As shoppers we’re thinking a lot harder about the impact of cheap fashion on the environment, but there’s also a cost of living crisis hitting the UK hard. This got me wondering: is it possible to dress for less, but still shop sustainably at Everything5Pounds – at least to some extent?
I’ve written about the pros and cons of clothes shopping at Everything5Pounds (E5P) before, but mainly from the perspective of value for money and customer service. Now let’s look at the environmental issues, and various options and alternatives.
A quick note about how E5P works
If you haven’t shopped at Everything5Pounds before, nearly everything they sell is de-labelled stock, so they won’t tell you which brand/shop it comes from. Some of what they sell has an original retail price several times higher than the £5 price tag, but other items are unbranded and would sell for far less.
There are a few other, smaller shops around that sell de-labelled stock in the same way, plus a few market stalls and eBay sellers that work in a similar fashion. The same principles apply to them too.
De-branded clothes & sustainability
There are multiple complex issues to consider when looking at this rather broad subject. For example, you might want to look more closely at any of these areas:
- Type of fabric used
- Methods of fabric manufacture
- Garment manufacture & ethics
- Packaging and/or transport
- Fast fashion ‘churnover’ issues
Let’s have a look through each of these in turn, before looking at ways around certain problems.
1. Type of fabric in garments
Even though the products have been de-labelled, they often still have their care labels intact. Failing this it tends to be listed at the point of sale.
What you’re want here are biodegradable fabrics/materials that will break down in compost or landfill. These commonly include:
- linen (sometimes confusingly referred to on E5P as ‘flax’)
- Tencel / Lyocell
It also technically includes acetate, bamboo, ramie, jute, hemp, silk and fur, among other fibres, but I haven’t seen these listed on the E5P site. Rayon is usually biodegradable, but this can depend upon whether its fibres have been treated to make them waterproof.
Non-biodegradable fabrics won’t break down in landfill, and can release microplastics into the environment. Common ones to you might want to try to avoid include:
Yes, you can recycle polyester, which does reduce some of the environmental impact and keeps things out of landfill. In recent months there have been a small number of E5P listings that mention recycled material, so perhaps this might continue to improve.
Just to make things a bit more complicated, Everything5Pounds does have completely missing information about the garment fabric on some listings, although this isn’t too common. When this happens, I think it’s very likely to be polyester – my preference here is not to buy it, but your circumstances might be different.
Another issue with de-labelling is that the care labels may be snipped out to remove brand names and logos. This means that the fabric composition information is usually lost too, making the garment more difficult to recycle at the end of its useful life.
2. Fabric manufacturing methods
If you don’t know the brand, you have almost no chance of finding out how they select their fabrics. For example, I have never seen cotton described as ‘organic cotton’ on E5P, which would at least give you some idea of the environmental impact of growing the plants, particularly the use of pesticides and intensive farming methods.
Likewise, animal welfare or country of origin won’t be mentioned when you’re seeing ‘wool’. The chemical processes won’t be listed if you’re looking at treated leather or biodegradable polymers such as rayon/viscose either, and these can make a huge difference if you’re looking for reduced environmental impact and all-round sustainability.
Sometimes you’re lucky and you can actually work out the brand after a product arrives. The label may not have been fully removed, or branded buttons, rivets or other details give the game away. Unfortunately you only find this out at the end, not before you’ve made the purchase, but at least you can look up that brand’s reputation for its use of sustainable fabrics.
3. Garment manufacture & ethics
There are the same problems here too, if you don’t know the brand. There’s no real way to know whether it’s been made ethically, or by low-paid workers in dangerous sweatshop conditions, or via child labour, or political prisoners in work camps. There’s zero information, so you can’t make an informed choice.
4. Packaging and transport
All the clothes sold by Everything5Pounds now seem to arrive packaged in individual clear plastic bags, only some of which have recycling instructions. I personally feel that this amount of plastic is excessive, and would like to see urgent change.
Shoes usually arrive tied together or in cardboard boxes, which is more of an environmentally friendly option.
The whole order is then put into a large opaque plastic bag with no recycling information on it, or a cardboard box. There’s no ability to choose the box option – you get what they decide to give you.
I’m fairly sure they use a range of different couriers too, so it’s tricky to work out how sustainable a delivery might be. Again, you don’t have the option to choose the courier.
5. Fast fashion ‘churnover’ issues
A shocking amount of ‘fast fashion’ ends up going directly from the retailer to landfill. It’s tried on and sent back, or it isn’t sold in the first place, and it gets binned.
If retailers can sell their surplus stock – even at cut prices to re-sellers like Everything5Pounds – this is arguably better for the environment as at least it will get used.
Seven sustainability tips for E5P orders
If you’re going to try to shop sustainably at Everything5Pounds, these are your most important options if you want to consider the environment:
- Only buy new if you really need to – reuse, repurpose, mend, upcycle, swap or buy clothes second hand if you can
- Avoid fads, or things you’ll hardly ever wear
- Check the fabric composition carefully before buying
- If something doesn’t truly fit or suit you, send it right back for a refund
- Recycle any packaging, if at all possible (you might need to track down a film recycling scheme and make the extra effort if you can’t recycle via a council collection or at large supermarkets)
- Take good care of anything you purchase, so it lasts longer
- Once you’ve finally finished with an item, sell, swap or donate it (or take it for recycling, or compost it yourself)
Is it possible to shop sustainably at Everything5Pounds or other shops with de-branded stock? Well, it’s a mixed picture.
If your most important personal requirement is for all the sustainability issues boxes to be ticked, you’d be better to save up and spend more with retailers and/or brands that are completely transparent about all their materials, manufacturing, ethics, packaging and so on.
Examples of sustainable fashion brands
These are brands that have affordable prices and/or regular sales and discounts, as well as sustainable and ethical principles.
The brands above all make clothes, shoes and accessories that are good quality and should last you for a long time. There’s something to suit most styles and tastes too.
On the other hand, if you’re on a tighter budget and genuinely need affordable new clothes, it’s still possible to meet at least some sustainability standards when buying discounted de-labelled items.
In particular, it’s usually possible to shop moderately, and to choose biodegradable fabrics. It could also prevent many surplus items of stock from going straight into landfill, which is still a far more common issue in fast fashion than most of us realise.
Are you trying to live more sustainably? Is de-labelled clothing an acceptable compromise for someone on a budget – what’s your opinion?