Is Nike Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is popular for all the wrong reasons. Mass production, environmental waste, and forced labor give this fashion trend a bad name. 

Many companies are well-known contributors to this trend. Brands like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara are synonymous with cheap, easily replicated clothing. 

Nike is the largest supplier of athletic wear and sports equipment. If their brand is in fact fast fashion, that would mean the most popular brand in the world is also environmentally and ethically unsound. But to determine whether or not Nike is fast fashion, we first have to look at what exactly fast fashion is.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion became common 20 years ago with the rise of online shopping. As clothing became cheaper and trend cycles occurred more frequently, shopping became something of a hobby. 

No longer were the styles on the runway just for the rich. Clothing companies are offering similar looks at the same time for an incredibly low price. T-shirts sell for $5, necklaces for $1 – anyone with even a small amount of pocket money is able to shop for the trendiest looks. 

Under the idea that outfit repeating is a no-no, people buy clothing at the height of the trend’s popularity and wear the items at most a handful of times, and then discard the barely-used items. To keep up with demand, fast fashion retailers churn out clothing as fast as possible, often skirting good environmental practices and safe working conditions in the process. Fast fashion doesn’t just produce an exorbitant amount of clothes, it’s also one of the leading causes of pollution and poor working conditions. 

Does Nike Practice Fast Fashion?

It’s true that Nike used to have some pretty bad practices. Back in the day, it was well-known that Nike used overseas sweatshops to produce its clothing. 

In 1991 their sweatshop use came to light thanks to a report published by an activist. Nike was slow to respond to the mounting calls for change. The large company eventually came around and improved monitoring efforts, increased factory audits, and increased the minimum age for factory workers. Still, that was 3o years ago – so it’s important to ask how the company is holding up now.

Nike and the Environment

Nike isn’t as bad as it used to be, but they certainly don’t get an A+ rating. While the company is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an organization that provides brands the resources they need to credibly and effectively meet sustainability goals, Nike certainly cannot be labeled as “sustainable.”

Ethical Consumer, an independent, not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder co-op that rates companies on their ethics, gave Nike its worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy. The company lacks a clear approach to the use of herbicides and pesticides, two chemicals that can have a massively negative effect on the environment. 

Nike did use some Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) organic cotton, but their use was not at levels enough to mitigate the terrible impact on the environment caused by growing their non-organic cotton. The company’s supply chain also causes environmental problems.

Greenhouse gas emissions are high, and while there is a science-based policy in place to reduce these emissions, there’s no telling whether or not they’ve hit their target. There is also no policy in place to deal with any deforestation they’ve caused. 

While the company does produce a large quantity of clothing, its environmental impact is not in line with other brands that use the cheapest and poorest quality material. Cotton may not be the best plant grown for the environment, but it is durable and long lasting and doesn’t shed harmful microfibers when washed. 

Nike and their Workers

Women in both the sports and garment industry often are treated unfairly in comparison to their male counterparts. Nike, both an athletic apparel brand and athlete sponsor, has been known to treat its women poorly. 

Nike told Olympic-level runner Alysia Montaño that they would pause her contract and stop paying her if she had a baby. Only after there was public outcry did they reverse their stance. 

Their unfair practices stateside aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. Workers elsewhere receive far worse treatment. 

As recently as February 2020 there were reports of forced labor and coercion in factories. The Washington Post noted that one of Nike’s main factories in China, Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co., had employed Uighurs under conditions that “strongly suggest forced labor”. 

The Clean Clothes Campaign pushed a report in Tailored Wages UK in 2019, giving Nike it’s worst rating. The campaign noted no evidence of a living wage being paid to any workers.

That all being said, the company is Fair Labor Association (FLA) Workplace Code of Conduct certified. Nike agreed to uphold the FLA’s code of conduct in its supply chain and committed itself to ten Principles of Fair Labor and Responsible Sourcing. 

Nike publishes a list of suppliers during the end stages of production as well as information they gathered from supplier audits. Unfortunately, despite measures taken to improve the supply chain, the garment workers were left out of all considerations.  As recently as last month, VICE reported that Nike wasn’t fully paying its Indian factory workers.

Nike and Animal Welfare 

Nike does not use fur or exotic animal hair or skin in its products, but it does use leather, wool, and down feathers. Cruelty-Free Investing puts them on their list of companies exploiting animals.

They also do not have a clear policy against sheep mulesing. Unfortunately, the company does not specify sources so it is unclear how ethically the animal materials were gathered. 


Between its negative impact on the environment, terrible conditions for garment workers, disposal of unsold clothes, and unclear treatment of animals, this company can certainly do better.

These problems make it appropriate to label them as a part of the fast fashion industry. You can help bring about the change needed in this brand by not buying from them until they make the necessary changes. Share this information with others to spread awareness and help put pressure on Nike to do better.

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