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Fast Fashion Tested - Which T-Shirt Is the Most Sustainable?


Fast Fashion Tested - Which T-Shirt Is the Most Sustainable?

A basic T-shirt is essential in every woman's wardrobe. The question is if it can be both cheap and eco-friendly. We tested four tees from some of the biggest fast fashion brands and rated them in terms of their overall sustainability. Pull&Bear, H&M, Guess and Zara, find out whose T-shirt is the best.

The sample products are tested and evaluated to the best of our knowledge and belief. None of the brands sponsored this article. Nevertheless, we think that the products listed in this article can be useful for our readers.

Producing cheaply, pricing cheaply: that’s the core of fast fashion. No matter the devastating environmental impact of the industry, we all buy fast fashion. However, we see a little change - more and more brands are now introducing sustainable collections in their offer. And of course, we wanted to find out whether these eco collections are worth buying. 

In this blog post, we present test results of four basic T-shirts from the eco collections of four big fashion companies. We will give you valuable insights into the garments’ sustainability, transparency, durability, quality and more. Do you think these products deserve an eco-label? Or can you perhaps predict which fast fashion brand has the best-fitting and eco-friendly T-shirt? Let’s find out together!

Jump to the test results for: Pull & Bear | H&M | Guess | Zara

Don't want to read? Watch the video to see the sample T-shirts and our findings about their performance.

Top Eco-Friendly T-shirts Comparison

We summarized the most important information and test results for our sample T-shirts in this review table.

 
TOP
Pull&Bear T-shirt

PULL&BEAR

H&M Crop Top

H&M

Guess T-shirt

GUESS

Zara T-shirt

ZARA

Product Name

Basic Round Neck T-shirt

Crop Top

Eco Logo Baby Tee

Oversized Asymmetric T-shirt

Overall score

3.8/5

3.4/5

2.8/5

2.6/5

Price

$7.90

$5.99

$34.00

$17.90

Collection

Join Life

Conscious Choice

Guess Eco

Join Life

Fabric

100% ecologically grown cotton

95% cotton (with 24% is recycled cotton)
5% spandex

60% cotton
40% modal

100% cotton

Textile Certificates

-

-

-

OCS & GOTS

Materials

Certifications

Product info

Durability

Quality

 

5/5

 

0/5

 

5/5

 

5/5

 

4/5

 

3/5

 

0/5

 

3/5

 

5/5

 

4/5

 

3/5

 

0/5

 

1/5

 

5/5

 

5/5

 

4/5

 

4/5

 

5/5

 

0/5

 

0/5

Pros

  • plus

    kept its bright white color

  • plus

    collar stitching remains intact

  • plus

    small particles from other clothes don't get attached

  • plus

    kept its shape

  • plus

    thicker material

  • plus

    nice and soft feeling

  • plus

    comfy to wear

  • plus

    stretchy fabric

  • plus

    kept its shape

  • plus

    did not shrink

  • plus

    soft touch

  • plus

    does not irritate the skin

  • plus

    fashionable asymmetric style

Cons

  • minus

    is a bit see-through

  • minus

    label came off a bit

  • minus

    color faded

  • plus

    low percentage of sustainable material

  • plus

    misleading product description

  • plus

    stiff and heavy material

  • plus

    transparent

  • plus

    shrunk after laundry

  • plus

    had a hole after laundry

Visit site

P&B icon SHOP NOW icon GUESS icon Zara icon

#1 Pull & Bear Basic Round Neck T-shirt

TOP
Pull&Bear T-shirt
priceLabel
$7.90
Pull&Bear icon

Overall score 3.8/5

Materials

5/5

 

Certifications

0/5

 

Product information

5/5

 

Durability

5/5

 

Quality

4/5

 

This product was purchased in October 2021 and is not available anymore. Explore the Pull&Bear Join Life collection to find similar products.

Collection | Pull & Bear Join Life

Fabric | 100% ecologically grown cotton

Textile Certifications | no certifications

Origin | Bangladesh

Packaging | paper bag, no additional plastic wrapping

Color | white

Size | S-small

  • plus

    kept its bright white color

  • plus

    the stitching of the collar is still intact

  • plus

    small particles from other clothes did not get attached to the T-shirt

  • plus

    kept its shape

  • minus

    is a bit see-through

Scoring almost 4 out of 5 points in total, the Pull&Bear T-shirt is our test winner. Not only because it consists of 100% sustainable material but also due to an overall good impression on quality and durability. The product is made of organic cotton fibers, labeled as “ecologically grown cotton”. While testing, we reached out to the brand questioning the material and the reason why it avoids naming the fabric “organic cotton”. Pull&Bear stated that there’s no difference between those, yet the product carries no textile certification. Moreover, this T-shirt was produced by using less water resources. Closed circuits for reusing water together with new technologies, such as machines with a low bath ratio or mass dyeing, lead to a significant reduction of water consumption during the garment’s dyeing and washing process.

