Fashion and waste: a match made in hell. Burberry has made the headlines this week as the latest brand to meet criticism for its excessive waste. It has been revealed that over the past year, Burberry has destroyed goods worth over £28million, meaning that in the past five years, the company has destroyed goods worth a total of more than £90million. But even more alarming is the method of destruction, namely burning. Burberry is far from being the only brand whose unwanted products meet this end, which raises both ethical and environmental questions.
You’d be hard-pressed to find brands willing to donate their unwanted items to charity, as a manager of Abercrombie and Fitch reportedly said several years ago. ‘Abercrombie and Fitch doesn’t want to create the image that just anybody, poor people, can wear their clothing. Only people of a certain stature are able to purchase and wear the company name.’ A common reason brands give for destroying their unsold products is that they do not want them to be stolen or sold at a cost less than their worth. Luckily, not all brands take this approach: Temperley told The Times that they either give their unsold goods to the charity Women for Women or sell them at their discount store in Bicester village.
The ethical questions only touch the surface when you consider the environmental impact of burning clothes. We hardly need reminding of the devastating effects of global warming, but whilst individuals are being encouraged by the government to walk or cycle to work rather than drive, big brands get away with burning millions of pounds of clothing, causing irreparable damage to the environment. Granted, Burberry did say that they use incinerators which allow them to trap the energy, but this still cannot be considered anywhere near as environmentally friendly as if they were willing to give their clothes away to charity or sell them at lower prices. Indeed, many big brands do not even have end of season sales, which would be a clear and easy way for designer brands to reduce the volume of unsold clothes.
Donations aside, it’s time that brands start recycling the fabric from their clothing. Burberry said that it has donated 120 tonnes of leather to Elvis&Kresse to turn into accessories. A step in the right direction perhaps, but reducing waste in the first place would be a more simple method. Burberry did point out that the reason they have so much waste this year is because their beauty department has been bought over by Coty, so it can only be hoped that in an era when we are more environmentally aware, big brands will seek to reduce their waste in decades to come. However, as Tim Jackson, head of the British School of Fashion at the Glasgow Caledonian University in London, said to the BBC, big brands are in the undesirable position of wanting to reduce their waste but not wanting to upset shareholders by selling their unsold stock cheap, which could devalue the brand. Still, the criticism from the media and public at least suggests that consumers have high expectations that luxury brands will simply have to meet in the future.