23 Nov

How Ethical Is Calvin Klein?

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Calvin Klein is an iconic American brand. Sadly, it’s not doing enough for people, the planet, and animals, and has received an overall score of “It’s a Start”. Keep reading to learn more about the details of Calvin Klein’s rating. This article is based on the Calvin Klein rating published in September 2022.

CK’s ethics aren’t as crisp and clean as its boxer briefs

Calvin Klein is an iconic “all-American” brand known for its minimalist designs and men’s underwear revolution. With a long history as a sought after fashion brand, we had to know: how does Calvin Klein impact people, the planet, and animals? If we care about the planet and all its inhabitants, should we shop Calvin Klein or look for alternatives? Let’s find out once and for all: how ethical is Calvin Klein?

Environmental impact

Calvin Klein is rated “Not Good Enough” for the planet, a drop from its previous “It’s a Start” score. First, the good: it uses some eco-friendly materials in its line, including organic cotton. It has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain, and it has a policy approved by CanopyStyle to prevent deforestation of ancient and endangered forests in its supply chain.

And the bad: while a climate target is great, there is sadly no evidence the brand is on track to meet said target, nor does it appear to mimimise any textile waste when manufacturing its products.

Labour conditions

As above, Calvin Klein is making a start on improving labour conditions, and its score here has remained “It’s a Start”. Some of its supply chain is certified by FLA Workplace Code of Conduct including all of the final stage of production, and it received a score of 51-60% in the Fashion Transparency Index. We have to commend the brand for its transparency, as it likely publishes detailed information about its supplier policies, audits, and remediation processes, as well as a detailed list of suppliers in the final stage of production.

While we found some information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association, and it has a project to improve wages in its supply chain, there is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage. It has also been linked with sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang region in China at risk of using Uyghur forced labour and has taken insufficient steps to remediate. You can do better for people, CK.

Animal welfare

Calvin Klein is simply “Not Good Enough” for the animals. While it does have a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms and traces some animal products to the first stage of production, it still uses leather, wool, and exotic animal hair. There are so many cruelty-free alternatives out there, so improving the score here is as easy as opting out of animal-derived fabrics.

Overall rating: It’s a Start

So, how ethical is Calvin Klein? Overall, we’ve rated Calvin Klein as “It’s a Start” based on our own research—you can read more in our post about what our “It’s a Start” rating really means. While the brand is making a start for people and the planet, it still needs to address its waste and emissions issues, and at the very least ensure payment of a living wage across its supply chain. It should also work to remove animal-derived fabrics from its products and opt for more eco-friendly, cruelty-free alternatives.

Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

If CK’s ethics aren’t quite doing it for you, why not shop the brand second hand? Otherwise, we’ve found some “Good” and “Great” alternatives to meet your needs.

Good swaps

More sustainable alternatives to Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Calvin Klein is an American brand which specialises in ready-to-wear underwear and accessories. The brand has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but is not taking adequate steps to reduce textile waste in its supply chain. Buying Calvin Klein second hand allows you to keep clothes out of landfills and slow down the restless fast fashion cycle.

See the rating.

Shop Calvin Klein Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

A-dam

Rated: Good
funky green ethical boxers by A-dam on a shirtless muscular man wearing a tiger mask

A-dam is a fresh brand with character. It uses a high-proportion of more eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton, and limits the amount of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production. Find the range in sizes S-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop A-dam.

ASKET

Rated: Good
man wearing black asket t-shirt

ASKET has been creating timeless wardrobe essentials since 2015 with revolutionary sizing and fair pricing. The brand disregards seasonal collections, cuts out all the middlemen, and only sells directly to you—putting its entire focus on building a single permanent collection.

Find the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ASKET.

KENT

Rated: Good
White organic cotton compostable men's briefs made by KENT.

KENT is a US-based brand that creates timeless organic underwear, ensuring a quality fit and feel no matter what. It produces the first verified compostable underwear, made from organic cotton and designed to return to nature in 90 days when composted or planted, feeding the soil and growing new plants (or future pants).

Find most pants in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop KENT.

tentree

Rated: Good

Canadian brand tentree believes big change starts small. Small as in bringing your reusable bag to the grocery store, making fewer, more thoughtful purchases, and choosing to purchase sustainably when you do. The brand plants ten trees for every item purchased to help regenerate ecosystems and provide planting jobs in communities around the world, and has already planted over 65 million trees.

All tentree’s products are created with an Earth-First approach, meaning they're made in fair, safe working conditions, and constructed using more sustainably sourced and recycled materials.

tentree’s super comfy fabrics and easy wardrobe staples are typically available from XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

BEEN London

Rated: Good

BEEN London is a London-based brand turning waste into timeless accessories you’d want to use every day. All their products are made of materials that have been something else in a previous life, including recycled leather offcuts and plastic bottles.

See the rating.

Shop BEEN London.

Shop BEEN London @ Cerqular.

Womsh

Rated: Good

Fashion and sustainability can go together and Womsh is the brand that proves it. Its shoes are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy, and its clothing range is made from eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton. Find most shoes in EU sizes 35-42, and clothes in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great
man in ethical denim coat and jeans from outland denim

Outland Denim makes premium denim jeans and clothes, and offers ethical employment opportunities for women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia. This Australian brand was founded as an avenue for the training and employment of women who have experienced sex trafficking.

Find most of the brand's range in US sizes 22-34.

See the rating.

Shop Outland Denim.

Shop Outland Denim @ Good.

Toad&Co

Rated: Good
Orange with black sketch print TENCEL Lyocell boxers by Toad&Co.

Toad&Co is a US brand that creates socially and environmentally committed womenswear and menswear that is equally suited for the rigours of the trail or the tavern.

Most items are available in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Toad&Co.

We love these sustainable brands listed above, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Calvin Klein is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it. “It’s a Start” means just that—the brand is making a start. Calvin Klein is already ahead of comparable brands, and if your options are Calvin Klein or a brand that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Calvin Klein is a clear winner. Progress over perfection.

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the “Your Voice” function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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