Is COS Fast Fashion? Sustainability and Ethical Practices

by jacky chou
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COS is a minimalist, fast fashion brand dedicated to producing clothes rapidly and at low prices. The brand stands out by offering a sustainable style with a neutral color palette and structured design ethos. Follow along as we delve into why COS is fast fashion, brand practices that matter, and whether it is ethical and sustainable.

Is COS a Fast Fashion Brand?

Yes, it is. COS is part of the popular retailer, the H&M group. Since its initial 2007 debut in London, it has expanded to just about 200 locations worldwide. With a straightforward and classic aesthetic and a section of its website devoted to a shout-out of its “sustainable mission,” COS promotes itself as a contemporary brand.

Although COS is a member of the H&M group, the brand has a more premium feel than H&M, and its products have a more luxurious feel. Also, it specializes in reimagined essentials, including children’s, adult, and other adult wardrobe-essentials.

In 2021, according to a statement made by COS, the company should have already achieved 86% of its goal of using only materials that are sustainably sourced or recycled. However, to date, there have been no reports that this figure was achieved.

Is COS Ethical?

COS Fall Collection. How ethical is COS?

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H&M Group stopped paying its contractual clothing producers in 2021, citing COVID-19 as justification. They made a payment commitment to their clothing factories in response to outside criticism, but the situation should never have happened in the first place.

Like other fast fashion brands such as Anthropologie, a very small percentage of its supply chain has been approved by labor standards that guarantee the health and safety of workers, living wages, and other labor rights. According to the 2021 Fashion Transparency Index, it scored between 61 and 70 percent.

Furthermore, the company does publish a transparent list of its 602 factories, but it does not provide any more information regarding the audit ratings related to the working or pay conditions of these factories. None of their processing plants have certified labor standards or fair wages.

As usual of any fast fashion brand, COS clothes must be created quickly and at extremely low costs because the designs and styles change frequently. In nations where people are compelled to work for less than a living wage, this leads to unhealthy working conditions, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Although there is little doubt that this is a larger issue, H&M’s factories are not being monitored by a third-party auditing company.

COS Sustainability Practices

COS Sustainability practices

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By employing alternative energy sources and enhancing energy efficiency across all of its businesses, the H&M Group, which owns COS, has committed to becoming 100% “climate positive” by 2040 and being more ethical and sustainable. Additionally, most of COS’s collection is made up of recycled and sustainable materials. It is reported that in 2021, there was a rise of nearly 16% from the previous year.

The sustainable and recycled materials COS currently uses are:

    • Organic Cotton

    • Recycled cotton

    • TENCEL™, Modal

    • Recycled polyester

    • Recycled wool

    • Cupro

It is important to remember that H&M asserts they have stringent specifications for animal materials, such as wool, leather, or down. Furthermore, COS collections frequently use other animal-derived items like leather to make pants and wool. Additionally, the company doesn’t utilize fur, exotic animal skin, or angora wool.

Lastly, the cashmere and wool used in COS knitwear have certifications like the GCS (Good Cashmere Standard)and RWS (Responsible Wool Standard). Not to mention that their packaging has improved and is more sustainable than before.

The COS recycling program is limited to having recycling locations in Austria, Poland, Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. While this is a step towards sustainability, it is hard to make up for the amount of waste the brand produces in processing facilities. Remember that the retailer has an online marketplace where you can resell your slightly used COS goods.

Environmental Impact

Environmental impact

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Our environment provides a huge part of the materials that brands use to make their clothes. In the face of the current climate catastrophe, brands that wish to remain relevant must pay close attention to their environmental impact. In recent years, COS has increased its usage of eco-friendly products as a result of realizing this.

Additionally, its sustainability page details its efforts toward achieving its objective of “being a climate-positive company, using 100% sustainably produced or recycled products.” Although H&M is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint, the foundation of its fast fashion model and business strategy can never be sustainable.

Furthermore, the corporation produces its apparel as a disposable item, which leads to massive garment landfills, environmental damage, and poor working conditions resulting in poor worker health in its supply chains.

Despite having set a science-based goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations and supply chain, there is no proof that it is on course to fulfill its goals. Of course, we cannot ignore the biggest drawback: COS continues to promote mass purchasing with fast fashion characteristics like in-vogue styles and frequent new arrivals.

Sustainability Rating

Why sustainability rating matters

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The sustainability rating is based on the category (clothing, accessories, shoes, good quality handbags, jewelry) and the clothing type (denim, dresses, basics, swimwear) for men, women, and children. Additionally, the size range (5-14 (US), 6-18 (UK), 32-44 (EU) is wide, and the fabrics used are versatile. Furthermore, the brand also incorporates recycling in its supply chains.

To know whether a brand like Coach or COS is good in terms of sustainability, there are a few certifications it should have. However, the brand is not 100% organic, vegan, ethical, or fair, but has the following certifications:

    • FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)

    • RDS (Responsible Down Standard)

    • RWS (Responsible Wool Standard)

Overall, the sustainability rating for COS fast fashion is 5/10.

Sustainable Alternatives to COS

Eco friendly materials for sustainability

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Are there sustainable alternatives to COS? Yes, multiple clothing brands fit the bill. Some of them include:

    • Ninety Percent

    • Reformation

    • Kotn

    • Flippa K

Also read: is BloomChic fast fashion?

Frequently Asked Questions About COS As a Fast Fashion Brand

i) Is COS related to H&M?

Yes, it is. The H&M group includes eight clearly defined brands – H&M, COS, Monki, Weekday, & Other Stories, Cheap Monday, H&M Home, and ARKET. Together, the brands provide clients with a wide range of fashion, cosmetics, accessories, homewares styles and trends, and experiences that now incorporate contemporary, nutritious food.

ii) Is COS good quality?

COS is known for its well-made clothing and impeccable craftsmanship. The brand’s style is very much a twist on interchangeable, upscale essentials. It has a focus on durable fashions that will last for long.

iii) What type of brand is COS?

COS offers a distinctive design-led, minimalist style that feels modern and different from the rest of the other wardrobes. It also caters to both men’s and women’s contemporary, urban, and elegant clothing.

iv) Who is the COS target customer?

Most target customers are those who work in the creative industry and communication, such as fashion stylists and digital content creators. The normal COS customer is aged between 25-50 years old.

v) What is the history of the COS brand?

In 2007, COS opened for the first time on Regent Street in London. In 2011, the company launched an online store. The brand offers reimagined classics and wardrobe essentials for women, men, and children, available in Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia.

The Bottom Line

Despite some advancements for people, the environment, and animals, COS still has a ways to go before achieving a higher ranking. The fashion brand should focus on setting and achieving realistic goals to decrease their impact on the environment and ensure that all animal products are recycled or replaced with more ethical substitutes.

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jacky chou


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