Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by Cotton On #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Image by Cotton On

Is Cotton On Fast Fashion?

Hailey Carrillo

Is Cotton On fast fashion? Or does the Australian brand prefer to keep things slow and steady when it comes to their garments?

Considering the brand has been steadily growing 20% PER YEAR for the past five years, we’d reckon it’s more likely they’re getting on with other fast fashion brands to avoid. Their iconic red arches promise too good to be true deals like BOGO tops, discounted denim, and bargain footwear. 

But the Cotton On Foundation has also played a pivotal role in helping local and global charities create sustainable solutions. 

Let’s get down to it and discover why this Down Under brand might actually be (cotton) on their way to doing more good than bad (emphasis on ‘might’).

1. Uncovering Why Cotton On Is Fast Fashion

Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by khunkorn #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Image by khunkorn

Would you believe us if we told you Cotton On saw several no-sale days while working their teeny-tiny denim jacket stand? 

It all started in 1988 with some denim and a Ford Bronco parked outside a local market in Geelong. Fast forward to today, the global name has over 1,500 stores in 22 countries and a whopping $2.2 billion in revenue. In fact, it’s one of the only fashion brands from the land down under to actually land on top after global expansion. 

What’s the secret to their success? 

Admittedly stylish staples at admittedly affordable prices—which are, sadly, two defining features of the double F word itself. 

Yet, compared to ultra-fast fashion brands like Shein and ASOS, Cotton On is actually doing things a little different. Let’s strip down to their roots to understand why this mega-fashion brand may be on its way to achieving that sustainable clothing status in the future. 

2. Cotton On Controversies

Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by fizkes #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Image by fizkes

As with all things new and trendy, Cotton On has made several headlines throughout the years. Not surprising considering the brand goes by seven other names (Cotton On Kids, Body, Rubi, Factorie, Typo, Supre, and Ceres!) 

Despite their wide breadth, Cotton On has managed to keep a relatively low profile in terms of bad press.

Trendy or Trashy? 

With Cotton On’s main demographic being female Gen Z’rs, the bold brand has garnered a reputation for being a little too “hip” these days. 

Like when Typo stationery was blasted for crude statements with uncensored swear words on them. Or when they released a baby t-shirt line with some pretty intense catchlines, the mildest being “they shake me”. 

While on par with Gen Z’s dark humor, many customers felt they were far from appropriate. 

Flammable Jammies

In 2012, the Federal Court of Australia fined Cotton On $1 million for selling highly flammable children’s clothing (around 2,500 pieces). Penalties which remain to be the highest imposed against any company for breaches of a mandatory product safety standard. 

“The nightwear was so flammable that they should not have been supplied in Australia at all. To compound this, the highly flammable nightwear was misrepresented by being labeled ‘low fire danger’,” said the ACCC Deputy Chair. 

The Cotton On garments were voluntarily recalled after the company was approached by the ACCC. 

Inflatable Fat Suit

Do you remember when ASOS (rightfully) received backlash for their fatsuit ballerina game

Turns out, Cotton On was the root of the scandal. In 2019, Typo began selling inflatable charades games featuring various characters, one being a plus-sized ballerina. Catchlined “The perfect ice breaker and party game filled with laughter”, the product quickly garnered attention on Twitter, with one user writing:

“I wonder if @CottonOn know that their ballerina fat suit isn’t funny or quirky and is actually pretty gross, especially when you pair it up with the fact their plus size range is online only.”

The product is no longer available for sale, and per customer feedback, the brand is actively working on expanding their main size range to be more inclusive. 

Copyright Infringement

Like many fast fashion brands, Cotton On has been accused of copyright infringement more than once. 

In 2008, the brand was found guilty of copyright infringement after stealing two popular t-shirt designs from Elwood Clothing. More recently, Australian upstart Ghanda took Supre to court claiming their designs were ripped off using stock photos on the internet. Several small business owners have also spoken up and defended themselves against the fast fashion giant. 

One of the owners stated, “For a company with as much power and resources as [Cotton On] to… copy a unique product from a small Aussie business is horrible. Especially at a time when retail is struggling and the pandemic has made small businesses so much more vulnerable.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. 

Cotton On Pay Problems

The brand really dropped the (cotton) ball in 2010, when they failed to pay over 3,000 of their employees for mandatory training sessions and meetings over the course of two months—a confession that came only after threats of legal action from the Fair Work Ombudsman

The brand issued an apology and paid all $278,000 of withheld salaries to their employees. They also committed to providing a written report every three years, ensuring the incident does not happen again. 

We’ll talk more on Cotton On’s ethics later, but this does appear to be a one-off instance. 

Political Problems

In 2016, Cotton On’s beloved stationary brand came under fire after releasing a globe that included Palestine’s written name, but not Israel. For scaling purposes, Israel was marked with a symbol that led to a key (that included several other countries).

Under normal circumstances this may not have been given a second thought, but with the current conflict between Israel and Palestine, some felt the symbol was damaging to the Jewish community.

Typo recalled the globes and sourced a neutral design that doesn’t call for a key.

