The idea of “seeing how the sausage is made” highlights and important thing about human nature: We often enjoy the finished products (the sausage) but if we have to take a hard look at what goes into making that product, it can make our stomachs turn.
And just like with grinding meat, there are some unpleasant realities behind the scenes in the clothing industry, and this isn’t even about the scourge of sweatshops…
Even if you don’t know the name Burberry, you’re almost certainly familiar with the brand’s products. The British luxury fashion house is famous for its iconic tan trench coats and their scarves, instantly recognizable by the signature tartan; a pattern of tan, black, white, and red intersecting stripes.
Started in the 1850s with a focus on outerwear, the company has become one of the premiere brands in high fashion, with scarves selling for hundreds of dollars and some trench coats selling for over $2,500 on their website.
It’s Worth It
As you can imagine, opinions about the prices of their products vary wildly, as they do with nearly all high fashion brands. Some say that it’s absolutely worth the price because of the quality, craft, and prestige that is inherent with any Burberry garment.
Others disagree, saying that while the clothing is nice, a Burberry trench coat isn’t ten times better than a perfectly good trench coat you can get from a less prestigious brand for $250. You’re just shelling out all that extra money for the name.
Regardless of where your opinion lies, one thing is for certain: the exclusivity of Burberry products is certainly part of their appeal. The company wants their garments to be seen as something special because if they aren’t, no one will be willing to pay a special price for them.
Naturally, Burberry would do whatever is necessary to preserve the aura of exclusivity that surrounds their products. But when one of their practices to protect their brand identity came to light, there was a significant backlash against the company.
Keep The Price Up
Like any other clothing company, Burberry would sometimes produce more product than they would sell in any given year. Normally, surplus clothing is sold in outlets for a reduced price. But when a large part of your brand appeal is exclusivity, outlet sales are anathema to you.
So to stop their coats, scarves, and other garments from ending up in unofficial outlet stores, Burberry burned their unsold clothing, bags, and accessories. Between 2012 and 2017, the company burned nearly $137 million worth of products, burning over $37 million worth in 2017 alone.
It probably strikes you as an astounding waste of resources to put so much material and labor into making all those clothes and shipping them out to market, just to ship them back and destroy them. But what’s even more astonishing is that Burberry isn’t an especially bad actor when it comes to burning clothes.
In fact, the practice is all but standard in the world of high fashion. “Because fashion is a high-volume business with more than 100 billion garments produced each year, consumer’s closets are already overflowing with unworn clothes, creating an overstock problem for many companies” said Kristen Brodde, head of Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion campaign.
The needless production of so many clothes that will never be worn creates a double problem for the environment. Not only are all the resources consumed in the production of the clothing, the burning of tons and tons of fabric and other materials is a significant source of pollution.
“It’s high time for the whole fashion industry to start dealing with overstock at its source – by slowing down production and rethinking the way it does business,” Brodde said. Her sentiments were widely held by Burberry’s customers and the general public and they made too much noise for the luxury clothing company to ignore.
Making a Change
Hearing their critics loud and clear, Burberry announced in September of 2018 that they would immediately stop burning excess clothing. Instead, they will reuse, repair, donate, or recycle all unsaleable products.
The move would make Burberry the first major company to publicly end the practice of destroying unwanted products, something CEO Marco Gobbetti said he hoped others would follow them in doing.
But that wasn’t the only thing that the company was doing to become more environmentally responsible. They also announced that they would drop the use of real fur in their products in response to a number of anti-cruelty campaigns run by animal welfare groups.
Furs and Wool
Burberry previously used fur from rabbits, foxes, mink, and raccoons, but will no longer use them in future products and will phase real fur out of existing fur products. They would also stop using Angora wool, which is taken from the downy Angora rabbit and often results in inhumane treatment.
This was excellent news to animal rights groups, who have long railed against clothing products that are unnecessarily cruel to animals. “We first met with Burberry almost a decade ago to urge the brand to drop fur, so we are delighted that this iconic British fashion giant is finally going fur-free,” said Wendy Higgins of Humane Society International U.K.
The New Way
“Most British consumers don’t want anything to do with the cruelty of fur and so this is absolutely the right decision,” Higgins continued. “Burberry’s compassionate stance couldn’t have come at a better time, sending a strong message to designers like Prada still using fur who are looking more and more isolated and outdated by the day.”
“Burberry is very wise to be ending its association with fur and it joins the ranks of an ever-increasing number of top designers like Gucci, Michael Kors, DKNY and Versace, who have also realized real fur has no future in fashion,” Higgins added.
“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible. This belief is core to us at Burberry and key to our long-term success,” Gobbetti said. “We are committed to applying the same creativity to all parts of Burberry as we do to our products.”