Yes, Primark is a fast fashion brand.
Primark (or Penneys as its known in Republic of Ireland) is one of the most vilified fast fashion brands in the British Isles. It was founded by white Irish businessman Arthur Ryan (worth €8 million) and now has stores across 12 countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, United Kingdom, and United States. The business brings in over £7.5 billion annually, and has 78,000 employees (not including its third-party suppliers or factories).
Primark is a firm fast fashion brand, and often bears the brunt of fast fashion criticism due to its ultra low cost items. However, these do come at a human cost:
- In 2008, UK charity War on Want exposed continued poor working conditions in Primark factories in a BBC documentary, two years after these had first been identified.
- In 2009, Primark was accused of using illegal immigrant labour in the UK and paying these workers less than minimum wage.
- In 2013, Primark was one of the retailers associated with the Rana Plaza factory collapse. They later signed an agreement to provide compensation to the families of the 1,134 garment workers who lost their lives, and the 2,500 people who were injured. In total they provided $9 million.
- In the same year, two SOS messages were found in Primark clothes. Primark called these a hoax.
- In 2014, another SOS message was found, written in Chinese with a prison ID card.
- In 2015, a fourth SOS message was found in Primark clothes from an alleged Chinese torture victim.
- In 2018, a human bone was found in a Primark sock.
- In 2020, Primark stopped paying their garment factories due to covid-19 and are yet to rectify this, despite opening their shops again.
- In late 2022, Primark was found to be sourcing polyester from a manufacturer using Russian oil, despite Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine.
On the sustainability side, Primark is notably a part of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan. This is a voluntary scheme that UK Government insisted was good enough to clean up the fashion industry without the aid of any further regulations as recommended by the Fixing Fashion Report (hint, it’s not).
Primark is also yet to invest in an e-commerce site, instead only ever selling its fast fashion products through physical locations. This became an issue during the start of the covid-19 pandemic, where the brand had no way to continue its monthly £6.5 million net sales, and later caused them to be one of the first retail stores to open up its locations as soon as it was permitted. However, as sustainable fashion journalist Tansy Hoskins points out – people shopping at Primark are not the enemy. Its founders, board of directors, and shareholders are.
Transparency Rating: 38/100
Sustainability Rating: 3/5
This snippet is part of a larger guide to UK fast fashion brands, which goes into more detail about the issues with fast fashion, why it will never be sustainable, and how to make your wardrobe more sustainable.
Data for this review is taken from the brand’s website, corporate website, and Wikipedia. The Transparency Rating is from Fashion Transparency Index 2020. The Sustainability Rating is from Good On You.