Is Urban Outfitters Ethical and Sustainable?

Is billion-dollar brand UO making a positive impact?

Last Updated on March 13, 2022

Urban Outfitters earned $3.98 billion in 2020 – but can a brand of this size really be ethical and sustainable?

The American brand started in 1970 as a community store for students at the University of Philadelphia. Now, it has more than 200 stores in the US, Canada, and Europe. 

READ MORE: Is COS ethical and sustainable?

The brand has also evolved from a clothing store to a lifestyle brand. UO now also offers home goods, music (vinyl records, cassette tapes, and accessories) and beauty products.

Urban Outfitters is owned by URBN, which also owns cult-favourite brands Free People and Anthropologie.

URBN and Urban Outfitters have shared their commitment to making a positive impact not just on the environment but also on people’s lives. How true are they to their words? Let’s find out.

Is Urban Outfitters sustainable?

Urban Outfitters says it has a “reuse and recycle” strategy that’s observed in its stores as well as its products’ packaging. It also claims that its distribution centre has one of the largest rooftop solar arrays for on-site power generation in the US.

The brand also says it partners with other brands that carry eco-friendly products such as Hydroflask and Patagonia.

Aside from those, the brand also has the Urban Renewal collection, which offers ‘one-of-a-kind’ vintage pieces as well as ‘reimagined vintage’ items.

In 2019, the brand introduced its rental service called Nuuly. The clothing rental subscription initially carried only women’s clothing from different brands including those under URBN (Urban Outfitters, its sister brands Free People and Anthropologie).

The service expanded to catering to men’s and kids’ clothing and accessories through Nuuly Thrift, a resale marketplace. The service is open not just for URBN brands but for anyone who wants to sign up and sell. Sellers will reportedly earn ‘Nuuly Cash’.

Despite all these, however, there is no evidence that the brand minimises textile waste during production, according to Good On You. There is also reportedly no proof that it is working towards eliminating hazardous chemicals from its products. 

It’s also worth noting that Urban Outfitters does not have a published sustainability policy and report that people can refer to, aside from its ‘Community Cares’ page. 

READ MORE: Is ARKET ethical and sustainable?

Is Urban Outfitters ethical?

The brand scored a measly 11-20% in the Fashion Transparency Index

And while its parent company has a page dedicated to the community betterment efforts the brand (and its sister companies) have made in partnership with non-profit organisations, it’s quite alarming to learn that it doesn’t extend the same compassion to its suppliers.

URBN’s supplier factories reportedly divulged how the company was ‘finding loopholes not to pay them’ for orders completed and in production at the start of the pandemic.

Apart from that, there is also no evidence that Urban Outfitters provides its workers with living wages.

Read some of Urban Outfitters’ labour policies through the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act here. The company itself does not have a published labour policy.

READ MORE: Is Pull & Bear ethical and sustainable?

Urban Outfitters’ Animal Welfare Policy

The brand doesn’t have a published animal welfare policy, though Good on You has reported that it does not use fur, angora, down, and other exotic animal skin in its products.

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.