Good news for people who like being lied to and wearing clothes that smell of petrochemicals: Boohoo, a UK-based online fast-fashion brand that has grown quickly in the US, has announced that they will be partnering with Kourtney Kardashian to embark on a “sustainability journey”.
The destination is unclear, but the “journey” will involve 46 limited-edition pieces of clothing made from “recycled fibers, traceable cotton, recycled sequins and recycled polyester” as well as “transparent practices for shoppers who want to learn more about the apparel”.
Although still a small fish in the US fast-fashion market, Boohoo is a fast fashion behemoth in the UK, which means that their clothes are made from cheap, environmentally-damaging materials, and that their workers in Pakistan are paid as little as 33 cents an hour to work in unsafe conditions. The result of this tried-and-tested exploitation method is an average of more than 700 different poorly-made items being uploaded to their website every week, ready for the consumer to add to basket for a quick burst of serotonin and a new outfit to upload to Instagram on the weekend.
Following over $1bn of sales in the first financial quarter of 2021, Boohoo has aggressive plans from US expansion, with the Kardashian capsule collection which will be launched at New York fashion week the centerpiece of their US launch.
In July, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that Boohoo was under investigation over “greenwashing”, the practice of using inaccuracy or exaggeration in branding something as sustainable or environmentally sound. Of particular scrutiny is their “Ready for the Future” line which vaguely claims that items in this line “are made of more than 20% of more sustainable materials”, an essentially meaningless assertion made with little to no proof.
Kardashian, the eldest sister of reality TV’s first family, has spent the last few years crafting a fashion-forward and health-obsessed personal brand: going vegan, cutting out coffee in favor of matcha, removing sugar from the lives of her children (to ridiculous effect in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians where she tried to ban candy from a Candy Land-themed children’s birthday party). Her content-meets-commerce lifestyle platform Poosh – “the modern guide to living your best life” – offers healthy and quick lunchtime recipes from Kardashiany herself, all-natural hangover cures, skincare recommendations, and a tour of supermodel sister Kendall Jenner’s “High -Vibe Bedroom Sitting Area”.
In the official press release, Kardashian herself admitted to some trepidation on the collaboration: “When Boohoo first approached me with this idea that was all about sustainability and style, I was concerned about the effects of the fast-fashion industry on our planet,” she said, briefly sparking a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately, she continued. “It’s been an enlightening experience speaking directly with industry experts. There’s still lots of work to be done and improvements to be made, but I truly believe that any progress we can make when it comes to sustainability is a step in the right direction and will open up the conversation for future advancements.” Something tells me that the enlightenment she experienced was linked to a pay check and the Kardashian inability to turn down a lucrative opportunity.
It’s unclear how sustainable any of the pieces in the upcoming collection – which ranges in price from $6 to $100 – actually are. The official press release includes absurdist statements such as “41 of the 45 pieces contain pieces that contain recycled fibers like recycled cotton” with no information about what percentage of the materials are recycled (Boohoo did not respond to repeated requests for clarification). Although the collection promises to be “traceable”, only 2 items are made with cotton from CottonConnect, an agricultural project that promotes sustainable cotton farming practices with specific farms.
Boohoo says it is making 12 of the pieces “in the UK including our own British factory”. But conditions in Boohoo’s factories were so bad that many believe they amounted to modern slavery, and the US threatened an import ban unless changes were made. More than two years on, over half of workers say they are being paid less than minimum wage and receive no holiday pay.
Even if Kardashian’s range turns out to be as sustainable as Stella McCartney, her collection makes up less than 0.1% of the clothes available on Boohoo. Her endorsement, however, will help the whole company, including the 99.9% of their far less sustainable clothing.
It seems that most of the heavy lifting sustainability wise will actually be done by the “social content series” that’s being released alongside the collection, which sees footage of Kardashian talking to a variety of glossy experts about how fast fashion is killing the planet before merrily heading off to co-sign some more of it being made.
Central to the influencer-to-landfill pipeline is a false illusion of egalitarianism, with fast fashion framed as an accessible way for everyday people to embody the aspirational lifestyles of people like Kardashian, who, let’s be real, would probably rather die than actually wear the cheap swill they are flogging for any longer than the time it takes to make a contractually required post.
Fans of fast fashion justify their continued patronage of these stores with claims that they simply cannot afford anything else, but there is no reason why anyone needs to be spending hundreds of dollars on new clothes every month.
Anyone who says a company like Boohoo can create sustainable clothing is lying. Fast fashion retailers – from Shein and its lead-filled $1 sunglasses to Zara and their $50 polyester cardigans – are predicated on a system of always wanting more that is at odds with the environment.
“What’s challenging is figuring out how people can still live in this way where it’s simple, and easy, and fast, and fun, but it doesn’t have a negative impact on people and the planet,” muses Patrick Duffy, founder of Global Fashion Exchange in the accompanying video of The Journey. A spoiler alert for everyone: you can’t. The only truly sustainable thing that Boohoo and its fast-fashion brethren can do is immediately shut down operation.