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08 Nov

How Ethical Is Forever 21?

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Positioning itself as “fun ‘n’ flirty on a budget” has worked well for Forever 21. But how ethical is Forever 21? Unfortunately, the brand isn’t doing enough to manage its impact on people, the planet, and animals, and gets our lowest rating “We Avoid”. This article is based on the Forever 21 rating published in September 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.

Why you might want to avoid Forever 21

Positioning itself as “fun ‘n’ flirty on a budget” has clearly worked well for Forever 21. This family-owned brand has grown over the last 36 years to be one of the biggest specialty retailers in the United States, and has hundreds of stores globally. But the brand has a history riddled with controversies.

From ripping off independent artists, to releasing culturally insensitive designs, to using straight-sized models in advertising for plus-sized clothing, and even shipping plus-sized orders with weight loss bars—yikes.

But what about behind the scenes? Is Forever 21 doing the right thing for workers, the environment, and animals? How ethical is Forever 21?

Environmental impact

Forever 21 has failed to say anything meaningful about its sustainability policies—or lack thereof. It uses few lower-impact materials, and we found no evidence the brand is taking meaningful action to reduce its climate impacts, protect biodiversity in its supply chain, and minimise textile waste. As a shopper, you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact our environment.

Forever 21 is also known for following an unsustainable fast fashion model with quickly changing trends and regular new styles. For all these reasons, we rate Forever 21’s impact on the planet “Very Poor”, a score that hasn’t changed in the last few ratings.

Labour conditions

Forever 21 is “Very Poor” for people, too. Its Code of Conduct covers some ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles, but that’s the only good news. There’s no evidence Forever 21 provides financial security to its suppliers, which can result in poor working conditions. We also found no evidence it implements practices to support diversity and inclusion in its direct operations or supply chain nor that it ensures workers are paid living wages.

It’s one of the only fast fashion brands that hasn’t signed the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety—a legally binding agreement which requires brands to ensure safe working conditions in supplier factories. Plus, it’s taken insufficient steps to remediate its links to cotton sourced from Xinjiang, a region in China at risk of Uyghur forced labour. Do better, Forever 21.

Animal welfare

Forever 21 used to do better by animals, but its animal rating lowered in our last review and is now “Not Good Enough”. The brand has published a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy. And while it doesn’t use leather, down, fur, angora, or exotic animal skin, it appears to use wool, exotic animal hair, and decorative feathers without stating sources. And of course, there’s no evidence Forever 21 traces any of these animal-derived materials even to the first production stage. This is problematic for both our furry and feathery friends and factory workers as their wellbeing cannot be guaranteed.

Overall rating: ‘We Avoid’

Overall, Forever 21 received our lowest possible score of “We Avoid”. Even compared to other fast fashion giants such as H&M and Uniqlo, Forever 21 is left trailing behind. It’s time for Forever 21 to stop paying lip-service to corporate social responsibility and to be more transparent.

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.

Responsible brands with hundreds of products under $50 may not be realistic—and nor should they be, if we talk about the true cost of fashion—but there are a few options out there for those on a budget. Read our articles on affordable more sustainable brands, and check out our selection of better alternatives to Forever 21 below.

However, we recognise that many of these better brands appear more expensive up front. That’s because more goes into a price tag than the cost of fabric. Fast fashion prices are often low because brands don’t pay workers living wages or follow many responsible practices in production. Fast fashion has also distorted our view of clothing prices. We now spend much less per garment and buy far more low-quality clothing than we did only a few decades ago. When taking into account cost per wear, it ends up costing less in the long run to invest in higher-quality items you’ll wear again and again.

We aim to highlight the range of better, more affordable brands, but we also encourage you to seek out the most sustainable options that work for you. Sometimes this means shopping second hand, other times rediscovering and restyling what you already own.

Good swaps

“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Forever 21.

CHNGE

Rated: Good

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.

See the rating.

Shop CHNGE.

Afends

Rated: Good
Someone on roof wearing clothes by Afends.

Born in Byron Bay, Australia, Afends is a responsible brand leading the way in hemp fashion. Drawing inspiration from the environment, streetwear, and surf culture, Afends’ mission is to create more sustainable clothing through innovation, action, and positive change. As true hemp advocates, they purchased 100 acres of farmland called Sleepy Hollow to grow their own hemp crops and ignite the hemp revolution.

Find most of the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Afends.

Honest Basics

Rated: Good
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 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.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

PACT

Rated: Good

PACT is a US-based brand that is passionate about being part of a movement transforming the way apparel is made. All of its clothing is sweatshop-free and child-labour-free, and its activewear range is almost entirely made from certified organic cotton, with more than 50% also certified as Fair Trade.

Find PACT in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop PACT.

Wildflo Studio

Rated: Good

Offers

People wearing organic cotton camis, cardigans, skirt and pants by Wildflo.

Wildflo Studio – Regular Priced Items

Wildflo creates loungewear basics featuring simple, chic silhouettes made using GOTS certified organic cotton. Exclusive 40% off all regular priced items. (Ends: 18 FEB)

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Wildflo Studio is a Toronto-based loungewear brand. The brand offers minimalistic and versatile womenswear made from organic cotton and recycled materials. Its mission is to create comfortable, more sustainable clothing for people who care about the planet.

Find most items in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Wildflo Studio.

LA Relaxed

Rated: Great
Someone in long sleeved top and dress by LA Relaxed.

"Simplicity, sustainability, style" is the LA Relaxed motto. This brand reduces its climate impact by using renewable energy in its supply chain. It also uses some lower-impact materials, including organic cotton and TENCEL Lyocell.

Find the collection in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop LA Relaxed.

Shop LA Relaxed @ Cerqular.

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 love to recommend some of the best more sustainable brands, rated "Good" or "Great". We also encourage shopping pre-owned as another great way to reduce the impact of our fashion choices.

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