The Most & Least Transparent Fashion Brands

Nobody likes to be lied to, do they? A few weeks ago I posted this exact sentiment on Instagram, and to celebrate Fashion Revolution Day I decided to dive further into it, looking at the best and worst transparent fashion brands as ranked in this year’s Fashion Transparency Index.

In my opinion, lying by omission is just as bad as lying. If a fashion house does not acknowledge its issues, they fool us shoppers, and they also reduce the incentive to fix their issues. Why invest money into something that consumers believe is already there, such as fair pay, fair treatment of staff, auditing, or independent certifications?

So, here’s a guide to who’s bucking that old capitalist trend of pulling the wool over our eyes, as well as the brands who continue to stick their head in the sand…

Why Transparency Matters in Fashion

When it comes to sustainable fashion, I usually harp on about shopping with small, independent brands, and shopping second-hand. That said, today I’m only looking big fashion brands – the world’s largest 250 brands to be exact. These are the key focus of Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, which forms the basis of these lists (although I’ll be giving my thoughts alongside them).

Transparency in fashion is crucial. It’s a factor that has been lacking for decades, and these opaque business models have meant disasters such as the Rana Plaza Collapse happen. (As a recap: over 1000 garment workers died when their unsafe building collapsed, many of them making clothes for Primark, Bonmarche, and Mango, with people having to crawl through the rubble looking for clothing labels to discover who was behind the incident).

You may wonder how this lack of transparency could cause disasters such as this. It’s actually quite simple:

  1. Big retailers issue contracts with multiple small factories in less-developed countries in order to exploit less protective labour laws and provide low wages.
  2. Big retailers issue flimsy Codes of Conduct and ask their factories to sign to say they operate within this code (usually one or two sides of A4, with no clear plan or consequences if code is not met).
  3. Big retailers pressure their factories to work fast, cheaply, and to a standard so low that they cannot meet the Codes of Conduct, nor provide legal working conditions.
  4. Big retailers deny any responsibility when factories experience issues (social, environmental, or otherwise), first saying they do not work with the factories involved, then waving their A4 Codes of Conduct around saying they did their best, then refusing to pay compensation, and (sometimes) then promising compensation, without a deadline or any planned work to change their practices.

Let’s make one thing clear: nobody should die for fashion. Nobody should even get hurt for fashion. Even after Rana Plaza Collapse was investigated in the US and UK, brands like Mango refused to pay compensation, with other brands withholding compensation for over 2 years.

In fact, the coronavirus pandemic is causing a similar situation as we speak: numerous brands are withholding payments and causing garment workers to lose jobs and homes. Find out more and sign the Remake Our World petition here.

The 10 Most Transparent (Big) UK Fashion Brands

Fashion Revolution has been focused on creating transparency within the fashion industry since their inception in 2013. They see it as the first step in righting the wrongs of fashion – by identifying clear supply chains, both internally and for consumers to see, everyone can make more empowered decisions.

For this post, I’m going to set aside the four principles I look for in sustainable fashion (people, planet, slower production, and circularity) and simply look at who’s the most transparent.

I’m also only listing brands which sell direct to consumer in the UK (i.e. through UK-based stores or UK-dedicated websites).

The 10 most transparent fashion brands in the UK are:

  1. H&M
  2. Adidas
  3. Reebok
  4. Espirit
  5. Marks & Spencer
  6. Patagonia
  7. The North Face
  8. Timberland
  9. Vans
  10. Wrangler

I’m going to be honest, I was surprised by a few brands on this list. H&M is one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, so to see them topping the list was a shock, but it’s also got to be commended. In fact, their transparency meant I was able to uncover unsustainable practices in ARKET when I did my deep-dive last year – showing that the information is all there, even if it’s information we don’t want to see.

There are a few familiar faces from the ‘good’ side of fashion on the list too. Patagonia and The North Face typically align themselves with long-lasting clothes, repairs, and nature-preserving principles, so it’s good to see they’re working on showcasing their supply chains too.

It’s also good to see a few shoe brands make the list – I know Adidas and Timberland have been working on more sustainable collections, so it makes sense that they’re working on being transparent too. And the same for Wrangler, who launched sustainable denim collection last year.

However, for all these brands on the list, it’s worth noting that small, sustainable brands tend to have clearer supply chains and care for people and planet as standard. If you’re looking to make a switch away from these faceless giants, take a look at my guide to shopping for ethical fashion on the high street and find suggestions matched to each store/site.

The 10 Least Transparent (Big) UK Fashion Brands

Conversely, the 10 least transparent fashion brands in the UK are:

  1. Tom Ford
  2. Pepe Jeans
  3. Max Mara
  4. Bally
  5. REVOLVE
  6. Fashion Nova
  7. DKNY
  8. Diane Von Furstenberg
  9. Nine West
  10. Longchamp

Interestingly, out of the 10 brands listed here, just two of them are fast fashion brands (REVOLVE and Fashion Nova). The rest are mid- to high-end fashion brands. This shows that transparency is an issue across the board, and that luxury price tags do not equate to better conditions for workers or the planet.

In my sustainable fashion predictions, I said that “transparent brands will beat the rest”, and I still stand by that. Fast fashion and luxury fashion alike: there’s no more time for the archaic attitude of protecting ‘trade secrets’ and prioritising profit ‘above all else’. These approaches got the fashion industry into this mess in the first place.

It’s the newer, fresher brands who communicate their practices, who they work with, and why they’re making a change who really win me over, and I imagine, so many of you too.

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