Is Princess Polly Ethical? Deep Dive Into Their Greenwashing

February 7, 2022

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Princess Polly is an Australian brand that describes themselves on their homepage as:

The ultimate global fashion destination for trendsetters who want the latest Insta-ready, TikTok-approved, celeb-worthy looks and they want them now. With daily drops of fresh styles, seriously fast free delivery and easy peasy returns, this weekend’s ‘fit is right here.

This sense of urgency and the constant drops should lets you know immediately that Princess Polly is a fast fashion brand.

That said, they often align themselves with “green-adjacent” influencers: think lifestyle vloggers who are vegan, who create content around thrifting, and sometimes mention sustainability. So, this makes a lot of folks believe that Princess Polly is a sustainable brand. 

In this post, I’ll evaluate their sustainability claims and show how Princess Polly is ultimately greenwashing. If you’re disappointed and need alternatives, I’ll suggest some actually ethical brands at the end.

Evaluating Princess Polly’s Sustainability and Ethics

This information is based on Princess Polly’s publicly-available sustainability information on their website as of February 2022.

Environmental Measures

Princess Polly has a “sustainable range” with around 700 items. The criteria for this range appears to be the use of “lower-impact” materials, including recycled fabrics, recycled metals, and organic cotton.

They state that 20% of their products will be made from these materials by 2022, 60% by 2025, and 100% by 2030.

While using recycled materials is a good start, Princess Polly fails to provide literacy around the microplastic pollution from washing synthetic materials (which make up the bulk of their fabrics, even in the “Earth Club” range). Recycled synthetics are better than virgin synthetics, but they’re still not the best fabric choice overall.

It’s also worth noting that their “Earth Club” range makes up only 10% of their entire stock of almost 7,000 products. The large majority of Princess Polly products still use virgin synthetics and aren’t made with sustainability in mind. 

Princess Polly’s products also rely heavily on the trend cycle, so their pieces are unlikely to be worn for many years. Beyond that, they’re still sponsoring massive influencer hauls, encouraging overconsumption.

Princess Polly did commit to carbon offsetting deliveries from 2020 onwards, but they don’t state how they’re offsetting emissions and haven’t provided an update on these efforts. 

They experimented with compostable mailers at one point, but then switched to recycled plastic mailers after customer feedback. While composting isn’t always accessible, soft plastics recycling can also be tough to find outside of select grocery stores, as most curbside bins don’t accept it. 

Overall, Princess Polly isn’t doing enough. They do have some interesting targets, such as:

  • Developing a take-back program by 2023
  • Zero waste to landfills by 2025 (including damaged returns)
  • Net zero emissions across the supply chain by 2030

They also talk a lot about their goals for their offices and distribution centers (net zero, zero waste, etc.), but these aspects only make up 2% of their carbon emissions. It’s better than nothing, but when production makes up 47% of emissions, the attention feels misplaced.

Princess Polly's carbon footprint breakdown

And unless Princess Polly actually starts encouraging conscious consumption, circularity is not a solution, especially when 80% of clothes donated to thrift stores end up trashed or dumped in the Global South.

I’d also like to see Princess Polly do more with its factories to reduce water usage, use low-impact dyes, and upcycle fabric scraps. 

Labor Ethics

Princess Polly does have a Code of Conduct that encompasses no forced or child labor, fair wages, a safe working environment, and other essential rights. Having a Code of Conduct is a start, but you also need to know your suppliers and whether they’re compliant. 

Princess Polly has traced 100% of their Tier 1 suppliers (this means the factories where the finished product is made). They work with 59 factories across China. 

By 2023, they plan to map their Tier 2 suppliers, which are sub-contracted factories that complete processes like dyeing and printing. They aim to map back to Tier 4, where raw materials are processed, but state that “it’s not always possible to gain visibility into this Tier level.”

After mapping Tier 1 suppliers, Princess Polly then had each of them go through an independent audit. They state that “100% of the factories we work with have valid ethical audits,” but this is a bit misleading because they don’t even know all of their factories beyond Tier 1, and this could be misunderstood to mean that 100% of their factories are ethical. 

Princess Polly does report the results of the independent audits, which is great. The results themselves aren’t particularly reassuring, though. They state: “By July 2021, 54% of our factories were graded Gold or Silver and 83% of our factories have remediation plans to work to improve their audit results (or grading) over time.”

List of Princess Polly's auditing standards and what they mean.

This means that nearly half their factories had “3 or more outstanding major non-compliances,” or even worse, “one or more critical non-compliances.” It’s unclear what a “major” or “critical” non-compliance means, but it could range from safety to payment of fair wages.

So, while Princess Polly has taken steps to improve their labor transparency, they can’t be considered an ethical brand.

Social Responsibility

In 2020, Princess Polly donated $174k to various social causes, including the Australia bushfires, mental health orgs, and shelters. 

Beginning in 2021, they are committed to donating 500k annually to causes that support mental health, body positivity, diversity, or the environment. They donated $150k each to the Butterfly Foundation (Australian ED support) and The Loveland Foundation (free therapy for people of color, with a focus on Black women).

It’s unclear how much money they’re making though, so this could be a small percentage of their profits. On the bright side, they are doing better than many major brands in this area, as they do share actual amounts donated.

These are nice gestures, but these could also be interpreted as marketing/PR moves, especially when we don’t even know if Princess Polly’s workers are being paid a living wage.

Inclusivity

Princess Polly has a Curve Collection that goes up to US size 20 (AU 24), but it only has 120 products, making up less than 2% of their total offering. Most of their clothing still goes up only to a US size 12. Size inclusivity is a major issue in the fashion industry, so there’s room for improvement here. They do aim to offer all products in US sizes 0-20, but don’t have a timeline for this. 