"This T-shirt is made of 100% organic cotton, which is great for the environment! It’s a classic white tee that suits every outfit and can be used on many different occasions. The only thing I didn't like is the fit. Maybe it’s not very flattering, it's a bit stiff and see-through at the same time and I don’t like that it’s not so stretchy. I think I wouldn't buy it again." - Natalia, Moincoins Social Media Manager

#2 H&M Crop Top

H&M Crop Top
priceLabel
$5.99
SHOP NOW icon

Overall score 3.4/5

Materials

3/5

 

Certifications

0/5

 

Product information

3/5

 

Durability

5/5

 

Quality

4/5

 

Collection | H&M Conscious Choice

Fabric | 95% cotton, in which 24% is recycled cotton, 5% spandex

Textile Certifications | no certifications

Origin | Bangladesh

Packaging | paper bag, recyclable plastic wrapping

Color | green

Size | S-small

  • plus

    the material is thicker compared to the regular line

  • plus

    nice and soft feeling

  • plus

    comfy to wear

  • plus

    the fabric is stretchy but maintains its shape

  • minus

    the label is fraying

  • minus

    the color faded a bit

This T-shirt consists of 95% cotton and 5% spandex, but the cotton blend includes recycled fibers too. The brand promises to increase this percentage in the near future and plans to eventually use fully recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by the year 2030. We generally appreciate H&M’s effort to deliver detailed information about the origin of each product and the materials, however, we think there’s still room for improvement in terms of descriptions on the website. It’s a nice choice though and we loved the green color (of course we do, we are Moincoins!).

"It's nice in touch, mostly made of cotton, stylish, affordable - what else would you need from a regular crop tee. But I find the product information slightly intransparent and confusing. The product description on the website states that this T-shirt has 24% of recycled cotton in the shell, while it is made of one-layer material. The label on the delivered item also implies something else. I scored it 3 out of 5 for the effort to make it a little more sustainable.” - Oleksandra, Moincoins Project Manager

#3 Guess Eco Logo Baby Tee

Guess T-shirt
priceLabel
$34
GUESS icon

Overall score 2.8/5

Materials

3/5

 

Certifications

0/5

 

Product information

1/5

 

Durability

5/5

 

Quality

5/5

 

This product was purchased in October 2021 and is not available anymore. Explore the Guess Eco collection to find similar products.

Collection | Guess Eco

Fabric | 60% cotton, 40% modal

Textile Certifications | no certifications

Origin | India

Packaging | paper box, plastic wrapping

Color | olive

Size | S-small

  • plus

    kept its shape and did not shrink after laundry

  • plus

    soft touch

  • plus

    doesn’t irritate the skin

  • minus

    a low percentage of sustainable material

  • minus

    misleading information about the product

The soft touch and flattering shape make this T-shirt a smart choice for a casual tee. However, we had to score low points on materials and transparency. Guess provides limited information about the garment’s production and it was initially hard to understand why it’s part of the Guess Smart collection. There’s definitely room for improvement, no matter the overall quality of the T-shirt.

"I really liked this T-shirt. It has a nice fit and it’s incredibly comfortable. It didn’t shrink after laundry and the color is still bright. Even though it’s not a classic matching white T-shirt, I could wear it with multiple pieces from my wardrobe. I could feel the "eco soft technology" and the long-lasting softness. I think the materials could be more sustainable and that’s why I scored 3 points. Why not try organic cotton?" - Natalia, Moincoins Social Media Manager

#4 Zara Oversized Asymmetric T-shirt

Zara T-shirt
priceLabel
$17.90
ZARA icon

Overall score 2.6/5

Materials

4/5

 

Certifications

4/5

 

Product information

5/5

 

Durability

0/5

 

Quality

0/5

 

This product was purchased in October 2021 and is not available anymore. Explore the Zara Join Life collection to find similar products.

