Fast fashion: ‘inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends’. Many of our favorite high-street brands adhere to this process in order to provide us with affordable and stylish clothing, but does this ease-of-purchase come at more of a price than what’s on the tag?
There is no doubt a stigma surrounding the world of high-street clothing/fast-fashion, especially nowadays in a much more sustainability-conscious world. This stigma however cannot solely be attached to the world of fast-fashion, with more luxury and high-end brands also facing close scrutiny for their methods, as seen with this year’s ‘G7’ summit and the promise of the ‘Fashion Pact’ by 32 companies. Clothing brand Primark is a great case study to look in to how a fast fashion brand is trying to help improve its sustainability and the livelihood of its workers.
Primark is renowned for their low prices. No matter what your budget, you will be able to find a great range of fashion and home accessories at affordable prices. As a result, the high-street favorite is often questioned on their ability to combine low prices with good standards in the supply chain. The company states that they do not own factories and are very selective about who they work with, with the welfare of the people making their products mattering a lot to them. Before an order is placed with a new supplier they audit each factory to check whether internationally-recognised standards are being met, and once approved, it’s the job of their Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Team to help factories meet the expected standards. They audit suppliers at least once a year in order to get a detailed picture of what conditions are like inside the factory, which suggests that some good efforts are made in creating a safe and stable environment for workers.
Women make up more than half of the workers that manufacture Primark products, so the company has also tried to tackle some of the challenges being faced by female workers. In China, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar they have partnered with Business for Social Responsibility on the ‘HERHealth’ initiative (Health Enables Returns) in which women train other women on their health needs and support each other in their learning. These sessions cover a diverse range of topics, but they are all of great importance and can sometimes be life-changing. Discussions for example cover personal hygiene, menstruation, family planning or sexually transmitted diseases. The programme has so far trained over 950 female coaches and reached more than 25,000 women.
Primark also work within communities, for example in Southern India, where there are increasing numbers of inter-state migrants looking for work. These workers do not always know enough about relevant local laws or their workplace rights, which lead to the company partnering with with NGO ‘SAVE’ – Social Awareness and Voluntary Education – in 2009 to introduce Worker Education Groups in Tirupur. Each group is given training and support over a four-year period, covering topics such as life skills and personal development, health and safety and workplace rights. So far, this has reached over 6,000 people and the programme continues to grow each year.
Upon looking at the case study of Primark, it becomes clear that some stigmatised fast-fashion brands are actually trying to do their bit to help the planet and create a better working environment for their staff. Whether it’s enough is up for debate, as companies can always do more to improve their methods, but these issues are of vital importance so the fact that they are being addressed is a great start.