Since leaving the Love Island villa in 2019, Molly-Mae Hague has paved herself a lucrative career as one of the most followed influencers in the UK. Her success in part, is that she was already influential before the ITV series. Her earliest YouTube videos, posted in 2018, are a catalogue of fast-fashion hauls, while her Instagram detailed daily outfit posts and that long, blonde hair.
After Love Island she was one of the only contestants to immediately distance herself from the series. While other contestants did country-wide tours at various nightclubs taking every television opportunity thrown their way, Molly-Mae built her own brand.
It’s difficult not to marvel at her success. She struck a £500,000 deal as brand ambassador for PrettyLittleThing shortly after leaving the villa, followed by a Beauty Works hair tools collaboration. She simultaneously seems aspirational, but sweet, grounded and likeable. Her decision to publicly talk about reversing some of her facial cosmetic surgery only served as further evidence to fans that she was the real deal.
Two years on from Love Island, she has 5.9 million Instagram followers, 1.6 million YouTube subscribers and a plethora of brand deals under her belt. But on Thursday, it became clear just how far the star has risen as she was named creative director of PrettyLittleThing. While Instagram-popular celebrities like Kim Kardashian have built business empires, the appointment of an influencer to a senior in-house role is fairly unprecedented. It also begins a new chapter in Molly-Mae’s role and accountability to her fans.
In June 2020, an investigation by The Sunday Times found that a factory in Leicester producing clothing for PLT’s parent company, Boohoo, was paying its workers just £3.50 an hour. The UK living wage for people aged 25 and over is £8.72. In its response, Boohoo said the conditions at the factory, Jaswal Fashions, were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”. It also denied that Jaswal Fashions was one of its suppliers, despite the presence of Boohoo garments at the factory. Boohoo also conducted its own investigation of the issue.
Admittedly Molly-Mae has never built her brand on championing sustainability. While some like US model Arizona Muse and Made in Chelsea’s Lucy Watson have made it a pillar of their personal branding, Hague has avoided speaking on the issue. And until this point, Hague was largely able to get away with this, her role only on the outside of the brand looking in.
But now that is going to change. While our moral compass continues to collectively spin over fast fashion, and greenwashing is sweeping the industry with brands able to eschew taking action by portraying themselves as doing surface-level work, there are clear indications it is becoming a greater consumer issue. Earlier this year, a YouGov survey of 2,000 adults, commissioned by Deloitte, found that nearly one in three consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing from certain brands because of sustainability-related concerns.
And as Molly-Mae steps into a role as creative director, she’d do well to take note of this. As women’s rights activist Gina Martin has pointed out, she could use her new role to “influence, leverage and power to push for [her] garment workers to be paid above a living wage”.
This won’t necessarily be easy for Molly-Mae: the profits of PLT continue to soar, despite much bad press. PLT recorded a profit of £516.3 million in 2020. And from the outside, senior management seem in denial about their contribution to the throwaway economy: Boohoo’s CEO told the BBC that its brands do not make “throwaway” pieces. In response to criticism from environmental groups, John Lyttle said the company has a “clear strategy” to make 20 per cent of its autumn range sustainable but did not define what “sustainable” would mean. Currently, PLT lists 25,000 items on its UK website including a £1 top.
But the year-on-year environmental price of fast fashion is vast. One study, published in the Nature Reviews Earth & Environment journal, found that the industry produced 92 million tonnes of waste per year and consumes 79 trillion litres of water. Not to mention the much-documented exploitation of workers.
While Molly-Mae’s success at just 22 years old is undeniably admirable, her transition from influencer to an in-house employee at one of the UK’s biggest fashion brands means she is no longer afforded the luxury of being able to turn a blind eye to the practices of PLT. If she wants to truly showcase her influence, it’s time to start at home.