Homework answers / question archive / Case Study: Burning the Product or Destroying the Label? To help sell product, the clothing industry uses 'perceived obsolescence' to encourage consumers to continuously update their wardrobes
product, the clothing industry uses 'perceived obsolescence' to encourage consumers to continuously update their wardrobes. Perceived obsolescence exploits our psychological desire to secure social acceptance by keeping up-to-date with the latest fashions and trends (Bloch, 2009). Today, 'Fast Fashion' describes a tendency to discard barely-worn clothes as soon as they go offtrend. There is no doubt that discarding barely-worn clothing is bad for the environment. Although many websites are upbeat about the prospects of recycling clothing (e.g. LeBlanc, 2018; Gould, 2016), there are mixed messages regarding the rate of recovery of dumped textiles. The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released figures showing that in the USA in 2014, a total of 16.22 million tons of textiles went to Municipal Solid Waste (trash). Of this figure, only 16.2% was recycled, and 19.4% combusted for energy recovery. The remaining 64.5% was landfill (EPA 2016, p.8). It costs American cities $45 per ton to dispose of unwanted clothing (LeBlanc, 2018). How might public opinion react when a company deliberately destroys brand-new clothing? In July 2018, it was widely-reported that Burberry, the British high-end fashion label, had destroyed unsold bags, clothes and perfume valued at AD$56 million. Across a five-year period, Burberry destroyed excess product valued at AD$180 million (BBC News, 2018). Burberry claimed they were protecting the brand against counterfeiting. However, many suspected a darker purpose: to protect the brand's cachet (prestige) by blocking discounting of remaindered stock, which would place Burberry products in the hands of the 'wrong people' (Dilonardo, 2018). The furore that followed these revelations suggests that perhaps it was the Burberry company and not potential consumers, that was damaging the brand. Social media comment branded Burberry as socially irresponsible in failing to donate excess stock to charities (Dilonardo, 2018). The actions of Burberry contrast harshly with those fashion chains, who have initiated 'take-back' programs to raise consciousness around clothing recycling. In September 2018, Burberry responded to negative public reaction by announcing that it would immediately end the practice of destroying unsaleable stock (Dilonardo, 2018). The Burberry burnings happened in a country with an unusually diverse and welldeveloped network of charity shops, all looking to retail quality used clothing for profit. Wicker (2016) argues that charities can only process a fraction of the clothing donated, with large quantities of donations heading overseas to Africa, or baled-up 2 for processing by textile recyclers. However, as charities benefit most from selling quality product, it is likely that the Burberry clothing would indeed quickly fall into the hands of less-than-ideal brand ambassadors. In defence of Burberry, it could be pointed out that, had the unwanted Burberry stock made it to landfill, this would generate unwelcome environmental effects. Synthetic fibres can take hundreds of years to decompose, creating methane gases in the process. Bio-degradable, natural fibre clothing is subjected to multiple chemical processes during manufacture. These chemicals may leach into groundwater or be released as toxins when textiles are burned to generate energy (Wicker, 2016).
Questions 1. Have you ever allowed perceived obsolescence to control your buying decisions? Do you believe that you are too ready to discard items that are out of date? If so, provide some examples.
2. In your opinion, did Burberry break any laws when it chose to destroy its unsold stock?
3. Based on the matters raised in this case study, create a list of the stakeholders potentially touched by the actions of the Burberry company.
4. Use your list of Stakeholders to create a list of 'winners' and losers in this affair. Stakeholder Win (W)? Lose (L)? How impacted?
5. Based on the stakeholder analysis above, do you think that Burberry's actions were more beneficial than harmful for the environment? Give one or more reasons to justify your answer.
6. Do you believe that Burberry should be praised or condemned for its actions? Be clear whether you are accusing the company of being environmentally irresponsible, socially irresponsible, or something else. Give reasons for your response.