17 Cheap Non-Toxic Fashion Brands You Can Find at the Mall

Image Credit: H&M
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You’ve been asking for this — over and over again! Now it’s finally here: our guide to affordable and accessible fashion brands that are committed to safe chemistry. These are clothing and accessory brands you can find in any suburb or city of America, and they do fit in your budget. Yes, your budget. 

To make this list, I pulled data from Fashion Revolution’s 2023 Transparency Index, which was released in mid-July. The Transparency Index doesn’t rank brands according to sustainability or ethics, but focuses on what the 250 largest global fashion brands share publicly about their efforts towards sustainability and fair labor. It’s a great place to start your research when you’re trying to figure out which brands are doing what. And Fashion Revolution lets you download the data behind it! 

A subset of this data concerns whether brands have a chemical management program. I focused in on the points given to brands for: 

  1. Having a Restricted Substance List (RSL). This means the brand has a list of substances it does not want to be in the final product over certain amounts. For example, it might say that there can’t be more than 0.5 parts per million of mercury in a textile. This also usually comes with a requirement for testing a sample of the finished product, either by the manufacturer, or by the brand. 
  2. Having a Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL). This is a list of substances that the brand will tell the manufacturers not to use, or that should not be present in the wastewater from that facility. 
  3. Publishing processing facilities in its supply chain, including ginning and spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and wet processing, tanneries, printing, fabric finishing, laundries, etc. At each of these suppliers, dozens of chemical products are used. If a brand doesn’t know who is processing, dyeing, tanning, and finishing its products, then there is a big risk for hazardous substances being used as a cost-cutting measure, or ending up on the clothing through sloppy contamination. If a brand knows and can share its dyeing and processing partners publicly, then you know it has some degree of confidence they’re doing a good job. 
  4. Disclosing a time-bound commitment or roadmap to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals, aligned with international standards such as ZDHC and bluesign. The bluesign label is given to textile manufacturers who are working on safe chemistry practices, and indicates that the brand and supplier are serious about safe chemistry. bluesign undergirds the ZDHC membership program, widely respected as an effective and trustworthy program when it comes to cleaning up the fashion industry and its wastewater.
  5. Disclosing measurable progress towards eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals at supply chain partners. Okay, so they’ve said they want to clean up their supply chain — have they made any progress that they can share? 

 

Together, these factors indicate whether a brand is taking chemical safety seriously by investing real money in it, plus having strong relationships with its suppliers. 

Still, Buyer Beware!

This isn’t perfect. In the absence of better federal regulation banning certain hazardous substances in clothing, and giving the Consumer Product Safety Commission more funding, this is what we got. 

Being ranked highly on this list is not a guarantee that all of a brand’s products will be non-toxic or free of allergens and triggers, however. Known hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA have shown up in products from the top brands in this list. 

This is due to the fact that these brands still make a lot of synthetic products. This is the status quo. Plus, their restricted substance lists are conservative — not based on cutting-edge research, but what has been proven definitely to harm the average healthy person without allergies or chronic illness. As I described in my book To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick — and How We Can Fight Back, these textile limits are often based on nothing more than a hunch or best practice. 

So if you have skin issues or a chronic illness, please refer to our guide to non-toxic brands, our guide to underwear for sensitive skin, and our guide to synthetic-free workout gear. These guides feature smaller brands that you can shop online, and tend to be a little bit pricier.

If you want to shop at mass-market brands, go for natural fibers whenever possible, and avoid clothing that have stain-resistant, water-resistant, anti-odor, and wrinkle-free performance qualities. 

To compare prices, I looked at what each brand charges for women’s t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, and underwear (panties). I considered sale prices too, because you know some of these brands always have something on sale. 

I’m sorry to say that you will not find SHEIN, Romwe, PrettyLittleThing, Fashion Nova, or boohoo prices in this list. There is a price below which it is not possible for a brand to ensure safe chemistry. The brand has to pay for testing, it has to pay a little bit more to source from reputable suppliers, it has to pay a little bit more for safe textiles, and it costs money to map a complex supply chain all the way down to the dye houses. 

It’s sort of like the discussion around food. There are people who can’t afford to buy and cook fresh vegetables, for sure. But there are also a lot of people who can afford wholesome food, but are tempted into eating junk food, and don’t feel great afterward. 

It’s the same for ultra-fast fashion. If you can afford to get lunch at Panera instead of McDonald’s, then consider paying $10 for a t-shirt that has been made with safe chemistry, rather than $3. You’ll feel better in the long run. 

 

Affordable, Mass-Market Fashion Brands That Do It All for Chemical Safety

 

Levi’s 

T-shirts start at $11 

Jeans start at $25

 

Nike

T-shirts start at $20

Sneakers start at $46

 

United Colors of Benetton

T-shirts start at $14

Jeans start at $44 

Underwear starts at $7

 

Vans

T-shirts start at $20 

Sneakers start at $40 

 

Columbia Sportswear

T-shirts start at $15

Sneakers start at $42

Underwear starts at $7

Note that even though Columbia ranks highly on this list, it did drag its feet on committing to getting PFAS-based water repellant coating out of its performance wear. Those PFAS coatings will be going away, because they are now part of the Restricted Substance Lists from ZDHC, and privately, Columbia has committed to banishing PFAS from its products by 2024. Until then, I would recommend getting any performance our outdoor gear from one of these brands, instead.

 

Affordable Fashion Brands and Retailers That Do a Lot for Chemical Safety

 

H&M

T-shirts start at $6

Sneakers start at $18

Jeans start at $20 

Underwear starts at $3.30

 

Adidas

T-shirts start at $15

Sneakers start at $34

 

 

New Balance

T-shirts start at $17

Sneakers start at $52

 

Target

T-shirts start at $5

Sneakers start at $23

Jeans start at $20

Underwear starts at $5

Note that Target has popular in-house brands such as A New Day, Universal Thread, Wild Fable, Knox Rose, Ava & Viv, Prologue, and Xhilaration. But it also carries other brands ranging from Jockey — which according to Fashion Revolution’s data does nothing about chemical management — to Levi’s, which does everything to achieve safe chemistry. So be thoughtful about what you pick out!

 

Old Navy

T-shirts start at $5

Sneakers start at $28

Jeans start at $13 

Underwear starts at $2

 

Superdry 

T-shirts start at $9

Sneakers start at

Jeans start at $14 

Underwear starts at $6.50

 

Affordable Fashion Brands and Retailers That Do Something for Chemical Safety

 

Wrangler 

T-shirts start at $24

Jeans start at $39

 

Champion 

T-shirts start at $19

Sneakers start at $65 

Underwear starts at $9

 

Hanes 

T-shirts start at $8

Underwear starts at $5 

Fun fact, Hanes also owns the majority of its own factories, so it has more control than most over chemical safety.

 

Kohl’s 

T-shirts start at $4 

Sneakers start at $17 

Jeans start at $15

Underwear starts at $4 

 

Mango 

T-shirts start at $8 

Sneakers start at $46 

Jeans start at $16

 

Esprit 

T-shirts start at $9

Jeans start at $34.50

 

Stay tuned for my next article in this series, in which I tell you which mass-market brands you should ditch, and which ones you should shop instead!

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