Is Free People Fast Fashion, Ethical, or Sustainable?


Is Free People ethical or just another fast fashion company? What are the sustainability efforts of Free People? Do they produce their clothing in ethical and safe factories? Here’s everything you need to know about the American fashion brand.

Is Free People fast fashion?

Yes, Free People is a fast fashion brand.

If you’re into free-spirited, boho-chic fashion, then you’ve probably come across Free People. While fast fashion brands like Shein and Romwe are mostly focused on “trendy” clothes, Free People does It a bit differently. Flowy maxi dresses that make you feel like you’re dancing through a field of wildflowers, cozy oversized sweaters perfect for snuggling up in, and lots of lace, embroidery, and fringe details that add a touch of whimsy to their pieces. You’ll find a mix of earthy tones, pastels, and vibrant prints that make you feel like you’re on a perpetual summer vacation. You get the gist. So, is Free People ethical or just another fast fashion brand? 

Free People has an interesting history that traces its roots back to the 1970s. The brand was founded by a man named Richard Hayne in 1970 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Initially, it was a single store named “Free People” that offered a mix of second-hand clothing and eclectic items. The store aimed to capture the spirit of the 1970s counterculture movement, which was all about freedom, self-expression, and bohemian style.

Today, under the umbrella of the retail powerhouse URBN, which also happens to be the creative force behind Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters’ pieces can be found in over 1,400 specialty stores across the globe. However, the brand has been a part of many controversies. While Free People has taken steps to enhance conditions for workers in its supply chain, there’s no denying that there’s a significant journey ahead. In the Fashion Transparency Index, the brand received a score ranging from 11% to 20%, indicating that there’s ample room for improvement when it comes to transparency and ethical practices within their operations.

Is Free People ethical?

Source: Free People facebook

No, Free People is not an ethical company. 

Free People’s commitment to ensuring its suppliers conduct business in accordance with the law is an important step towards ethical sourcing. They emphasize the importance of avoiding child or slave labor, and discrimination, and adhering to wage and hour requirements, health, safety, and environmental laws. However, it’s worth noting that there is no clear evidence that workers in their supply chain are being paid a living wage, which remains a significant concern in the industry.

Recently, the brand was also called out for copying the designs of an amazing sustainable brand, Tonlel. When brands like Free People copy designs from smaller, ethical brands, it not only raises ethical concerns but also contributes to a culture of disability. In essence, the act of copying designs not only harms smaller ethical brands but also undermines sustainability efforts in the fashion industry. It encourages a model based on quantity rather than quality and encourages consumers to discard clothing more frequently, which ultimately has a negative impact on the environment.

Labor conditions


Free People was unfortunately entangled in the tragic 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse, a catastrophic event that claimed the lives of over 1,000 people. This factory collapse was a devastating reminder of the dangers and ethical challenges present within the fashion industry’s supply chain. 

At that time, Free People was sourcing products from a supplier that operated within the ill-fated building, underscoring the need for greater oversight and responsibility in ensuring safe and ethical manufacturing practices in the fashion industry. This incident served as a wake-up call for the entire fashion industry to prioritize worker safety and ethical sourcing, reminding everyone why fast fashion is so bad.


Does Free People use child labor?


Free People’s commitment to ensuring its suppliers conduct business in accordance with the law is an important step towards ethical sourcing. They emphasize the importance of avoiding child or slave labor, and discrimination, and adhering to wage and hour requirements, health, safety, and environmental laws. However, it’s worth noting that there is no clear evidence that workers in their supply chain are being paid a living wage, which remains a significant concern in the industry.

Additionally, Free People’s publication of supplier policies and audit information is a step in the right direction, but they do not provide a comprehensive list of suppliers or information related to forced labor, gender equality, or freedom of association. The lack of a detailed supply chain traceability can raise questions about the brand’s ability to ensure the well-being and fair treatment of all workers throughout their supply chain.

Overall, while Free People has taken some steps towards ethical sourcing and transparency, there appears to be room for further improvement, particularly in providing more comprehensive information about their supply chain practices and demonstrating a commitment to fair wages for workers in their supply chain.

Is Free People sustainable?

Image source: Free People website

It’s encouraging to see that Free People has made strides in reducing its environmental impact, but there’s always room for improvement. Let’s not forget that fast fashion results in a disposable culture where clothes are quickly discarded, contributing to landfill waste. Free People may offer some eco-friendly options, such as organic cotton, It’s understandable that consumers would like to see a broader selection of sustainable materials in their product range.  

