Primark, Primarni, Penneys; whatever you call it, its loved by so many for their cheap clothing and brand partners and collabs like Disney, Harry Potter, Marvel, NBA, and Minecraft to name a few. And, because of this popularity, they’ve expanded their ranges to include homeware, accessories, and beauty. Plus, you can easily spend a day in most stores – superstores really, that have barbers, restaurants, beauty salons and more. With sustainability being a hot button topic as well as the questions raised around cheap clothing and the impact on workers and materials, should we feel guilty for shopping at Primark and cheap clothing retailers like it?

There is a concern about quality and wastefulness

If sustainability is a concern of yours, fast-fashion clothing, from retailers like Primark, should worry you. Retailers and clothing manufacturers like Primark that offer cheap clothing have to compromise on price somewhere through the supply chain. It may be that they use cheaper labour (as explored below), they work with cheaper materials, or they’re working with producers that use chemicals that are endangering soil, plants, wildlife and communities, as a few examples. For those on-trend pieces, fast fashion isn’t overly problematic, if only buying a few pieces each season to top-up, and those pieces can be incorporated into a capsule wardrobe for the everyday, or they can be re-used and recycled appropriately. But because of the low price point and attractive collabs, we’re often buying more than intended which is leading to premature waste because they’re no longer on trend, we find we have too much stuff, or if there is a quality and care issue, and they’re damaging faster and ending up in landfill.  

Cheap clothing is suspicious

Primark, and retailers like it, offer cheap clothing so that you buy more of it. And when you’re in store, it is easy to get lured into spending more when your attention is drawn to the wide and compelling offering (ever wondered why Primark didn’t have an online presence for so long, or why they only offer click and collect?). But consider this: to offer clothing so cheaply, there has to be a compromise somewhere in the supply chain. How is it they can produce clothing so cheaply?   

The majority of clothing for Primark is made in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and China. As reported by The Guardian in 2019, the legal minimum wage of a garment worker in Bangladesh was 8,000tka (£73.85) per month, but this fell significantly short against the living wage at the time. This forced many to work long and extended hours just to make ends meet. Extensive studies have been conducted that illustrate how little garment makers make and how its driving individuals to work significantly more hours just to get by, and often in terrible conditions too.  

Although there is much more awareness and action to bring fairer wages and better working conditions to those manufacturing clothes, after all, huge corporations and brands like Primark do hold significant influence, there is still significant disparity between western and eastern wages, working practises and laws.

This is just one area of cost-cutting exercises businesses like fast-fashion retailers have to make in order to bring you cheaper clothing. We’ve previously touched on the impact cheap materials has on the planet; from chemicals that destroys soils and waterways, to the resource intense demand these materials have, thereby depleting large volumes of precious water reserves, or polluting them at the consumer end when washing.

Though, changes are happening

We’re all conscious that we need to make our money go further, especially at the moment. But, equally, we’re all more conscious consumers around the impact our purchases have on the environment, people and the planet. It would be dangerous for any business to ignore the demands of their consumers and it’s harder to hide poor practises. As such, companies are making great strides in being more transparent about their manufacturing process and the impact their business has across the who supply chain, and they’re introducing more eco-friendly ranges and processes to meet the demand of the eco-conscious consumer. When it comes to Primark, they’re working with recycled materials, including plastics, sustainable cotton, cruelty-free beauty, biodegradable wipes, and have introduced recycling points in all stores for textiles, clothing, shoes and accessories. You can find out more about the work they do through the good on you website, a company dedicated to showing how conscious fashion brands are.

The key takeaway: it’s not all bad, but just because they’re making strides in some areas, it doesn’t mean it’s all good either. When shopping from fast-fashion retailers, like Primark, choose conscious ranges and eco-materials over synthetics, take a look at their strategic goals and review their supply chain process to ensure they align with your own personal philosophies, supporting those areas of the business.

Featured image by El gringo on Pexels

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