London - With an unmanageable surplus of clothing garments being produced each year, estimates show the value of unused clothing to be around 30 billion pounds, not including the 140 million pounds worth of clothes that end up in landfill. According to Impossible, a group aiming to guide global issues like sustainability, the zest for shopping will continue to rise, fuelled by our obsession for newness and fast fashion.
But while fast fashion retailers and high street giants are undoubtedly responsible for the vast proportion of unused and unsold clothing, luxury companies are by no means righteous retailers when it comes to sustainability.
Luxury brands tend to manufacture closer to home, think Made in Italy, Germany, France, the Americas, Japan, etc, exuding the idea that luxury-made goods = quality = sustainability. Many initiatives tend to judge manufacturing processes and countries with cheap labour and minimal workers rights as the accountable sources of sustainability breaches. But while manufacturing and product transparency may be more easily communicated by luxury brands, they cannot be not exempt from the broader obligations.
Burberry made headlines last year when it admitted to incinerating millions of pounds of unused stock, but this is common practise amongst luxury brands. Take Louis Vuitton, for example, a company which manufactures many of its items in France and Italy, yet it never goes on sale to reduce unsold stock at the end of a given season. What happens to these items? Like Burberry, Louis Vuitton has been thought to incinerate its leftover stock, although this has never been verified or acknowledges, neither directly by the company, in its financial reports, or elsewhere. Despite Louis Vuitton remaining tight-lipped over superfluous stock, we do know there are tax credits given to companies to destroy product so that they don’t need to be imported or returned. But tax credits are not a consideration that resolves sustainability obligations.
A recent article in Forbes pointed out that luxury brands, superfluous packaging and waste go hand in hand. Think about when you last ordered an item of clothing from a luxury e-tailer. The package arrives with the garment beautifully wrapped in tissue, sometimes scented, held by pins, stickered and folded inside another box with a branded logo, ribboned and labeled inside another shipping box, stuffed with box fillers and sometimes with an added carrier bag. The luxury experience of unpacking a garment ordered online is a far cry from frugal, considered packaging and sustainable practises. Because all these items, bar the garment, will end up in the bin.
While so much focus is placed on processes and manufacturing origin, we should consider the daily impact of experiential excess. There was a time when we lived without excessive wrapping and packaging. Single-use plastic may slowly be on its way out, but we have a long way to go when it comes to packaging waste. And let's not forget we no longer throw away clothing because they are worn out, but because they are no longer in fashion. And that way luxury brands and their high street counterparts have a reason to sell us more goods.
Photo credit: Ethical Fashion Initiative, article source: Forbes "Luxury Retailers Flunk The Sustainability Test.”