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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sustainable alternatives to COS