Ethical Briefing: An Anthropologie Audit

anthropologie earth

In honor of my recent ethical fashion treatise and new creative direction, I’m starting weekly briefings on The Peahen to cover the status of ethical fashion. Each week you’ll get a pulse on new brands, opinions and influencers creating social change in the industry.

Before I start briefings about the obscure and artisan retailers commanding attention in the ethical fashion space, I’ll begin with an audit of a familiar fashion mainstay. The name Anthropologie should strike the heart chords of all the free-spirited, nature-dwellers. I count myself as one of you and, naturally, love the brand of elevated-hippie that Antro represents.

I decided to do an ethical audit of Anthro after venturing by the summer tag sale last weekend and scooping up a few pieces.

Anthropologie Tunic


As I meandered through the sale racks I began to wonder how Anthro hooks me into this sale every year. Their clothes are eye-catching – striking just the right note of whimsy with a hint of fringe here and an embroidery note there; however, they lack the practicality of staple pieces to command the high retail markup. Take for instance the trench coat-dress hybrid I landed this weekend. Would I buy this at the listed $148? Never. But on sale, I get a versatile piece without the buyers remorse. This may be a sound strategy for my wallet, but was it a sound strategy for ethical business?


The brilliance, and ultimate failing, of the Anthro brand is its ability to market watered-down global goods to the masses.


Take their catalog model as a prime example. Doesn’t she look ethical to you? She’s about to till her own GMO-free garden for God’s sake!

Anthropologie summer sale

Let’s face the facts, Anthro has major fashion clout, but it’s not delivering the gusto where it matters – ethics. I neglected to audit Anthro before I ventured into their brick-and-mortar escape last weekend. Now, I’m making up for my shopping transgression with some investigative digging into their business model.

Here’s the lowdown.

  • Anthro is behind the social times.
    • Their social strategy is still in corporate giving or “CSR” mode, when a company allocates profits to a cause aligned with its business. In Anthro’s case, it gives to arts, animals and urban renewal. This strategy fails because it doesn’t account for the impact of Anthro’s business model. More successful brands look to their supply chains, production and product to make positive impact.
    • Anthro asks shoppers to ‘skip a bag,’ ultimately placing the burden for do-gooding on their customers. The message Anthro sends is that they care – just not enough to reform their business.
  • Anthro fails two ethical indicators.
    • Anthro earns a 3/10 ranking on Good Guide based on its health, environmental and social impact.
    • Urban Outfitters, Anthro’s parent company isn’t currently listed on Good Guide. UO does dabble in American-made goods; however, their HUGE and public gaffes when it comes to equality, diversity and human rights issues fail miserable. What’s worse? They chalk it all up to good humor.
  • Anthro is a marketing behemoth.
    • This is especially harmful because naïve shoppers (read, me) can mistake their globally spun brand for a business that practices fair trade and ethical sourcing. Lately, some brands have been converting to ethical practices with more transparency (H&M). For the time being, however, shoppers need to exercise caution with major brands.
  • They’re so-so at the materials game.
    • My trench/dress was made of viscose rayon, a conventional, semi-synthetic fiber that requires a large amount of water, power and chemicals during manufacturing. Minus one point.
    • Urban outfitters and Anthro have both made use of organic cotton and vegan leather in some of their clothing. Plus half a point.

Here’s the consensus.

Until the ethical business model is mainstream, you’ll have keep hunting for artisan made and boutique retailers. That’s where I come in – to help shed light on these disparate labels that are moving ethical fashion into the mainstream. What’s the end-game? You’ll be able to nest in style while reinforcing positive business, environmental and social practices.

Here are some alternative Anthro brands.


A Boy Named Sue


Founders and Followers


Let me know what you think about Anthro’s business practices in the comments.


(16) Comments

  1. Kim says:

    Good info! Wish “ethical” clothing & accessories could earn a special tag like how products earn the Good Housekeeping seal or cosmetics get the Allure nod.

