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18 Jun

How Ethical Is Cotton On?

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Trendy, affordable, and accessible. Cotton On may be popular, but is it doing right by people, the planet, and animals in production? Unfortunately, it’s not and we rate Cotton On “Not Good Enough”. This article is based on the Cotton On rating published in April 2024 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.

Cotton On is not doing enough for people, the planet, and animals

Australian brand Cotton On is known and loved worldwide for its fun and affordable clothing and accessories. The Cotton On Group includes brands such as Rubi Shoes, Factorie, and Supré. According to the Cotton On Manifesto, “the environments in which our products are made, the people who make them and the materials used are incredibly important to us, and form a critical part of our commitment to operate ethically.” But does this translate into real-world action? How is it doing for environmental impact, the treatment of its workers, and animal welfare? How ethical is Cotton On? Let’s take a look.

Environmental impact

Cotton On doesn’t publish sufficient relevant information about its environmental policies for us to know—and analyse—what’s really going on in its direct practices and supply chain. What’s more, we found no evidence it’s taking meaningful action to reduce water use or eliminate hazardous chemicals in manufacturing. As a shopper, you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact the environment.

And as a fast fashion brand, Cotton On perpetuates the cycle of overconsumption and extensive waste with its fleeting trends and collections. The brand produces huge quantities of garments that are made cheaply, often using unsustainable materials including conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester. Manufacturing these materials consumes vast amounts of energy and water, not to mention using hazardous chemicals, which are detrimental to garment workers and the surrounding air, soil, waterways, and communities. Such chemicals have also been found to affect those who wear the clothes.

Cotton On does have a “charity gift” page where a handful of tote bags are available to buy with a promise that the brand will donate the profits to charity. Shoppers can also donate money to a tree-planting program on the website. But asking consumers to fund environmental or philanthropy programs is not a substitute for a business taking genuine action to reduce its impact.

For all these reasons, Cotton On’s planet rating has remained “Not Good Enough” in our recent rating review.

Labour conditions

Here again, Cotton On’s rating remains the same at “Not Good Enough” for workers. Little of its supply chain is certified by crucial labour standards that help ensure worker health and safety, living wages, and other rights, and it’s not as transparent as it should be, having received a score of 21-30% in the 2023 Fashion Transparency Index.

There’s also no evidence that Cotton On implements practices to support diversity and inclusion in its direct operations or supply chain. And while it claims to have a program to improve wages we couldn’t find any evidence that it actually ensures its workers are paid living wages in most of its supply chain. Workers deserve to be paid and treated fairly.

Animal welfare

Since we last rated Cotton On, it has implemented a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms. And while that does signify progress, it doesn’t go far enough—especially because we couldn’t find evidence to suggest it has mechanisms to implement the policy. What’s more, Cotton On still isn’t tracing any animal product to the first stage of production. So the brand still rates “Not Good Enough” for animals.

And while the brand does not use fur, angora, down, exotic animal skin and hair, it still uses leather and wool. This is problematic because when the welfare of leather workers and animals is unknown, it can’t be guaranteed.

Overall rating: ‘Not Good Enough’

So, how ethical is Cotton On? Cotton On is still rated “Not Good Enough” based on information from our research and analysis. Despite its declarations of sustainability and ethical practice, Cotton On still has a long way to go in evidencing its actions and backing up its claims.

Those cheap price tags can be tempting, but 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 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.

See the rating.

Here are a few of our top-rated alternatives to Cotton On. They’re implementing more ethical and sustainable practices at the same time as making beautiful, timeless clothes.

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“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Cotton On.


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MATE the Label

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

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Founded in Australia by two best friends, Boody is a clothing brand with comfort, style, and health at its core. It creates comfortable, thoughtfully-made everyday essentials made from organically grown bamboo. It reduces waste through lower-waste cutting techniques and using a closed-loop system in its supply chain, supporting the green and ethical movement.

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Honest Basics

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Honest Basics is a GOTS-certified basics brand based in Germany. It's on a mission to make more 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-2XL.

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Know The Origin

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Style with nothing to hide. Fairtrade and organic responsible fashion for men and women. KTO is committed to a 100% transparent production process.

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Subset (Knickey)

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Made in a Fair Trade Certified factory, US brand Subset’s organic cotton underwear sets are some of the best in the responsible fashion 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, responsibly made sets.

Find most items in sizes 2XS-4XL.

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Outland Denim

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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.

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CHNGE is a US-based more 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.

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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.

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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.

We updated this article on 18 June 2024. Our editors frequently make updates to articles to ensure they're up to date. We refreshed our selection of products to ensure we've got top picks from brands with recent ratings, and updated the sources and statistics to ensure they remain accurate.

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