Written by Maisie Edgeworth

‘Sustainable’ has become a buzzword for fashion brands over the last few years. Consumers have become more aware of their garment production and environmental effects they pose to the planet. To follow consumer demand for transparency and clothing better for the environment, many brands have introduced a sustainable collection. 

These sustainable collections initially present what the fashion-conscious shoppers want – a clear conscience of knowing the garments they buy have a green production line, recycled materials, and an affordable price. Yet under the slogans of “slow fashion” and “kinder to the planet” lies the ugly truth – greenwashing.  

The term “greenwashing” was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s following the false advertisements claims made by corporate brands claiming to practice sustainability. Today the term can be applied to the fashion industry, used to describe fashion brands who claim to have an environmentally friendly production line and products. But these claims are at best misleading.  

In 2019, online fast fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing announced their new sustainable collection “Recycled by Pretty Little Thing”, which consists of garments made from unwanted materials and reworked into new pieces. The concept is a step towards the right direction, however the brand itself has an infamous reputation for being one of the worst fast fashion brands

The brand, which is part of the Boohoo group along with Nasty Gal and Miss Pap, has a 1 out of 5 rating from Good On You. Good On You breaks down the brand into three categories: people, planet, and animals. Questions were raised once again about the ethical production of the brand’s garments after selling clothing for as little as 8p on Black Friday. Not only does this question the integrity of the brand, but also raises the question on the sustainability of the products. The brand received a 6-10% score in the Fashion Transparency Index meaning they publish some of their policies however, they are presenting limited information regarding their supplier assessment process.  

In 2020, the Boohoo group came under fire after an investigation revealed that workers for the brand who were making garments in a factory in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour. The exploitation of staff is just another issue building up against the brand and raises further questions regarding the ethics and sustainability of Pretty Little Thing. 

The ugly truth of the Recycled by Pretty Little Thing collection is that it is no different than the rest of the brand’s pieces. The pieces may be created from recycled yarn, fabric off-cuts and environmentally friendly dyes, however these phrases are simply greenwashing. The exploitation of staff, lack of transparency in their supplier chain and greenwashing slogans all contribute to the question of sustainability within a fast fashion brand. 

When looking into the close details of the Recycled by Pretty Little Thing collection, most of the garments are made from recycled polyester. Recycled polyester is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which goes through a process of being molten down and spun into a new polyester fibre. This energy intensive process requires mechanical recycling, done by chopping plastic bottles, melting them down, and running them through a spinneret. The damage does not end here. When a recycled polyester garment is put through a washing machine, more than 700,000 plastic fibres into the water and pollute the oceans. According to Common Objective, recycled polyester should not be used for garments which do not need to be washed, such as shoes or bags. Not clothing.  

What is the most sustainable thing a consumer can do? Stop shopping at these unsustainable brands. Not only will your bank account thank you, the workers and the planet will too. 

Feature photo by Cottonbro via Pexels .