With recent public enlightenment regarding the plastic trail, about which Planet Earth opened everyone’s eyes, our waste and its environmental impact is now hugely on the agenda.
And shockingly, this month, we hear that fashion brand Burberryburned almost £30m ($40m) of un-sold stock. It caused absolute outrage.
Burberry admitted to destroying all their unsold stock (including accessories and perfume) instead of selling it off cheaply, so as to protect the brand’s ‘exclusivity and value’. To try and ease public anger, Burberry claim to have ‘captured the energy from the burning’ to make the process more environmentally friendly.
It turns out that “landfilling” and burning is widespread in the fashion industry and is fashion’s “dirtiest open secret”. Environmentalists claim to have been waiting years for a story like Burberry’s to come out.
As the practice is so secretive, it is difficult to accurately estimate the scale of the problem – but with global production now exceeding 100 billion garments a year, people are warning of catastrophic damage to the planet if this “un-sold” destruction continues.
Remember when 1,100 people died in a garment factory in Bangladesh five years ago? The upshot was fashion houses having to be way more honest about their factories and workers’ rights.
In the aftermath, they have had to release annual reports revealing everything, and the information about Burberry’s stock burning was released in one such report.
But why is stock destruction even happening?
Designer brands typically work on much lower stock levels than high-street retailers, so their waste stock should be lower.
However, some high street retailers like Zara and Bershkawork on a similar model – buying small batches at the start of the season and using customer popularity to gauge how much more to produce.
Some of the big high street retailers have larger stock levels and tend to reduce prices first to shift their un-sold product, then recycle or resell what is left – ie. TK Maxx selling last year’s collections.
Others donate unwanted clothes to charities or social enterprises.
But activists say fashion’s waste problem is much bigger than just unsold stock. They blame ‘fast fashion’ – a term describing our high turnover of fashion consumption, fuelled by the sheer velocity of new clothes lines that go on sale. I couldn’t agree more. We’re inundated with new trends, almost monthly.
On average, clothes are being worn much less and discarded quicker than ever before. I am guilty of this, I’m afraid to say. The majority of used clothes we donate to charity have traditionally been re-sold abroad, but even that demand is in decline.
While our passion for fashion is at least part of the problem, experts say the industry itself needs to be smarter with production to lessen environmental damage. Some scientists say that polyester materials are adding to that problem of plastic pollution in our beautiful oceans.
Apparently, only 1% of our clothing is ultimately recycled into new garments because of this complex issue – instead they become items like insulation and dishcloths, which in turn end up in landfill.
By May of this year, 12.5% of the global fashion market had signed up to new 2020 targets – including big names like Nike, Asos and Gap.
Certain brands are capitalising on this environmental issue to set big targets for themselves. Adidas have committed to only using recycling plastic in their shoes by 2024 and H&M says it hopes to only use sustainable materials in its production by 2030.
But we, the consumers, have to do our bit too. And the only way is to resist the temptation to spend, and try and resist attaching oneself emotionally to items of clothing – we must learn to love the things we own and take longer to consider our future purchases.
Torture yourself a little bit. Because taking time out to wait for something, to see if you really, really want it and contemplating whether it will really improve your life before buying it, will be truly beautiful and good for us all.