As the importance of sustainability in fashion becomes better known, more and more companies are claiming to have created the ultimate clothing brand sustainability rating. To find out what ratings are the ones to trust, we are taking a deep dive into some of the most popular fashion sustainability indexes.
All these reports and indexes have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, all are helping to promote a more conscious approach to the fashion industry.
Why do we need these tools?
The more information we have about the policies and practices of a fashion brand, the more we can shop according to our ethics. Fashion has conventionally been an industry that is built on opaque supply chains. The sparkling stores on the high street can hide a whole host of transgressions when it comes to environmental impact and social responsibility.
Clothing brand sustainability rating tools and fashion sustainability indexes help to change this narrative. They do the hard work for consumers, investigating the policies, practices and promises that brands are built on. They help to verify the ethical and environmental claims of individual brands and they give an overview of the overall trends in the fashion sector.
These tools help us to hold brands accountable, to campaign for a more ethical industry and to support the brands whose practices align with our own ethical stances. They help to garner positive change in the industry.
Free clothing brand sustainability rankings
Not every fashion sustainability index is free to use, so here we are looking at the top reports and indexes that are open for everyone.
Good on You
Good on You is one of the best known transparency and clothing brand sustainability rating sites out there. The brand works with a range of fashion organisations, both large conglomerates and some smaller independent brands, to create a comprehensive assessment of each company’s activities.
How it works
The organisation considers the entire supply chain that a brand uses and assesses the key areas of how it impacts people, the planet and animals. Good on You utilises publicly available information, such as the brand’s website, third parties (such as Fairtrade) and trusted certifications to make a comprehensive and fair review of a fashion company.
In total, Good On You considers more than 500 data points across its key areas of people, planet and animals to make its assessment. Brands that use sustainable materials, pay a living wage, place a high importance on animal welfare and take concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint will score better in their brand ratings.
Once it has completed its assessment, Good On You ranks a brand in one of five categories:
Brands that achieve the Great rating show exemplary practices and policies in all areas of People, Planet and Animals. They showcase a transparent approach to production, use eco-friendly materials, have programs in place to manage carbon emissions, and have relevant certification or systems to back up their sustainability claims. Overall, companies that achieve this rating are sustainable fashion brands.
‘Good’ brands have practices and policies that address most areas across their supply chains. They manage any sustainability or ethical issues that may arise and they operate with an overall ethical approach.
It’s a Start
Brands rated ‘It’s a start’ have policies and practices to manage at least some of the issues associated with the materials and the supply chains they use. These brands are striving towards becoming more sustainable and are making progress towards this goal.
Not Good Enough
While these brands make some attempt to share supply chain information and are making limited progress to manage issues regarding materials, these aren’t adequately managed. These organisations also don’t have adequate policies to manage their environmental and ethical impacts.
These brands have received the lowest rating in the Good On You scale. They share little to no information on their ethical practices and, at times, make irrelevant, ambiguous or unnecessarily vague claims that have little to no actual positive impact.
What we love
Good on You provides a free clothing brand sustainability rating that is easy to understand. It also comes in an app that you can easily download on your phone so it´s super easy to use.
The company assesses a large variety of brands, with over 3,000 individual companies included in its index. It also has avenues for consumers to suggest brands they would like Good On You to include in its index.
Good On You has become a trusted name in fashion sustainability and ethical practice scoring. Achieving a ‘Great’ rating is coveted in the ethical fashion sector.
What could be even better
It would be great if Good On You provided more comprehensive information for consumers. While assessments are detailed, the report publicly available for each brand is generally quite brief.
Some brands that achieved the Great rating on Good on You include:
- Sorella Organics from Australia
- Unrobe from the Netherlands
- MUD Jeans from the Netherlands
- People Tree from the UK
- Jackalo from the US
- Infantium Victoria from Germany
- Culthread from the UK
- Iron Roots from the Netherlands
- Etica from the US
- Rapanui from the UK
ReMake Fashion Accountability Report
Since it began in 2016, the ReMake Fashion Accountability Report has been working to create a more responsible fashion sector. It evaluates and assesses the social and environmental progress of some of the world’s largest fashion companies.
ReMake works with a variety of industry professionals and stakeholders to create the framework it uses in its accountability report. These include human rights professors, environmental justice leaders, and experts in employment and law.
How it works
The ReMake Index focuses on six key areas. Its framework assesses how well organisations are doing when it comes to making progress in these areas. The key factors that the report looks at are:
- Wages and wellbeing
- Raw materials
- Environmental justice
- Commercial practices
Each of the six categories in the framework have a certain number of points that brands can score. Environmental justice and governance have the highest number of points that brands can potentially score with 42 points in each of these categories. Meanwhile, traceability has the least amount of potential points with a total of eight possible points.
Across all six categories, brands achieve a score out of 150 points, the higher the better.
Every year, ReMake also includes three spotlight issues that it focuses on in addition to the six main categories. These issues are chosen as they are considered to be relevant to social and environmental issues in that particular year. For 2022, the three spotlight issues chosen were:
- Failures to #PayUp
- Refusal to sign the International Accord, and
- Opposition to the California Garment Worker Protection Act.
Much like the Fashion Transparency Index, the ReMake Fashion Accountability Report focuses primarily on top brands. To be included in the report, companies must have an annual revenue over USD $100 million.
The report focuses on larger companies, such as fast fashion brands like H&M and luxury brands like Burberry. This is because it is believed that larger and more influential companies have the greatest potential to create systemic positive change in the industry.
In saying this, ReMake did highlight fifteen smaller sustainable brands in 2022 that were either showing leadership in sustainable fashion or were of particular interest to the ReMake community. The aggregate data for these brands was not included in the overall report though.
What we love
Anything that helps to make a more transparent, more accountable, fairer and more sustainable fashion sector is a step in the right direction, and this report does that. Unlike many other sustainable clothing ranking systems, the ReMake report focuses on the progress of brands rather than just the practices and policies that they currently operate with.
Points in the report are awarded for demonstrated action towards social, environmental, and ethical goals.
By clearly presenting its data through the point system, the report also helps to make it simpler to visualise. In an industry that can be notoriously difficult to understand, this simple representation of complex issues is great to see.
What could be even better
It is great that the ReMake report has started to include some of the smaller sustainable brands, however it would be even better to see this expanded. We understand that ReMake do intend to do this and are open to brand suggestions.
It would also be great to see the report include more brands overall, as the last report only had 58 brands in its listings. As such, it can be difficult for this sample size to represent overall trends regarding sustainability and social ethics in the industry.
Showing how much progress there is still to be made, but celebrating every step, brands receive relatively low scores. Out of the possible 150 total points, no company scored above 40 points in 2022. The ten highest-scoring brands were:
- Burberry with 38 points
- Everlane with 38 points
- Levi’s with 34 points
- Reformation with 33 points
- H&M Group with 32 points
- Fast Retailing with 28 points
- Adidas Group with 26 points
- Patagonia with 26 points
- Puma with 26 points
- Ralph Lauren with 25 points
Fashion Transparency Index
Another well-known sustainable clothing brand rating system, the Fashion Transparency Index is run by Fashion Revolution. The index has been in operation for seven years and now assesses over 250 brands every year. It primarily focuses on large fashion brands, we cover their criteria below.
These brands are then ranked in consideration of the information they share about their social and sustainable practices, policies and impacts. The index considers both the brands’ operations and their supply chains when making their assessments.
It is important to note that the Fashion Transparency Index’s primary objective isn’t to assess if a brand is acting ethically, it is assessing if a brand is acting transparently. Although these two concepts are interlinked, it is important to make the distinction between them.
Theoretically, a brand could score well on the index and still be acting in a socially unethical and environmentally unsustainable manner, if they freely and openly shared the information about their activities with consumers. In saying this, any increase in transparency in the famously opaque fashion sector, is a step in the right direction.
