brands-uk.html/
My guide to second-hand: https://www.curiouslyconscious.com/2019/09/best-second-hand-fashion-brands-uk.html/
I hope that helps!
Great read! Thanks
My pleasure Cathy! x
Thank you for this review, I’ve been eyeing some pieces from &OtherStories and ARKET, but after reading this, that’s money saved for a more ethical brand. Thank you! *high five*
Aw Paula you’ve made my day! So happy you found the guide useful, and I hope you enjoy shopping somewhere more ethical (or go for second-hand)!
Thanks Besma, this was a really helpful and insightful read for me as someone also looking for more conscious, kinder and mindful ways to live. I wanted to take a minute to share my gratitude for you!
Thank you Jiahui – your comment has made my day! It’s wonderful to hear others find my writing and research helpful. Have a wonderful day!
I love this article! Thank you for breaking it down so clearly!!! Would love to see a a similar report on other brands (vagabond, Everlane, ivy and Oak, etc)
Hugs from Berlin,
My pleasure Rebecca! I created one about Everlane a little while ago: https://www.curiouslyconscious.com/2019/05/is-everlane-ethical-fashion.html/
And I’ll add Vagabond and Ivy & Oak to my list too!
This information is so needed! Thank you for taking the time to look into these issues and for sharing the information online. Glad I found your blog!
My pleasure Emily! Let me know if you’d like me to look into any other brands? x
You’ve done this post and I am expecting the rest of this type of posts very well! I like how you’ve checked the three areas which are easy to understand and examine 🙂 Although reading this it was appaling to find out how ARKET is not so ethical as one might believe it to be (this was the first time I had heard of it but still).
Thanks Lii! I think it’s good to be thorough and also explain the three concepts around ethical fashion. It’s clear that H&M/ARKET are making progress, but it’s not good enough yet to call them an ethical brand x
Hi! What a great and easily digestible piece – thank you. I’m however a bit disappointed as I really wanted to pick up their breton top. I’ve been looking for an afforable but more ethical option for ages and I thought I’d finally done it, do you have any ideas of where to look next? I’m still quite new to this world!
Hi Jessica, thanks for the nice feedback. I’m a big fan of breton tops – they’re so easy to wear, and a classic piece! Have a look at Thought Clothing, People Tree, or Everlane – they would be my top three recommendations for ethics and good quality pieces that are close to ARKET. I hope you find a nice alternative! x
Thank you for the lovely and thoughtful write-up. Thought Clothing and People Tree are great recommendations. I see you recommending Everlane too, we feature them on Faer as well but the review on GoodOnYou is “Not Good Enough” as they produce in China a lot. How do you think about it?
Hi Petar, thanks for the comment. I like Everlane for their transparency – there’s definite room for improvement, but I appreciate their openness about the wages they pay and the factories they use. I think ARKET/H&M should take note!
Thank you Besma! great job! and you explain very clear concepts that not always are easy to understand !
My pleasure Pilar, thanks for the kind words! x
Great post! Shame that it appears to just be another brand greenwashing. This seems to be rife within H&M and all of their brands, they appear ethical at first glance but when you look deeper into it it’s not the case. I find it hard to trust anything that big fast fashion companies come out with.
I had the same issue with & Other Stories when they first launched – they look like they’d sell ethical fashion and green beauty, but it’s all the same stuff with higher price tags and glossy branding. I hope they’ll make more effort to be ethical in the future, but until then… There’s plenty of other places to shop! x
Love this post! When ARKET was launching, I said from the start, don’t trust an ‘ethical’ company which comes from a ‘fast fashion’ company. That money is essentially bloody money…
From where I stand, they are giving he cutomer what they want an ‘ETHICAL STORE THEY CAN TRUST’ aka this is GREENWASHING BULL SHIT to the max!
All in my opinion #ICallBullShit
So true Kate! I wasn’t aware of ARKET before the last six months, but it did get my alarm bells ringing when I started researching them. I wonder if they’re simply taking advantage of the new behaviour of buying less, buying better – so their prices are higher, and some materials are better, but overall it’s nowhere close to ethical. x
Thanks for this comprehensive post, it’s very useful and great to break your findings down into these three areas x
My pleasure Becky – it’s good to be informed, and I’d been wondering about ARKET for a while now! x