The cat’s finally out of the shopping bag as fashion companies are being denounced for a variety of unscrupulous business ethics.
One damning report after another has unmasked the ugly face of fashion waste, as shops ranging from budget to high-end clothes have come under scrutiny.
A New Yorker made a startling discovery near Union Square’s Eddie Bauer store last December, pointing out that it actually sabotaged its unused overstocks so that no one could wear them.
“Eddie Bauer in NYC threw out blankets and coats and CUT THEM UP SO NOBODY COULD TAKE THEM! This is capitalism!” she lamented in a tweet. “Imagine a system where you DESTROY excess goods instead of distribute them. This happens while thousands in NYC will sleep on the streets tonight.”
Other retailers have been found guilty of such crimes, after one anonymous employee revealed that Urban Outfitters “regularly instructed [him] to drill holes in unsold vinyl records, pour green paint on unsold Toms shoes, and that he once destroyed a couch that was deemed unsellable.”
The article names a host of companies, from JCPenny, Michael Kors, Juicy Couture, Henry Bendel, and many others. “They didn’t want people to just be able to take it out of the trash can and have it,” one whistleblower told The Outline. “They wanted it to be unwearable for everyone.”
A scathing New York Times article told the story of one man, Ryan Matzner, who found a massive plastic bag full of unworn Nikes slashed head-to-toe in Manhattan district of SoHo in early 2017.
Responding to growing outrage, Nike Spokesperson Joy Davis Fair excused her company’s actions, replying that “a small amount of product at our Nike SoHo store did not meet our standards to restock, recycle or donate so it was disposed of.”
However, she failed to mention why the shoes had been purposely destroyed instead of donated.
The article explained in more detail that,
Many retailers will destroy garments that cannot be sold in order to prevent expensive brand-name products from entering society at low or no cost [and] simply do not want their products — or even knockoffs of their goods — to be worn by people who are obviously unable to afford them.
Since 2010, many have exposed Swedish retailer H&M on several occasions. New Yorker Cynthia Magnus stumbled upon a bag of their unsold clothing near the company’s 35th Street location.
She was horrified at her discovery.
“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” she recalled. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.”
These are but a few examples of companies whom, on the surface, are committed to corporate social responsibility programmes on paper, but in practise, do the exact opposite in secret.
H&M has since responded with a robust PR campaign and by releasing annual sustainability reports. However, the fight continues, with many organisations are working around the clock to diagnose and combat wasteful retail habits.
In a 2017 white paper, resource sustainability experts WRAP found out that, in the UK,
“Just under one-third of clothing goes to landfill, losing all value [and if] given to charities, local authorities or other organisations for re-use or recycling, it would generate over £140 million of additional income at current prices.”
American fashion mogul and green activist Eileen Fisher stated in a Manhattan awards ceremony that the fashion industry was “the second largest polluter in the world.”
Her company’s Vision2020 programme aims to create a fashion industry “where human rights and sustainability are not the effect of a particular initiative, but the cause of a business run well.”
East London company Worn Again Technologies is dedicated to “upcycling” disposed clothing “at a molecular level”, allowing the fabrics to be reused in pristine condition. Using sophisticated polymer recycling technologies, its ethos is to “fast track this vision of a waste-free, circular resource world”.
On a larger scale, the European Union has created a Circular Economy action plan designed to “close the loop” of “product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy”, it states.
It also aims to increase recycling rates by 2030, discourage landfilling, and promote “industrial symbiosis”—using some industrial wastes as manufacturing materials for another industry.
France is at the vanguard of the circular economy with its own initiative, and has introduced legislation into parliament which will ban stores from throwing out unsold stock.
French PM Edouarde Phillipe drafted and submitted the Feuille de route économie circulaire (FREC), which would impose tough penalties on any retailers pitching their overstock onto the streets instead of donating them to local charities, Fashion Network reports.
PM Phillipe adopted the measures in tandem with new food waste regulations “to the textile industry, by 2019, [to] ensure that unsold textile stocks are neither discarded nor eliminated.”
As fashion designers and fashion brand owners, we must find innovative ways to minimize waste. It’s to just good for the planet, it’s also a smart business move. In today’s world, consumers expect brands to have adhere to strict ethical standards.