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The Real Cost of Fast Fashion

The rise of the 'influencer' and brand partnerships with fast-fashion retailers is to only accelerate the dangerous and potentially irreversible effects that fast fashion is having on our planet. Although the environmental impact isn't by any means a new social issue, major brands like PrettyLittleThing are becoming increasingly popular through new partnerships with tv stars and personalities like Molly-Mae Hague and Maura Higgins who have gained a large following through reality television and social media. These brands and partners are yet to be held accountable and to face their responbility for the overconsumption, unsustainable production and waste, and unethical working conditions that the industry is infamous for.


Since its beginning, social media has become instrumental in the public's exposure and tolerance for capitalist markets, especially when it comes to the fast fashion industry. In 2013, Instagram introduced the feature of paid advertisements, connecting brands to individuals, and emerged the new celebrity: the “social-media influencer”. These are not your typical celebrities. While they promote a seemingly untouchable lifestyle of luxury, influencers project an image that is both idealistic and attainable, but only if we purchase the products they swear by. This leaves consumers in a catch-22: we can only remain 'on-trend' and look like Molly-Mae should we keep buying her latest product, whether it’s her Filter fake-tan, her Beauty Works hair-stylers, or her PrettyLittleThing clothing line.

Fast fashion brands have recently taken advantage of this strategy and have used the names and faces of those with a large enough following promising significant revenue and media coverage. From social media blogger, to reality TV star, to now brand ambassador of Pretty Little Thing, Molly-Mae Hague turned a following of 120,000 into 6.2 million within three years. In 2021, Hague was made Creative Director of PLT at the age of just 22, an achievement initially recognised as a celebration for feminism. However, her wide-reaching impact on fast fashion sales has escalated discussion surrounding the environmental impact of the industry and instigated a call to cancel influencer culture that promotes problematic brands. Between 2019 and 2020, PrettyLittleThing's revenue grew by £141.9 million and the total of active customers grew by over a million. PLT's Instagram also gained 1.8 million followers. Hague's contribution to the brand's campaigns and collections was paramount and reveals the ugly side to the success of fast fashion-retailers that so many remain ignorant to.  

One side to industry's underbelly is the environmental effect. Fast-fashion brands are infamously known to generate excessive amounts of waste due to the poor quality of their items. On average, Boohoo Group can produce a total of 54 million articles of clothing a year. A study by Oxfam also recorded that one thousand buyers can collectively throw away a disturbing amount of 11 million articles of clothing. The production of fast fashion is also known for its use of harmful chemicals. Leading brand PrettyLittleThing came under fire in 2019 after a customer in California read the following Terms and Conditions on a clothing label: 'this product may contain chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm'. The brand responded only to clarify that the warning was to comply with California's 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act that aims to protect those from harmful substances.  

Fast fashion has a human cost too. In 2020, The Sunday Times discovered Boohoo factory workers in Leicester were being considerably underpaid, some as little as £3.50 per hour, 40 percent less than the national living wage. PLT CEO, Uma Kamani, is said to be worth approximately $455 million. But this economic inequality does not stop there. Factories in predominantly non-white Asian countries including Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia account for almost all textile production and provide labour suitable for corporate explotiation due to the unregulated practices of many of these factories including long hours and little pay.


So how in touch are our influencers with what they're really promoting?


in 2021, Molly-Mae Hague came under fire after appearing on Steven Bartlett's 'A Diary of a CEO' podcast in which she claimed that anyone can become successful as 'we all have the same 24 hours in a day'. For many, this disregarded how social differences, including class, race, and disability, can influence a person's financial resources and therefore their chance to achieve material success. This is in fact the reality for many earning less than the fair living wage in the very factories that produce her clothing lines.  


To appear 'on-trend' amidst growing conversations surrounding climate change, PrettyLittleThing has said to be 'encouraging sustainability hugely' by creating a resale platform for customers to sell preloved garments bought from the brand. Hague commented they hope it will 'really disrupt the fast fashion industry', despite this being the very business model the company is shaped. Whilst protesting outside their London fashion show last month, fashion activist Venetia La Manna has accused this campaign of 'greenwashing' and claims it lacks evidence of a new sustainable approach to its clothing production.


This campaign is hardly revolutionary. Second-hand marketplaces and e-commerce platforms like Etsy, Depop and eBay have already gained huge popularity over the past decade. Since 2011, Depop has created the largest online marketplace of 21 million users implementing an effective interface similar to those like Instagram. 




PLT statistics - Boohoo Group PLC. 2020. Annual report and Accounts 2020.

PLT statements on sustainability - Georgia Brown. 2022. Hello! Magazine. Here's what Molly-Mae Hague had to say about PrettyLittleThing and Sustainability.

Environmental Poverty - Grace Ganz. 2020. Borgen Magazine. How Fast Fashion Causes Environmental Poverty.

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