Is Forever 21 ethical?
A fixture of the teen and twenty-something closet. When my college town got a Forever 21, I was there at least once a week, piling $5 t-shirts and $2 accessories into my cart. I bought scarves, jeans, skirts, dresses, blouses, earrings, and pretty much everything I could get my hands on because the prices were low and the fashions were in.
Of course, with a few exceptions, nothing lasted more than a year. My beloved turquoise burnout tee started pilling in 2 months. The vest seams curled. The jeggings started thinning out.
I soon realized that the thing I actually loved about Forever 21 wasn’t the clothing – it was the binge.
And like any binge, it wasn’t good for me. Add to that Forever 21’s rap sheet. Most recently, Forever 21 was found to be paying employees in the US only $4.00 an hour to produce their clothing (yes, you read that right). They also use sweatshop labor abroad. Additionally, they have been known to take advantage of their high school age workers by withholding wages, have stolen hundreds of designs from independent designers, and refuse to sign an agreement to make their factories safer for employees.
In the words of labor expert, Robert Ross:
Nobody in the world is making a living if a retailer is selling $10 jeans.
Well, no one except the owners.
It’s time to pay a bit more for original designs made by people who receive a living wage.
This post is comprised of individual brands as well as ethical marketplaces to help you get the variety Forever 21 is known for. Of course, the prices aren’t always cheap, but that helps cut down on the shopaholic tendencies.
$ – Under $50 / $$ – Under $100 / $$$ – Under $150
This post was updated 2/6/21. Contains some affiliate links.
Ethical Alternatives to Forever 21
1 | EcoVibe Style
$-$$. A boutique featuring lots of different brands, EcoVibe stands out as the most-trend driven and affordable in the bunch, featuring ethical and domestically produced clothing and accessories for women.
2 | ABLE
$$-$$$. Fashion forward, with lots of color and attention to trendy details, ABLE offers clothing, shoes, jewelry, and accessories made ethically with an emphasis on empowering women.
3 | Krochet Kids
$-$$. Offering cotton tees, dresses, jumpsuits, and more, Krochet Kids produces items with forward-thinking silhouettes for women and men.
4 | Tamga Designs
$$-$$$. Flowy, eco-friendly fabrics and striking seasonal prints. Tamga Designs makes fashion-forward, carefree clothing that is feminine and functional.
5 | Ash & Rose
$$. One of my longtime favorites, Ash & Rose offers bohemian clothing from a range of ethical and sustainable brands, as well as a small, in house collection. You can shop their Outlet for reduced price items.
6 | Tonle
$-$$. Fun, expressive items made with zero waste manufacturing and fair wages. Tonle offers seasonal collections, and products are fashion-forward, comfortable, and affordable. Gender expansive options.
7 | Love Justly
$. A new shop that buys last-season clothing and accessories from fair trade brands and sells them at a discount. I like this concept a lot because it gives people access to a small selection of ethical products at a very good introductory price point and ensures that overstock gets sold off to good homes.
8 | Accompany
$$-$$$. Accompany has a higher price point than previous brands mentioned, but carries of-the-moment styles made under fair trade guidelines.
9 | Symbology
$-$$$. With bespoke prints and flirty styles, Symbology is “out to make sustainable fashion sexy.” Inclusive sizing options.
Ten Thousand Villages
$-$$$. Fair trade, artisan made goods like jewelry, bags, scarves, headwear, and more. Many affordable options.
For a newer list of ethical brands with products under $50, check out this post.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.