Let me paint a picture for you. You’re a conscious consumer. Maybe you bring your reusable grocery bags when you go shopping, maybe you avoid buying from Amazon, maybe you’ve stopped going to that coffee shop that you know isn’t Fair Trade.
All that’s great but now you’re thinking about picking out a new wardrobe for fall and you hear fast fashion calling your name. If you do a quick search on the home pages of some of the biggest fast fashion retailers, you’re likely to find a neatly-designed sustainability page complete with smiling factory workers and a model posing in a field of grass.
But have these companies really changed their ways? Or are they simply trying to capitalize on a new market?
In our Brands to Avoid series, Eco-Stylist digs into some of the biggest names in fashion and fast fashion. We thoroughly research, evaluate, and provide the facts you need in order to sort out real progress from false promises. We expose top brands who currently use sustainability initiatives to greenwash away consumer guilt, and in effect encourage these brands to be more transparent and ambitious in their sustainability efforts.
Following our extensive sustainable brand criteria, each brand will receive scores for transparency, maker well-being, environmental sustainability, material sustainability, and leadership. For a brand to be considered sustainable, they need to score at least 50 points out of 100.
Let’s dive into the sustainability of a shopping mall staple: Express.
Express is a huge commercial retailer with over 500 stores in the U.S. and an expansive online catalog available at the click of a button. In comparison to other fast fashion brands, Express hasn’t gone out of its way to hype up its effort to be more sustainable. If you look on their website their sustainability section is pretty sparse.
So how does Express stack up as a sustainable brand? Below we will discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and potential for growth.
With so little information on their website, Express is severely lacking in transparency.
Their mandatory audits allow them to address the risks of subcontracting. Subcontracting is the practice of hiring other companies to do part of the production work.
Following the CA Transparency in Supply Chain Act, Express is doing some work to promote human rights and sustainability. However, this standard doesn’t push far enough to protect workers or the environment.
For example, the website doesn’t provide any information about factory conditions, production locations, or supply chain traceability. Without this information, we can’t give them many points for transparency leaving Express with points in only two of the six categories.
Maker Well-Being: 6/33
Express performs poorly when it comes to maker well-being. While they have a decent code of conduct and a regular audit and compliance program, in almost every other category they receive zero points.
There is no evidence on their website that Express is implementing wellness programs at the majority of their factories. Vague language about “support and encouragement of educational programs for workers” means nothing if they can’t provide tangible proof of implementation.
Express is a huge company – they should have no difficulties supporting their workforce. It is well past time that they start implementing meaningful programs.
Environmental Sustainability: 0/33
There’s no way around it, Express’ sustainability impact is abysmal. They’ve fallen behind even their fast-fashion competitors.
There are no public sustainability goals and no public commitments to avoiding harmful chemicals. There isn’t even a performative “sustainability” line.
This is obviously an area where Express needs a great deal of improvement. A few suggestions include: investing in closed-loop production (a process that accounts for an item’s lifecycle: reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle), reducing waste in shipping and in stores, and publishing sustainability goals that the public can hold them accountable to.
Sustainable Raw Materials: 0/14
It’s another zero for Express. To get the points in this section, Express needs to be producing over 50% of their material sustainably and in ways that protect human rights. Based on the website, there is no evidence they meet this standard. They also fail to provide information on their animal welfare position.
If Express does meet these standards, we urge them to be a leader and provide further evidence on their website.
This is a difficult category to score points in. Even many of our most sustainable brands struggle to get full credit.
That being said, Express falls far behind truly sustainable brands. Without so much as a sustainable clothing line, Express can’t be called much of a leader.
Overall, Express scores a 9/100 on our sustainability scale. This is not nearly enough to pass Remake’s criteria with a score of 50 or above.
To improve this score Express needs to take impressive steps to improve their environmental and human impact. If any of these policies are in place, Express should expand its public information and we can re-evaluate accordingly. However, as of now, Express fails miserably.
Looking for Ethical Alternatives to Express?
Luckily, there’s plenty of good sustainable swaps for Express. Here’s a few we recommend:
- Outerknown (him and her casual)
- Vustra (mens shirts)
- Ministry of Supply (suits for him and her)
- Taylor Stitch (mens business casual)
- Adelante Shoe Co. (shoes)
- Tact & Stone (mens business casual)
- Kotn (him and her casual)
- Nudie Jeans (denim)
For more good brands check out our growing list of 80+ ethical brands, all of which pass our criteria, and all of which will inspire you to believe fashion really can be more sustainable.
*Article updated 4/11/22.
Lily Rosen Marvin studies English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. When she’s not writing about sustainable fashion, Lily can be found hiking, reading outside, or binge-watching 30 Rock.