Is Old Navy Ethical?
What is it about the family friendly, fast fashion brand that encourages so much brand loyalty? As a kid and young adult, I was obsessed with Old Navy. It all started when I was in middle school and my best friend started wearing their clothes. I was still too small to fit into women’s clothes – but I was way too cool to wear the kids’ line – so I pined away for their stuff until I grew a little larger later in high school.
I came of age in the GAP age, but my family couldn’t afford GAP. Old Navy was an affordable alternative, and I was grateful. Even when I switched to ethical clothing, I was under the impression that Old Navy and GAP products were made with high labor standards due to their Corporate Social Responsibility statement, which I later learned was merely aspirational.
GAP Inc. (the parent company for GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta) has committed some of the worst and most public labor violations, including being linked to Rana Plaza, which collapsed, killing 1,129 people in 2013. They’ve also gotten in trouble for child labor. You can read more on this question here.
So, reluctantly, I decided to make a clean break with Old Navy a few years ago. It’s been a great decision for a number of ethical reasons, of course, but it also helped me break free from a single style and experiment a bit more.
There were also a few ethical brands that aided me in my transition. They’re necessarily more expensive than conventional retailers because they use eco-friendly materials and pay fair wages, but I think you’ll find that they hold up longer than anything you can buy at Old Navy.
A note: Price accessibility is a really important issue to me, and I understand that those shopping Old Navy often do so for financial reasons. While the below options may not work for you, please know that this is not a place for shame. “Ethical” purchases do not equate to ethical people, because people are not their purchases. Wage stagnation and un/underemployment are systemic issues on a global scale, products of extraordinary disregard for equity and flourishing. That includes those of us living in the US and other imperializing nations. I have included a list of posts on this topic at the end of this blog post.
When considering the style profile of Old Navy, I came away with three main descriptors: 1. family friendly, 2. trend-driven, 3. inexpensive. I tried to select brands that loosely fit the demographic of Old Navy, but the fact of the matter is that ethical fashion can’t compete with Old Navy’s price points. That’s why I recommend shopping secondhand for kids’ clothing and more trend-driven women’s clothing.
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Ethical Alternatives to Old Navy
STRONG ETHICAL AND/OR SUSTAINABILITY STANDARDS
Everyday clothing with a decisive point of view made with factory transparency, better-than-average wages, and an increasing number of recycled and organic textile options. While Everlane has made some serious missteps this year, their organic and recycled collections make them an incrementally more sustainable choice than Old Navy.
FAIR TRADE AT BIG BOX STORES
12. Free Assembly
Wal-Mart’s more sustainable line (the denim is fair trade certified).
13. Universal Thread
Fair trade certified denim and more sustainable knits at Target.
A selection of Madewell’s clothing is fair trade certified.
BETTER SIZE ACCESSIBILITY + some ethical initiatives
15. American Eagle
Some denim made with more sustainable practices. Offers curvy fit, plus size, tall, and petite sizes.
With a mission to fit every woman, Universal Standard offers denim, lounge, and more with more thoughtful practices.
This post was originally published in 2016. It was updated in October 2020.
Posts on Affordability and Ethical Fashion: