Uniqlo Battles Fast Fashion Accusations Due to Its Murky Sustainability Practices and More

Labor violations, a lack of certified textiles, and a misunderstanding all haunt the company.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

May 17 2024, Published 12:37 p.m. ET

Uniqlo logo over models in matching outfits
Source: uniqlo/Instagram

A "fast fashion" label can sound the death knell for companies hoping to win over shoppers looking to buy sustainable clothing and accessories. This is why many companies who tout themselves for their human or environmental ethics work so hard to get their message out there.

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Sometimes, that can prompt accusations of greenwashing, which is when companies claiming to be sustainable fall short in one or more areas. Fashion brand Uniqlo has found itself at the center of a controversy about its ethics, causing many to ask if Uniqlo is considered fast fashion. Keep reading to learn more about the claims against the company, including what the founder has to say about the matter.

Uniqlo ponchos in different colors on flatlay
Source: uniqlo/Instagram
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Is Uniqlo fast fashion?

By definition, fast fashion companies have a few things in common, including producing inexpensively made clothing or accessories that are manufactured quickly to keep up with changing trends. This unsustainable process often causes these items to make their way into landfills, either because they were so poorly made that they don't hold up to repeated wear or because they were made in such large quantities that they couldn't sell out before fashion trends changed again.

According to one reviewer at the Good on You blog, while Uniqlo doesn't go quite far enough to be truly sustainable, they don't exactly meet the broad definition of fast fashion either. Additionally, Uniqlo has a program where customers can turn in their damaged or unwanted garments to be repaired or reused, an extra step most fast fashion brands never take.

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Is Uniqlo ethical?

Tadashi Yanai, the CEO of Uniqlo, balks at the idea that his company would be considered fast fashion since they don't make "disposable clothing." Yanai spoke about the unwanted label during a 2019 interview with Forbes magazine, where he claimed that the only area he wants Uniqlo to be considered "fast" is when it comes to innovation.

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Of course, there's more to the question of fast fashion than just whether clothing brands can mass-produce new trends. There's also the question of a company's commitment to ethically produced items and how their employees are treated.

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Unfortunately for Uniqlo, the company has had plenty of complaints lodged against it, including some that involve labor rights violations, according to the website Earth.org. Additionally, critics of the brand have questioned just how sustainable some of their products can be since the company doesn't offer any certifications to back up its claims when it comes to its textiles.

While Uniqlo's website does say that the company plans to change these things — for example, a blurb on its sustainability practices says it plans to have factories up to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) by 2020 — it isn't clear which changes have been made, and which are still in the planning stages.

For now, it seems like Uniqlo has made a lot of promises to become more sustainable and ethical, leaving consumers to decide on their own whether that's enough to help them get out from under the shadow of fast fashion to earn a sustainable stamp of approval.

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