Boohoo, the online fashion giant known for turning around trend-led looks faster than you can say 'next-day delivery', has had a rough couple of weeks.
Despite riding out the pandemic admirably - sales rose by 45 per cent to £367.8 million in the three months to May - it was hit badly by claims this month that workers at some Leicester-based garment factories were forced to work during lockdown and that some were paid as little as £3.50 an hour. The report, by campaign group Labour Behind the Label, suggested that at least 75 percent of clothing production in all Leicester factories is commissioned by the Boohoo group. The fashion brand Quiz has also been criticised.
The Boohoo group, which owns faster-than-fast fashion brands Pretty Little Thing, Nasty Gal and MissPap, as well as high street stalwarts Warehouse, Coast, Karen Millen and Oasis, responded quickly to the allegations. It stated that it had found no evidence of suppliers paying workers £3.50 per hour, that it was 'shocked and appalled' by the claims, and immediately launched an investigation into its supply chain.
Already, damage has been done though. Boohoo’s shares have continued to plummet in the wake of these headlines, while stockists Next, Asos and Zalando have removed Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing merchandise from their websites. Some of the social media influencers responsible for promoting Boohoo merchandise have also started to disassociate themselves with the brand.
So the question remains: will the trend-hungry young shoppers who have fuelled Boohoo’s unstoppable rise to date continue to shop there? Will they be put off by these unpalatable allegations and get their fashion fixes elsewhere, or are they prepared to turn a blind eye in their pursuit of affordable new Instagram-ready looks?
Rosie Price, 25, who lives in Sheffield, usually orders something new from Boohoo once a month and shares her latest outfits on Instagram. “I love it because it is cheap and they offer next-day delivery which is convenient when you’re working and need something quick,” she says.
But the Leicester factory allegations have changed her outlook. “I honestly don’t think I’ll shop there again,” she admits. “I would buy Boohoo second-hand off Depop or eBay, but I won’t directly shop via their website anymore.”
The same is true for Katie Jones, 29, who lives in London and works in digital marketing. She admits the recent headlines have been something of a wake-up call about her fast fashion habits. “I shop pretty much exclusively on Asos for the range of options and quality but I’ve also purchased from SHEIN, Boohoo, Nasty Gal and PrettyLittleThing recently,” she says. “I’m very influenced by what I see on Instagram and if [Scottish model, influencer and reality television star] Emma Lou Connolly is wearing it, I’m buying it.”
Jones admits she was “shocked but not surprised” about claims of Boohoo’s alleged links with unethical factories. “I think many of us were ignorant and naive,” she says. “I’m definitely going to stop shopping there.”
The pressure to keep social media profiles relevant and up-to-date is real though, so for many, it might be hard to kick the Boohoo habit. Just ask Phoebe Rymer, 22, a beauty therapist from East Sussex, who admits Boohoo’s ‘new in’ section has become something of an obsession.
“I feel there is a certain pressure to keep up to date with fashion trends, especially when you have social media,” she explains. “I also have a YouTube channel, so I often order from them to review the quality of clothing - I have actually gone off Boohoo recently due to the quality of the items, as I end up returning most things.
“As they’re one of the most popular fast fashion brands I will continue to browse their website just to keep up with what’s new and current, but I will definitely hesitate in placing any future orders with them.”
As women who might usually splash out on affordable new faster fashion looks at least once a month, what they think about Boohoo and its sister brands is critical to its future success - it’s no wonder that the group is acting so rapidly to investigate the claims.
While it has since emerged that the abhorrent working conditions in some Leicester garment factories have been an open secret for years, this report’s lasting impact may be that all fast fashion brands are forced to become more transparent about how they make their clothes.
Boohoo’s shoppers are already voicing their hope for more clarity. “I definitely think it’s the brand’s responsibility to be transparent about their ethics and sustainability efforts,” says Jones. “That said, I will definitely reconsider shopping with them if they make a major change.”