11 Aug

How Ethical Is COS?

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You’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a small, sustainable label on H&M-owned COS’ homepage. With a minimalist and timeless vibe and a third of the page dedicated to a “sustainable mission” shout-out, COS presents itself as a brand of the times. First opening in London in 2007, it has since grown to just shy of 200 stores across the globe. So, what’s beneath the surface? Is COS treating people, the planet, and animals as well as it first appears? How ethical is COS? This article is based on the COS rating published in February 2022.

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 upping its use of eco-friendly materials in recent years. It breaks down its progress on its Sustainability page, with a goal to “become a climate positive brand, with 100% sustainably sourced or recycled materials.”

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 gets ‘It’s A Start’ for the environment.

Labour Conditions

As a subsidiary of H&M, COS is one of the more transparent large brands, which is positive. Transparency is a crucial first step to a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry for all. It 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. COS is also rated ‘It’s A Start’ when it comes to workers.

Animal Welfare

Large brands often leave animal welfare out of the equation when beginning to tackle sustainability and ethics issues, but COS is making some efforts. It has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, uses down accredited by the Responsible Down Standard, 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. ‘It’s A Start’ for animals, too.

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, there is still a way to go before COS 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.

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s 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 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

Sustainable alternatives to COS

A.BCH

Rated: Great
Asian woman wearing red sleeveless skivvy dress by A.BCH.

A.BCH is a Melbourne-based, Australian-made fashion label for individuals who care about garment provenance. It utilises renewable, organic, and recycled materials.

Find the range in sizes XS-XL, or customise to fit you.

See the rating.

Shop A.BCH.

Citizen Wolf

Rated: Great

Citizen Wolf uses revolutionary technology to give you high-quality custom fit t-shirts. It's so confident in its t-shirts that it guarantees they’ll be the best you’ve ever worn. After capturing your customisations, the brand hand makes each tee in Sydney from certified sustainable fabrics like cotton, hemp, and Merino wool milled in Melbourne.

See the rating.

Shop Citizen Wolf.

ARTICLE22

Rated: Good

Every piece of ARTICLE22 jewellery is locally handcrafted in Laos using recycled materials from Vietnam War bombs, plane parts, military hardware, and other aluminium scraps. The brand embodies the innovation that the fashion industry needs more of—using recycled materials to produce beautiful globally-marketable products, while equipping local artisans with new skill sets and providing them with a sustainable source of income. ARTICLE22 gives back to clear more unexploded bombs in Laos, supports traditional artisans, and donates a proportion of profit to community development for workers.

The range is available in sizes S-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ARTICLE22.

Underprotection

Rated: Good
woman wearing sustainably made sleepwear by ethical brand Underprotection

Underprotection is a Danish brand combining ethics and aesthetics, creating underwear, loungewear, and swimwear from lower-impact materials like recycled polyester and 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.

Shop Underprotection @ Curate.

Shop Underprotection @ LVR Sustainable.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great

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.

O My Bag

Rated: Good

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

See the rating.

Shop O My Bag.

Shop O My Bag @ Wearwell.

Editor's note

Feature image via COS, 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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