UNIQLO is a Japanese brand that sells worldwide and makes timeless, long-lasting clothing. By designing their clothes this way, they decrease the need for consumers to keep buying new clothing, which in turn decreases waste. Uniqlo also has many new initiatives that promote recycling, repurposing clothes, and sustainably sourcing their materials. Unfortunately, most of these goals are set for the future and little information is provided about Uniqlo’s current progress and level of sustainability. Uniqlo also uses synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon, which have a negative environmental impact. Overall, while Uniqlo should do more to reduce their current usage of synthetic fabrics, I think they have great initiatives in place to make their apparel more sustainable and am hopeful that they will follow through on these plans.
This product is made of 100% cotton. Unfortunately, cotton is a very water-intensive crop. Cotton farming also uses many pesticides and chemicals that can be toxic to humans and animals when they run off the farm and contaminate water supplies. However, cotton is also biodegradable, which decreases this bag’s environmental impact at the end of its life cycle. Uniqlo does not specify where the cotton for this bag comes from, but Fast Retailing Inc., Uniqlo’s parent company, is a part of the Better Cotton Initiative, which trains cotton farmers in more sustainable practices. BCI also condemns child labor in cotton production. Uniqlo says that by 2025, all of their cotton will be “sourced sustainably” from BCI certified cotton farms. Sadly, they did not provide information about current cotton production and we therefore cannot be sure whether the cotton in these bags is BCI certified right now. Uniqlo also saw controversy as to whether they were sourcing their cotton from the Xinjiang province in China, where the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims is taking place. There were concerns because cotton sourced from this area would be the product of forced labor of the Uyghurs. One product on Uniqlo’s website, a cotton long sleeve shirt, specifically listed that its cotton was from Xinjiang. However, Uniqlo later said that the cotton in their shirts was sourced from multiple locations outside China. Because of the differing statements, we cannot be sure if Uniqlo was using Xinjiang cotton, but we should still hold them accountable. While I appreciate Uniqlo’s goals for sustainable cotton sourcing in the future, they need to do more now to ensure that their materials are sourced ethically to justify putting “Eco-Friendly” in the name of this product.
To look at Uniqlo’s overall product making process, I used the MSCI’s ESG rating of Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing Inc. They rated Fast Retailing as average in labor management and raw material sourcing, but a leader in product carbon footprint. I then looked at the specific factories that Uniqlo uses. Most of Uniqlo’s fabric mills are in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, with some in Japan. While the first four countries are often known to have underpaid workers and poor labor conditions, the factories I could find information on seem to have good conditions for workers, in addition to providing benefits. The factories also made efforts to reduce fabric waste. Further, Fast Retailing is a part of the Fair Labor Association, which holds companies accountable for “monitoring 100% of their supply chains for compliance with FLA standards.” Companies that join the FLA must abide by their Code of Conduct, which is anti- forced labor, child labor, and discrimination, and supports healthy environments and a maximum of a 48-hour work week. Fast Retailing is also part of the ZDHC group, which stands for “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals." They do exactly what their name says, working to reduce harmful chemicals in the entire supply chain and manufacturing process.
Uniqlo is a Japanese company that is owned by Fast Retailing Inc. Uniqlo focuses on making simple, long-wear items, which decreases clothing waste on the consumer side. Fast Retailing released a 2021 Sustainability Report for Uniqlo, which is actually where I got a lot of my information from. This report was available for free in my local Uniqlo store, which impressed me, as it showed that Uniqlo was trying to be transparent about their sustainability efforts. Uniqlo recently launched a program to reduce, reuse, and recycle clothes, called RE.UNIQLO. It includes providing donation boxes in-store for customers to drop off their used Uniqlo clothes. They then recycle these into new Uniqlo products, donate the clothing to people in need, or convert the clothing to fuel and other materials (only in Japan). Uniqlo says that they have donated more than 41.11 million items worldwide as of August 31, 2020. Uniqlo is partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in these efforts. Uniqlo also has a new line of BlueCycle jeans, which reduce water usage up to 99%. Jeans are generally very water-intensive, so this is impressive. While the product in this review is 100% cotton, Uniqlo still uses materials such as polyester, spandex, and nylon in many of their other products. Some products such as the DRY-EX Polo Shirt do contain recycled polyester, but there is no indication that recycled materials are used in all of their products. Polyester, spandex, rayon, and nylon are synthetic materials that are non-biodegradable and are derived from fossil fuels, specifically oil. Uniqlo is trying to source their rayon more sustainably by partnering with Canopy, an organization that works with corporations to reduce their impact on forests. Sadly, Uniqlo does not have many concrete goals listed in this partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t think this partnership balances out the negative impacts of rayon. Instead, Uniqlo should just work to decrease their usage of synthetic materials. Still, their initiatives such as RE.UNIQLO seem very promising.
Fast Retailing Sustainability Report 2021: https://www.uniqlo.com/en/sustainability/report/