Luxury clothing brand Burberry’s decision to incinerate $37.8 million of its own product has not gone over well, judging by the response on social media—search for #burnberry and you’ll see what I mean. Consumers in an increasingly eco-conscious world are promising to react with their dollars.
It may not be common knowledge, but it’s also not unusual for fashion brands to destroy unsold product rather than sell it at a discount to an off-price retailer. But the size of this case plus an open letter from second-hand fashion reseller ThredUp calling out Burberry’s environmental affront has put a spotlight on the practice. The letter offers to resell Burberry’s future unsold stock and donate all proceeds to an environmental charity if the luxury brand’s choice.
I spoke with ThredUp’s newly appointed brand director, Erin Wallace, on why she took a strong stand against Burberry’s big burn.
Have you gotten a response from Burberry?
“No response from Burberry yet. Of course we’d love it if they took us up on our offer, but more importantly Burberry has an opportunity to open a conversation about how the fashion industry can do better. We hope they take that challenge most of all.”
How did you learn that Burberry burned so much of its clothing? Why is this an issue you want to take on at ThredUp?
“I learned about the Burberry annual report citing $38M of burned product from a co-worker who shared an article about it with our team. Even for those of us who were aware of the fashion industry’s practice of destroying rather than discounting unsold product, the sheer scale of the wastefulness hit a nerve.
At thredUP, we’re committed to our mission to teach people to think secondhand first — and a big part of that is to educate people about why they should shop secondhand and the impact the fashion industry has on our environment, from the luxury sector to fast fashion. It’s the 2nd most polluting industry, behind oil.”
Were you surprised by the response you’ve gotten to the letter?
“Yes! The letter reflects our beliefs as a company, but it’s encouraging to hear that sentiment echoed so loudly by the social community. Today’s consumer is increasingly eco-conscious, and we hope the overwhelming reaction we’ve received is an indication of a greater shift in what consumers demand from brands.”
You’ve been in the second hand clothing business for a long time. Have you previously dealt with brands not wanting to show up in resellers showrooms?
“Yes, definitely. Some brands will cut out labels and allow brick-and-mortar resellers to sell unwanted product as long as the brand isn’t listed or promoted anywhere. Not ideal, but at least those items are being sold and used, not destroyed and wasted.”
What’s your next step in your mission to reduce fashion and textile waste?
“We have a lot planned! But most recently, we just kicked off August as Secondhand Month and launched a #NoNewClothes campaign to talk about changing consumer habits and rising textile waste—we are buying 5x more clothes now than we did in the 1980’s and keeping them for half as long! A bunch of us at thredUP have signed on to shop only secondhand for the entire month–a much bigger challenge for some of us than others.”
Do you have some tips for consumers on how we can help mitigate fashion’s environmental impact?
“The easiest thing you can do to mitigate fashion’s impact is to extend the life of every garment you own. That means buying used clothing whether it’s from thredUP, your local resale or vintage shop or another online reseller and selling or donating it when you’re done. If you want to buy something brand-new, try to purchase it from sustainable brands that make clothing designed to last, then keep it longer and sell or donate it when you’re done with it.
The main thing I want consumers to know is that shopping, fashion and sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive! Embracing resale and the circular economy opens up your closet to a world of possibilities — shopping is guilt-free when you know there’s a responsible way to sell of donate your clothing when you’re ready for something new.”