It’s positive to see that Free People’s parent company, URBN, has taken certain steps to reduce its carbon footprint within its portfolio. These measures, such as promoting reusable shopping bags, implementing energy-efficient LED lighting, and using renewable energy in some of its operations, demonstrate a commitment to sustainability at the corporate level.

However, there are indeed some significant gaps in their sustainability efforts, particularly within Free People itself. The lack of evidence regarding carbon emissions reduction in the supply chain is a notable concern, as the fashion industry’s environmental impact largely stems from production processes and transportation. Addressing emissions throughout the entire supply chain is crucial for a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

Also,, the absence of evidence indicating efforts to address hazardous chemicals, manage water usage, and wastewater is also a cause for concern. These aspects are fundamental to reducing the environmental and health impact of fashion production. To become more environmentally responsible, Free People may need to consider transitioning to a more sustainable and ethical business model that emphasizes quality over quantity and incorporates lower-impact materials.

The Environmental Impact of Free People

The question “Is Free People fast fashion?” has been answered. But what exactly is the environmental impact of Free People? Just like J Crew, Banana Republic, and Zara, Free People uses Nylon and polyester – two common synthetic fabrics in the fashion industry with big environmental impacts associated with their production and use.

The production of nylon and polyester fabrics involves the extraction and processing of non-renewable fossil fuels (such as petroleum) and other chemicals. This extraction and processing are energy-intensive and can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Both nylon and polyester production processes can be water-intensive, with dyeing and finishing processes being particularly thirsty.

Water usage can lead to the depletion of local water resources and contribute to water pollution if not managed properly. One of the most significant environmental drawbacks of nylon and polyester is that they are not biodegradable. These synthetic fibers can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, contributing to plastic pollution.

 Sustainable, Ethical Alternatives to Free People

1. Whimsey and Row

Price: From $132

Sustainable Materials: Linen, organic cotton

Whimsey and Row’s ethical, free-spirited clothes are not only stylish but also environmentally friendly. These pieces are crafted from natural flax plants grown in Belgium, showcasing a commitment to using renewable and biodegradable materials. They dye their garments in LA using recycled water and certified low-impact dyes. This responsible dyeing process helps reduce water waste and chemical pollution, making their clothing choices not only fashionable but also planet-friendly. Plus, through their “Wear It Again Whimsy” initiative, you can buy and sell pre-loved Whimsey and Row clothing, helping to close the loop and extend the lifespan of these eco-conscious garments. It’s a win-win for your wardrobe and the planet.

2. Reformation

Price: From $70

Sustainable Materials: TENCEL™ Lyocell, Recycled cotton, Deadstock & Vintage

Reformation, hailed as one of the finest American clothing brands for timeless wardrobe essentials, brings a touch of elegance to the world of sustainable fashion. What sets them apart? Their affordable, breezy dresses, available in a delightful array of styles and colors, are a testament to their commitment to both style and ethics. While some of their clothing is made in their very own LA factory, they also partner with factories worldwide that uphold ethical production standards. This ensures that their clothing isn’t just beautiful on the outside but also ethical from its very creation.


3. Christy Dawn

Price: From $98 

Sustainable Materials: Linen, Rayon, Silk, Wool, Merino, Mohair, Cashmere, Leather, Upcycled Cotton, Voile Organic Cotton

Christy Dawn is touted for their beautiful dresses made from deadstock and sustainable fabrics. Deadstock refers to surplus fabric that would otherwise go to waste, and Christy Dawn repurposes it to create their clothing, reducing textile waste and the environmental impact of fashion production. The brand is committed to ethical and sustainable practices throughout its supply chain. They prioritize fair labor practices, use organic and eco-friendly materials, and manufacture their garments in Los Angeles to minimize their carbon footprint. Plus,  their clothing is often characterized by its vintage-inspired designs, flowing silhouettes, and a bohemian aesthetic. 

Conclusion: Is Free People Ethical, Sustainable, or Fast Fashion?

So, is Free People fast fashion? Yes! Is Free People ethical and sustainable? Unfortunately, no. While the brand has made strides in certain areas, particularly in its design aesthetic and commitment to ethical standards within its supply chain, there are valid concerns that persist. Additionally, issues related to design copying and the impact on smaller ethical brands further highlight the challenges that Free People and the fashion industry as a whole face in becoming more sustainable and ethical. As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical impacts of their clothing choices, the fashion industry, including brands like Free People, faces the imperative of aligning with more sustainable and ethical standards to meet the evolving needs and values of its audience.

About Author

Konstantina Antoniadou

Freelance sustainability and fashion writer with an ongoing curiosity to explore new innovative technologies, and report on trends in “green” industries.