50% Of Clothes Sold By Online Fast Fashion Brands Are Made Of Virgin Plastic, New Study Reveals

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According to a new study, around half the clothes that major online fast fashion brands like Boohoo and Asos sell are developed entirely from virgin plastic components like polyester, with only 1% of the clothes derived from recycled plastic fabric.

Conducted by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), the study analyzed 10,000 items that were added over a fortnight in May to the Asos, Boohoo, Missguided and PrettyLittleThing e-commerce websites. The findings revealed that an average of 49% of clothes were developed out of new plastics like polyester, acrylic and nylon.

As we all know, the fast-fashion industry uses synthetic fibres that are derived from fossil fuels with the use doubling over the past 20 years. In the U.K. alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothing is burned or buried each year with the world calling out on brands like PrettyLittleThing and Missguided for promoting this kind of fashion by using gimmicks like GBP £0.08 (approx.US$0.11) dresses and GBP£1 (approx. US$1.41) bikinis.

In addition, the report showed that it is possible that the younger generation of shoppers are unaware of the fact that different types of fabrics are used to make their clothes.

RSA’s head of regenerative design, who co-authored the report, Josie Warden said that these are “cheap” materials and that they are responsible for aggravating the “explosion of fast, throwaway fashion”. “These fabrics may be cheap at the point of sale, but they form part of a petrochemical economy that is fuelling runaway climate change and pollution. The production of synthetic fibres uses large amounts of energy.”

The RSA is urging for a per-item “plastics tax” on clothes using virgin plastics that are being imported and produced in the U.K. However, in 2019, the government trashed the recommendations from MPs where they suggested imposing a GBP £0.01(approx. US$0.01) on each garment.

These fabrics may be cheap at the point of sale, but they form part of a petrochemical economy that is fuelling runaway climate change and pollution as the production of synthetic fibres uses large amounts of energy

Josie Warden, head of regenerative design at RSA and co-author of the report

Warden added that the amount of clothing produced by these websites is “shocking” and that its time that consumers understand that synthetic fabrics are as harmful as single-use plastic packaging. “We can no longer use plastics to create poorly made garments which are designed to be worn only a handful of times. These use large amounts of energy and create environmental damage in their production, and can take thousands of years to break down. Other materials, such as cotton and viscose, can also create environmental problems, so ultimately it is the scale of production that needs to change.”

Boohoo, the owner of PrettyLittleThing, has previously been in the news for the wrong reasons. After allegations like worker’s exploitation, low pay and hazardous working conditions at Boohoo’s supplier factory in Leicester, fashion giants including Asos, Next and Zalando pulled the brand out of their websites. Owing to these reasons, Boohoo that makes 80% of its clothes from cotton or polyester has committed to recycle or make these fabrics more sustainable by 2025.

We can no longer use plastics to create poorly made garments that are designed to be worn only a handful of times. They create environmental damage in their production, and can take thousands of years to break down

Josie Warden, head of regenerative design at RSA and co-author of the report

A spokesperson for Missguided, another U.K.-based multi-channel retailer said that it has massively slashed its use of virgin plastic but siad that “there’s more to do” with a commitment to use recycled fibres in 10% of its products by the end of this year and 25% by the end of 2022.

Fashion and cosmetics retailer giant Asos is looking to use more recycled synthetics and sustainable cotton as well as has introduced a curated responsible edit to help consumer shop for sustainable clothes.

A survey conducted in the U.S. showed that 51% agreed that the clothing purchased every year in the country leads to a substantial amount of GHGs with another 53% believing that most of the clothes are derived primarily from synthetic material with 47% saying that fossil fuels like crude oil and coal help in making this kind of clothing.

A further 31% said that they would support a “fast fashion tax” on unsustainable clothing.

To tackle the enormous environmental damage by the fast fashion industry, several companies are developing sustainable alternatives from the Mexican company Desserto with its cactus-based leather to H&M using discarded grapes to make wine leather to Bolt Threads creating mushroom leather material called Mylo.

Read more alt fashion stories here


Lead image courtesy of Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock.

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