They also don’t offer any adaptive clothing for people with disabilities, which is also difficult to find. It would be great to see a popular brand offer adaptive pieces.

In terms of diversity, the company does use some models of different ethnicities and sizes. For their corporate offices, they implemented inclusive leadership training and plans to have all employees undergo “inclusive workplaces and implicit bias” training in 2022. They are also forming a diversity and inclusion advisory council. It would be helpful to see more statistics around their diversity. 

Animal Welfare

Princess Polly has an animal welfare policy that allows leather, wool, and hair, with certain restrictions, such as no mulesing for wool and no live plucking. They ban materials such as fur, cashmere, and down. 

It’s unclear how animal welfare is verified though, as they haven’t even traced their materials suppliers, and don’t have certifications for these materials. 

They have a vegan line, but it’s often made with synthetics, which are damaging to the environment and ultimately animals as well. They do acknowledge this, however, and state that they’re working to incorporate “more sustainable materials year over year.”

The Bottom Line

Princess Polly has made some decent strides, such as tracing their Tier 1 suppliers and implementing third-party audits. That said, most of what they’re doing is really not enough. Nearly half of their factories have more than three undisclosed “major non-compliances.” They talk a lot about sustainability and have pages and pages dedicated to it, but they continue to encourage overconsumption and release daily trendy styles made from synthetics. 

Beyond that, they continue to align with “sustainable-ish” influencers to promote hauls. This makes me feel that there’s either a disconnect between their sustainability department and their marketing team, or that they know exactly what they’re doing with their greenwashing. 

This isn’t to shame anyone who has bought Princess Polly—what’s upsetting is how brands portray themselves as something they’re not. 

All in all, Princess Polly is still fast fashion. They’d need to completely revamp their business model to actually be considered sustainable.

Ethical Alternatives to Princess Polly

Some of these are affiliate links, meaning that I earn a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you. This income helps support my educational content.

If you’re disappointed by Princess Polly’s greenwashing and are wondering where to shop instead, here are some options. 

I always recommend looking for items secondhand first, if possible. Luckily, since Princess Polly is somewhat pricier than other fast fashion brands, it retains its value a bit better, and you can find a decent amount of items used online. Check out these platforms:

  • Poshmark (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • ThredUP (get $10 off your first purchase with my referral link)
  • Mercari
  • Depop

I’d also recommend checking your local thrift or consignment stores, especially the “trendier” consignement shops. (If you’re concerned about the gentrification of thrifting, my post explains why thrifting is for everyone, as long as you remain mindful in certain situations).

It’s also worth noting that a lot of Princess Polly items seem to be for parties, so you if you need a piece just for one night, maybe try borrowing from friends or hosting a clothing swap.

If you’re looking for actually sustainable brands that have a similar aesthetic to Princess Polly, you might like these:

  • Whimsy + Row: similar aesthetic to Princess Polly; feminine and modern clothing made with natural materials in small batches by workers who are paid fair wages
  • For Days: organic cotton streetwear with a closed loop model; you can send old clothes of their brand and any brand back for recycling. 
  • ABLE: clothing and jewelry crafted by a team that’s 95% women. Publishes their lowest wages, as their mission is to empower women as a solution to end poverty.
  • Hackwith Design House (up to 4X): feminine staple pieces sewn in-house in Minnesota
  • Luna + Sun: Australian brand manufacturing locally with Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation. Has flowy silhouettes made from natural fabrics.
  • Boody: Australian brand with more affordable basics made from natural materials in WRAP-certified factories. Sizes 2XL-4XL in some styles.
  • Loud Bodies (up to 10X and free custom sizing): gorgeous flowy dresses made from natural materials in a small atelier in Romania
  • Armedangels: edgy styles made with natural materials and by workers who are paid a living wage

These brands aren’t perfect, but they’re smaller brands that are more holistically aligned with sustainability. If you need more recs, you can check out my ethical + sustainable brand directory.

Keep in mind that most of these are more expensive, but if you’re only buying what you truly love, you may actually save money in the long run. 


 

I hope this post was helpful in breaking down Princess Polly’s greenwashing. I have a whole post on how to tell if a company is actually sustainable, if you want to learn to evaluate brands on your own. Please also feel free to suggest other brands you’d like to see be evaluated in the comments!

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3 Comments

  • Nina | Lemons and Luggage February 8, 2022 at 5:53 am

    Another brand I haven’t even heard of (I’m so out of the loop, haha), but as you said, it’s pretty clear from their description that they’re a fast-fashion brand. I also feel like the causes they are donating to are somewhat “trendy” and good for marketing, but what I would like fashion brands to do would be to actually donate to causes that alleviate some of the damage they cause so environmental causes or causes in the countries where they manufacture their products. It seems like they’re choosing issues that can make them look good in the consumer countries with no connection to their product. Would love to hear what you think about this, perhaps I’m completely off with this point.

    • Lily February 8, 2022 at 11:09 am

      It’s probably better to be out of the loop with these things haha! I totally see what you’re saying. I think it made a lot of sense for them to donate to the bushfires, as they’re an Australian brand (which I forgot to mention), but the rest does seem to be just what makes them look good. I also personally like to see brands giving back to the communities where they manufacture, such as providing educational resources, helping clean/maintain natural resources, etc. Now that you mention it, it does seem kind of inauthentic to make these donations when their workers probably aren’t even getting paid a living wage…

      • Nina | Lemons and Luggage February 9, 2022 at 7:57 am

        Oh, thanks for clarifying that they’re Australian! That definitely makes sense about the fires.

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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