Why do brands burn unsold clothes?

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As a consumer, you may well have heard of the common practices that brands participate in when ridding themselves of unwanted stock. Incinerating unsold consumer products is a regular occurrence in France and is executed by the country’s leading fashion brands. However, the French Government is pushing to no longer allow these fast fashion culls due to their inability to ever be a sustainable exercise on this planet. Can we get a hell yeah?

Led by its Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the French Government is seeking to ban the destruction of goods unsold from within the fashion industry. The burning of unsold consumer products has long been a regular practice in France, and although the big brands’ reasoning behind this may not come as a shock to the consumer, it seems that now is more important than ever to discourage any kind of custom that would cause unnecessary strain on our already strained environment.

Why do brands burn unsold consumer products?
It seems dumb, doesn’t it? Well-known and long established brands, particularly those associated with or branded as “luxury”, including Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, resort to the disposal of stock that has been left unsold by sending it to landfill or, alternatively, burning it. According to ABC News, Burberry alone has destroyed more than $150 million worth of goods over the last 5 years. Yep, you read that number right! Clothes, bags, and perfume are amongst these products disposed of in order to prevent a cheaper sale price.

Many reasons are attributed to the continuing use of this practice, but the main motive is for the brands participating in this exercise to save face. The mentality shared by the industry heavyweights is to keep their branded products away from those who cannot afford to pay the retail price of the item, and rather than putting systems in place to incorporate these goods into a circular economy or closed loop system, they leave themselves with two options: either the abandonment or destruction of these products. If this ain’t some twisted logic then we don’t know what is. 

Why is France now banning the burn?
Despite the long-time use of these disposal methods, the French Government is adamant on banning the destruction of consumer goods leftover from unsuccessful sales. According to Agence France-Presse, Mr. Phillipe thinks of the practice as “scandalous”, and he was quoted as saying at a Parisian discount story that “it is a waste that defies reason.” Frankly, we couldn’t agree more. 

Not only is this waste completely unnecessary, but the way in which these companies are disposing of it is absolutely unsustainable. With the copious amounts of rubbish finding their way to landfills everyday, not only in France but all over the world, there is little room left to accommodate for the over-produced consumer goods left unsold and, as a result, defaulted as disposable.

Reducing the amount produced, recycling the goods eligible to be recycled, donating appropriately, and repurposing the multi-use items will help to keep the unsold consumer goods from Burberry and other luxury brands from entering incinerators or landfills. The idea that these items will not end up in the ownership of those who could not spend the asking price is out-dated in the age of knockoffs and discount racks, and on a planet being rapidly and unnecessarily exploited for the vanity of those who inhabit it. 

If brands do not abide by the new law set out by the French government and continue to burn their unsold products or send them to landfill, harsh consequences may be involved, ranging from fines and financial penalties to prison time, though for Burberry this may not be necessary. The Guardian states that Burberry joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative in a move to show their commitment to their environmental obligations. For the sake of our planet we hope that Burberry is serious about their openness to greener and more environmentally friendly practices, and that other industry heavyweights follow suit and throw away a mentality not appropriate for the twenty-first century. 

It wasn’t just the French Government calling for change in an industry well overdue for a shakeup, though; it was also the consumers. It was us, and we don’t have to wait for anyone in order to create change. As well as writing to fast fashion brands and demanding, as one of their customers, for action to be taken, we can stop buying their products entirely until our consumer desires for ethical and sustainable production are being met. Most importantly, we can use our voices to spread awareness about this issue and the many others brought about by the fast fashion industry until we are finally heard.


Written by Lola Asaadi.