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01 Aug

Navigating Ethical Fashion: Our ‘It’s A Start’ Rating Explained

“Hi Good On You team, I wanted to reach out because I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to find sustainable jeans in a size 18! I swear I’ve looked through all the “Good” and “Great” brands in your denim guide and nothing is quite right. I did see a few brands rated “It’s a Start” on the app with some that would really suit me, but I’m not even sure what you mean by “It’s a Start”?”

At Good On You, our mission is to help change the fashion industry for the better. By combining our collective knowledge and passion for sustainability with accessible brand ratings, we help people like you and the user above make great fashion choices every day. Together with your support, we are having a positive and lasting impact on an industry with a few too many skeletons in its closet.

We’ve done the research and spoken to the experts, the campaigners, and the brands, to come up with robust but easy to use ratings for how each label impacts people, the planet, and animals. We score brands on hundreds of issues and then give an overall rating from “We Avoid” and “Not Good Enough”, through “It’s a Start”, to “Good” and “Great”—see our How We Rate page for more about the issues we consider. You can check how your favourite brands score (and discover new ones) over on our directory or in the app.

Brands rated “Good” and “Great” are doing enough for us to celebrate their progress. We feel good about promoting them and think you should feel great about supporting them—provided they truly meet your needs.

But what if you can’t find the kind of clothes you’re looking for from a sustainable brand? Maybe they don’t make your size, or you have specific needs like technical running shoes or a work uniform. Or maybe the sustainable brands that make what you need are way out of your price range, or ship from far away at a high cost.

So from time to time, you might be looking at a brand we rate “It’s a Start”. It certainly makes sense to buy from “the best of the rest” if you can’t get what you want in a “Good” or “Great” brand. We think we’ve done our job if we help you make a better choice, not always a perfect one. We know that decisions in the real world are often about trade-offs, and buying sustainably is no exception.

But what does an “It’s a Start” rating actually mean? And how come some fast fashion brands are given that rating?

We’re here to answer these questions in detail. But before we do, remember that buying new is not your only option, and sometimes spending more on quality works out better in the long run. Here’s a few of our sustainable fashion shopping guides that might just solve your problem:

The low down on “It’s a Start”

Life would be so much simpler if everything was clear cut, but the fashion industry—like so much in life—is full of grey areas that leave us scratching our heads over what to choose. Like Goldilocks with her beds and porridge, it can take some work to find the brands that are “juuuust right”.

Here’s the thing: there are countless brands out there that are starting to make positive changes, and may well be on their way to a “Good” or “Great” rating, but are being held back in one or two major areas. Take Levi’s for example: it incorporates some eco-friendly fabrics into its designs, has set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and implements water reduction initiatives throughout its supply chain, which is a good start. However, there is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage, and it uses animal fabrics like wool, leather, and down without tracing sources—making it a perfect candidate for an overall rating of “It’s a Start”. “It’s a Start” gives us a way to distinguish those brands that are doing some good, from those doing no good.

Picking your battles

Brands that rate ‘”It’s a Start” overall may be doing all the right things in just one area, and it is up to you as an individual to decide how that meets your values. That’s why we break down each rating into people, planet, and animals to give you a fuller picture of how the brand might be impacting the issues that are important to you.

For some of our users passionate about doing their bit to mitigate climate change, a brand’s impact on the planet is their number one priority. For others, what matters most is that the brand is certified vegan, meaning it doesn’t use any animal products or byproducts, and those people may opt for an “It’s a Start” brand that has nailed animal rights, but has paid less attention to environment and labour issues.

Accessing the clothes that meet your needs

There’s no denying that access to what’s right for your style and your values is one of the biggest hurdles facing shoppers. Accessibility comes in many shapes and forms, but a few of the most common ones in fashion are price, sizing, and specific needs.

There’s a lively discussion about whether ethical clothing is really expensive, and there are certainly ethical fashion tips to look great and save money that are worth considering, but up front price remains a real issue—especially for those of us living paycheck to paycheck. That’s one reason you may need to look at affordable options nestled amongst the “It’s a Start” brands.

Sizing is also, unfortunately, an ongoing issue. While we are starting to see a shift towards more inclusive sizing in ethical fashion, options are still limited. So, for many of us the best option may be to turn to “It’s a Start” brands that stock our size.

The other major hurdle can be finding items for a very specific need. Sometimes, we just need a particular piece, for a particular occasion—like for a specific job, sport, or weddings, or even a particular time in our lives (hello, pregnancy), and there simply isn’t an option among “Good” and “Great” brands that suits.

What does an “It’s a Start” rating actually mean?

In August 2020 the Good On You ratings methodology had a significant makeover. We increased our focus on a bunch of important and emerging issues (including fashion’s impact on modern slavery, supply chain transparency and gender equality, along with climate change, deforestation, microplastics, and animal welfare). You can see the details of why and how we updated our ratings methodology here.

