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Women standing in a field with overlaid Good On You Cos brand rating
28 Feb
Women standing in a field with overlaid Good On You Cos brand rating

How Ethical Is COS?

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What’s beneath the surface of the H&M Group-owned brand? Is COS treating people, the planet, and animals as well as it first appears? This article is based on the COS rating published in December 2023 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.

Is COS doing the right thing?

You’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a small eco-conscious label on COS’ website, thanks to the timeless vibe of its clothes and prominent sustainability section. But this is a global brand with more than 250 stores that’s owned by the H&M Group—a behemoth that helped to shape the destructive fast fashion industry as it is today. So does that make COS unethical, too?

The Swedish retailer’s longstanding contemporary and minimalistic style has been compared with luxury label The Row and has garnered a committed following amongst fashion world figures, not to mention a legion of shoppers on the quest for items that are a step up from the low bars of brands like SHEIN. And while it does have a resale scheme, and the aforementioned classic design—which should in theory encourage customers to buy less—our ratings analysts found little evidence that it’s doing enough for people, the planet and animals to truly be sustainable. Plus, its business model of mass production and frequently changing collections leans towards a fast fashion ethos. So while COS might score slightly better in our ratings than sister brand H&M, it still has a long way to go in making improvements across the board. Read on to discover how it can do better.

Environmental Impact

In the midst of a climate crisis, paying attention to environmental impact is crucial for brands that want to stay relevant. COS recognises this and has been increasingly used lower-impact materials in recent years. It breaks down its progress on its Sustainability page, with a goal to “use only 100% sustainably sourced or recycled materials by 2025.”

This is all well and good, but the trouble is setting—and, ideally, meeting—concrete goals for the planet. For example, it has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its operations and supply chain, but there is no evidence it is on track to meet its target. And the biggest roadblock? With fast fashion traits such as on-trend styles and regular new arrivals, COS is still perpetuating mass consumption. All things considered, though, COS scores “It’s A Start” for the environment.

Labour Conditions

Transparency is a crucial first step to a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry for all. COS scored 71-80% in the Fashion Transparency Index and publishes detailed information about various levels of its supply chain. But almost none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards, ensuring worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights. It says it has a project to improve wages, but so far, evidence of any progress is lacking. And as a subsidiary of global behemoth the H&M Group, COS has significant power to influence its suppliers and engage them to do better, yet the brand still scores “Not Good Enough” when it comes to workers.

Animal Welfare

COS is making some efforts to improve animal welfare. It has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, uses down accredited by the Responsible Down Standard and some recycled down, and states that it sources wool from non-mulesed sheep. It doesn’t use fur, angora, or exotic animal skin, and it traces some animal products, but only to the first stage of production. Leather and exotic animal hair are also still present in some of its designs. But this is still “Not Good Enough” for animals.

Overall Rating: It’s A Start

So, how ethical is COS? Overall, we’ve rated COS 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 there is some progress being made for people, the planet, and animals, COS still has a way to go before it can achieve a higher rating. It should focus on setting and achieving concrete goals to reduce its climate impact, ensuring payment of a living wage across its supply chain, and ensuring all animal products are recycled or replaced with more ethical alternatives.

See the rating.

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.

If COS’ rating doesn’t cut it for you, but you love the clothes, why not buy COS second hand? Otherwise, we’ve found some “Good” and “Great” alternatives to meet your needs.

Good Swaps

More sustainable alternatives to COS

ReCreate

Rated: Great
Someone sitting in a tree wearing a dress by more responsible brand, ReCreate.

New Zealand brand ReCreate makes boutique clothing that transforms lives through fair employment, training, and empowerment. It uses lower-impact materials, including organic cotton, and incorporates textile offcuts to reduce waste.

Find most items in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ReCreate.

Dorsu

Rated: Great
Someone wearing a white collared shirt, a black jumpsuit, and cardigan by Dorsu.

Based in Cambodia, Dorsu creates everyday basics and key signature favourites that form the core of any conscious wardrobe.

You can find the full range in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Dorsu.

Shop Dorsu @ Wearwell.

O My Bag

Rated: Good

O My Bag merges style and a responsible approach, creating vintage inspired, rugged-chic bags made from lower-impact, high quality materials. The Dutch label also uses non-toxic dyes in its products.

See the rating.

Shop O My Bag.

Shop O My Bag @ Urbankissed.

Shop O My Bag @ Wearwell.

Citizen Wolf

Rated: Good

Citizen Wolf uses revolutionary technology to give you high quality custom-fit t-shirts that it guarantees will be the best you’ve ever worn. After capturing your customisations, the brand handmakes each tee in Sydney using certified lower-impact fabrics like cotton, hemp, and Merino wool milled in Melbourne.

See the rating.

Shop Citizen Wolf.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great

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.

E.L.V. Denim

Rated: Good
Someone in upcycled denim jacket and jeans by ELV Denim.

E.L.V. Denim transforms old discarded denim into modern, sophisticated, and even made-to-measure jean jackets, pants, and accessories.

Find most jeans in UK sizes 24-32.

See the rating.

Shop E.L.V. Denim @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop E.L.V. Denim.

ABLE

Rated: Good

ABLE is a US-based clothing and accessories brand that works with communities all over the world to make a meaningful impact, producing slow fashion that pays a living wage to women who have faced extraordinary circumstances. It uses lower-impact materials, and reuses water and materials to minimise waste. With thoughtful design and a level of quality that guarantees its products for life, its pieces aren't just an investment for your wardrobe, they are an investment in women around the world.

Find the range in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop ABLE.

Nina Rein

Rated: Good

Nina Rein is a German brand that creates more sustainable business attire in Europe under fair conditions. The brand's aesthetic is clean, feminine, and colourful, and each piece includes little details everyone loves.

Find most items in sizes 34-44.

See the rating.

Shop Nina Rein.

Underprotection

Rated: Good
Someone sunbathing in a one-shoulder swimsuit by Underprotection.

Underprotection is a Danish brand combining ethics and aesthetics, creating underwear, loungewear, and swimwear from lower-impact materials like organic cotton. All of its packaging, paper, and polybags are either recycled or biodegradable, and it only works with certified factories as it believes “fair working conditions and fair wages are human rights”. Underprotection exists to celebrate women of all kinds, and its goal is to make them feel as beautiful and comfortable as possible.

You can find the full range in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Underprotection.

Mother of Pearl

Rated: Good
Someone in maxi dress by Mother of Pearl.

Mother of Pearl is a more sustainable and ethical luxury womenswear and accessories designer brand from the UK that celebrates individuality and authenticity. The brand uses a high proportion of more responsible materials including organic cotton and ensures the payment of a living wage across some of its supply chain.

Find most products in UK sizes 6-16.

See the rating.

Shop Mother of Pearl.

Shop Mother of Pearl @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Mother of Pearl Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

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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