I’m back with another fashion investigation! This time, I’m asking: Is Nobody’s Child a sustainable fashion brand? I’ve had my doubts for a while. Their prices are cheap. Their sales are even cheaper. And they have a huge range of clothes styles at any one time. It smells like fast fashion, but at the same time, they’re saying lots of good things. It’s time to investigate…
What Makes A Fashion Brand Sustainable?
To decide whether a fashion brand is sustainable, I look for four things:
- Social sustainability: providing clear, accessible knowledge of who makes the brand’s clothes, and how they treat their people ethically, with safe working conditions and fair pay.
- Environmental sustainability: transparently listing out the natural and regenerated materials they use, as well as practices to lower their impact (e.g. reducing energy and water use, avoiding harmful chemicals).
- Slow production: dropping four or less collections per year, or at the very least, making an attempt to reduce the amount of clothing they produce.
- Circular practices: designing clothes that are long-lasting, resellable, and recyclable, as well as inviting customers to return garments, which go back into production within the brand, as opposed to charity donations, or worse – landfill.
Now, I have to note that most fashion brands won’t be doing all of these things (even if they should, and even if there are truly sustainable brands out there doing them ALL). However, if there’s a good amount of information on all four, I’m willing to trust that the brand has good intentions and is integrating sustainability across its business, rather than in small collections or through marketing greenwashing.
At the same time, for anyone looking to suss out sustainable fashion brands at a glance, I have to warn you that it’ll be very hard to get adequate information on all of these areas just from their social media account or website. They don’t want you reading their About or Sustainability pages for too long either – they want you to shop!
So, that’s where these guides come in! Just as I trust Cruelty-Free Kitty to tell me which beauty brands are truly cruelty-free, I’m hoping to help inquisitive shoppers find out whether brands bandying around sustainable terms really are sustainable.
Note: Sustainable Fashion Isn’t An Officially Defined Term
Now, unlike cruelty-free analogy I just dropped, sustainable fashion isn’t an official or protected term. Anyone can call anything sustainable. And on top of that, my own view of what qualifies as sustainable fashion has evolved over time too, to now include adult workers only (because some laws and legislation allow workers as young as 14), as well as looking for circular, regenerative practices.
If you’re a long-time reader, you’ll remember my similar guides to Arket, Everlane, Matt & Nat, Monsoon, and Sezane, and see how my scrutiny has grown over time. And you know what? I think my cynicism is justified. All of these brands were saying great things, but it turns out, only Sezane was borderline acceptable.
(You may also like to compare the investigations I did into 70+ Fast Fashion brands, and see how much venom I can spit at the brands exploiting people and planet while also greenwashing…)
And finally, I’ll be honest, as someone whose interest in sustainable fashion is purely from a consumer’s perspective (i.e. I don’t work in fashion, I’ve not got a fashion degree) these guides tend to come about because I’ve been burned myself! A lot of the time, I’ve been a loyal shopper at these brands, only to realise something’s not quite right… So, how will NC fare?
Who Is Nobody’s Child?
It’s time to explore Nobody’s Child. Founded in 2015, the brand says their mission is to “revolutionise affordable womenswear, delivering expressive, feminine and responsible collections.” Sounds cute! And their clothes really are cute. Straddling a fine line between Reformation, Rouje, and a high-street store like New Look, they create feminine patterned and floral designs that are designed to ’empower our customers to be the very best version of themselves, regardless of their shape or size’.
(I’ll be honest, any fashion brand that wants to ’empower customers’ makes me cringe. You’re a retailer, not a life coach. However, inclusive sizing is a good thing, and something that sustainable fashion is lacking.)
One thing that does strike me as an initial red flag is how Nobody’s Child seems to shy away from accountability of its own impact, even on its own Sustainability page. They consider themselves in their ‘infancy’ despite being 6 years old, and turning over just under £3.5 million in 2019. Instead, they seemingly take the approach of ‘learning and growing … continuing to improve our impact and listen to our community’ rather than being sustainable from the start. I struggle to accept this as an approach, and while it’s all well and good to have an ‘instinctive ambition to strive to do better’, they do advertise themselves as ‘Responsible Fashion’ in Google Ads.
Is this an attempt to get off the hook if caught out? Or is this actually what’s required from brands – constant improvement? Or is it simply wokewashing? Their ‘palm-oil free’ cookies policy definitely makes it feel that way…
Who Owns Nobody’s Child?
And in a new feature for these guides, I want to also take a look at who’s behind the brand…
Nobody’s Child is owned by Andreas ‘Andrew’ Alexandros Xeni, a British businessman, who is both the sole Director and the majority shareholder.
After doing some digging, it appears Xeni’s journey into fashion started in 2004 at Xeni family-owned garment manufacturer, Misfit Fashions. From Xeni’s LinkedIn, he notes that Misfit Fashions “services a number of major UK High Street retailers … with a focus on quality, value and speed, Misfit Fashions addresses an immediate demand by the UK High Street.”
