Since launching in 1949, Uniqlo has grown to become one of the world’s biggest brands – but how ethical and sustainable is the Japanese brand?
Uniqlo was originally founded as a textiles manufacturer by Tadashi Yanai in Yamaguchi, Japan. Now a global brand boasting over 1000 stores worldwide, it has won Yanai the title of the richest man in Japan with a net worth of $22.3 billion.
Here, we take a look at the practises behind the brand.
Is Uniqlo sustainable?
Like Zara and H&M, Uniqlo operates a fast fashion business model. In reality, this can never be environmentally friendly as manufacturing so many new garments creates huge amounts of waste every year. This goes some way to explain why the average American is estimated to throw away 37kg of clothes each year, 85% of which will end up in landfill or be burned.
However Uniqlo is making an effort to improve its sustainability through its repair and reuse program. It collects Uniqlo down garments and transforms them into new products, while the brand also works with NGOs to distribute used clothes to refugees and disaster victims.
In 2014, Uniqlo joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and in 2016, the brand introduced a sustainability department within the company.
The brand now uses some sustainable materials and in 2019, launched the DRY-EX Polo Shirt made with recycled polyester. It’s developed technology to reduce the amount of water it uses to produce jeans by 99% and participates in ‘cross-industry initiatives to solve the problem of marine plastic pollution’.
It is also a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, has a policy approved by CanopyStyle to manage forestry in its supply chain and has initiatives to reduce water and energy use. Uniqlo has also set a climate change target to reduce emissions in its supply chain, but Good On You report that it doesn’t disclose its progress in meeting this target.
In 2021, the brand appointed the manga and anime character Doraemon as their newest Global Sustainability Ambassador. The brand said they hope the character will help promote its sustainability efforts and projects in ‘fun and easy understandable ways.’ The character joins the ranks of tennis icon Roger Federer, Adama Scott, and Gordon Reid.
In Southeast Asia, the brand have also taken another step toward offering sustainable products. They released affordable period underwear as part of their Airism line.
In late 2021, the brand’s parent company, Fast Retailing, unveiled its sustainability plan for the next 28 years — yes, until 2050.
The company has pledged to make 50% of the materials it uses for its products recyclable by 2030. The plan will start this year, where 15% of the polyester used in Uniqlo products will be made from recycled PET bottles.
It’s worth mentioning that while Uniqlo are making an effort to be more sustainable, the majority of the brand’s garments aren’t made with sustainable materials.
The brand is also reportedly start using renewable energy in all of its offices and stores globally.
Is Uniqlo ethical?
Uniqlo scored 31-40% in the Fashion Transparency Index, probably because it fails to publicly list its suppliers.
There’s no evidence that it ensures a payment of a living wage, but it did disclose policies to protect suppliers from the impacts of COVID-19 by fulfilling orders – something very few brands have managed to do since the pandemic began.
In the largest unresolved wage theft in garment history, Uniqlo has owed 2,000 Indonesian garment workers $5.5million worth of severance pay for over five years, but continues to deny responsibility towards these workers. Read more about this case here.
In the sustainability plan of its parent company released in late 2021, the brand said it will establish traceability in all levels of its supply and production chain, and get third-party audits and third-party certifications.
The brand also pledged to identify and correct unjust labour practices and commit to putting more women in management by 2030 as well as hire more people with disabilities and enhance LGBTQ friendliness.
Uniqlo’s parent company also pledged to donate USD1 million and 200,000 clothing items to the United Nations Human High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help bring humanitarian aid to people who were forced to leave Ukraine and neighbouring countries due to the conflict with the former’s conflict with Russia.
Uniqlo Animal Welfare Policy
Uniqlo has banned the use of fur, shearling, karakul, angora and has committed to eliminating other animal products such as mohair.
It supports the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) to protect and enhance the welfare of geese and ducks and uses non-mulesed wool.
Uniqlo continues to use leather and cashmere and doesn’t explain whether it traces animal products back to the first stage of production.
Is Uniqlo fast fashion?
Compared to fast fashion brands, Uniqlo stands out by creating timeless staples rather than trendy pieces that easily go out of fashion. They opt for more minimalist and simple looks that are easy to style, which means people can wear them longer.
But even if the Japanese brand doesn’t follow the latest trends, they still rely on a fast fashion business model. They still produce large quantities of disposable clothing made from low-cost synthetic materials such as rayon and elastane
Uniqlo is working towards more sustainable and ethical practices through decent environmental policies, but they still have a long way to go. The brand has sparked greenwashing accusations due to its lack of transparency.
Wear Next Opinion
Wear Next believes it’s important to highlight the negative and unjust practises taking place in the fashion industry. We believe ethics and sustainability are an important talking point to bring about change and we encourage you to contact fashion brands to demand this.
However we understand that sustainable fashion isn’t accessible for every body due to various factors, such as budget and the ability to find confidence-boosting clothes that fit. We will continue to offer you fashion inspiration and guidance to suit every body and budget, while also highlighting the unjust systems at play in the fashion industry.
We encourage our readers to shop mindfully and purposefully, ditching impulse purchases as a way to start shopping sustainably. If you want to learn more about fast fashion, we recommend books from this reading list.
Would you still shop at Uniqlo?
What brands aren’t fast fashion?
If you want to step your foot into the world of sustainable fashion, there are a few brands that have taken the slow fashion path. And a lot of them are small brands that are making big efforts to offer stylish ways to shop consciously.
You check out our list here. Each small business has unique, colourful, and well-fitting styles that are guilt-free.