In recent history fashion brands have been caught destroying their own clothes. What used to be word of mouth rumors have been substantiated by actual figures, and they are astonishing. Deadstock, clothes that have gone unsold during a given season or year, are being cut up, burned, or dumped in landfills. The case that brought public attention to this practice was Burberry’s 2017 burning of $38 million worth of products, including clothes, bags, and perfume.
Fashion brands have often taken part in this practice, but it has gone largely unnoticed because they are not obligated to report these figures. Luxury brands in particular opt to destroy their deadstock in order to ‘protect’ their brand name and prestige. Many would rather destroy their deadstock than have it marked down in price or sold off to second hand retailers. The reasoning is quite sound from a business standpoint, having your brand worn by a lower-class demographic weakens your luxury status, and retail sales of course deter potential clients from buying garments at the start of the season at full price. In fact, many luxury brands never put their products on sale, like Chanel or Louis Vuitton, instead they always sell their products at a set price across the board.
Fast fashion has also been implicated with deadstock destruction, this is not surprising when considering the overproduction this sector is often accused of. H&M has been found to burn 12 tons of clothing every year, in Denmark alone. They have publicly justified this by stating the destroyed clothing was unwearable due to mold or toxic chemicals, like lead, being found in their fabric. However, these claims have yet to be proven. This news is particularly disturbing as it has come at a time when H&M made a marked effort to push their sustainable and environmentally friendly labels.
There are many reasons why brands would choose to destroy their deadstock. It may seem natural to think of recycling as the first response to deadstock disposal, but the nature of the fashion industry has made matters much more complicated. Luxury brands fear the idea of their products getting into the hands of counterfeit producers who will reverse engineer them and put a cheaper knock-off out into the market. There is even a valid fear of products being deposited at a recycling facility that will then send them off to be sold at a second-hand store. In the United States brands even face financial incentives for destroying their deadstock. If stock that was imported into the United States is destroyed or exported to another country, there is a 99% return on the duties and taxes previously paid on those items.
Despite the blatant destruction and environmental impact burning deadstock entails, it is not altogether harmful to fashion brands. They often turn a better profit if they overproduce by a small margin than if they underproduce and fail to meet consumer demands, this is the inherit nature of an industry that marks up their price by an average of at least 100% to a maximum of over 300%.
Regardless of how beneficial these practices may be for fashion brands, they are undoubtedly harmful for humanitarian and environmental causes. In particular, clothing and accessories that utilize animal products like leather or furs are the most eye-opening aspect of this practice. Animals ultimately lose their lives for the sake of a garment that has gone unworn.
Taking into account the entire process of sourcing the raw materials for a garment, production, dying, manufacturing, and so on, the environmental impact of a single garment is immense. All in all, the fashion industry produces 100 billion new garments made from virgin, unrecycled, fibers every year. Even if a very generous 99% is sold off and used, what happens to the remaining 1 billion garments? The waste produced by deadstock destruction is astronomical from the output side, in terms of the carbon emissions from burnings clothing as well as the contribution to landfill wastes. Going back to the H&M case, burning products with toxic chemical contamination is definitely not responsible, as it exposes the climate to these harmful chemicals.
However, the resources expended on the manufacturing of these garments are also noteworthy. The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water in the world, both as a resource utilized during the production stage, as well as a resource that is often released back into the environment as contaminated or unusable waste water. Garment production also accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions than international flights and shipping combined, this of course isn’t including the emissions racked up during deadstock destruction.
The waste and environmental destruction produced by this practice is immense. The fashion industry’s environmental impact has long been known, but the added stress of deadstock destruction puts an unnecessary strain on the environment and highlights many problems in the industry. This is perhaps why there is a marked demand for sustainable fashion brands that take an active part in environmentally conscious practices. More and more consumers are becoming aware of the wider impact of their purchasing power and have taken measures to sway large brand practices. After Burberry’s 2017 scandal, they have sworn to invest more into sustainable practices like recycling.
More regulations and transparency, for all brands, will help this movement further and produce a better push for sustainable practices in the fashion industry as a whole. A better, more secure method of recycling for luxury brands, as well as a push for sustainability and responsibility over padding profit margins is in dire need in the industry.