I’ve been reading Victoria Magrath’s ‘The New Fashion Rules,’ a book about how the fashion world has transformed in today’s digital era. After reading a chapter about fast fashion brands and why their cheap clothes produce a lot of waste, I scrolled through Twitter and came across a tweet praising Primark for their new sustainable clothing lines. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Primark due to their previous scandals surrounding labour rights and working conditions, but I wanted to read more about what this international fast-fashion brand was doing to be more sustainable.
Primark are a major high-street brand that is surviving the rise of online shopping. Magrath puts it simply: ‘affordability often equals frivolity.’ Consumers that shop at Primark and the like will often impulse buy, wear the clothes a handful of times, and then throw it away. This contributes to the staggering amount of clothes that go unused or end up in landfill: ‘The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year.’
Now, Primark has taken some steps to appear more sustainable. The keyword – ‘appear.’
What steps do they take to be more sustainable?
Primark are a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and have initiatives in place that try to tackle their impact on the environment. However, their initiatives are very vague, with no reduction targets. They have a huge carbon footprint and the lack of transparency is not good enough. Despite being apart of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, they continue to use non-sustainable materials and produce staggering quantities of clothes that go unsold and wasted. Their sustainable lines make little impact when they are sold amongst clothes that are so damaging to the environment. I have previously discussed my opinion of fast-fashion brands that create sustainable lines, and I sincerely believe that it is ultimately a publicity stunt. I have also talked about how hard it is to be a 100% sustainable business; however, Primark is one of the biggest international brands but they’re very vague on their initiatives, leading me to believe that they’re not taking any major steps to be more eco-friendly. Their FAQ page quickly revealed that despite these initiatives, they are not fairtrade and do not source materials directly (non-sustainable).
Who makes the clothes?
Since becoming more involved with sustainability, I have thought more and more about where clothes come from. I think it is really important to think before you buy – think about the journey of the item and who made them. In previous years, Primark has come under scrutiny for the working conditions overseas. On the Primark website, they provide an FAQ page about their factory workers. Reading through, it is clear that they have expertly worded their answers to avoid any scandal. One question reads ‘How do you make sure that factory workers in your supply chain are paid a fair wage?’ This question, along with 5 other questions all had the same sentence: ‘we do not own the factories.’ This effectively means, they cannot ensure that labour rights, working condition standards, living wage standards are met. In short, they are passing off any responsibility for the squalid conditions and less-than-living wage that their workers receive. Despite saying on the page that they are a part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, their code of conduct does not ensure that the workers are getting the living wage.
Does Primark use animal products in their clothes?
Primark don’t use fur in their products; however, they do use leather and wool. In my Allbirds post, I spoke about their wool products, praising them for their transparency of where their wool is sourced and the production of it. It is not surprising that Primark provide no information about where their leather and wool is sourced, and it is also interesting that they have an FAQ question only specifically mentioning mohair – what about the leather and wool you do use?
So what does this all mean?
Ultimately, Primark need to be transparent. Instead of simply stating that you are a part of multiple initiatives, what do these involve and what steps are you personally taking to make a change? The vagueness surrounding these initiatives lead me to assume that they don’t really care. I’m not surprised that they don’t really care because money is the only thing on their mind. It wouldn’t take much to be more transparent, so I think it is safe to assume that these initiatives are a (failed) attempt to appear more eco-friendly.
It would be easy to see their sustainable line and praise them for it and go on with your day, but in reality, they are a fast-fashion brand. They are battling with the digital era, and the high-street is failing. Releasing sustainable lines is a very clever tactic to appear ‘with the times,’ but if you do a bit of digging, it isn’t all it seems. In today’s society, we are constantly surrounded by signs and signals that are subconsciously fed to us. I believe we have become a passive society, accepting things as they appear. But it is time to wake up and think. Don’t believe everything you see.
Magrath, V. The New Fashion Rules, (London: Harper Collins, 2018)