Rebels With A Cause, Why I Have Sympathy With Extinction Rebellion Targeting Fast Fashion

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been one to get especially excited by people throwing orange paint over the windows of Ferrari dealers or gluing themselves to the M25. It’s pointless, irresponsible and frankly a pain in the……well, you get the picture.

But an article in The Times this week caught my eye. Reports that workers at Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse are experiencing racism, sexism, gruelling targets and unsafe conditions, has led to activists joining trade unions to protest outside Boohoo today.

And it’s not just working conditions that have caused the wrath of unions and activists alike. Sale items under £2 have been called out as ‘a crime against our future planet and against workers’ rights’.

Groups outside the Boohoo HQ in Manchester are protesting against what they refer to as extreme consumer discounts being promoted online this week and are calling on the firm and other e-retailers to move towards a Just Transition for the industry. But is it possible for a healthy economy and a clean environment to co-exist?

Because of course, in reality, this isn’t about Boohoo - after all, they’re too easy a target having become the poster boy (and girl) for everything that’s bad about fast fashion. No, this is about us, about society and about what kind of world we want to inhabit and leave for our children. And I for one sense that the tide, so to speak, is turning.

With the world facing environmental and social disaster, extreme Black Friday discounts on Boohoo’s already impossibly low prices are a crime against our future planet and against workers’ rights”.

Clare Richardson, Extinction Rebellion Fashion Action

According to a report commissioned last year by US based online secondhand clothing store Thredup with research conducted by Globaldata, the secondhand clothing market is expected to be twice the size of fast fashion by 2030. Let that sink in for a moment.

The data also suggests that secondhand fashion is also growing at a much faster rate than sustainable fashion with consumers turning to resale more and more, which has partly happened due to the emergence of more and easier-to-use resale sites, making it more straightforward and appealing for consumers to both sell and buy secondhand goods.

And there’s another reason for that. Consumers are beginning to pay far more attention to so called greenwashing and questioning ‘ethically sourced’ and ‘sustainable fashion’ claims.

A look at Boohoo’s own website gives an insight into why. It took a little perseverance to find it but there under the heading of sustainability can be found their ‘Ready for the Future’ policy, with the somewhat nebulous target that by 2030, “all the materials we use for our garments will be more sustainable”. Yes, you read that correctly.

So, for once, I feel myself having some sympathy with the activists outside Boohoo’s headquarters. Let’s just hope that they don’t glue themselves to the M6 on the way home.

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Andrew Busby

Global Industry Leader Retail at Software AG, founder Retail Reflections, best selling author, former Forbes contributor, global retail influencer.