26 Jan

How Ethical Is Cotton On?

Trendy, affordable, and accessible. Cotton On may be popular, but is it doing right by people, the planet, and animals in production?

NOTE: This brand’s rating is under review and subject to change. The article will be updated soon to reflect any changes in scoring. This article is based on the Cotton On rating published in January 2022.

Is Cotton On sustainable or ethical?

Australian brand Cotton On is known and loved around the world for its fun and affordable clothing and accessories. But just how is it doing when it comes to its environmental impact, the treatment of its workers, and animal welfare? How ethical is Cotton On?

The Cotton On Group includes brands such as Rubi Shoes, Factorie, and Supré. According to the Cotton On Manifesto, the company is “focused on building an ethical, sustainable, and profitable business and ensuring we have a positive impact on our people, the community, the planet and all those we connect with.” But does this translate into real-world action? Let’s take a look.

Environmental impact

Cotton On doesn’t publish sufficient relevant information about its environmental policies to achieve a high rating, and we have a sneaking suspicion why. We found no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, that it has taken meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals, or that it minimises textile waste.

As a fast fashion brand, Cotton On produces huge quantities of cheaply made garments, most of which are made from unsustainable materials including conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester. Manufacturing these materials consumes vast amounts of energy and water, not to mention the use of hazardous chemicals. Not only do these chemicals have a detrimental effect on workers and the surrounding air, soil, waterways, and communities, but they have also been found to affect those who end up wearing the clothes.

As a shopper, you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact the environment. We strongly recommend Cotton On gets its act together and publicly provides information about its environmental policies. For all these reasons, we rated Cotton On’s impact on the environment “Not Good Enough”.

Labour conditions

Cotton On also rates “Not Good Enough” for workers. The brand has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles and audits some of its supply chain, including all of the final stage of production.

However, we found no evidence Cotton On ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain or that it has initiatives to prevent human trafficking. In addition, the brand doesn’t disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

Animal welfare

We found no evidence Cotton On has a policy to minimise the suffering of animals or that it traces any animal product to the first stage of production. And while the brand does not use fur, angora, down, exotic animal skin and hair, it still uses leather and wool. This is problematic as the welfare of leather workers and animals are unknown and therefore cannot be guaranteed. Which is why we rated Cotton On “Not Good Enough” for its impact on animals as well.

Overall rating: Not Good Enough

So, how ethical is Cotton On? Cotton On is rated “Not Good Enough” based on information from our own research. Despite its declarations of sustainability and ethical practice, Cotton On still has a long way to go before it can truly back up its claims. Though those cheap price tags can be very tempting, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why they’re so cheap in the first place. Investing in a few, well-made pieces that will last a lifetime—or better yet, buying second hand—are much better alternatives for the environment and your bank account.

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.

Here are a few of our favourite eco-friendly alternatives to Cotton On, that are implementing ethical and sustainable practices when it comes making beautiful, timeless pieces.

Good swaps

Sustainable alternatives to Cotton On

Dorsu

Rated: Great

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 to XL.

See the rating.

Shop Dorsu.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.

Boody

Rated: Good

Made from organically grown bamboo, Boody is an Australian clothing brand that supports the trend for all things green and ethical. Find the range in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Boody.

Honest Basics

Rated: Great
woman wearing sustainable white t-shirt by honest basics

Honest Basics is a GOTS-certified basics brand based in Germany. It's on a mission to make sustainable fashion accessible to everyone, by keeping prices low, making quality basics that everyone has in their wardrobe, and constantly improving the sustainability of its products and supply chain. The range is available in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

Shop Honest Basics @ Urbankissed.

Know The Origin

Rated: Great
A woman in a black turtle neck dresss swings her hair

Style with nothing to hide. Fairtrade and organic ethical fashion for men and women. KTO is committed to a 100% transparent production process. Find the range in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Know The Origin.

Knickey

Rated: Great
knickey sustainable underwear set

Made in a Fair Trade Certified factory, Knickey’s organic cotton underwear sets are some of the best in the sustainable market. Taking it a step further, the brand has also partnered with an NYC non-profit to recycle old undergarments, turning the fibres into insulation and rug pads. Sending in your old undies will not only help cut down on the amount of fibres that wind up in the landfill, but it’ll give you the freedom to buy new, eco-conscious sets. Find most items in sizes 2XS to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Knickey.

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.

CHNGE

Rated: Great

CHNGE is a US-based sustainable fashion brand using 100% organic material, built to last a lifetime while making a statement. Find CHNGE's inclusive clothes in sizes 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop CHNGE.

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.

Pure Pod

Rated: Good

An ethical lifestyle fashion label based in Australia using organic and fair trade accredited materials. The brand is creating a cleaner fashion industry by protecting the people working in it and using a passion for design to create beautiful products that have a strong identity and story behind them.

See the rating.

Shop Pure Pod.

Editor's note

Feature image via Cotton On, 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. We may earn a commission on sales with top-rated partners made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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