• Human Theory

Will Boohoo Weather the Storm?

The Sunday Times investigation into appalling conditions in Leicester clothing factories sparked a storm of negativity towards certain brands, alleged to have been supplied by the factories.

But are those people voicing their concerns even customers? And will the story hurt these brands' in the long term among their core audience, Gen Z women?

We took a look at 25k tweets referring to Boohoo, PLT and Nasty Gal, from 1st March to 14th July, comparing the language and sentiment towards these brands before and after the scandal broke.

What that the conversation was far more mixed than we'd imagined, and whilst sentiment was generally positive before the scandal, immediately following the revelations the sentiment actually shifted to neutral.

We decided to take a deeper look...

Mistreatment of textile workers is now the focus of conversation around Boohoo brands.

Using coefficient analysis, a technique which models the words most likely to appear in a particular conversational dataset, we compared the language towards Boohoo, PLT and Nasty Gal before the scandal broke (the story was published on Sunday 5th July) and afterwards.

The above chart shows this analysis, and how the Twitter conversation around the Boohoo brands changed since the scandal broke.

Descriptions of the customer experience, and reasons for buying new Boohoo clothes, have given way to a conversation around the ethics of the company, and the alleged exploitation of its workers.

It is also interesting to note that the word pairings ‘black culture’ and ‘self care’ were characteristic for Boohoo before the scandal broke, suggesting that the brand was aligning with other moral and ethical causes before it was caught up in allegations around its labour practices.

But sentiment has shifted less than you might expect

A lot of the negative conversation is not coming from the brands’ core audience, but from wider outrage around the allegations.

Our topic modelling shows four distinct groups talking about Boohoo and it's sister brands:

Topic 1: Betrayed customers (27% of conversation). This group represents previous customers, who are now reappraising their relationship with Boohoo and its products. Their language is more direct than that used by other groups, with words such as ‘stop’ ‘pay’ and ‘sweatshop’ common.

Topic 2: Investor news (27%). This is not a discussion about products and brands, but a business-focused discussion about Boohoo as a company and its prospects after the scandal. Phrases and words such as ‘share’, ‘%’, ‘retailer’ and ‘invest’ are common to this topic.

Topic 3: Unaware/don’t care (22%). This group represents customers and potential customers who are engaging with the brand in a positive way, without discussing the allegations. Words such as ‘love’, ‘style’ and the competition hashtag ‘#prettypleaseplt’ are common in this grouping. Interestingly some of the audience appear to be engaged with other causes such as the fight for more plus-size models or BAME representation in fashion, but are unaware or care less about worker exploitation. This shows that whilst the Gen Z customers who buy Boohoo clothes may be more ethical consumers, this is limited by their spending power, and perhaps also by a focus on the particular issues they see as important

Topic 4: Wider outrage (23%) This group are similarly negative and focused on the scandal, but they are distinguished from the ‘Betrayed customers’ group by their less direct and personal language, and their more circumspect criticism of the company. Words such as ‘factory’, ‘allegation’, and ‘condition’ are more commonly used in this topic.


1. The scandal around Boohoo’s suppliers exploiting workers in Leicester has undoubtedly created negativity around the brand. Our analysis found that overall sentiment towards Boohoo group brands dropped from +22 before the story broke, to -1 afterwards.

2. However most of this negativity appears not to be coming from the group’s core Gen Z customers, but rather investors and other members of the public – the ‘Investor news’ and ‘Wider outrage’ topics in our analysis.

3. The conversation amongst Boohoo’s core audience is much more mixed, with roughly half expressing anger and feelings of betrayal, whilst the other half are carrying on as normal, and even engaging Boohoo on other issues which it was championing before the scandal broke, such as Black Lives Matter and plus size models.


This gives us two valuable insights on Boohoo’s audience, and Gen Z more widely:

1. They care more about some issues than others. Consumers can only factor in so many ethical considerations into their buying choices. So it makes sense that Gen Z, like other audiences, see some issues as more important than others. This explains why people who clearly care about some ethical issues are overlooking another.

2. Despite their good intentions, their lower spending power may give them less ability to vote with their wallet, when mass-market brands let them down.

Over to you...

- If you worked for one those brands affected how would you handle this crisis differently?

- What are investors seeing that consumers aren't?

- Have you noticed a similar trend in your Gen Z marketing?

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