PrettyLittleThing: Crisis with Clothing Chemicals Linked to Cancer and Birth Defects



PrettyLittleThing makes £516.3million a year globally, and owns Boohoo, Nasty Girl and many more popular brands. As a business, it has become the vastly popular since starting out as an accessory brand in 2012, but has now faced the wrath of being linked to cancerous chemicals in its clothes.


This clothing chemical crisis came a light in 2019, when a Twitter user tweeted about a label found in a garment; ‘WARNING: Some Products on our online store from time to time may contain chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm and may be included on the Proposition 65 chemical list.’


The Proposition 65 chemical list


In the State of California, all companies are legally required to mention any products being sold there - and some of these listed have links to cancer and birth defects. PrettyLittleThing are not the only company in recent years that has had to label the chemicals in their clothes in the United States, as this law has resulted in all companies that trade in California to declare the chemicals.


However, it is likely that PrettyLittleThing received backlash from public due to the to the owner’s response on how they treat factory workers and their lack of remorse for the risks they take. And as many people have found out, when they criticise, they are blocked from communicating further.


What harm do they cause?


The Proposition 65 chemical list likely causes minimal harm to people; ’The Prop 65 label is like a noisy alarm that rings equally loudly about smaller amounts of low-risk substances and huge amounts of potentially harmful chemicals.’


The chemicals on this list are in everyday products, which is the case for clothes. However, as the New York Times article suggests, the amount of chemicals in the clothing can be a cause for concern. However, due to the production of clothing being in the UK and having EU standards to adhere to, the chemicals would be unlikely to harm the UK shopper’s health.


The aftermath of the crisis


The aftermath of the crisis led to many people on Twitter and other social media platforms, to claim that they would never shop at PLT again. However, looking at the amount the company has made since 2019, around £374.4 million, comparing to 2020 which grew to £1.235 billion during the pandemic. This shows that the even though people on Twitter were vocal about the crisis, it does not affect them financially.


The crisis had more of a reaction from the public due to it affecting physical health, which registered as more of an issue then the mistreatment of their factor workers who were reported to be paid a wage of just £3.50 hour.


On top of that, it was found by Labour Behind the Labour that the factory workers during the pandemic were forced to work even when sick with a virus. This shows the contempt that PrettyLittleThing had for their own workers.


What we can do to change


We can change the industry by supporting businesses that are not putting chemicals that have been linked to causing cancer and birth defects in their products and been found to mistreat their workers.

For example, the Girlfriend Collection, is made with certified fair labour and has non-toxic dyes, and has sizes that range from 2XS to 6XL. Outland Denim offers ethical employment, and has a size range in the US sizes 22-34.