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Who Pays For Cheap Clothes? 5 Questions the Low-cost Retailers Must Answer

Something different has swept through the UK high street.  Whereas ten years ago, style-conscious teenagers would never be seen, like, dead in a bargain clothes shop, today the Saturday afternoon high street is awash with Primark bags and their proud owners boasting the bargains they have found. That anyone would admit to buying clothes from a supermarket would have been inconceivable until recent years, but ask someone at a party now where their nice new jeans are from, and they may well have been picked up that afternoon along with the baked beans and cornflakes in Asda.  This report aims to set out questions that the consumer can ask of the retailers that are becoming ever more a key part of the consumer horizon.


The savvy shopper can pick up a stylish new top to wear the same night for a fiver or even less, making it practically disposable.   This, along with the ground-breaking supply-chain management that makes its production so quick, is why the buzz-word in clothing retail today is “fast fashion”.


The four companies this report focusses on, Asda, Tesco, Primark and Matalan, are to fashion what McDonalds and Burger King are to food: mass produced, hassle-free, fast, popular, and reliant on exploitation down the supply chain to keep things that way.

One in four items of clothing bought in the UK comes from these four stores, yet only one in ten pounds that are spent on clothes are spent there.  Most people picking up a £2 T-shirt from Matalan or a £3 pair of jeans at Tesco do so with at least a slight worry about how these clothes can be so cheap, but most of us are unsure what we can do about it.

We've set out five questions for these companies to answer.  We know that none of the low-cost retailers is able or willing to give positive answers to all of these questions yet, but we hope that in the future, as they are interrogated by concerned consumers and campaigners, these questions will act as both a guide to action for the retailers, and a yardstick by which the rest of us can measure their progress.

Labour Behind the Label
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Labour Behind the Label is a not-for-profit company Registered in England No. 4173634. Labour Behind the Label's charitable activities are funded by the Labour Behind the Label Trust, registered charity number 1159356.

Labour Behind the Label coordinates
the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign