28 Jun

How Ethical is American Apparel?

“Ethically Made – Sweatshop Free”. These are some of the first words you see on American Apparel’s website.

Founded in 1989, the American brand is known for its sturdy and timeless basics. American Apparel was once one of the biggest apparel producers in the US, and was known for being “Made in the US”. After some scandals and financial troubles, the brand was sold to Canadian activewear manufacturer Gildan in early 2017 and closed its stores. It reopened that same year as an online-only retailer. But the “Made in the US” statement was nowhere to be found. American Apparel is now “Globally Sourced, Ethically Made, Still Sweatshop Free”, and a lot of its products are made in Central America – most often in Honduras.

The brand believes that “making clothing can improve lives while respecting the environment, the planet, the world we live in.” But we couldn’t help but wonder: how “Ethically Made – Sweatshop Free” is the brand, really? How ethical is American Apparel?

Environmental Impact:

American Apparel’s environment rating is ‘Not Good Enough’. It uses Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton in its organic range, but this only makes up a small percentage of its products. It re-uses off cuts created during the manufacturing process, but doesn’t have adequate policies on energy use and carbon emissions. It also doesn’t use any widely accepted tools to guide measurement and reporting, and there is no evidence it is taking adequate steps to minimise or eliminate hazardous chemicals in its supply chain. What’s more, there is no evidence it has adequate policies or initiatives on water usage and wastewater management. For all these reasons we couldn’t give American Apparel a higher rating, and some real work needs to be done in this area if they are looking to improve their score.

Labour Conditions:

Based on the 2018 Ethical Fashion Report, we rated American Apparel’s labour conditions ‘Good’. The Ethical Fashion Report looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency, and worker empowerment. American Apparel received the top score for its Supplier Code of Conduct included in its supplier contracts. The brand traces almost all of its supply chain including final stage, inputs, and raw materials. It publicly lists a portion of its suppliers along with their addresses, and it ensures that no subcontracting occurs or that all subcontracted production adheres to code standards. American Apparel audits all or most of its traced facilities over a two-year period across its entire supply chain, but it has minimal worker empowerment initiatives and has made little to no progress towards paying a living wage. There are still some improvements to be made, and something as basic and necessary as paying workers a living wage should be a top priority!

Animal Welfare:

American Apparel uses wool and leather without stating sources, which means there is no guarantee that they are ethically sourced. While it doesn’t use fur, angora, down, or exotic animal skin or hair, it does resell vintage and one-off garments made with angora, which is why we rated the brand ‘It’s a Start’ for its animal welfare practices.

Overall Rating: It's A Start

Rated: It's A Start

Overall, based on information from the 2018 Ethical Fashion Report and our own research, we rated American Apparel 'It's a Start'. Although American Apparel is off to a good start by using GOTS cotton and making some headway in labour conditions, it still needs to improve on some key points. The brand doesn’t use any widely accepted tools to guide measurement and reporting, which is why it’s hard to really understand its overall impact. There is also no evidence that it’s taking adequate steps to minimise or eliminate hazardous chemicals in its supply chain, or to properly manage water usage and wastewater, which is imperative if environmental impact is a priority.

Although American Apparel claims to be “Ethically Made”, it needs to ensure its workers are paid a living wage and disclose where it sources its wool and leather before it can truly live up to its own slogan.

See the rating.

If you’re on the hunt for American-style basics, we’ve found some ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ alternatives.

Editor's note: feature image via American Apparel, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You has big plans for ethical fashion in 2019! To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offers code or affiliate links.

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