Fast fashion: Inside the fight to end the silence on waste

By Kelly-Leigh Cooper BBC News

31 July 2018


At a time when our waste and our environmental impact is firmly under the spotlight, news in early July that fashion brand Burberry had burned almost £30m ($40m) of stock has caused outrage.

The company admitted destroying the unsold clothes, accessories and perfume instead of selling it off cheaply, in order to protect the brand’s exclusivity and value. It added that it had captured the energy from the burning to try and make the process more environmentally friendly.

But how widespread is stock destruction at this level?

Orsola de Castro is the co-founder and creative director of activist group Fashion Revolution, who lobby brands on production transparency. She describes landfilling and burning as fashion’s “dirtiest open secret” and says she has been waiting decades for a story like Burberry’s to emerge.

The BBC contacted 35 high-end designers and high-street retailers to ask about their practice.

Only six replied with breakdowns or further information, and the rest said they could not help or did not respond at all.

The secretive nature of the industry makes it difficult to accurately quantify the scale of the problem – but with global production now exceeding 100 billion garments a year, groups are warning of “potentially catastrophic” environmental damage if current growth trends continue.

After more than 1,100 people died in a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh five years ago, pressure has also mounted on western retailers to be transparent about their supply chain.



Many now opt to publish end-of-year reports that detail progress on workers’ rights and environmental sustainability. The information about Burberry’s stock burning was released in one such report – and Orsola points out that the designer is in fact one of the most transparent.

Can we make fashion greener?

The clothes made from recycled plastic

Stella McCartney: Fashion is swamping our planet

So why is stock destruction even a thing?

Designer brands typically work on much lower stock levels than high-street retailers, so their waste stock should be lower.

Retailer Inditex (who own brands like Zara and Bershka) work on a similar model – buying small batches at the start of the season and using customer popularity to gauge how much more to produce.

Larger commercial producers have greater stock levels and tend to first reduce prices to shift their product, then recycle or resell what is left. In some cases, external companies that specialise in moving on unsold goods are used by some retailers. Others have adopted initiatives to donate unwanted clothes to NGOs and social enterprises.

But environmental activists say fashion’s waste problem is much bigger than just unsold stock. They blame ‘fast fashion’ – a term describing our high rate of fashion consumption fuelled by the quantity of new clothes that go on sale.


Post time: Aug-19-2019