A recent investigation into the fast fashion brand Shein uncovered flagrant mistreatment of their factory workers. But Shein is far from the only fast fashion brand that has come under fire for its practices.
Reports have uncovered both the human rights issues of individuals working for many fast fashion companies, as well as the environmental impacts they make — the fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of total carbon emissions produced globally.
These five brands are the first to come to mind when discussing why the fast fashion industry is so controversial.
Channel 4's recent investigation into the working conditions at Shein exposed deplorable factory conditions, with employees severely overworked and underpaid.
The exploration of two of the company's factories found that employees were forced to work up to 18 hours per day. What's more, employees were only given one day off per month, meaning they had to work weeks without a break. Beyond that, they were making as little as four cents per item they made.
Consumers are also criticizing Shein for its damaging impact on the environment and for clothing that is harmful to consumers.
More than 95 per cent of Shein clothing is made with new plastics, which, when washed, shed microplastics into the ocean.
Shein clothing has also been found to be toxic. Scientists found that Shein's clothing designed for toddlers contained nearly 20 times the Health Canada-recommended amount of lead.
Additionally, Shein has faced bad press in the past for selling culturally insensitive items like swastika necklaces.
Fast fashion company Zara made headlines several years ago for its failure to pay employees months of wages after one of its Turkish factories closed. Over the years, the company has been accused of stealing designs from artists and producing clothing with racially obtuse slogans.
In addition, the company is one of several in the fast fashion industry to reject important regulations protecting employee welfare. Notably, they opposed new sanctions proposed by the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry.
Despite criticism for ignoring the protection of their factory workers, Zara has claimed it is committed to being a better participant in the fashion industry moving forward.
The company has stated that it plans only to use sustainably sourced, recycled or organic polyester, linen and cotton by 2025. It's unclear how much this change will affect Zara's overall environmental impact, but it's a step in the right direction.
3. Forever 21
Forever 21 is another of the industry's most controversial fast fashion brands. The company has been in the news previously for paying workers as little as S4 USD per hour.
In addition, the fashion retailer made headlines for refusing to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. This accord tries to ensure that factory workers for fashion brands work in acceptable conditions.
The public also criticized Forever 21 for canceling and not committing to paying their suppliers for orders made immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of its environmental impact, Forever 21 makes clothing with a significant amount of microplastics that are harmful to the environment and non-biodegradable.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019, closing more than 100 stores and laying off hundreds of employees in Canada and beyond. Retail experts suggest that the company needs to become more sustainably-minded to remain relevant with young, environmentally conscious consumers.
H&M is one of the most popular fast fashion brands worldwide, but the company doesn't have the best reputation with respect to its treatment of workers and the environment.
According to Attire Media, despite signing the 2018 Bangladesh Accord, H&M is one of 12 major fashion brands that has not cut ties with factories that have known hazards. This decision illustrates the company's willingness to jeopardize the safety of its employees.
In addition, as much as 72 per cent of H&M's clothing is made with synthetic materials that are damaging to the environment. Clothes made with these materials emit a large amount of carbon dioxide and contribute to harmful global emissions.
5. Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova has soared in popularity in recent years. However, the company releases little information regarding its business practices, scoring between zero and 10 per cent on the transparency scale regarding how well it treats employees.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that Fashion Nova was paying employees below the legal minimum wage by the Federal Labor Department.
In addition, Fashion Nova's clothing makes clothing almost entirely from synthetic materials. As with other fashion brands that use these materials, Fashion Nova's fabric harms oceans by shedding microplastics and other non-certified natural materials.