Abercrombie & Fitch defined fashion in the early 2000s and 2010s. With low-waisted jeans and polo tees that featured the iconic moose logo, it was the "it" brand in high schools across the country. And let's not forget about the strong fragrance that came with shopping in-store.
While the brand seemed to go out of style a few years ago, it's now making a major comeback. There's just one question: How eco-friendly is Abercrombie?
Abercrombie is back on our radars, with the hashtag #abercrombiehaul garnering 72 million views on TikTok. With those numbers, it's no secret that shoppers are obsessed with the throwback brand. However, Abercrombie is still considered a fast fashion brand.
Fast fashion is often associated with retailers like Shein, H&M, and Zara. And the term represents a sector of the fashion industry that is defined by low-cost, trendy clothing, made unsustainably and often unethically. And while the fast-fashion industry may be sweeping our social media feeds, it's also causing major social and environmental problems—such as contributing to global warming and climate change.
On the bright side, the fashion industry is evolving, and we're seeing new, sustainable innovations on the market. That means an increase in fashion made with sustainable materials, brands participating in a circular economy, and even new upcycling programs.
That's why we're curious about what Abercrombie is doing to hop on these eco-friendly trends. Let's take a look at how eco-friendly Abercrombie really is.
Abercrombie's Sustainability Goals
The parent company, Abercrombie & Fitch Co., owns multiple Abercrombie brands. This includes Abercrombie & Fitch, Abercrombie Kids, and Hollister Co. (which also has an intimates brand called Gilly Hicks). For our research, we're analyzing what A&F Co. is doing to protect the planet.
According to A&F Co., the company announced sustainability goals in 2019 focusing on three areas: product, global home office, and global stores. The company says the goals are in alignment with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), containing 17 goals that help tackle social and environmental problems. The company has already made progress across all three areas in 2020.
A&F Co. has already sourced 100% of its down from Responsible Down Standard certified sources, achieving its 2025 goal within a year of implementing it. It also sourced 13% of its cotton supply through Better Cotton, with goals to reach 25% by 2025. At this time, it has already achieved a 30% water reduction in denim production.
However, a lot of A&F Co.'s goals are still in the beginning stages of production. For example, the company has goals to achieve 100% responsibly-sourced linen and 100% responsible wool standard wool, but there's little to show whether the company is on track to reach that mark.
A&F Co. also has goals to use 25% recycled polyester and expand capacity-building programs to 50,000 workers. These goals are still in the building stages, but overall, the company hopes to achieve them by 2025.
And like many other fast-fashion retailers, Abercrombie brands are a player in the fashion resale marketplace. In 2020, A&F Co. partnered with thredUP, allowing customers to send any brand of gently used women’s and children’s clothing to thredUP. Then, the products can be “re-commerced” on thredUP’s site and customers can earn gift cards for A&F brands.
Global Home Office Goals
In terms of A&F Co.'s global home office goals, the company has already achieved a few. As far as waste goes, the company pledges to continue to recycle 100% of cardboard, e-waste, fabric, and denim scraps across the board. The company is striving for a 50% waste reduction by 2025.
Waste reduction goals also include reducing food waste and paper waste. In 2021, A&F Co. partnered with a service provider to collect and compost food waste. Also in 2021, A&F Co. associates saved over 630 trees through printing 86% fewer pages than in 2017. A&F Co. notes this reduction in paper usage came from work-from-home operations that sprouted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company also says it is on track to train 100% of "relevant associates" on human trafficking by 2025.
Global Stores Goals
A&F Co. stores are on track to reducing print by 10% globally, year over year. And still in the building stages are goals to recycle 100% of polybags in participating stores and recycle 100% of hazardous waste in domestic stores.
The company notes that it operates over 730 stores globally, and they "have varying recycling requirements and capabilities." A&F Co. is also working to recycle 100% of garment polybags at locations where this program is offered.
Additionally, the company has a goal of recycling all hazardous waste in domestic stores by this year. Previously, in 2020, 27% of domestic stores participated.
Is Abercrombie Fast Fashion?
A&F Co. has a comprehensive list of sustainability goals, including how it's working toward reducing carbon emissions. The company also promises to "continue [its] work to establish a reduction target and begin to identify more carbon reduction."
So far, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for A&F Co.'s value chain—including product transportation, travel, and supplier emissions—are seeing a decrease. In 2019, the value chain's GHG emissions were at a total of 128,830 metric tons of carbon dioxide. In 2020, that figure decreased to 84,710 metric tons of CO2.
However, while Abercrombie is working toward being more transparent about its environmental footprint, the corporate goals consumers have access to may not be as detailed as we think.
In the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index a>, Abercrombie & Fitch scored at 21-30%. This means the company is likely to publish more information regarding policies, procedures, and social and environmental goals; however, the brand is unlikely to share information about the outcomes of supplier assessments. And in this category, brands are only publishing a basic list of manufacturers—and they can do better.
As consumers, we want Abercrombie to be more transparent about its social and environmental impact. To read more about Abercrombie & Fitch's efforts toward sustainability, check out the company’s corporate goals.
Additionally, it's important to note that while some brands are offering eco-friendly lines, like Steve Madden's Cool Planet shoes, Abercrombie has yet to release an eco-friendly line of clothing or accessories.
All in all, Abercrombie brands are still fast fashion—despite the higher prices in comparison to retailers like Shein and H&M.
Not all of Abercrombie's products are made sustainably, but the company is slowly taking steps in the right direction. That being said, it's important for consumers to put their dollars toward brands that align with social and environmental values.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry makes up about 10% of all human-made carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the global water supply. Some big brands like Abercrombie are transitioning to more eco-friendly practices, such as using recycled materials and working to decrease carbon emissions. But there's still a lot of work to be done to mitigate climate change's impact on our planet.
As a consumer, you can send a message to brands—including fast fashion companies—by buying ethically and sustainably made products. After all, the fashion industry is seeing an increase in sustainable materials such as fibers made from pineapple leaves and mushroom leather.
You can also participate in a more circular economy. That means participating in resale programs or even upcycling textiles. And even still, one of the best ways to shop is to shop secondhand.
There are plenty of ways to shop more sustainably, and it's our job as consumers to stay educated about what brands are doing in the sustainability space.