So, Xeni started his empire making clothes for the UK high street. And yes, it turns out the factory is as awful as you’re probably imagining. From one Glassdoor review written in 2019, it appears staff at the time were deeply unhappy, experiencing crying, bulling, pressurisation, intimidation, poor working conditions, and racism: “Theres is also racism. Greek staff are paid more than non Greeks, even if you have more experience.”
It was out of Misfit Fashions from which Xeni then grew Nobody’s Child, starting it in 2015 as ‘an independent, eco-conscious fashion brand.’ The brand is also notably now stocked in M&S, the high-street store’s first ever third-party brand.
Despite Nobody’s Child’s sustainable claims, Xeni’s portfolio of businesses indicates a history of unsustainable production methods, and a future focus on increasing sales and growth (rather than implementing better principles and regenerative practices). As of writing, Xeni holds leadership positions within not one but three technology businesses promoting growth and sales strategies for fashion and other B2C businesses: Fabacus, Oculizm, and Soreto.
1. Is Nobody’s Child An Ethical Fashion Brand?
Ignoring the above context that I just dumped on you, let’s look at Nobody’s Child (NC)’s ethics around how they treat their people. Who makes their clothes? And are they afforded true social sustainability?
In compiling my research for this guide, I sent over the following seven questions to NC’s PR team:
- Who makes NC’s clothes?
- Does NC have a supplier list or supplier map available to view?
- Does NC ensure workers are in a safe and healthy environment? If so, how?
- What sustainable materials does NC use?
- Is NC taking any steps to reduce its energy consumption, water consumption, or creation of waste?
- How many collections does NC produce per year?
- Does NC have any circular practices in place (internally or customer-facing)?
Instead of answers, I was presented with their publicly-available NC Responsible Brand Commitment, dated March 2021. Great that it’s available online, but does it answer the questions? Let’s find out…
Who Makes Nobody’s Child’s Clothes?
Nobody’s Child has a Factories page which outlines the seven factory partners that make 99% of their clothes (although I do wonder who makes that remaining 1%?):
- Neotex in Morocco (makes 23% of collection, mainly dresses)
- Echotex Ltd in Bangladesh (five locations, makes 22% of collection, mainly jersey, knitwear and loungewear)
- Oxygen in Ukraine (makes 22% of collection, mainly dresses and tops)
- HS Fashion in China (makes 20% of collection, mainly knitwear)
- SAI Creations in India (makes 5% of collection, mainly dresses)
- FA Moldova in Moldova (makes 5% of collection, mainly dresses)
- Safran in Turkey (makes 2% of collection, mainly dresses)
I think it’s interesting that Nobody’s Child mainly shouts about textiles certifications like OEKO-TEX and GOTS alongside their factories. It sounds good if you don’t really think about it, but when you do, it makes you wonder why they can only really tout great textiles, rather than fair pay, safe facilities, etc.
However, when taking a closer look at the factories myself, I was happily surprised to find some do have good credentials. Echotex, for example, is Platinum Certified by The Higg Index, a standardisation tool created by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They also provide all workers with health insurance, holiday days, and perks like free sanitary products. Some UK factories could do with taking note…
At the same time, I couldn’t find a shred on Nobody’s Child’s principle supplier, Neotex Morocco, other than a strange video of their factory which requires 3D glasses to view…
And why don’t they work with their UK factory, Misfit Fashions?
More transparency needed, please!
Does Nobody’s Child Ensure Workers Are Paid & Treated Fairly?
When it comes to the way Nobody’s Child treats the people within their supply chains, they say they ensure every supplier they work with ‘must meet or exceed the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.’ Sounds good, until you realise these are LEGAL REQUIREMENTS. If they didn’t do this, it would literally be illegal. That’s bare minimum stuff.
On top of that, they say they audit suppliers annually, which again, is nothing new. However, they do seem to work with a number of legitimate auditing bodies, which is good.
NC also ‘give preference to suppliers who are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative and Fairwear Foundation‘ but they don’t rule out suppliers who don’t participate in either of these voluntary schemes. Here’s an example to put that into context: the ETI states that manufacturers must not employ anyone under 18, but Nobody’s Child only prefers this, they do not require it.
Also, it’s worth noting that suppliers literally cannot be part of the Fairwear Foundation – only brands can. Nobody’s Child is not part of the Fairwear Foundation and never has been.
In my opinion, all of this indicates that Nobody’s Child is not doing enough to ensure the people in its supply chain are paid fairly and treated well. And yet, prefacing their Labour Standards section is a bold quote Fashion Revolution’s Co-Founder, Orsola de Castro: “Demand quality not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.”
Um, great, but like you guys need to actually act on that?
(Plus I wonder if Orsola actually signed off on that…)
2. Is Nobody’s Child A Sustainable Fashion Brand?
Now, onto the category that most greenwashing brands firmly cling on to for sustainability: sustainable materials and environmental impact. It is seemingly far easier to switch out oil-based fabrics for natural and regenerated materials, and incorporate impact-lowering practices, than it is to pay people fairly or reduce speed of production.
In Nobody’s Child’s case, they appear to be doing well in this area, despite their constant focus on ‘improvement’ rather than steadfast sustainability.
What Sustainable Materials Does Nobody’s Child Use?
Nobody’s Child’s fashion collections are mainly made from:
- Lenzing viscose (50% of collection)
- Recycled synthetics (20% of collection)
- Organic cotton (15% of collection)
- Linen (2% of collection)
- Mulesing-free sheeps wool (coming in AW21)
When lined up against my sustainable fabrics guide, I have to say it’s not a bad list (although what about the remaining 13%?) I do like how they prioritise sustainable textile certifications, and they even note that they are “working to reduce the use of blended synthetic materials, making our products easier to recycle at the end of their life.” Big thumbs up for designing with circularity in mind!
Alongside their list of preferred materials, Nobody’s Child also highlights the materials they refuse to use:
- Animal fur
- Angora (rabbit) wool
- Conventional nylon textiles
- Conventional polyester textiles
- Conventional viscose
- Exotic skins or hides
- Products from endangered species
- Genetically modified or non (certified) organic cotton
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
- Virgin animal-derived leather
- Virgin down and feathers
Again, a great list! There is real nuance in this list too, shown in the way that they avoid products of animal cruelty, virgin oil-based fabrics, and even non-certified organic cotton.
How Is Nobody’s Child Reducing Its Impact?
Other than investing in more sustainable materials, and considering circularity within their designs, Nobody’s Child appears to be trailing when it comes to reducing its own impact.
For packaging, they insist on using plastic ‘to ensure the best quality control for the products inside’. I could argue all day why this is just not true. And even with their commitment to use 100% recycled plastic packaging, and ‘100% recyclable polythene delivery bags’ it leaves us shoppers stuffing our waste bins with plastic, as flexible plastics aren’t recyclable in the UK. It’s just not a good look.
For waste reduction, Nobody’s Child has a very throwaway statement: ‘We consider waste, secondary markets and extended producer responsibility a critical area of development for our brand. While we expand our measures, we are committed to only working with suppliers who can ensure minimal or no waste in our product development and manufacturing processes.’ How is this actually monitored? Why is this not noted against any of your factory partners? It’s just not enough.
For environmental impact, Nobody’s Child doesn’t say anything about its own energy usage, water usage, emissions, freighting, or anything else you can think of.
3. Is Nobody’s Child A Slow Fashion Brand?
How many collections does Nobody’s Child produce each year? I have no idea, despite asking them a number of times. In short, Nobody’s Child produces more clothing than they want to admit.
On top of that, Nobody’s Child uses Klarna, one of a number of a credit provision services that tend to encourage customers to buy more, pay later, and get into debt. That doesn’t say ‘slow, conscious consumption’ to me.
And finally, are their designs really timeless? Personally I would say no. The quality of their clothes is relatively low, and to be honest, that’s expected when they can offer 20% off new collections, and reduce prices by up to 75% in their sales (with items being sold for as little as £3).
Plus, from my personal experience in the instance where I was gifted two of their dresses to try, one fit like a glove (pictured), and the other fit so poorly I had to resell it.
4. Is Nobody’s Child A Circular Fashion Brand?
Circularity is still a relatively new concept within fashion, but it’s one that I expect to see sustainable brands thinking about at the very minimum. It appears from their extensive work on textile sourcing and product design that Nobody’s Child is working to prioritise mono-material designs and only synthetic blends, which shows that they’re aware of their responsibility to create garments that can be recycled at the end of their lifecycle.
That said, Nobody’s Child doesn’t appear to have any kind of take-back scheme or recycling programme of its own. At the time of writing, I am still waiting for an answer to my question “Does NC have any internal or customer-facing circular practices in place?”
1. Nobody’s Child isn’t an ethical fashion brand, and is not doing enough to ensure the people in its supply chain are paid fairly and treated well. Nobody’s Child works with a varied group of factory partners, some of which have good practices, and others are unclear. The standards they ‘prefer’ are legal minimums and are too basic to be called fair or ethical.
2. Nobody’s Child isn’t a sustainable fashion brand, despite its use of sustainable materials. While it’s clear that they ‘want to be part of the solution’, Nobody’s Child seems to only really be committed to better material sourcing, and not much else.
3. Nobody’s Child isn’t a slow fashion brand. They don’t share how many collections they produce per year, they provide huge discounts on already cheap clothing, and they promote over-spending through the Klarna credit scheme.
4. Nobody’s Child is aware of its responsibility to create circular garments, but it isn’t a circular fashion brand. While there’s a nod to circularity within Nobody’s Child’s designs, there’s no other indication that they are implementing internal or customer-facing circular practices.