Many brands have made progress since we first started rating fashion, which is fantastic to see. But we want the fashion industry to keep on getting better—which means a brand should truly deserve a “Good” or “Great” rating. We’ve raised the bar to recognise developments in best practice, and brands that haven’t improved their practices will likely have a lower score and may have moved down a level.

At the end of the day, “It’s a Start” means what it says: either the brand is doing some things well but has a long way to go on others, or while ahead of the pack on most issues, they’re not leaders. In other words, they’re making a start. Across our ratings, less than 20% of large brands are able to achieve the “It’s a Start” score.

Why do some small brands rate the same as big brands?

Comparing a tiny fashion brand to a behemoth like a Zara or Uniqlo is a bit like comparing an orange to the Eiffel Tower. The impact of each brand is very different, as is their capacity to influence production systems. On one hand, we expect a lot more of larger brands, and we look at a larger range of issues, some of them with tougher scoring. On the other hand (the one holding the orange), there are definite steps small brands can and should take, and if they are not doing as much as they can, they equally deserve to fall short of “Good”.

That said, we do not generally award our lowest score of “We Avoid” to small brands, and in specific circumstances we will sometimes recommend smaller “It’s a Start” brands in our content where we feel there aren’t enough more sustainable options—examples include our round up of BIPOC-owned brands and, as noted above, our guide to plus size fashion.

Why do some fast fashion brands rate “It’s a Start”?

When we rate brands, we look at everything that’s on the public record about how they protect people, the planet, and animals. In some cases that’s nothing at all—literally zilch—and we mark them right down accordingly. As consumers, we have the right to know how fashion brands impact on the issues we care about, and brands have a corresponding obligation to be transparent.

In others, a brand may apply a code of conduct to its factories, and make nice sounding statements about the environment, but not demonstrate that it’s serious about radically reducing its impacts. But a minority of fast fashion brands have taken notice of the millions of people calling for change, have set climate change targets, responded to labour union calls for action, offer eco-friendly fabrics, or introduced in-store recycling, sustainable collections, and vegan ranges. Although varying in significance, these are steps in the right direction, and so we take notice of them in their rating.

Make no mistake, the fast fashion business model is not sustainable, and brands with fast fashion characteristics are specifically marked down in our rating system. Cheap, mass-produced clothing that is designed to quickly become obsolete is bad news for the planet and all of its inhabitants. Many people will never be comfortable shopping in fast fashion stores for this reason. For others, it’s important to know which of the fast fashion brands is paying attention to sustainability and which are not.

It is our mission to drive the industry to be more sustainable, and quickly. We’re always on the lookout for greenwashing, but we need to give brands that are taking action credit for efforts they make. We want to see fashion do better, and that means acknowledging improvements to encourage more investment in sustainable and ethical practices.

Tips for finding brands

At this point you might be thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but how do I actually find the brands that best meet my needs?” Here are the top four things that will help you on your mission:

  1. Have you heard of our “similar brands” recommendations? If you scroll to the bottom of a brand listing either in our directory or on the app, you will see a list of highly-rated brands that stock products in the same style, type, and even price point.
  2. Another helpful option across web and mobile is the “category search” function. If you click the top right drop-down menu on the directory, or the “Browse by category” button on the app home screen, you can find brands listed in ratings order that could stock the products you need, from Activewear to Suits to Maternity.
  3. Our journal articles should be high on your radar when searching for brands, too. We cover everything from more in-depth articles about a particular brand’s rating, to the sustainability of certain materials, to brand roundups. Check out our ultimate guides to ethical and sustainable Shoes, Activewear, Basics, Yoga Clothing, Bikinis, or Jeans, or our region-specific guides to sustainable fashion brands in Europe and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and the USA and Canada.
  4. Consider subscribing to our weekly newsletter, which shares our latest articles, good offers from some of our favourite brands, fashion and home DIYs, fashion news, and more. It’s a great way to stay on top of what’s going on in the world of sustainable fashion, and can point you in the direction of brands that cater to your needs and deserve your support.

The power to make positive change is in your hands. Supply and demand is no joke: the more people who pass on brands that turn their nose up at sustainable practices, the better. If we all then show our support for those “Good” and “Great” brands that are making a solid effort across the board whenever we can—and turn to “It’s a Start” options when we can’t—the quicker the industry will shift until treating the planet and all of its inhabitants with respect is the norm.

If your favourite brand rates “It’s a Start”, and you can see that they are taking baby steps in the right direction, it’s a great opportunity for you to reach out to them and ask them to do better. Check out the Your Voice function in the Good On You app to help you out.


We are all in this together, so let’s all play our part in revolutionising fashion and helping it to lead the way in sustainability when the world needs it most.

“We don’t need a handful of people doing [ethical fashion] perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne Marie Bonneau

Editor's note

All images via Unsplash. 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 more than 2,500 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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