Over the last few years, a fashion revolution has been taking place. While the rest of the world speeds up, many in the fashion industry are trying to slow down and take time to create ethical, environmental, and sustainable fashion options. One brand who has been doing the opposite but still reaping benefits is Boohoo PLC. This year we have seen how the world is turning their pretty little backs on the company, calling them out for their nasty practices and turning to the oasis offered by smaller, sustainable brands.
In 2020, in part because of the pandemic, a can of worms was opened and a lot of illicit activities at Boohoo were revealed. Like many big brands, Boohoo cancelled orders of clothing during the first lockdown. This, in turn, meant that many of the company’s garment workers did not receive payment for their work. More recently, it was revealed by the Guardian that some of Boohoo’s garment workers in factories in Pakistan were receiving as little as 29p per hour.
However, things quickly spiralled for the company when it was revealed by a Guardian investigation that a factory in Leicester, owned by the company, was paying its workers way below minimum wage. It was reported, following an investigation that garment workers were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour by the multi-millionaire brand.
The icing on the cake, and that final straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans of fast fashion, was Boohoo’s own Pretty Little Thing’s ‘up to 99% off sale’. This event saw dresses being sold for as little as 8p.
Speaking to the Thompson Reuters Foundation Jonna Ewart-James, the executive director of Freedom United, an anti-modern-slavery organisation, said that the sale ensures “excessive consumption,” adding that it confirms that the brand is “not paying workers real wages.”
A few years ago, this would have been an exciting prospect: your new favourite dress for only 8p? Who could resist!
Lydia Bolton, a Sustainable Fashion Designer can and has avoided the company for years, describes how she was saddened but not surprised by the actions of Boohoo PLC explaining that “fast fashion prioritises profits for the top bosses above ethics and the welfare of their garment workers and the planet.” She states that events, like what we have seen from Boohoo, are nothing new and have “been seen repeatedly through the years and expansion of fast fashion, such as with the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.”
Lydia believes that one way to combat the growing war on fast fashion is to educate. She said: “We need to help educate people on the negative impacts of fast fashion… People need to be inspired to shop sustainably. By promoting all of the different ways to shop sustainably, and giving a wider understanding of the benefits, we can hopefully make it more accessible.”
I work in a school, and there the PLT 99% off sale was nothing short of a biblical revelation. The students’ only grievance being that “the best stuff had already gone.” The outcry and upset that was felt by myself, my contemporaries, and friends was not felt by the students. Instead, this was something exciting that their pocket money could afford them. They could be like the Instagram stars they admired and the clothes that were shared on glamorous feeds. The question of ethical consideration does not come into their minds because the only part of fashion cared about, as I did when I was 15, was what is being worn, and by whom.
For me, before the days when I would spend hours trawling Instagram for outfit inspiration, I would trawl through What She Wore, for Hayley Williams and Avril Lavigne and work out what I owned to emulate their outfits. Possibly going to H&M or Pulp to buy one top, knowing that I did not look like Hayley Williams. If there had been a 99% sale, it would have been a dream come true.
In mainstream education, there is barely a moment to discuss the growing importance of sustainability. It may be touched upon when learning about global warming, but it will not be said that a dress bought from the Pretty Little Thing sale is contributing to people living in poverty, and climate change. Sustainability is becoming a cultural norm, and should be treated as such. As ICT was introduced to schools in the 2000s, lessons on sustainability could help, not only to educate, but also save the planet.
Nowadays, I am a much more conscious consumer. All I have learnt has been through personal research and an understanding of my own privilege in being able to buy secondhand and sustainably. To shop on Depop and in charity shops is a choice. I am also a woman of a size which is widely available. I am fortunate enough to have access to online shopping. I have a job, and with it, a paycheck which affords me to partake in my favourite pass-time: secondhand shopping.
The fall of Boohoo is happening. It is a work in progress, across this year the company has seen a wave of change in the stock market. In June, they were flying high but were hit by a 20% fall in share price, in November their share price had dropped a further 8% and has struggled to claw its way back up. Clearly, this has not prevented them from acquiring UK behemoth Debenhams in a £55 million buyout. Moving the brand solely online, as with their other brands, closing existing high street stores.
Despite this, and the fact that I have never once shopped at Pretty Little Thing, or Warehouse, both of these brands are now advertised to me daily on Facebook and Instagram. This month alone, my eye was caught by a cute little velvet dress sold by Oasis, a brand recently acquired by Boohoo PLC and one that has since begun appearing on my feed. I looked for a few seconds at the lovely mixture of lace and velvet, before scrolling on. But the inviting apple of fast fashion is everpresent, trying to regain its stronghold in the industry. Every time anyone opens their Facebook App the adverts are there, willing to be clicked. Like the Forbidden Fruit on the Tree of Knowledge, asking everyone to fall, so that they can rise again.
Words by Hana Kelly
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