Fast-fashion retailers including Primark, Boohoo, Asos and Missguided defended their practices to MPs yesterday.

Both Boohoo and Primark were grilled by MPs about selling £5 dresses and £2 t-shirts respectively in the Commons Environmental Audit Committee examining the impact of fast fashion.

Primark’s head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability Paul Lister was asked by committee chair, Labour MP Mary Creagh: “How can you justify selling T-shirts in your stores for as little as £2 or £3, and how can you be making a profit on those?”

She also questioned whether producing clothing so cheaply degraded the value of it in shoppers’ minds.

Lister said because Primark has “never done any significant advertising at all” it was able to save up to £150m a year against its rivals and that cost saving “goes straight into price”.

“It’s our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt,” said Lister.

He added that Primark was going to launch a clothing returns scheme next year that would send shoppers’ former items to overseas charities to reduce waste.

“Every item that we make, we’re looking at durability… we are proud of the quality and durability of our garments, they’re not built to throw away,” he added.

Boohoo’s joint chief executive Carol Kane was asked how the fast fashion retailer could pay a living wage of £7.83 per hour while producing £5 dresses.

She said the online retailer does “not make a profit on a £5 dress”.

Kane added that these items comprise “a tiny, tiny amount of our collection” and are used as “a marketing tool designed to drive visitors to the website”.

Asos chief executive Nick Beighton said the government could help encourage shoppers to recycle clothes by adopting a similar model to Germany, where customers are offered roadside collection for clothing they want to get rid of.

“There are great opportunities for businesses and authorities to make recycling easier for consumers, but we should also start talking more responsibly to our customers,” he said.