The boss of online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo insisted his clothing brands are “not disposable.”
In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money podcast, John Lyttle said Boohoo has a “clear strategy” to be more sustainable.
“We are here because people want to wear clothes, they have to be provided,” he told the BBC.
“We are trying to make the trip as sustainable as possible,” he added.
However, the sustainability goals the company has set for itself could take some time to achieve, he said, adding that “there is still a lot of work to be answered.”
“20% of all our ranges will be sustainable this fall … 40% next spring / summer,” said Lyttle.
“They won’t be fixed in six and 12 months … It’s the same 2030 period as the fuel engines.”
Boohoo owns 13 brands: Boohoo, BoohooMan, Coast, Karen Millen, Dorothy Perkins, Warehouse, Oasis, Wallis, Burton, Debenhams, PrettyLittleThing, NastyGal and MissPap.
Mr. Lyttle, former COO at Primark, defended Boohoo’s advertised ultra-low prices for its clothing: “We’re not at the bottom of the cheap segment. Even on our low-priced brand, our price tag of sale is higher. “
He added: “Our data does not suggest that people buy every day or buy once and wear something new.”
Labor MP and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, said Boohoo’s environmental policy claims and the 20% sustainability target amounted to “greenwashing.”
“We have always seen them playing cat and mouse with lawmakers and public opinion on the issue of sustainable work practices and sustainable consumption,” she said.
“Boohoo, in particular, needs to reduce the volume of clothing it manufactures and price its clothing accurately to reflect the environmental cost of fashion production.”
Meanwhile, Noelle Hatley, senior lecturer in fashion business at the Fashion Institute in Manchester, said brands were able to use the term “sustainable” because there was “no agreement at all. ‘industry-wide on its meaning “.
“40% is a reasonable target, but it all depends on what they mean by sustainability and how much information they will actually share with customers,” she stressed.
Boohoo was founded in 2006 in Manchester by Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane. By 2020, the company had a turnover of £ 1.2 billion and had 5,000 employees.
The company’s goal was to use the Internet to “cut out the middleman” in retail.
‘Very upset’ by ‘failures’ of Leicester supplier
In addition to questions about the environmental impact of Boohoo’s fast fashion business model, there have been accusations of widespread abuse of employment rights at some of its suppliers in Leicester.
Surveys last year suggested workers were being paid below minimum wage in unsafe working conditions.
Subsequently, an independent review of the retailer concluded that there were “many flaws” in the way Boohoo managed its supply chain.
“We were very upset about it,” Mr. Lyttle said. “It’s not the culture of our company, it’s not the way we take care of our people.
“We want to make sure everything is right and done the right way.”
The crisis has led to calls for his resignation, but he says that would not have been the right approach to take.
“If I had resigned, it would have delayed me – in terms of time – to do what we had to do,” he said.
He added that Boohoo had “not seen evidence” that workers were being paid below minimum wage, but the company could “step up our audit and investigation to ensure these workers are paid.”
Boohoo is now creating 5,000 new jobs across the country, including at a warehouse in Burnley, as well as other positions at its Manchester headquarters.
Mr Lyttle said spending habits changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting the company to hire more staff.
“We need efficiency and speed,” he added. “Immediacy has been the most important trend over the past 18 months and it is becoming more and more important. Consumers are driving trends.”
You can download the full podcast on Thursday, August 12. The interview will also air during Wake Up to Money on BBC Radio 5 Live from 05:00 BST on Thursday 12 August.
Interview with Sean Farrington, additional report by Elisabeth Mahy.