How it works
This fashion sustainability index considers the information that brands publicly disclose in areas regarding their environmental and social policies and practices. It compares this information against 246 indicators across areas such as their policies, governance and supply chain traceability.
The organisation also focuses on ‘Spotlight issues’ ; these spotlight issues change depending on the year and the index. For this year (2022) the spotlight issues are:
- Decent work: covering forced labour, living wages, purchasing practices, unionisation and collective bargaining
- Gender and racial equality
- Sustainable sourcing and materials
- Overconsumption, waste and circularity
- Water and chemicals
- Climate change and biodiversity
Publicly disclosed information
The more information that a brand publicly and freely discloses, the better its score will be in its overall rating. If a brand publicly shares little information, then its rating will be lower. This information can be shared through channels such as the brand’s webpage, its self-published annual reports and through third parties that link back to the brand’s website.
Criteria for inclusion on the Index
The Fashion Transparency Index focuses on major brands rather than small retailers. All 250 brands included in the index must meet the following criteria:
- They must represent a variety of different segments, including high street, luxury, sportswear, accessories, denim and footwear from a number of continents.
- They must have an annual turnover of more than USD $400 million.
Major brands are chosen to be included in the index because as the largest players in the industry, these companies have a greater capacity to create an impact, be it positive or negative. As these brands often generate high revenue and profit, it is believed that they in particular have a moral obligation to create a business model that champions social and environmental ethics.
After the assessment has taken place, all brands included are given a ranking out of 100%. Higher scoring brands have shown greater transparency than brands that have scored a lower percentage. No brand in the index has ever scored 100% and in 2022, the highest-scoring brands achieved 78% (see below for the list of the top 10).
What we love
Since it began, the Fashion Transparency Index has been making waves in the fashion industry. It provides a great way to see an overview of the major brands in the fashion sector and to gain a greater understanding of the overall trends in the industry.
By creating an easy way for consumers to see how well their favourite brands are doing regarding how open they are, the Index shines a light on a notoriously shadowy sector. It incentivises major brands to act more responsibly and transparently.
Providing this greater transparency it is giving power back to consumers to choose the brands and practices they want to support.
What could be even better
By only focusing on larger brands with criteria of over USD $400 million annual turnover, there is a huge part of the fashion sector that the index misses. Small and medium-size brands are not represented and as such, these brands can’t be either rewarded for their achievements or scrutinised for their ethical shortcomings.
Highest scoring brands 2022
In the 2022 Fashion Transparency Index the following brands scored the highest:
- Target Australia with a score of 78%
- KMart Australia with a score of 78%
- OVS with a score of 78%
- The North Face with a score of 66%
- H&M with a score of 66%
- Timberland with a score of 66%
- Vans with a score of 65%
- United Colors of Benneton with a score of 65%
- Gildan with a score of 62%
- C&A with a score of 59%
We cover more about the Fashion Transparency Index and the Who Made Your Clothes Movement in The Who Made My Clothes movement: is it changing fashion?
Paid brand rating Resources
Free reports and indexes are great resources. However, there are also other reports that need to be paid for on either a one-off or subscription model that shine a light on the issues in the fashion sector. Two of these resources are the Business of Fashion report and the ethical rating conducted by The Ethical Consumer.
Business of Fashion Sustainability Index
An annually released report, the Business of Fashion Sustainability Index assesses 30 of the biggest fashion companies. It garners key insights and trends in the fashion industry and compares companies’ performances against vital sustainability goals.
The data gathered spans more than nine thousand data points. These are considered to create an accurate benchmarking of brands’ environmental practices and policies. It is one of the most extensive assessments in the industry and considers areas such as greenhouse gas emissions, worker safety and waste management. In 2022, the index covered categories including:
- Water and chemicals
- Workers’ rights
The Ethical Consumer ratings
Requiring a subscription to gain access, the clothing brand sustainability rating from The Ethical Consumer is straightforward in its format and comprehensive in its approach. Unlike many other ranking systems, both companies and individual products can receive a sustainability score.