Collection | Zara Join Life

Fabric | 100% cotton

Textile Certifications | Organic Content Standard (OCS), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Origin | Morocco

Packaging | paper bag, no plastic wrapping

Color | white

Size | S-small

  • plus

    fashionable asymmetric style

  • minus

    stiff and heavy material

  • minus

    transparent

  • minus

    shrunk during laundry

  • minus

    has a hole after laundry

This item was produced by using technologies and raw materials that reduce the environmental impact. The tee is made of 100% cotton and we had high expectations about its performance. Yet, it failed our testing miserably. The T-shirt not only shrunk during laundry but also got a hole after the second low-temperature washing. We had to score zero points both for the durability and the quality criteria.

"This T-shirt had all chances to be a great testing experience, unfortunately, it didn't survive the second laundry. I was very surprised to see a small hole on it after a low-temperature, delicate laundry. I can't score neither quality nor durability with anything higher than 0.” - Oleksandra, Moincoins Project Manager

Methodology

How Did We Pick the Brands and Items?

For this test, we ordered a total of four T-shirts from different manufacturers of the U.S market. These included Pull&Bear, H&M, Guess and Zara. These brands are among the biggest and best-selling fast fashion retailers, counting thousands of stores across the country as well as huge online shops. Also, two out of four brands (Zara and Pull&Bear) are part of the Inditex Group, which is the largest fast fashion company in the world, operating over 7.200 stores in 93 markets worldwide. All of these brands have launched their own extensive sustainable collection within the last couple of years. All sample products belong to the brands’ eco-friendly collections and we believe this justifies our choice for this test. We used the websites’ navigational filters to find them. When selecting the items, we focused on basic pieces that every woman has in her wardrobe and which were available in the online store at the time of purchase.

How Did We Test?

In order to provide a comprehensive, valuable and authentic review, we tested each product extensively. The products were ordered in October 2021 and were delivered to us after a couple of days. The testing period started at the beginning of November 2021 by assigning the items to our five team members. The entire testing process lasted over three months including the evaluation and scoring period.

First, we took photos and measured each product. Then our girls took the items home and treated as their own by wearing the items as many times as possible, washing and ironing them a minimum of five times. We exposed every item to different conditions, including sunnier and colder places, to give you a wider spectrum of their long-term durability and quality to ensure more realistic results. We avoided making predictions and we tried to thoroughly understand how each garment responds over the course of time in terms of shrinking, wearing or washing out, losing shape, fading color and more.

It’s also important to highlight that we followed all suggested handling instructions. All T-shirts were washed in a cold or warm program, with no tumble drying or bleaching and they were ironed on the lowest heat settings. The Guess T-shirt was the only one that required hand-washing with cold water. When it comes to the product description transparency on the websites, we particularly paid attention to how precisely the sustainability of the T-shirt is described and how extensive the information about the production process is. We also cross-checked the online information when receiving the garments to see if any of the brands attempted greenwashing. Last but not least, we checked whether each item carries textile certificates.

All products were tested within our international company. We are five eco-conscious women, living in Europe and the U.S. and sharing similar mindsets about sustainable living. In case you want to learn more about our testers you can check out our about us page.

How Did We Rate?

Materials

The fabric from which a T-shirt is made plays a decisive role in terms of the sustainability of the garment. Most items of our sample are using cotton, either as a fabric blend or exclusively as the primary fabric. While one conventional T-shirt gulps up 2.700 liters of water to be produced, organic cotton requires 91% less water. Moreover, organic cotton fabric is biodegradable and easier to be disposed of in comparison to polyester and it’s also free of GMOs, pesticides or fertilizers. You can learn more about textile fabrics if you read our article about "sustainable textiles in the fashion industry".

We awarded full points only for the Pull&Bear T-shirt that was made of 100% organic cotton. We also scored Zara T-shirt four points, which is made of purely conventional cotton, since it is still a better choice in comparison to other synthetic fiber blends. Consequently, further points were deducted according to each garments’ textile blend.

Textile Certifications

Very often textile certifications come from third parties - independent organizations that are qualified to test, verify and evaluate the materials used for a specific product. The disappointing part of our research was that three out of four products did not carry any textile certifications. Zara claims that the product is certified by Organic Content Standard (OCS), yet it’s questionable if this is true because the garment itself did not carry any label regarding the use of organic fibers.

Product Information

Providing transparent and extensive product information about the garments' production and place of origin is also very important to assess sustainability. In many cases, we had to cross-check the information provided on the website with the inside label of the garment. We believe it's highly important for all manufacturers to share as much in-depth information as possible, including information about the material composition, origin, working conditions, why these particular items belong to their eco collections, and additional care instructions that would make the clothing last longer.

