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21 Feb

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

Is our “It’s a Start” rating positive? Should you support brands with this score? And why are some fast fashion brands rated this way? 

‘It’s a Start’—the middle ground

Good On You’s mission is to help change the fashion industry for the better. We’ve done the research and spoken to the experts 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”, which you can find in our directory or the app.

Brands rated “Good” and “Great” are doing enough for us to celebrate their progress. But if your options are limited amongst this selection? Maybe you can’t see your size, or perhaps you have specific needs, such as technical running shoes, a work uniform or maternity wear.

This is when you might find yourself looking at a brand rated “It’s a Start”. And it certainly makes sense to buy from “the best of the rest”—decisions in the real world are often about trade-offs, and buying sustainably is no exception. We want to help you make a better choice, even if it’s not a perfect one.

What determines the ‘It’s a Start’ rating?

Simply put: “It’s a Start” gives us a way to distinguish the brands that are doing some good, from those doing no good.

Our team of world-leading sustainability analysts continually reviews and refines Good On You’s ratings methodology to ensure that it aligns with the fashion industry’s evolution, its emerging issues, and the developments in legislation around sustainability, too.

Back in 2020, we increased our focus on modern slavery, supply chain transparency, gender equality, climate change, deforestation, microplastics, and animal welfare in fashion—more on that here.

More recently, our ratings methodology has evolved to ensure the impacts of destructive fast fashion business models are given the appropriate weight, and to reduce credit given to those brands that implement loose or “easy” sustainability initiatives (such as take-back schemes) that aren’t sufficient to offset their harmful fast fashion practices.

It’s fantastic to see how many brands have made progress since we began rating fashion in 2015, but we want the 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 sustainability efforts over time will likely have a lower score and may have moved down a level.

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

Comparing a tiny fashion brand to a behemoth like Gucci is a bit like comparing an orange to the Eiffel Tower. Their impact is different, as is their capacity to influence production systems.

That’s why there are two iterations of our ratings methodology—one for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and one for large brands (defined by the European Commission), which covers more data points (close to 1000, in fact). “It’s important that we differentiate between SMEs and large brands when we carry out ratings,” explains fashion ratings manager Kate Hobson-Lloyd. “Large brands have more resources available to them, particularly financially, and typically have much more influence over their suppliers compared with SMEs due to their order volumes.”

“While our methodologies for SMEs and large brands cover the same key themes, we expect large brands to be doing more to engage with their suppliers and minimise their environmental and social impacts. This is particularly important in supporting suppliers with key issues such as using renewable energy, water use, providing training and benefits to supply chain workers, and paying living wages,” Hobson-Lloyd says. Good On You’s recent data shows that only 8% of large brands score more highly than “It’s a Start”.

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

We rate brands by looking at everything that’s on the public record because as consumers, we have the right to know how fashion brands impact the issues we care about. In some cases that’s nothing at all, and we mark them right down accordingly.

In other cases, a large brand might have adopted a living wage definition in line with best practice, but not necessarily be paying a living wage to a significant proportion of its supply chain workers—this is an example of when our ratings analysts would score the brand “It’s a Start” for labour practices.

A minority of fast fashion brands have set climate change targets, responded to labour union calls for action, and introduced more sustainable fabrics—these are steps in the right direction (although varying in significance), 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. Many people will never be comfortable buying fast fashion for this reason, but for others, it’s important to know which of those brands are making positive changes and which are not.

Navigating brands rated “It’s a Start”

Aligning with your own values

Our ratings cover three areas: people, planet, and animals, to give you a fuller picture of how a brand is impacting the issues that are important to you. Brands rated “It’s a Start” might be doing all the right things in just one area, and it is up to you to decide how that aligns with your values.

For people passionate about mitigating climate change, finding a brand with science-based environmental targets might be their number one priority, and they may opt for an “It’s a Start” brand that has nailed this area, but pays less attention to labour issues, for example.

Finding clothes that meet your needs

Choosing what’s right for your style and values is one of the biggest hurdles facing shoppers. Accessibility comes in many shapes and forms, but a few of the most common aspects in fashion are price, sizing, and specific needs.

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

Sizing is also an ongoing challenge. While we are starting to see a shift towards more inclusive sizing in sustainable fashion, it is still limited. Considering brands rated “It’s a Start” means you have more options to choose from when searching for the perfect fit.

And if you’re looking for something that isn’t universally available, such as maternity clothing or sports gear, then there simply might not be an option that works among “Good” and “Great” brands.

Tips for finding brands

At this point, you might be thinking, “How do I actually find the brands that best meet my needs?” Here are four things you can do:

  1. Try our “similar brands” recommendations
    Scroll to the end of a brand listing in our directory or on the app, and you’ll see a list of highly rated brands that stock products in a similar style, category, and even price point.
  2. Use our “category search” function
    Use the drop-down menu in the top-right of our directory, or tap “Browse by category” on the app home screen, to find brands listed in ratings order that could stock the products you need, from Activewear to Suits to Maternity.
  3. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter
    We share our latest articles, good offers from our favourite brands, news, and much more. It’s a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in sustainable fashion, and showcases brands that cater to your needs and deserve your support.


“Any brand—large or small—that achieves an overall score of ‘It’s a Start’ is certainly on the right track, but has plenty of room for improvement,” says Hobson-Lloyd. “This might sound harsh, but it’s important to remember that the fashion industry as a whole is very much ‘Not Good Enough’.”

Remember: the power to make positive change is in your hands. If we all show our support for those “Good” and “Great” brands 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.

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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