A week after the Times reported that Burberry burned over $37 million worth of goods in 2017 alone (the equivalent of 20,000 uber-expensive trench coats), online secondhand retailer ThredUp has issued an open letter to the English brand. In it, the company explains why burning clothing is harmful, and offers an alternate solution for handling unsold products.
“The thing is, the world can’t afford to waste perfectly good clothes anymore,” reads the letter. “These practices aren’t sustainable for the earth or the luxury sector. The fact is, consumers are waking up to this kind of waste. They want to see brands that take action and care about the planet. Tomorrow’s successful luxury retailers will meet the ethical demands of the rising, inevitable wave of conscious consumerism.”
ThredUp references statistics about the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, stating that it’s responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, and “is projected to drain a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.” ThredUp also called out Cartier, LVMH (which owns several brands, from Louis Vuitton to Dior), and H&M, all of which follow a similar protocol when it comes to dealing with excess inventory.
ThredUp's solution is to donate the unwanted clothes, not burn them. The company encouraged Burberry to hand over product for “resale back into the circular economy,” promising to donate all proceeds to an environmental charity of Burberry’s choosing. “If extending the life of a single garment can reduce its carbon, water, and waste footprint by 73%, imagine the impact of $37.8M of unsold product.”
Read the full letter here:
As the Times initially reported, the reason Burberry and other luxury fashion brands burn clothing is to prevent them from getting sold at discounted prices, which in turn dilutes the brand value that comes from the exclusivity factor created in part by high prices. The reasoning goes, why pay full price when you can get a Burberry trench for 50% off at an unapproved third party retailer like, for example, Marshall's?
Per the Times, brands also don’t want their pricey items to end up in the hands of the “wrong people."
In response to the report, Burberry told the BBC the waste from burning was captured, not released into the environment. “Burberry has careful processes in place to minimize the amount of excess stock we produce. On the occasions when disposal of products is necessary, we do so in a responsible manner and we continue to seek ways to reduce and revalue our waste,” a Burberry spokesperson reportedly said.
The Times also pointed to fast fashion retailer H&M, which sends unwearable (ie. "moldy" or deformed) garments to an incinerator which burns them for energy.
Looks like the debate over what to do with excess inventory is starting to heat up.