  2. Eli says:

    This is a very interesting topic and I look forward to reading more about it. I think Kim makes a good point regarding a moniker or tag retailers could earn to help promote and ultimately educate shoppers. Who would control something like this?
    Also, here is a recent episode of Last Week Tonight where John Oliver tackles the ethics of the fasion industry.


  3. Great post! I’ll admit, Anthrpologie and Madewell are the two retailers I’ve found it hardest to give up. I find myself reaching for any reason I can find to justify my love for them.

    “But Madewell has a recycling program for their jeans, so they MUST be an ethical brand!” Psht.

    I had no idea this app Good On You existed. Both Madewell and Anthro got the “Not Good Enough” rating. Womp womp. Guess it really is time for me to break up with them once and for all.

    1. Kasi says:

      I feel your pain. I just got the Anthropologie fall catalog in the mail and it took all my willpower to toss it in the recycling bin without drooling over all the new dresses. I’m glad I helped you stumble on a new app! Good On You is awesome.

  4. Brooke says:

    So Anthro is NOT a fair trade business? Im doing a project for my school where I look at clothing companies that practice fair trade and those that do not.

    1. Kasi says:

      Hi Brooke, In general, there’s some good and bad about Anthro but if you’re looking for a more definitive answer, there are definitely more brands that have better ethics practices and are fair trade member organizations. Check out my alternatives and my post on fair trade labels https://thepeahen.com/fair-trade-clothing/.

      Thanks for reading & good luck with your project!


  5. Shannon Milburn says:

    Thank you so much for this post– I have been so passionate about ethical fashion for a while now, and just recently have started my own blog on it and had a hard time finding information on Anthro specifically (which is part of why they are so sketchy) and this post was a big help. Props to you for doing this research!

    1. thepeahen says:

      Thanks for reading and stopping by The Peahen, Shannon! This post was the beginning of my journey into the field. I also recommend you check out Scout’s latest post on affordable ethical alternatives. It has one for Anthro. https://thepeahen.com/fast-fashion-alternatives/. I definitely agree that anytime I can’t find enough info I tend to avoid the company. There are too many other better options nowadays. Ethics are becoming more the norm which is really encouraging.

      What’s the name of your blog so I can follow your work as well?

      An ethical salute,

  6. Angelina L. says:

    I really appreciate this article! As I am making a change in how I spend my dollar(s) and the impact that has on this world, I appreciate resources and education such as yours!

    1. Kasi says:

      That’s awesome, Angelina! I’m all about the small strides each day here. Thanks for reading and being a positive force 🙂


  7. Michelle Odokara says:

    I really love this! As I’m gradually becoming more environmentally aware and my impact, I’ve started looking into fashion. I’ve always been a huge believer of Anthropologie, so thanks for this review. In comparison, would you say the sizes of the mentioned artisan shops compare to Anthro’s? Shopping online is always a struggle

    1. Kasi says:

      Good question, Michelle and thanks for stopping by The Peahen. Hope it’s been a good resource for you. It’s a tough question you pose, for sizes of all brands! I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you but to advise in reading the reviews of the garments themselves or direct messaging the brand on Instagram or Twitter. Was there a particular brand you had in mind? I may have shopped there before and could advise. Check out the ones on my shopping page: https://thepeahen.com/shop-ethical-fashion/

      An eco filled hug,

  8. […] Maar van Anthropologie dacht ik tot voor dit weekend dat het wel goed zat met hun ethische kant. Viel me dat eventjes tegen. Ik had het niet eens opgezocht, en was gewoon voortgegaan op hun imago (en ik ben niet de enige). […]

  9. […] doing relatively good, although there is still much room for improvement. But that can not be said about Anthropologie, so it seems. Their website says a lot of nice things about the environment and how they handle ethical […]

  10. Gabrielle Thuillier says:

    I loved your article. I was wondering if you have looked it to Lucky Brand.

    1. Kasi says:

      I actually haven’t but they could be considered a fast fashion, conventional brand (most brands that sell at the mall are. Although Gap and Madewell have made some strides in sustainability). I’d recommend looking them up in The Good Trade!

      Thanks for reading, Gabrielle!

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