Burberry to stop burning unsold products as part of resource efficiency drive

Luxury fashion brand Burberry has announced it will stop destroying products deemed unsaleable with immediate effect, just months after it was revealed that the brand had burned more than £28m worth of stock over the past 12 months.

Burberry’s annual update, published in July 2018, revealed the extent of the cost of “finished goods physically destroyed during the year”. It served to highlight a notable and systemic issue plaguing the fashion industry that has also been reportedly linked to industry giants such as H&M and Nike.

The company claimed that the process was “necessary”, but that it would continue to seek ways to “reduce and revalue” its waste streams. It has also defended the practice, noting that the energy from burning products was captured and used.

The company has now committed to stopping the practice in order to build on resource efficiency goals listed under its five-year corporate responsibility agenda.

Burberry’s chief executive, Marco Gobbetti, said: “Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible. This belief is core to us at Burberry and key to our long-term success. We are committed to applying the same creativity to all parts of Burberry as we do to our products.”

The practice of burning stock is reportedly common in the luxury fashion industry. Counterfeiting is a huge risk to fashion companies and is reportedly worth $450bn, all while exacerbating exploitation and modern slavery. In fact, the UK’s Anti-Counterfeiting Group claims that counterfeiting and theft of intellectual property fuels drugs smuggling and cases of human trafficking.

Revaluing waste

Burberry hopes the decision will build on a headline CSR goal to “revalue waste”. While no reduction targets for the amount of waste generated, disposed of, or sent to landfill are in place, the luxury fashion brand has committed to a range of closed-loop initiatives.

The company is a core partner of the Make Fashion Circular initiative from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a project to create business models which will keep garments in use, utilise materials which are renewable and find ways of recycling old clothes into new products. Nike and H&M are also signed up to the initiative.

Last year, the Burberry Foundation – set up as an independent charity by the firm in 2008 – awarded £3m to the Royal College of Art to establish the Burberry Material Futures Research Group – the first of its kind in the world according to Burberry – and expand the Burberry Design Scholarship Fund. The Research Group is one of the first to utilise Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) research to apply radical thinking to invent more sustainable materials.

More specifically, the Foundation has partnered with London-based accessories brand Elvis & Kresse to transform more than 120 tonnes of leather offcuts from Burberry factories into new products.

Another key pillar for the company’s 2022 goals is to ensure that 100% of Burberry products have at least one “positive attribute”. The attributes can range from using cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, leather from certified tanneries, or ensuring the person who made the garment is paid a living wage. To date, 14% of Burberry products have more than one positive attribute while 28% have one.

In an exclusive interview with edie, Burberry’s responsibility programme director Pauline Bohl explained how the company was on a journey to “foster business models” that redefine waste and embed the circular economy across the industry. Read the interview in full here.

Burberry has also confirmed that it will no longer use real fur in its products. A debut collection from the company’s chief creative designer Riccardo Tisci  – to be launched later this month – will feature no fur. Burberry will also phase out real fur from existing products.

Matt Mace

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