BY SUMAIYA AHMED
When it comes to fast fashion, there are livelihoods at stake, and their (un)ethical practices come into question. Where majority of the fast fashion brands have agreed to #PayUp, other multi-billion dollar companies like Boohoo (owning: PrettyLittleThing, NastyGal, ISawItFirst and Misspap) are still severely underpaying their workers.
#PayUp is a movement recently taken to social media to raise awareness of the number of Bangladeshi women getting paid £3,50 under abysmal working conditions, particularly in light of COVID-19.
For reference, in the year ending February 2019, Ethical Consumer found that the three Executive Directors of Boohoo received over £1 million in total compensation:
Mahmud Kamani: £1,061,874
Carol Kane: £1,071,564
Neil Catto: £1,236,074
These statistics have been around for years, with Boohoo being questioned repeatedly, but it took recent events to properly criticise their actions. Whilst their prices are cheap, the costs of this brand are the livelihood of Bangladeshi women, working to produce garments sold for as little as £4. Boohoo markets their brand to young women, promising empowerment, fast delivery and prices that won’t break the bank, so it’s understandable why so many of us have fallen into their trap of stylish, fashionable clothes for less than a tenner in some cases. I’m no exception.
With the rise of COVID-19 amongst poorer, ethnic minorities, this is a bigger kick to the teeth. It took a global pandemic to question not just Boohoo, but other brands doing the same—utilising social media with #PayUp was required for Zara and H&M to actually pay their workers.
Primark is another brand not paying their Bangladeshi workers, and if you look at their clothes, (including Peacock’s) it will say ‘Made in Bangladesh’…made with the labour, and in unethical environments, of poor, struggling people. They make no effort to pay for the orders completed or in production. Many people are appalled at the treatment of garment workers in Leicester, but not Bangladesh. Retailers like Asos, Zalando, Next and Very have dropped the brand from their sites, but it begs the question: why did it take so long?
Though of course, clothing factories aren’t only in Asian countries—there is data and documentaries about the working conditions in Leicester. The treatment of workers is horrific, their pay falling between £2-£3 per hour, subject to COVID-19 infections and fatalities, due to “little investment in building safety and modern ventilation (…) workers – positive for COVID-19 – being required to work (…) to fulfil orders.” This highlights the importance of fast fashion and its impact on the lives of their workers, who are from less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds or immigrants.
It is unlikely that successful companies like Boohoo and Primark are unaware of the working standards and the modern-day slavery going on in their garment factories. A foreman at one of Leicester’s factories said: ‘these motherf***ers know how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts.’ Boohoo may claim to be sustainable, but can they really say they are when they have no moral or ethical standing in their treatment of their garment producers? Like the foreman said, they make profit and pay their workers in peanuts, risking their lives and safety.
When the cost is the livelihood of British, immigrant and Bangladeshi workers, is it worth it to pay less?
Whilst fast fashion is cheaper and brands still need to be held accountable for their role in this industry, smaller businesses are usually more sustainable with better quality. Lingerie lines like Abigail Walker Lingerie have on demand and custom made pieces, high quality and timeless, recycling and using the remnants of any material to make scrunchies; there is no fabric wastage or products being thrown away.
Abigail Walker Lingerie was founded by Abigail Walker in September 2019, a Fashion Design graduate from Cardiff Metropolitan University. Abigail says “I feel really strongly about body confidence, so going into lingerie design seemed natural to me. I wanted to create products that all women could wear and feel comfortable in. Women have the right to buy lingerie for themselves to feel fiercely feminine, without being sexualised.”
When speaking to Abigail, she reassured me that “as we grow as a brand, sustainability will still be very important to us—we will strive to make sure that all the choices we make have an element of sustainability to them.”
While companies like Boohoo, Primark and Peacocks have cheaper lingerie compared to small businesses, there is a vast contrast in the use of leftover fabric and message. Boohoo may claim to stand for women empowerment, but their treatment of their (female) factory workers speak otherwise.
Abigail Walker Lingerie spreads the message of body positivity through a variety of sizes, as well as custom sizes and custom-made lingerie. The brand message promotes self-love, self-confidence and body positivity, and embracing one’s sexuality and femininity. Empowerment is at the core of this lingerie line.
The only con to small businesses could be the steep prices, but when compared to the cheap slave labour of bigger, fast fashion companies and their treatment of workers, it’s better for your conscience.
Are cheaper clothes and lingerie truly worth the real prices of fast fashion?
Image courtesy of Abigail Walker Lingerie