In 2017, the British luxury brand Burberry burned over $37 million worth of unsold clothes, perfumes, bags, and other goods.
And over the past five years, they’ve reportedly incinerated over $117 million worth.
The luxury brand intentionally destroys their surplus products as an attempt to help protect their brand and stock. According to the BBC, Burberry has been making serious efforts to make their goods appear as exclusive commodities after an uptick of counterfeit items have hit the gray market.
“The reason they are doing this is so that the market is not flooded with discounts,” Maria Malone, a fashion business professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, told the BBC. “They don’t want Burberry products to get into the hands of anyone who can sell them at a discount and devalue the brand.”
But the exposure of this practice has people furious.
Clearly, the brand’s priorities can and should be called into question, and people spoke out on social media.
There are people out there who can barely afford clothes and Burberry burnt £28 million worth of product because of complete snobbery.
Rich people make me want to throw up.
— Shelly🏳️🌈 (@shelly_tompkins) July 19, 2018
Burberry physically destroyed finished products worth $38 million in the past fiscal year. Some of its shareholders aren’t happy about the practice, raising concerns about the environment. BoF user Gianna Fusto added to the discussion. What do you think? https://t.co/U4MFMJu0J0 pic.twitter.com/70tb3wOnQS
— The Business of Fashion (@BoF) July 16, 2018
The fact that this has a clear business rationale and is defensible behaviour only makes me more depressed about the utterly obscene reality that, while people are in absolute poverty, Burberry chooses to burn £28m worth of product to protect its brand https://t.co/JLKJfBuCoC
— Matt Kelly (@mk1969) July 19, 2018
£28.6m worth of clothes destroyed by Burberry, including jumpers and coats.
In the year we had the coldest winter on record and an ever-growing homelessness crisis – surely giving the clothes to charities or shelter would have crossed someone’s mind?
— Dominic McGregor (@DominicMcGregor) July 19, 2018
Burberry definitely could’ve addressed this issue in ways that didn’t involve completely destroying their products.
1. They could’ve slowed production.
While Burberry insisted that “the energy generated from burning its products was captured” — meaning it was done in a supposedly green way — at least a few environmental activists have criticized Burberry for wasting the natural resources used to make their products in the first place.
Lu Yen Roloff, an activist from Greenpeace, said that one way they could’ve prevented this is by slowing production of items rather than overproducing and destroying the excess.
“Despite their high prices, Burberry shows no respect for their own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to made them,” Roloff told the BBC. “The growing amount of overstock points to overproduction, and instead of slowing down their production, they incinerate perfectly good clothes and products.”
2. They could’ve de-branded and donated the goods to charity.
Others on Twitter suggested that by altering the appearance of their items, Burberry would be able to protect itself from cheapening the brand or enabling counterfeiters.
I get why @burberry would want to protect their brand image by destroying products rather than donate them as is. But surely a better solution is to de-brand the products, remove all labels, possibly dye items black or something to obscure the pattern and then donate anonymously?
— dom. (@Inkydom) July 19, 2018
3. They could’ve garnered positive publicity by donating to charity.
While this may come off as unsavory, it’s still a more conscious alternative to burning. Burberry could’ve simply donated their items to homeless shelters and other charitable organizations. The PR from such an act would have certainly attracted public attention — and more profit.
The alternative is to donate stock to particular charity outlets – specific stores – and watch people queue up to buy it up. Create a positive image and a media sensation.
— Philip Priestley 🇪🇺🇮🇪 (@PublicPriestley) July 19, 2018
Burberry isn’t the only brand that uses this practice, but let’s hope they see the backlash and consider changing their ways.
Both Chanel and Louis Vuitton have intentionally destroyed their unwanted items to help make their brands remain “exclusive.” But in a time where more people are grappling with poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness, these fashion brands should be aware of what kind of message they’re sending.
Let’s hope they recognize that their impact on the world matters.