Major Fashion Brand Sparks Outcry for Burning Inventory

The company faced backlash when it revealed it burned $37 million in unsold goods last year.

The high fashion industry has never really been considered one of social responsibility or environmental consciousness. Take for example a 2014 report that accused fashion brand Hugo Boss of paying workers in Croatia about one-third of what’s considered a living wage there. Meanwhile, a wool coat from Hugo Boss would run you up to a thousand dollars.

And Hugo Boss was just one of many companies that’s been implicated over the years in exploiting their workforce or using a massive amount of resources to churn out their goods. An estimated 10 percent of global carbon emissions are said to now come from the creation of clothing.

But there’s another ugly side of the high fashion industry that’s existed widely, but is little talked about – the practice of companies burning their excess inventory in order to avoid liquidating products at lower prices. The practice is contended to be one of brand protection, but when British clothing maker Burberry revealed in a July earnings report that it had burned $37 million in goods last year, they faced some major backlash on social media.

But Burberry isn’t the only label out there that would rather destroy their unsold goods than see them with a clearance sticker on them or – gasp – donated. Louis Vitton is known for burning its thousand-dollar handbags in order to retain their exclusivity, and watchmaker Richemont, the owner of Cartier and Montblanc, is said to have destroyed a half a billion dollars-worth of watches in two years.

Last week, Burberry said that it would revise its practice of burning stock and that "Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” a belief the company says is “core” to Burberry and its long term success. Or perhaps more core is the brand’s desperate willingness to everything it can to avoid a scandal or, worse, a boycott of its signature plaid. At the same time, the company has also announced it will no longer use real fur in its designs.

Perhaps then Burberry’s public thrashing from consumers and shareholders will help shine some light on the burning practice and encourage, or shame, others enough to follow suit. That said, it’s important to note that it’s pretty hypocritical to point fingers only at corporations. For their part, American consumers send about 85 percent of their unwanted textiles to landfills every year, so it seems there is some work to do there as well.

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