10 Mar

How Ethical Is Forever 21?

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This article is based on the Forever 21 rating published in July 2020.

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 over 790 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 people, the planet, and animals? How ethical is Forever 21?

Environmental impact

Forever 21 has failed to say anything meaningful about its sustainability policies—or lack thereof. As a shopper, we believe that you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact on our environment. This lack of transparency is ‘Very Poor’.

Labour conditions

Forever 21 is ‘Very Poor’ for people, too. The brand received a score of 0-10% in the Fashion Transparency Index. None of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages, or other labour rights. It also publishes zero information about its supplier policies and audits, and doesn’t disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

It is one of the only fast fashion brands to still refuse to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety—a legally binding agreement which requires brands to ensure safe working conditions in supplier factories. It has also made no progress towards paying employees across its supply chain with a living wage.

Animal welfare

Its animal rating is a couple of steps above the rest at ‘It’s A Start’. It has a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy. It does not use fur, angora, leather, down, or exotic animal skin, but it does use wool and exotic animal hair. There is also no evidence it traces any animal products, even to the first stage of production!

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 stop paying lip-service to corporate social responsibility and to be more transparent.

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.

While sustainable brands with thousands of products under $70 may not be realistic—and nor should it be, if we talk about the true cost of fashion—there are a few options out there if you’re on a budget. Read our articles on affordable sustainable brands and having ethical taste on a fast fashion budget, or check out these options below for some price or style matches to suit your needs.

Good swaps

Ethical alternatives to Forever 21


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.



Rated: Good
Someone on roof wearing clothes by Afends.


Someone wearing denim jeans by Afends.

Afends – Men’s Denim

Laid back or loosened up. Reworking denim staples, with worn washes and utilitarian details. Made from organic cotton and hemp. Find your fit for denim that never dies. Buy 1 pair of jeans, get 1 free Men's Denim. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Shop now
Someone sitting on denim jeans wearing womens denim jeans by Afends.

Afends – Womens Denim

Pick your go-to player with our must-have high rise jeans, classic 90-inspired flared jeans or low rise baggy fits. Find your fit for denim that never dies. Buy 1 pair of jeans, get 1 free Women's Denim. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Shop now

Born in Byron Bay, 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-L.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

Elle Evans

Rated: Good

Founded in 2013, Elle Evans Swimwear creates beautiful, lower-impact swimwear and activewear for people who care about fashion and the future. The brand uses post-consumer waste fabrics and traces all of its supply chain.

The range is stocked in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Elle Evans.


Rated: Great

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-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop PACT.

Editor's note

Feature image via nu-in, 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 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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