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The Pretty Little Thing 100% off sale...but at what cost?

Marti Stelling investigates the social and environmental impact of fast fashion's culture of overconsumption

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Pretty Little Thing made headlines by literally giving away clothes this Black Friday – but who is paying the consequences?

‘Selling’ clothing for free demonstrates what little value their products have to the company, as well as promoting overconsumption. It also begs the question of how much Pretty Little Thing values the people who make the clothing.

If Pretty Little Thing can literally give away their products, the contributions employees make clearly are not valued enough. Pretty Little Thing’s parent company, Boohoo, has come under scrutiny for paying its factory workers as little as £3.50 an hour – far below the National Minimum Wage. If you’re buying an item for a matter of pence, or even for free, somebody is paying the consequence.

Pretty Little Thing have revealed very little information about supplier policies and forced labour within the company, as well as having no evidence that they pay their workers living wage. Factory workers have claimed that they don’t get holiday or sick pay, and some have even come forward that they were not given adequate protection from Covid 19. The factory workers are often paid by the speed of their production, putting pressure on employees to prioritise quantity over quality.

"However, we can’t point a finger at Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo without taking a look at our own shopping habits. The majority of us know, and seemingly care, very little about where our clothing comes from."

For companies as large as Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, it is all too easy to forget the individual that made the clothing. Beneath the Manchester billionaire, Umar Kamani, is a workforce of individuals who have to work long hours to make a living. Many individuals have little choice but to work upwards of fifty hours a week just to make ends meet and ensure that there is enough food on the table for their families. A disproportionate number of factory workers are immigrants due to language barriers not being an issue in this line of work. Factory owners are able to take advantage of workers by reducing their wages and keeping the profits.

However, we can’t point a finger at Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo without taking a look at our own shopping habits. The majority of us know, and seemingly care, very little about where our clothing comes from. As long as we can get the clothes that we like for a cheap price, the social or environmental impacts of our purchase are of very little concern to us. The issues of unsafe workspaces and child labour seem like a distant problem that only affects people in other countries. The hard truth is that our fashion choices have impacts across the world, from factory workers in Leicester to textile sellers in Bangladesh.

Giving away clothes with such a discount gives shoppers an incentive to ‘buy’ the clothes even if they know that they will never wear them. It would be foolish not to – right? The tough reality is that most of these items will end up being shipped off to other countries and sitting in landfill for upwards of 200 years.

Even donating to charity shops isn’t the ethical solution it might at first seem. Andrew Brooks, the author of Clothing Poverty, claims that 90 percent of charity donations are exported, and according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, around two thirds of re-used clothes end up overseas. Items that cannot be recycled are often illegally burned or dumped in waterways, eventually making their way to the ocean.

The problem with shipping off our own overconsumption crisis to other countries is that this doesn’t magically get rid of the problem. Sending masses of plastics to poorer and developing countries is not only a massive deflection of responsibilities, but it also leads to an environmental crisis beyond our own soil. This waste pollutes waterways and endangers both human and animal lives.

While sending garments to developing countries can sometimes be beneficial to poorer families who cannot afford to buy clothes, it can put local textiles workers out of work. This becomes a vicious cycle, having a detrimental impact on those who are already suffering in poverty.

With as much as 84 percent of clothing ending up in landfill, overconsumption is a very real issue for the environment. Materials such as polyester and nylon mean that clothing can be made cheaply but will not break down naturally in landfill. If these garments do leave landfill, they are then incinerated, contributing to the problems of pollution and global warming.

Large companies have a responsibility to make ethical choices in terms of their production. There is increasing demand for sustainable fashion, forcing retailers to make decisions that will benefit both the environment and the individuals who are impacted by the comapny.

Aiming their clothes at young women and teenagers, Pretty Little Thing plays an active role in determining shopping habits of the younger generation. The company needs to consider the social and environmental impacts of promoting a lifestyle of overconsumption. Placing such little value on garments instils the belief that clothing is disposable and isn’t meant to be kept for more than a few seasons.

When will fast fashion companies take responsibility for their own overproduction?

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