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Fashion on Fire

by Madison Duddy

photography courtesy of Pexels

In today’s environment, fashion is one of the largest polluting industries in the world. With millions of people unable to afford clothing and an environment that is suffering, people ask themselves how fashion designers can continue to burn billions of dollars of clothing each year.

In 2017, Burberry burned about $37 million worth of clothing and cosmetics. Around the same time, H&M was accused of burning 60 tons of clothing in the past few years, thanks to investigations by the Danish television show Operation X. While Burberry promised to stop destroying their clothing, H&M continues to deny the accusations, saying they only dispose of clothing that does not meet their safety regulations.

Since the issue of fashion companies burning clothing was brought into the public eye, the world has wondered why designers would not, alternatively, take advantage of the abundance of charities and up-cycling companies available.

Designers like Louis Vuitton and Burberry claim they burned their garments to prevent brand devaluation and counterfeiting. If their designs ended up in outlets or were marked down substantially, the designers said their brand would lose its exclusivity and high-end status. Also, they would be open to the possibility of people copying the designs and selling them for cheaper prices.

The Parsons School of Design graduate Lainey Sapnar said putting garments on sale will not de-value the brand.

“About one percent of the country is willing to pay five-hundred dollars for a top," Sapnar said. "The only way they [designers] are able to make money is through putting garments on sale and in outlet stores."

Commenting on the counterfeiting argument in the fashion industry, Sapnar also said there is no way to prevent it because everyone does it and the law created to hinder it is lax.

“Burning is just bad for the environment and there’s no excuse. The garments will be copied regardless,” Sapnar said. “The only law says that if you copy something, you need to change six things. You can change the width of your sewing needle, and that’s one thing. It will be the same exact design with little changes that no one will notice.”

In response to public backlash, on September 6th, Burberry announced in a press release that “it will stop the practice of destroying unsaleable products, with immediate effect” building off their “five-year responsibility agenda … which is helping tackle the causes of waste.”

Burberry is now partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular campaign. On the foundation’s website, it says the campaign’s “ambition is to ensure clothes are made from safe and renewable materials, new business models increase their use, and old clothes are turned into new.”

As a member of the sustainable fashion designer community, Sapnar supports the many organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, but noted that even though some designers give their left-over clothing to sustainable companies, they try not to advertise it because it can hurt their brand value.

“There is one company called Fast Craft, where companies donate their unused fabric to them, and they remake it into items like carpet padding,” Sapnar said. “The thing is that a lot of people don’t want the Fast Craft company to tell people they donate to them … because people associate sustainability with being ugly.”

Malaika Moyer (COM’21) agrees that there are many alternatives for designers to get rid of their unsold clothing items including up-cycling and donating to needy causes.

“Up-cycling is a great option,” Moyer said. “The designers could take the garments or extra fabrics they have to create similar but different pieces. You could also give the clothing to charity galas and different organizations like Girl Scouts or the Cinderella Project that provide clothing to people who can’t afford it.”

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