<p>Boohoo’s website on a mobile phone</p>

Boohoo’s website on a mobile phone

Boohoo CEO insists retailer does not make ‘throwaway’ clothing

The fast fashion brand has pledged to make 20 per cent of its autumn range sustainable

Saman Javed
Thursday 12 August 2021 15:39
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The chief executive of fast fashion company Boohoo has insisted that its brands, which list thousands of items including tops as cheap as £2 apiece, do not make “throwaway” pieces.

In an appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live’s “Wake Up to Money” podcast on Thursday, CEO John Lyttle said the retailer’s data does not suggest that their average customer is buying items to only wear once.

“I look across all of our brands and I look at the number of items and the average number of times a year that somebody buys, we don’t see that as a throwaway.

“Sometimes fast fashion is seen as an ‘I buy it, I wear it once and then I throw it away’. Certainly, from the data that we have, we wouldn’t correlate with that,” he said.

Aside from its namesake brands, Boohoo and BoohooMan, it also owns PrettyLittlething, NastyGal, MissPap, Coast, Karen Millen, Dorothy Perkins, Warehouse, Oasis, Wallis, Burton and Debenhams.

Boohoo has faced criticism from worker’s rights groups that raise concerns about poor working conditions and pay, while environmental organisations have warned more widely of the fast-fashion industry’s contribution to the climate crisis.

Lyttle said the retailer has outlined a “clear strategy” to become more sustainable.

“20 per cent of all our ranges will be sustainable this autumn... 40 per cent next spring/summer,” he said.

“I think we’re adapting because we’re becoming more educated about the impact of some of these items.

“As a business it’s for us to adapt and make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to make that the best product for the consumer, but equally to think about the life cycle of that product as well,” he added.

Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of unions working to improve labour conditions in the garment industry, has rebuked Lyttle’s pledge, arguing that fast fashion is “inherently unsustainable”.

“Of course people need clothes, but not the enormous amounts that companies such as Boohoo are currently producing; polluting waterways, sending CO2 in the air and keeping workers in perpetual poverty in the process,” Christie Miedema, campaign and outreach coordinator for the organisation, told The Independent.

“Aligning 20 per cent of that production with a business definition of ‘sustainability’ isn’t going to make a difference. Actual systemic changes are needed.”

Laura Young, an environmental scientist who campaigns against waste, told BBC Radio 5 Live that a key issue with Lyttle’s statement is that there is no industry-wide agreement on what is “sustainable”.

“There isn’t a sort of standard that Boohoo needs to meet for that. So when they talk about being 20, 30 or 40 per cent more sustainable, what does that mean to them, to their workers and what does that mean to the environment,” she said.

“They haven’t said in detailed steps what they are going to do, so until then it’s just another fancy word they are using to deflect away from the real problem, which is this increasingly rapid scale at which they are producing.”

This need for transparency was also highlighted by Miedema. “As long as Boohoo remains untransparent about its supply chain, it can make every promise in the world without anyone being able to check. Without supply chain transparency, its promises are just empty words,” she said.

Kierra Box, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Independent: “Fast fashion sells more clothes to more people. At rockbottom prices it’s no surprise they sell, but the costs paid elsewhere are much higher, and too often hidden.

“Whether it’s cheap, synthetic materials made from fossil fuels, or the tiny plastic fibres shed each time clothes are washed, the environmental impact is really surprising. Even after they aren’t worn anymore they continue to pollute when burnt or lumped in landfill,” she added.

In June 2020, an investigation by The Sunday Times found that a factory in Leicester producing Boohoo clothing had continued to operate during lockdown without social distancing measures in place.

Additionally, an undercover reporter who worked at the factory for two days was told they would be paid just £3.50 an hour. The UK living wage for people aged 25 and over is £8.72.

In its response, Boohoo said the conditions at the factory, Jaswal Fashions, were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”.

“Our investigations have shown that Jaswal Fashions is not a declared supplier, and is no longer trading as a garment manufacturer.

“It therefore appears that a different company is using Jaswal’s former premises and we are currently trying to establish the identity of this company. We are taking immediate action to thoroughly investigate how our garments were in their hands, and we will ensure that our suppliers immediately cease working with this company,” it added.

The Independent has contacted Boohoo for comment.

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