Cyber Monday sales may get customers filling their carts, but popular online retailer PrettyLittleThing has been criticized for its promotional stunt of a 100% discount.
Yes, the fast fashion merchant, a fixture among influencers thanks to its trendy pieces and celebrity collaborations, has been giving away free clothes to a select few quick enough to grab them.
The Black Friday promotion of items listed for $0 was branded “sickening” and “unethical” by critics concerned with the lack of sustainability in fast fashion.
“Every single week we’re uncovering new clothing waste sites,” Venetia La Manna, a fair fashion campaigner and podcaster, told BuzzFeed News, calling the marketing gimmick “totally unsustainable.” The environmental impact of fast fashion brands has turned nations, such as Ghana in West Africa, into dump sites for textile waste.
La Manna was among the critics who questioned the brand’s actions on Twitter, resulting in her being blocked by PrettyLittleThing owner Umar Kamani.
“You can’t be working for a fashion brand in 2021 and not know the impacts of the harm that brand is causing and unfortunately, every fast fashion CEO seems to get away with it by just feigning ignorance,” said the 32-year-old activist.
An estimated 15 million used garments make their way from the UK, Europe, North America, and Australia to end up in Ghana’s capital of Accra every week for the city’s enormous clothing market. However, 40% of it is of such poor quality that it ends up in a landfill, according to a report by ABC.
Last year, PrettyLittleThing’s Black Friday campaign grabbed headlines when it gave shoppers the chance to grab 25-pence (33 cents in USD) stilettos and 8-pence (10 cents) bodycon dresses. For 2021, the company has gone a step further by eliminating, in some instances, the price tag.
“If you’re willing to give away your clothes for free, what happens next?” asked La Manna. “And what I would say that says more than anything is how little they value their product.”
And, the activist warned, the economic byproduct of such marketing ploys would have negative ramifications for workers.
The retailer is part of the Boohoo Group, which is owned by British billionaire Mahmud Kamani alongside Carol Kane. An investigation by the Sunday Times last year revealed that workers in factories making its clothes in the UK were being paid as little as $4.37 an hour and flouting COVID safety measures at the height of the pandemic.
“It’s not just happening in countries like Bangladesh,” said La Manna. “It’s also happening on UK soil.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a PrettyLittleThing spokesperson said the promotion is part of an orchestrated marketing strategy and insisted that the staggering discounts had no bearing on suppliers.
“The items on sale are carefully selected and discounting is a marketing investment that we make and is incorporated into our costing model, it does not in any way impact the cost price we pay to suppliers, or the way we value the work that goes into creating the garments,” PLT said the statement.
The PLT spokesperson did not respond to specific questions about whether it considered itself an ethical brand or measured the environmental impact of its clothing, only saying that its pricing campaign was one that allowed customers access to the brand “no matter what their budget.”
As scientists warn of the long-term environmental consequences of fast fashion, major discount marketing gimmicks are signs that the industry is “out of whack” and “that fast fashion seems to be eating itself,” said La Manna.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are specifically creating a sense of urgency for customers, particularly in brands that rely on constant turnover on cheap trend products. La Manna believes that the bulk of criticism should be directed at brands rather than consumers, who are sometimes victims of aggressive marketing campaigns and a strong influencer culture.
“We’re all coming at fashion from different points of privilege, we all have different levels of access,” said La Manna. “I’m not here to shame any individuals on how they shop because I think the onus is on brands, I think PrettyLittleThing and Boohoo and all big brands have a responsibility to drastically reduce their output.”