The assessments consider three hundred subcategories that exist within the five core categories of how a brand interacts with and impacts the environment, people, politics, animal welfare, and sustainability.
The organisation uses a range of sources to conduct the research for its scoring system. This includes gathering information directly from fashion companies, as well as public records, and third-party organisations.
Subscriptions to the Ethical Consumer start at just under £30 per year and provide benefits for both consumers and corporations.
What is the best fashion sustainability index?
When it comes to deciding what the best clothing brand sustainability rating organisation is, there isn’t really one clear cut winner. Rather, these systems work best when considered in conjunction with one another. All of them have key areas that they focus on and key areas that they could do more in.
Pros and cons of the clothing brand sustainability ratings
The comprehensive and business model focused approach of reports such as the ReMake Accountability Report makes it a great resource for industry professionals. While it does also provide a tool for consumers, the level of detail and information included may not always be as immediately relevant for the average shopper.
The Fashion Transparency Index is also a great tool, but again, its focus can be limited. The fact that it assesses mainly transparency, omitting an in-depth assessment of the actual ethical practices of companies can limit the overall approach of the report.
If you are looking for a quick snapshot of an individual brand married with ease of use for consumers, Good On You probably comes out on top. This index also has the added advantage of including smaller and independent brands. However, this index is not necessarily as comprehensive as others.
However, if these reports and indexes are used with each other they give a comprehensive snapshot of the fashion industry. Using both the Good On You index alongside the Fashion Transparency Index, for example, gives a good indication of the transparency and ethical practices of an organisation.
For the everyday consumer looking to make more ethical shopping choices, Good On You is probably the best place to start.
As well as sustainability and social indexes and assessments, another great tool to consider when making a judgment on the ethics of a fashion brand are certifications.
Certifications bring a certain level of assurance to consumers that a fashion company is standing by the commitments and promises that it has made. This makes them great tools to help avoid falling victim to the greenwashing tactics that are rampant in the clothing and apparel sector.
While there are a lot of great certifying organisations out there, three prominent ones to look out for are B Corp certified, Fairtrade and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
B Corp Certified
To gain B Corp certification, the social and environmental impact of a company is considered as a whole.
Certified companies must meet standards in areas including social and environmental performance. They must also make a legal commitment to be accountable to a variety of stakeholders. In addition, organisations have to show transparency to obtain and keep their B Corp certified status.
For more on the B Corp certification and to find out which brands have this sought-after accreditation, see our article B Corp clothing brands for the best ethical styles.
Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)
A leading body in textile certification, brands and products that hold certification from the Global Organic Textile Standard must meet stringent social and environmental requirements. Many sustainable clothing brands use organic cotton certified by GOTS, however it also covers other fabrics such as linen, hemp and wool).
The organisation has created a standardised system for labelling organic materials that are sustainable and created with ethical production processes.
GOTS also has restrictions on the use of hazardous chemicals used in manufacturing processes. GOTS considers every part of the supply chain and certified products must meet a range of credentials to gain certification.
For more on GOTS see What does GOTS certified mean: your definitive guide.
One of the most well-known certifying bodies in the world, Fairtrade works to create a more ethical environment for business and trade.
Encompassing more than just the fashion sector, Fairtrade is all about ensuring fair wages for workers as well as ensuring their safety, rights and dignity. It is also about creating supply chains that operate in a way that considers both their environmental and social impact.
Fairtrade works to create a more equitable and fair system. It also invests in areas such as developing women in leadership roles and climate-friendly farming practices.
What is Fairtrade clothing and why should we care has more info on this veteran certification.
Accountability, transparency and an ethical sector
Clothing brand sustainability rating organisations play a vital role in building a more ethical and sustainable future for the fashion industry. They help to hold brands accountable for their actions and help to connect consumers with where and how their clothes were made.
The indexes that these organisations create give the power back to the consumer to decide on the brands, practices and policies that they want to support. They promote the adoption of a more transparent sector and assist in helping us all understand the impact our favourite brands have on the world around them.
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