5 Most Ethical High Street Fashion Brands


Since I have started blogging and setting up the brand various people have asked me where is best place to shop for clothes? They are not asking about expensive ethical and eco brands but the shops that we can all find on the British high street. I always add to these conversations that it’s better to buy second-hand or save up for an investment ethical piece than shop on the high street, but I do know that sometimes that’s not possible. So, I have spent a long time researching and compiling a database to be able to provide the answer to this question for them and you; my lovely readers.  

There are various consumer information sites that provide ethical and sustainability ratings on fashion brands. These include Ethical Consumer Magazine, the Good Shopping Guide and Rankabrand (who I have mentioned in a previous blog). They investigate brands and give them a score for different categories from how transparent they are through to whether they use renewable energy. The Ethical Consumer Magazine appears to be more well-established, with years of research behind them and seems more thorough in their critical appraisals. Rankabrand is mainly focused on German and Dutch brands but does feature some of the larger British companies. However, they all suggest quite different brands as being the best and all have a slightly focus.

These can be useful to look at simply to find out more information about your favourite brands but they all seem to have certain bizarre anomalies. I suspect this come from different ways of measuring and applying data but these anomalies make me feel slightly unsure about them. For instance the Good Shopping Guide rates River Island at 73, which is the same rating they give to Patagonia (one of the most environmentally conscious brands there are) and rates Fat Face even higher at 81, which from my research over the years I cannot agree with. There are also many reports by groups such as the Clean Clothes CampaignFashion Revolution and Greenpeace investigating whether brands actually live up to their commitments. These help to build a bigger picture to inform my decisions.

I used the comparison sites to help me create my own methodology with which to judge them by. I used many different markers to establish ranking, including being signatories to the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord, pledging to ZDHC (zero discharge of hazardous chemicals) and ‘take back’ schemes such as M&S’s shwopping. There are far too many separate factors and areas I looked at to mention in full here, so I will simply give an overall summary on my findings. In this comparison I have focused solely on British fashion retailers and not included supermarkets. This amounted to 15 different brands, including 3 department stores, and one online-only retailer. For the sake of drama and suspense I shall count down from number 5!

No. 5 – Debenhams (Rating of 17.5)
Please note that Debenhams sells other brands alongside it’s own. This scoring of them refers to the company itself and it’s own products and practices. Debenhams uses 100% renewable energy to power it’s stores[i] and are joint founders of Fast Forward auditing (see below). They also partner with the Salvation Army[ii] to divert waste from landfill. By collecting and donating unwanted clothing, textiles and shoes they also help raise funds for those in need. Debenhams also scored highly in the Good Shopping Guide.

No. 4 – Arcadia Group (Rating of 20.5)
In fourth place this large retail group includes Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and others. Topshop have a strong animal welfare policy and got shortlisted in 2008 for the RSPCA good business awards[iii] and worked with PETA to campaign against the use of exotic animal skins[iv]. They have also sold limited edition collections of garments made from upcycled fabrics[v]. However, having a ‘fast fashion’ business model works against them, which is why the Good on You site gives them a rating of 3 out of 5 saying ‘it’s a start’[vi].

No. 3 – New Look (Rating of 22)
Even with cheap price points , New Look is still managing to score highly on ethics. (I wonder if this may be my anomaly, as low prices don’t lend themselves to fair wages)  They publish a list of their factories and rank midway in the Fashion Transparency Index[vii]. As they have stated recently that they are going to slash prices further[viii], I am not sure how they will maintain this. They also have a good animal welfare policy[ix].

No. 2 – ASOS (Rating of 29)
Second place goes to this online only site which is not strictly a high street brand, but it deserves a place in our list. Many of their garments are made in the UK and most of them at the ethically audited factory where our launch collection will be made. In fact they helped to set up, along with Debenhams, a stricter audit system called Fast Forward[x] whose need became arose from the Leicester sweatshop problems noted in the press a few years ago. Not only do they have their own eco edit[xi] they also sell second hand garments[xii] through the site too, thereby encouraging circularity. The sheer volume of their production however, does categorise them as a ‘fast fashion’ brand which does lower their score.

Drumroll please….and the winner is…..

No. 1 – Marks & Spencers (Rating of 32)
M&S’s commitment to sustainability is evident in Plan A[xiii] which has been underway since 2007, years before many others started using the word ‘sustainability’. They tick nearly every box for ethical and environmental commitment including having their own sustainable cotton ranges which use BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) cotton ensuring various ethical and environmental guarantees.  They are also certified as carbon neutral and have even become a green energy provider[xiv] as well as giving away money to fund renewable energy projects[xv]. Ethical consumer magazine also put M&S in their top 5 ethical high street shops[xvi] and the Fashion Transparency Index rated them at 51%, the highest being 58%. These top two brands are head and shoulders above the rest and will hopefully convince others to follow their lead.

There were 5 brands that came in the middle of the rankings whose scores were less than half of those at the top. Although they are doing some things right, they could do a lot more in my opinion. These were Next, John Lewis, Monsoon, White Stuff and Oasis.

And the losers?
The bottom five brands in my research in consecutive order were Fat Face, River Island and Matalan with French Connection and Peacocks coming joint last place. Come on guys, you can do better than this!

If you do need to buy from the high street always remember that as consumers we can change things for the better with what we buy. Go for the brands ‘eco’ ranges and do ask questions. Do the garment workers get a fair wage? Does it really need plastic packaging? I hope this helps you to be more informed and conscious shoppers and to help those British brands that deserve our patronage. 
And lastly, what do you think? Do you agree with my rankings? Are there any surprises there? I would love to hear your thoughts x

5 most ethical british fashion retailers

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Further reading
[ii] http://sustainability.debenhamsplc.com/salvationarmy/
[iii] https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/news/fashion-news/topshop-and-m-s-ethical-fashion-fight-184156
[iv] https://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/03/15/topshop-and-peta-unveil-keep-wildlife-out-your-wardrobe-window-display-flagship
[v] https://inhabitat.com/ecouterre/topshop-introduces-upcycled-reclaim-to-wear-collection-for-summer/
[vi] https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-topshop/
[vii] http://issuu.com/fashionrevolution/docs/fr_fashiontransparencyindex2018?e=25766662/60458846
[viii] https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/13/new-look-is-wrong-to-slash-prices-consumers-no-longer-want-fast-fashion-7626995/
[ix] https://www.newlookgroup.com/sustainability/animal-welfare
[x] https://www.asosplc.com/site-services/case-studies/fast-forward
[xi] https://www.asosplc.com/corporate-responsibility/our-products/eco-edit
[xii] https://marketplace.asos.com/boutiques/vintage
[xiii] https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/plan-a
[xiv] https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/suppliers/m-and-s-energy/
[xv] https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mandsenergyfund
[xvi] https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/retailers/top-five-ethical-high-street-shops

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