3. Cotton On Ethics Are Alright

Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by Cotton On Group #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Image by Cotton On Group

Since its 2010 salary scandal, the brand has put its best foot forward in ensuring fair wages and proper treatment of workers. Cotton On follows a direct sourcing model, making it much easier to control and monitor the supply chain—but is Cotton On ethical? 

Their “zero tolerance” approach to unethical behaviors relies on factory audits and supplier agreements to prohibit child labor, forced labor, unpaid wages, harassment, and more. And they actually proved how seriously they take it after openly investigating one of their suppliers that were linked to claims of forced labor. 

On a mission to achieve 100% transparency, Cotton On is open with their Tier 1 supplier and factory list, listing factory names, locations, and worker demographics. All Tier 1 suppliers are audited twice per year—with an unauthorized subcontracting investigation process to support this—across more than 160 areas of operation like safety, wages, working hours, entitlements, environment, chemical management, facilities/amenities and factory management. 

Though transparency is a big step in the right direction to ensuring proper working guidelines are followed, Cotton On still doesn’t have much proof to support their claims of fair treatment and plenty more supply chain tiers to apply these standards.

The brand does mutually recognize third-party ethical sourcing audits—a fancy way of saying they are open to them if they happen but they aren’t actively pursuing them. 

Animal Welfare

Cotton On does not condone animal testing of their products during production or on finished products. Animal furs, non-by product animal skins, mulesed wool, angora, live-plucked feathers, and plastic microbeads are not used in any of their products. 

While the brand itself still uses animal products, they have launched numerous Peta-approved options including bags and shoes made from vegan leathers

4. Cotton On Sustainability Is On Its Way

Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by firn #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Image by firn

Is Cotton On sustainable? 

Their commitment to a sustainable future surely can’t be for-cotton. While the brand is by no means perfect, we’re actually pretty impressed by the progress they have made in lieu of their 2030 Carbon Neutral goals


When it comes to sustainability, conventional cotton is not it. We know it, our readers know it, and apparently… Cotton On knows it too! 

As signatories of the Responsible Sourcing Network, the brand has worked hard to keep traceability and accountability within their cotton sourcing sector and remove slavery out of the supply chain. Though, the brand admits the majority of the cotton they source is not easily traceable back to its origin. 

To combat this issue, Cotton On prioritizes certified organic and recycled cotton, Australian cotton, and cotton grown through their very own African Cotton Program. Established in 2014 in partnership with the Kenyan government, the program works with local farmers to establish sustainable farming practices that allow the people to build stable livelihoods. 

The program has supported over 15,000 farmers and the strategy has grown beyond just cotton into a diversified crop approach.

In total, 66% of their cotton is certified by the Better Cotton Initiative (though BCI cotton is not without its own greenwashing), 16% is recycled, and 11% is organic. Only 7% comes from other sources. 

Other Materials

In terms of whether or not Cotton On is good quality all-around in terms of materials, errrr, let’s just say the name “Petroleum On” might better represent the company. It turns out cotton actually makes up a small, small percentage of all Cotton On garments. Polyester, viscose rayon, linen, polyamide, and acrylic are some of the most commonly used fabrics. 

Which is not entirely shocking, but still disappointing considering 64% of their synthetic materials and 71% of their plastics come from conventional, virgin sources. 

In Cotton On’s defense, sustainable fabric selection has been one of their top priorities: “We’re on a mission to make 100% of our products with a sustainable attribute by 2030.” Despite the tricky and potentially green-washed wording, we do feel the brand is actually making significant efforts to reach their goals. 


In 2023, Seamless became an official member of the Cotton On Foundation. Led by the Australian Fashion Council, the government funded program plays a significant role in the Australian clothing industry’s transformation towards a circular economy by 2030.

Cotton On also partnered with UPPAREL last year, which led to a 2.6% recycling rate from our faulty goods program across Australian stores for a whopping 104,747 kg of waste diverted from the landfill. 


After removing plastic shopping bags from stores in 2019, Cotton On is aiming for 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025. As of now, 63% of their paper and cardboard supply comes from FSC-certified sources, and 6% is post-consumer recycled

Planet Friendly Philanthropy 

While we wouldn’t yet say Cotton On is a good brand by all our sustainable fashion criteria, they are definitely a do-good brand. 

The Cotton On Foundation makes up the top 5% of Australian NGOs and is one of the 37 organizations to raise above $10 million AUD annually. 

Focused on environmental activism, education, and mental health services, their philanthropic sector does things like building schools and health centers, serving meals, providing fresh drinking water, planting trees, and more. For example, the foundation helped support the settling of 8-10 million coral larvae on the Great Barrier Reef this past year in partnership with The Reef Cooperative

Partnering with One Tree Planted and WWF, the brand is actively planting one million trees in regions of need across the globe. 

So while the brand undoubtedly still funnels through fashion trends faster than we’d like, all in all, we think Cotton On is one of the better fast fashion companies out there (though admittedly, the bar is LOW). 

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Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by firn #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle
Is Cotton On Fast Fashion? Image by khunkorn #iscottononfastfashion #iscottononethical #cottonsustainability #iscottononsustainable #iscottonongood #cottonogarments #sustainablejungle

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