Who in their right mind would send almost $40 million worth of perfectly good merchandise up in smoke? Last week it was revealed that British luxury fashion house Burberry had been incinerating unsold stock as a way of preserving product scarcity and brand exclusivity.
Burberry announced that it would put an end to the practice, after realizing that setting fire to product also burned its reputation. “Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible”, commented Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti.
Brands and retailers willfully destroying what they call “deadstock” is nothing new. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, every winter Italian fashion icon Stefano Ricci “box up the year’s unsold products…and send them off on trucks to be burned” – partially to claim a tax credit. In a separate investigation by a Danish TV program last year, H&M was accused of dispatching 13 tons of new, unsold clothing to the furnace annually. The Swedish fast fashion giant later denied the claims – stating that the apparel had been “sent to incineration because of mold or not complying with our strict chemical restrictions”.
Stock is also routinely defaced and dumped. A story in the New York Times last year caught out Nike for slashing and dispensing with shoes so that they could not be worn or resold. “A small amount of product at our Nike SoHo store did not meet our standards to restock, recycle or donate so it was disposed of,” a Nike spokeswoman told the Times.
The problem is bigger than just finished articles being burned or torn up and tossed. A recent Pulse Of The Fashion Industry report stated that fashion generates 4% of the world’s waste each year – 92 million tons, which is more than toxic e-waste. A lot of that comes from off-cuts from the production process.
Enough is enough. Driven by a younger generation of environmentally and socially conscious consumers, there is strong pressure on brands and retailers to responsibly reduce fashion waste – not just by recycling and reusing, but also by producing less (and smarter) in the first place.
Fashion Revolution Founder and Creative Director Orsola de Castro told Fashion United that “we need to stop calling it waste and start seeing it for what it is – a resource.” Discarded materials and textiles in whatever form have value and can be reused, recycled or even “upcycled” into something entirely new:
There are also signs of a Millennial move away from fast fashion. As an example, H&M’s sales have slowed markedly and earlier this year the company revealed that it had a literal mountain of unsold clothes – $4.3 billion worth. In the wake of an era of disposable fashion, there is a significant trend towards second-hand and vintage:
If purchasing new, consumers are seeking out brands that take ethical stances. They’re also going beyond second-hand and embracing the sharing economy with companies like “Rent The Runway”. Public awareness of the waste issue is being further advanced by the likes of Stella McCartney, who famously shot her collection last year on a landfill site.
We are witnessing the stirrings of a shift to zero-waste and a circular economy, where products are not just used once but re-used and re-purposed multiple times. The fashion industry, which has been a major culprit, can lead the way.