We appreciated Zara’s, Pull&Bear’s and H&M’s efforts to share more information about the suppliers and the production process of their T-shirts. Yet, we believe there’s room for improvement, in terms of transparency. In the case of the Guess T-shirt, we had to score a really low rating because we found the product details misleading and confusing: there was no information about the origin of the product, and the exact percentages of the fabric blend were missing. It was absolutely necessary to check the products’ inside labels to get a more extensive description.

Durability 

The sustainability of a clothing item is strictly connected to durability. A garment that lasts in time means less textile waste, therefore this factor is very important for our rating. Three out of four T-shirts convinced us about their durability since they were not affected by five times laundry, holding their initial shape, fit and color. This is not the case with the Zara T-shirt though, since we had to score zero points for this product. The shirt didn’t survive the second washing, showing different signs of shabbiness, including a hole in the front side. 

Quality

Quality was the most subjective and difficult factor to rate. We trusted our testers' judgment to evaluate the material quality, fit and finish. We checked what the materials feel like, whether it’s comfortable to use as a casual tee, or whether the fabric was thin and transparent or heavy and stiff. We score full points for H&M and Guess and four points for the Pull&Bear T-shirt. We were generally very satisfied with the quality of our products since almost all of them kept their shape, didn’t shrink during laundry and looked “newly purchased” when the testing period was over. On the other hand, Zara got zero points again since the T-shirt wore out and the material was very heavy as for regular white tees.

Our Key Test Findings

The winner product was determined by calculating the scores from five different testing criteria. We were not completely satisfied by the performance of the four tested T-shirts and it’s important to highlight that the differences were small (in a range of 0.2-0.6 points). None of the products achieved the ultimate score and one of them (Zara) completely failed testing after the second wash. However, it’s fair to say that the winner product was the one with the most sustainable material composition. 

What’s also interesting to mention, is that the most expensive T-shirt was not necessarily the only one with the best quality. The Guess T-shirt had the highest pricing ($34.00) and good feedback from our tester. Yet, it landed on the position #3 due to insufficient and misleading product description, lack of textile certifications and poor fabric blend in terms of sustainability. Both Pull&Bear and H&M scored almost the same points as Guess for the quality criterion, while their price difference is over $20. Our last comment is that there's definitely room to get better and more transparent. We wish for more extensive information about each garment's production process and country of origin. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Sustainable T-Shirt?

From how fabrics are produced to how they are transported and sold there are major factors that can potentially play a destructive role to the environment. A sustainable T-shirt is a tee made of more eco-friendly materials, dyed without toxic chemicals, produced by using less natural resources treating fairly all involved employees. It’s an alternative that respects nature and people that can be found in multiple stores at affordable prices. 

To ensure that the product you purchase has a lower environmental impact, you can look for several fabric certifications. Textile certifications set some of the highest ecological and social standards from harvesting of the raw materials, to responsible manufacturing and labeling in order to provide a credible assurance to the consumer.

Does Organic Cotton Make a Difference?

A lot of people might think there can’t be much of a difference between a sustainable cotton T-shirt and a “regular” one. Most of us forget about the early stages of production such as growing cotton. 

Look for a shirt made of organic cotton cultivated according to the guidelines of organic farming. No genetically modified seeds, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or other chemicals are used in organic farming. So the first thing that someone can avoid by choosing an organic cotton tee against a conventional one is toxicity. By purchasing a certified organic cotton T-shirt, you cut out all of the toxins from the production line, the packaging, and of course your body. Other than that, you save water, since organic cotton requires 91% less water than conventional cotton. It’s a wiser choice if you want to protect the planet’s most precious resource!

What Is the Best Quality Fabric for T-Shirts?

Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber, included in almost 40% of our clothing. Even though it is a clean, breathable and soft material, it comes from an always thirsty plant that consumes gallons of water to be cultivated. Therefore, it is always good to consider more sustainable textile material alternatives, like certified organic or recycled cotton. Organic cotton T-shirts are chemical-free, comfortable, affordable and perfect for casual wear. And recycled cotton tees are even better because they are mostly made of previously used cotton fabric blended with a bit of new raw materials without compromising on your comfort and price.

How Can You Tell a Quality T-Shirt?

The first touch is always a thing to consider when it comes to clothes. A good quality T-shirt would never feel like plastic, itchy or chunky. The fabric should feel soft, comfortable and firm at the same time. It’s also important to check the density of the fabric by holding the garment against a light source to see how transparent it is. Another useful tip would be to check out the overall condition of your tee after a couple of washes, it may look different than before in terms of softness, measurements etc. 

Sources 

  1. H&M
  2. Guess 
  3. Pull&Bear 
  4. Zara