Fast Fashion Sustainability: How is a $5 t-shirt possible?

How is it possible to produce an item of clothing for $5 and still make a profit? The UK Government recently demanded talks with leading retailers.

The sustainability of the ‘Fast Fashion’ industry is coming under increased scrutiny in the UK. As a result, the governments Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is demanding talks with leaders at some of the UK’s leading retailers. 

The BBC recently reported that representatives from brands including Boohoo, ASOS, and Burberry were summoned to be questioned by the EAC. The questioning was firmly focused on the environmental impact of the clothing industry and whether the fast fashion business model is sustainable.

Infographic showing impacts of fast fashion in UK
UK Fast Fashion Statistics. Source: BBC News

Online Fast Fashion Sustainability

The enquiry is focused on how companies can justify charging such small amounts for clothing and still make a profit. Regardless of whether a business markets itself as ‘eco-friendly’, there should be a responsibility to ensure the business model is sustainable for the planet. 

Online retailers are always fighting the battle of maintaining a healthy profit margin. Offering a competitive shipping offer is tough, so when you also add on the product manufacturing costs, it’s difficult to see how a $5 t-shirt is profitable.

Unless however, the supply chain is solely about price, with no thought for the environmental or human impact. A business model focused on volume and creating ‘single-use’ clothing items is the major flaw with Fast Fashion.  

Fast Fashion = Single-Use

The poor quality and the associated low prices of Fast Fashion encourage precisely this “single-use” behaviour. Whilst the retailers disagree, the questions regarding ‘Fast Fashion’ sustainability are completely justified and should continue.

“Primark has never done any significant advertising at all. That can save us £100m to £150m, compared to some of our larger rivals. That goes straight into the price. That keeps our pricing low. It’s our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt.”

Paul Lister, Head of Ethical Trade & Sustainability, Primark

Clothing is now the second biggest pollutant on the planet. Both the fashion industry and we as consumers are going to need to change the way we shop entirely.

The detailed EAC inquiry on fast fashion sustainability can be viewed here.

Further reading: Everlane battles against fast fashion. Price transparency in retail. Is this the key to sustainability?

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