Is ASOS Ethical or Sustainable? + Alternative Brands

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ASOS is a British online fashion brand featuring tens of thousands of trendy styles. The sheer volume of clothing and microtrends are a key giveway that ASOS is fast fashion. 

Since greenwashing is so prevalent these days, it can be easy to get confused by ASOS’ sustainability pages. In this post, I’ll break down the claims they make and offer ethical alternatives.

Deep Dive Into ASOS’ Ethics and Sustainability

Environmental Measures

ASOS has a few sustainability targets around materials and circularity, but they currently haven’t implemented any meaningful measures. 

Their plans include:

  • Net-zero carbon emissions by 2030
  • 100% of their products will be made from recycled or more sustainable materials by 2030 (with 100% responsible cotton by 2025)
  • 100% sustainable or recycled packaging by 2025
  • Circularity strategy by 2030

These are fine targets, but this doesn’t erase the fact that ASOS is still using high-impact materials for the vast majority of their products. They do discuss recycled materials and traceable viscose on their sustainability page, but they don’t quantify the percentage of fabrics that have been replaced by these. 

Screenshot of ASOS sustainability targets
From ASOS’ sustainability page

The scale of ASOS’ production is also unsustainable in itself. Their website touts that they have over 40,000 items, and if you segment down to women’s dresses alone, you have 12,000+ options! ASOS’ business model relies on cheap prices and the rapid trend cycle, encouraging people to buy and replace frequently. Fashion can never be sustainable without first addressing overproduction and overconsumption.

One interesting initiative the brand has is the ASOS Marketplace, which gathers independent brands and vintage sellers. While buying vintage is sustainable, I’d encourage you to shop these brands on their own websites, rather then through the ASOS Marketplace, as ASOS will take a 20% cut. Shopping small businesses, even if they don’t offer vintage, is also better than shopping fast fashion. That said, these brands may not always use low-impact fabrics or trace their suppliers, so you should still proceed with caution.

Some other aspects of sustainability that ASOS doesn’t mention include using natural dyes, reducing water usage, and decreasing textile waste/fabric scraps. 

Labor Ethics

ASOS has mapped Tier 1, 2, and 3 suppliers, which is a good start—you can’t be ethical without first having transparency. While their website mentions an interactive supply chain map, the link doesn’t actually take you to any map, so it appears that the transparency ends there.

ASOS a standard Code of Conduct that includes no child or forced labor, fair wages, and safe conditions. They mention factory audits, but don’t state how often they’re done or how their suppliers have performed in them. 

Because of this, it’s unclear how ASOS workers are treated and if they’re paid a living wage. 

Social Responsibility

ASOS does not appear to donate regularly to social causes. Several years ago, they established the ASOS Foundation to support charitable projects in the UK, India, and Kenya, but it doesn’t look like it’s been active since 2019, and it’s unclear how much money was donated from company profits vs. employees and customers.

Inclusivity

ASOS has a plus size selection of around 3,000+ styles, with the largest size ranging from US 22-26 for women and 2XL-4XL for men. Since size inclusivity is a huge issue in the fashion industry, it’s good to see ASOS offering some extended sizing, especially for the masculine styles, which are harder to find in plus sizes.

They also have a modest fashion section, making it easier to shop for styles with more coverage.

Within their corporate offices, ASOS has inclusivity initiatives and goals, aiming to have 50% female and over 15% minority representation across their combined leadership team by 2023, and at every leadership level by 2030. They also launched a program to support 200+ women of color in mid-level roles. Unlike many brands, they do share their current corporate diversity statistics, and it’s good to see that they have been improving.

65% of workplace is female, 19% is an ethnic minority; 42% of leadership is female, 7% is ethnic minority how ASOS diversity stats have changed over time
From ASOS 2030 Fashion with Integrity Strategy

Animal Welfare

ASOS bans several animal products such as fur and down, but still allows leather, wool, and certain animal hair. They state that all animal products must be byproducts and come from animals who were raised under the Five Freedoms. They do not state any auditing process, however, so it’s unclear if their policy is being enforced. Beyond that, many animal products such as leather are actually co-products and not byproducts of the meat industry; the leather industry is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Bottom Line

ASOS is definitely a fast fashion brand. While they have some sustainability targets, they’re quite standard for the industry, and ASOS currently doesn’t show a ton of meaningful progress in social responsibility. 

Of course, I don’t share this to shame people who have shopped at ASOS or those who can only afford fast fashion. The point of this post is to show how companies try to seem way more ethical than they actually are. If you buy what you need and make it last, you’re already participating in sustainable fashion, regardless of where you shop.

If you are looking for alternatives though, there are luckily several options in different price ranges!

Ethical Alternatives to ASOS

This section contains affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a small commission on any purchases made through these links. 

Before shopping new, consider shopping used. Since ASOS is such a prolific brand, you’re likely to find their products in good condition secondhand, and at an affordable price.

I love local thrift stores, but there are also great online platforms. (If you’re concerned about the gentrification of thrifting, my post explains why thrifting is for everyone, as long as you remain mindful in certain situations).

Some online platforms to look at are:

  • ThredUP (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link—I actually got an ASOS dress from here once for just a few bucks!)
  • Poshmark (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • Mercari (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • Depop
  • Etsy (often small creators, but beware of mass-produced goods)
  • eBay
  • Facebook Buy Sell Trade groups for specific brands or Buy Nothing groups

On these platforms, just look out for drop shipping, which is when retailers sell mass-produced, wholesale items. You can tell items are drop shipped if the seller doesn’t have any original images and if shipping times are super long.

If you can’t find what you need used, here are sustainable brands with a similar aesthetic:

Keep in mind that these prices will be higher due to higher quality and fair wages. Many people get sticker shock, but the idea with sustainable fashion is to buy less and love your clothes more, which may ultimately save you money.

Whimsy + Row—feminine and modern clothing made with natural materials in small batches by workers who are paid fair wages

Armedangels—edgy clothing made from low-impact materials by workers who are paid a living wage (masculine and feminine options).

For Days—versatile and relatively affordable organic cotton streetwear with a closed loop model (masculine and feminine options).

Kotn—polished styles by a Canadian company that invests in the Egyptian cotton farming community; certified B Corp (masculine and feminine options)

Mayamiko—bold pieces made from locally-sourced fabric in Malawi by artisans who are paid a living wage. (use code LILYFANG10 for 10% off)

Hackwith Design House (up to 4X)—gorgeous staple pieces sewn in-house in Minnesota

Tradlands (up to 5X)—cozy knits and flowy dresses made by workers who are paid a living wage. For first-time customers, use code IMPERFECTIDEALIST15 for 15% off. 

Loud Bodies (up to 10X)—beautiful dresses made from natural materials in a small atelier in Romania

Check out my ethical and sustainable brand directory for more recommendations.


 

I hope this post was helpful in breaking down ASOS’ greenwashing. I have a whole post on how to tell if a company is actually sustainable, if you want to learn to evaluate brands on your own. Please also feel free to suggest other brands you’d like to see be evaluated in the comments!

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