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Lifestyle brand Urban Outfitters has been catering for young, trend-loving shoppers since the ’70s, but it’s “Not Good Enough” across the board for its impact on people, the planet, and animals. This article is based on the published in August 2022.
Urban Outfitters is not doing enough to reduce its impact
American fashion chain Urban Outfitters has made a name for itself with its on-trend and affordable clothing aimed at young adults. Affectionately referring to its customer base as “metropolitan hipsters”, it pulls consumers in with its carefully curated, Insta-worthy image. But are its ethics as shiny as its brand persona? How ethical is Urban Outfitters?
Owned by retail-industry giant, URBN—who also owns Anthropologie and Free People—Urban Outfitters has over 600 stores across the globe. As one of North America’s top retailers, it is easy for consumers to be swept up in the hype of the brand, rather than reflect upon its commitment to sustainability and ethical practice. So, how does Urban Outfitters rate in terms of environmental sustainability, labour rights, and animal welfare? We’ll break it down for you.
Urban Outfitters is “Not Good Enough” for the environment. While it uses some eco-friendly materials in its products including recycled materials, there is no evidence it minimises textile waste. It uses some renewable energy in its direct operations to reduce its climate impact, but no meaningful action has been taken to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals or carbon and other GHG emissions. There is also no evidence it implements water reduction initiatives. You can do better for the planet, Urban Outfitters.
Urban Outfitters describes itself as “dedicated to inspiring customers through a unique combination of product, creativity and cultural understanding”. But how much does the brand care about the workers across its supply chain? In its response to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, Urban Outfitters briefly outlines some of its labour policies, including its third-party auditing processes and commitment to not use child or slave labour.
There is, however, very little evidence to support any of these claims. We’d like to know, for example, how often its factories are audited, which parts of its supply chain are audited, who its suppliers are, and where they’re located.
Plus, we found no evidence Urban Outfitters ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain, or that the brand has any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19. It also received a score of only 11-20% in the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index.
Despite having a policy stating that Urban Outfitter does “…not knowingly carry products that use cotton originating from Uzbekistan”, in 2014 it received the lowest score possible on a survey conducted by the Responsible Sourcing Network that measured action taken by brands to ensure cotton originating from Uzbekistan was not used in its products.
No stranger to controversy, in 2015 Urban Outfitters was caught up in a labour rights scandal where employees were asked to work for free over the weekend in the guise of a training day. Unsurprisingly, Urban Outfitters is also “Not Good Enough” for people.
Also scoring “Not Good Enough” for animals, there is no evidence Urban Outfitters has an animal welfare policy. While it does not use fur, down, angora, or exotic animal skin, it does use leather and wool from unspecified sources. There is no evidence it traces any animal products even to the first stage of production. This is problematic because the welfare of both the animals and the workers cannot be guaranteed.
Overall rating: Not Good Enough
Urban Outfitters is doing very little to help the environment, its workers, or our animal friends. There is no evidence that its “policies” regarding labour and transparency in the supply chain are actually undertaken.
Despite the fact that its collections are often designed to appeal to open-minded and progressive young people, Urban Outfitters has a long way to go before it can be considered a more sustainable and ethical brand. As a major retailer worth billions of dollars, it could do so much more to differentiate itself for the better.
Luckily, the Good On You team found a few responsible fashion alternatives to Urban Outfitters:
“Good” and “Great” alternatives to Urban Outfitters