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19 Apr

How Ethical Is Calvin Klein?

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Calvin Klein is an iconic American brand. Sadly, it still isn’t doing enough for people, the planet, and animals, and has received an overall score of “Not Good Enough”, falling from our middling “It’s a Start” to our second-lowest rating. Keep reading to learn more about the details of Calvin Klein’s rating.

This article is based on the Calvin Klein rating published in February 2024 and may not reflect claims the brand has made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.

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

Calvin Klein was founded by its namesake in 1968 with a line of refined womenswear, later branching out into jeans, menswear, fragrances, jewellery and more. Before it made its iconic underwear, the brand was most loved for its denim and logo-print jersey items, and it is often noted as a leader in the minimalistic design that defined the 1990s. While it has appointed notable fashion designers to its creative helm in recent years, much of Calvin Klein’s success in the last two decades has come as a result of licensing agreements for its various product lines, notably fragrances.

Today, Calvin Klein is owned by PVH (which is also the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger), and is considered an iconic all-American brand, with sales of $9.3bn in 2022. It’s known for its coveted logo-detailed underwear, denim jeans, and highly influential—sometimes controversial—advertising (it recently broke the Internet with its campaign featuring The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White). In fact, its marketing campaigns have regularly caused contention through the years. Elsewhere, the brand’s sustainability credentials don’t look great, as its rating has fallen from “It’s a Start”—an indication of progress, to “Not Good Enough”, in our recent review.

So we had to know: how does Calvin Klein—one of the most recognisable brands in the United States, if not the world—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. First the good news: it uses some lower-impact materials in its line, including organic cotton. It has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both its direct operations and supply chain.

And the not-so-good news? 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 minimise any textile waste when manufacturing its products or to take actions to protect biodiversity in its supply chain.

Labour conditions

Calvin Klein isn’t making enough progress on improving labour conditions, and its score here has dropped from “It’s a Start” to “Not Good Enough”.

Some of its supply chain is certified by labour standards that help ensure worker health and safety, living wages, and other rights, and it received a score of 41–50% in the Fashion Transparency Index (a lower score compared to previous years), and the brand’s parent company PVH has signed the International Accord, which works to ensure workplace safety in the garment industry.

While the brand claims to have a program to improve wages, there’s no evidence it ensures its workers are paid living wages in most of its supply chain or that it supports diversity and inclusion in its supply chain.

Calvin Klein has also been linked to sourcing cotton from the Xinjiang region in China, which is at risk of using Uyghur forced labour, and while it claims to have taken insufficient steps to remediate, as recently as December 2023 there were reports that the brand may have inadvertently sourced from the region through subsidiary companies. 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 Domains and traces some animal products to the first stage of production, it still uses leather, wool (some of it certified by the Responsible Wool Standard), down (some of it also certified by the Responsible Down Standard), shearling, silk, and exotic animal hair.

The brand doesn’t appear to use fur, angora, or exotic animal skin in its designs.

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: ‘Not Good Enough’

Overall, we’ve rated Calvin Klein as “Not Good Enough” based on our own research. It falls from our middling “It’s a Start” rating in this most recent review. The brand had been making a start for people and the planet when we had previously rated it, but 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 lower-impact, cruelty-free alternatives.

Rick Relinger, PVH’s chief sustainability officer, said in its most recent corporate sustainability report (2022): “Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, so we remain committed to transparency and continue to enhance our capability to report increasingly more data on our impacts.” But this doesn’t align with the drop in Calvin Klein’s Good On You rating from its most recent review, nor does it match up with the brand’s decreased transparency, or the lack of evidence about whether it’s on track to meet its environmental targets. In 1980, Brooke Shields controversially asked “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” But in 2024, the answer ought to be: “Ethics”.

 

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.

 

Good swaps

“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Calvin Klein

ASKET

Rated: Good
People wearing tops, sweaters, jackets, bottoms and accessories by Asket.

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 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop ASKET.

Bluebuck

Rated: Good
Someone in underwear by more responsible French brand, Bluebuck.

Bluebuck is a French menswear label with a playful, adventurous spirit born out of a love of nature, specialising in technical menswear basics and swimwear designed to last. The brand produces locally to minimise the brand’s impacts and uses better materials like GOTS certified cotton and recycled marine plastic.

Find most items in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Bluebuck.

FM 669

Rated: Good
people embraced in tops by FM 669.

FM 669 is a US brand that offers apparel made from homegrown cotton, including t-shirts, tank tops, and long-sleeve shirts. It proudly sources its GOTS-certified cotton from a collective of farms in Texas using regenerative practices, and uses lower-impact dyes in its limited production runs. Its designs are effortlessly wearable, with its laid-back, casual aesthetic in gender-neutral pieces.

Offered in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop FM 669.

SeamsFriendly

Rated: Good
People wearing clothing by SeamsFriendly.

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SeamsFriendly creates beautiful tailored pieces for all body types. It focuses on function and utility in its designs and uses lower-impact materials like organic cotton and linen. What's more, shoppers can customise the brand's designs to their exact preferences—change the neck style, depth, sleeve length, garment length, fabric, and more on anything in its array of clothes.

The brand’s product sizing is customisable (bust size range 26"-70", waist size range 19"-63", including petite, regular, and tall heights) to ensure you always find the perfect fit, and there's a kids range (bust: 18"-28", waist: 19"-26") available too.

See the rating.

Shop SeamsFriendly.

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 lower-impact 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.

Artknit Studios

Rated: Good
Someone dressed in top and bottoms by Artknit Studios.

Artknit Studios creates timeless knitwear in 100% lower-impact materials, made responsibly by Italian makers. Its partners are committed to anti-waste practices using only certified and locally-sourced fibres, true to the brand's motto of "buy less, buy better".

Find items offered in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Artknit Studios.

Shop Artknit Studios @ Urbankissed.

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-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop KENT.

BEEN London

Rated: Good
People wearing a yellow shoulder bag and large, dark tote by BEEN London.

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 responsible production 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 lower-impact 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 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.

Toad&Co

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

Toad&Co is a US brand that creates more 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.

Shop Toad&Co @ Wearwell.

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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