Mom jeans have taken the internet by storm in the past few months, swiftly becoming a staple item in the closet of any Gen Zer (or zoomer). While the best option for any new piece of clothing is to purchase second-hand, this is sometimes unrealistic in terms of body inclusivity. On the hunt for the perfect mom jean of my own, I stumbled upon the Cotton On Slouch Mom Jean. This jean is available in a range of colors and sizes and is (relatively) affordable at $59.99. While the jeans hold up to Gen Z fashion trends, does Cotton On hold up to Gen Z sustainability needs? Overall, while Cotton On has many of the same issues with sustainability as other fast fashion companies—mainly lack of transparency and underpaying workers—it’s clear that they are making some efforts towards sustainability.
The Cotton On Slouch Mom Jean, along with many of their other jean cuts, is made of 100% cotton. Cotton On also boasts that the jean is made with recycled cotton. However, on the product page, they don’t elaborate more on what percentage of the item is recycled or where they source their recycled cotton. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, these jeans come in multiple different colors. Cotton On provides no information on what their dyes are made of or any aspect of sustainability regarding the dyes. In addition to the jeans themselves, the product also comes with plastic packaging when ordered online. While incorporating recycled cotton is a great step towards more sustainable fashion, I would strongly encourage Cotton On to be more transparent about the actual composition of the jean that is made of recycled cotton and where they source it from. I would additionally encourage Cotton On to share information on what the dyes are made of and their environmental or health impact. Cotton On could also consider jumping ship to recyclable paper or cardboard packaging for their products as well, instead of their unsustainable plastic.
On Cotton On’s website, they have an entire page dedicated to their ethical sourcing. Cotton On has over 200 suppliers spread throughout the globe. Much to my surprise, Cotton On actually provided a complete list of these suppliers. This is completely out of the norm for most fast fashion companies who actively hide their suppliers and factories to cover up their human rights abuses. In addition to publishing who their suppliers are, Cotton On also conducts very frequent visits to their factories and employee interviews—both planned and unplanned—to make sure that they fall in line with their ethical framework. This shows concern for their workers on the company’s part, which is refreshing when it comes to fast fashion companies. However, Cotton On still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to worker treatment. While Cotton On’s own webpage showcases photo upon photo of smiling, happy workers, an independent tour of one of their factories shows a much different (more realistic) picture of factory life. In one Cotton On factory located in Wuxi, China, the workers are paid a minimum of 1890 yuan (or $380 USD) per month, and an average of 3700 to 4000 yuan a month ($747 to $807). This report is back from 2017, so things may have changed since then. However, if they have changed, it’s not indicated anywhere online. While those wages are compliant with the minimum wage laws, it is still not enough for the workers to live comfortably. Many of them live in on-site dormitories far away from their families while sharing a room with 5 other workers. This is unfortunately an all-too common case of the bare minimum required by the law not aligning with the minimum for workers to live comfortably. While it’s great that Cotton On is checking in on their factories and interviewing workers, I think that they have the capacity to pay their workers more by slightly increasing prices of their items. As a consumer, I would rather pay an extra 50 cents per item (as proposed by Gershon Nimbalker, author of the Ethical Fashion Report), while knowing the people behind the clothes are being treated well, than saving a small amount of money. While there is an issue of inclusivity in terms of price when it comes to sustainable fashion, I think only marginally increasing the price would minimize the harm on lower-income consumers while also helping the underpaid factory workers.
In addition to the treatment of the workers, Cotton On has room to improve their sustainability in terms of the factory management itself. Cotton On has set up a sustainability goal to use 100% renewable energy and be 100% carbon neutral by 2030. This is a great and, in my opinion timely, goal! However, there is no available information about how they’re currently measuring up to that goal. I would encourage Cotton On to be more transparent about their current statistics relating to renewable energy and carbon production.
Alongside their renewable energy and carbon neutrality goals outlined above, Cotton On has made several other sustainability goals. One of their goals was to reach 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2021. This is indicated on their website through their recycled cotton labels on all of their jeans. However, as I pointed out before, it’s not clear exactly how much of the jean is recycled. Additionally, on the website, they outline their African Cotton Program, which is a program that supports small, sustainable cotton farmers in Kwale, Kenya. While this is a great step, it’s clear that they don’t source all of their cotton from this program. This begs the question: where else do they get their cotton from? Cotton On also has a habit of using vague descriptions on their website when it comes to describing what “sustainable” means to them. For example, another one of their goals is for 100% of their products to be “made with sustainable attributes by 2030.” It is concerningly unclear what a sustainable attribute means to Cotton On. Instead, I think they should strive to have 100% of their products being 100% sustainably sourced instead.
Overall, Cotton On has shown impressive efforts towards sustainability in some respects, such as their raw material usage. Through their website, it is evident that they care about sustainability, or at least that they know their consumers care. While their sustainability goals and efforts outlined above are miles ahead of many other fast fashion companies, there is still much room for improvement. Mainly, I feel that Cotton On should be more transparent about where they are sourcing all of their cotton from and what they mean by “sustainable” when they claim they’re working towards sustainability. Furthermore, I think Cotton On has the potential to better treat their factory workers by only slightly increasing their prices—keeping their workers safe and their pricing inclusive. Like any other fast fashion brand, Cotton On certainly isn’t perfect. They are currently treading the line between super cheap fast fashion that is fully unsustainable and super expensive slow fashion that is sustainable. However, I believe that they have good intentions in their sustainability goals and can improve given some social pressure.
Product link: https://cottonon.com/US/slouch-mom-jean/2009142-20.html