Did you know that the fashion industry is one of the world’s worst polluters? That’s right – your favorite companies, from adidas to Urban Outfitters, are part of an industry that, in production, utilizes over 1.5 trillion liters of water, cuts down 70 million trees, and irresponsibly manages its supplies (over 190,000 tons of textile fibers are in the ocean) every year. But perhaps their dirtiest secret of all, is the destruction of perfectly usable products in an effort to maintain their prestige
The turnover in the fashion industry is faster than ever. There’s simply more stuff than there ever has been before. The cycles have gotten shorter because of the internet and with the global population going up. The average person today (according to research in 2019) buys 60 percent more items of clothing than they did 15 years ago. Simply put, we crave new things, so there’s a constant push to put new merch out on the market.
“Admittedly, the real, underlying issue is that brands are producing too many clothes and convincing us that it’s normal to buy more than we need.”
In July 2018, Burberry admitted in its annual report that demolishing goods was just part of its strategy to preserve its reputation of exclusivity. And if you thought that this story only applies for brands based that flaunt a perception of exclusivity, you are sorely mistaken. The British brand is hardly the only company to use this practice; it runs across the whole spectrum, from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to sportswear brands like Nike.
With this in mind, governments around the world have started creating legislation to combat the issue. In France, new laws banning brands from burning or dumping unsold clothing will kick in at the end of 2021. It intends to affect massive companies, including LVMH and Kering, but just how stringently this law will be enforced is unknown.
The French government has also stated that between 10,000 and 20,000 tonnes of textile products are destroyed every year in France, equivalent to the weight of two Eiffel towers, representing the massive scale of the issue. And that’s just in one country.
But how are brands today responding to the issue? Thanks to a fierce consumer backlash, the fashion industry may need to re-evaluate their habit of destroying end-of-season leftovers.
“Knowing where our clothes come from is important, but it is equally important to know where they go at the end of their life.”
Let’s take a glimpse at what solutions some of the industry giants have have come up with:
At LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group, unsold stock is offered to employees via private sales — and certain products are donated to others across the fashion industry, and leather goods to schools and charity organisations.
Reducing the amount of inventory in the first place is a priority. Burberry is releasing smaller, more frequent collections while Moncler’s Genius programme is dropping a series of one-off, limited-edition designer collaborations.
From various luxury companies, leather scraps are being donated to leather accessories and homeware maker Elvis & Kresse, which then transforms them into larger components that can be hand-woven into a new hide.
Stocking multiple seasons
At Kering’s top-performing brand, Gucci, the company takes a merchandising strategy of stocking multiple seasons — more than a year, which is less reliant on one-off seasonal items that allows many of its products to stay in full-price stores for longer, leading to more sales.
Overall, churning out so many clothes has enormous environmental costs that aren’t immediately obvious to us. Knowing where our clothes come from is important, but it is equally important to know where they go at the end of their life. Admittedly, the real, underlying issue is that brands are producing too many clothes and convincing us that it’s normal to buy more than we need. Nonetheless, as a global citizen, we are all accountable for making our planet more sustainable. On a very simple level, figuring out which brand brings us the most satisfaction and limiting impulse-buying would be a first step to preserve the planet on which we wear them. The most important thing, for now, though, is that we are talking about this. As long as we continue to do so, brands will have no choice but to start having conversations about how they can reduce their waste.