Fashion retailers keep burning, discarding clothes
Retailers miss the boat on helping those in need
Imagine walking down a city street and seeing a pile of Victoria’s Secret bras just sitting in plain view of a dumpster. Meanwhile, your own bra has seen better days and you know you would’ve paid top dollar for this trashed item in stores. Does this sound like an unbelievable find? It’s not. Victoria’s Secret reportedly dumped piles of bras this month into a dumpster in Centennial, Colorado.
Retailers, it’s really not that hard to donate inventory
Donating used clothing and household items are fairly easy. Donating new clothing or any other new item? Even simpler. I know this because I regularly donate countless items on Craigslist and Freecycle. The newer and better quality the item is, the more smartphone and email alerts I get. When I’m not in the mood to do meet-ups, I’ll grab a bag and donate items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Why? Second-hand stores and charities can often get better quality clothing off the hangers and to the register. In turn, their focus areas get funding, too.
And even when shoppers or online users aren’t interested in my items, there are two pretty important groups who may not be found browsing through thrift stores. And they can usually use these items more than the smartphone user or the second-hand connoisseur: homeless women or domestic violence survivors. While men are the “overwhelming majority” of the homeless population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, that still leaves 106,119 homeless women around the world who may need women’s clothing and gently used undergarments. (In Colorado, the homeless population is approximately 9,619.)
If the store is closing down and the inventory cannot be sold anyway, retailers should consider giving the items away to organizations who are already in need of them. And if somehow packing a box or two is too much trouble, at least allow employees the opportunity to give the unused products away on their own time.
Retailers are notorious for wasting inventory, hurting environment
Incinerating unsold clothing is yet another concern in the retail world. It’s problematic because of its environmental threat — and the reason luxury companies like Burberry stopped doing so. But throwing store inventory away just leads to them ending up in the same dirty landfills, emitting methane — a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon.
But from a business perspective, is a product devalued if given away for free? When it comes to luxury brands, possibly. A Burberry purse in the garbage dumpster doesn’t have the same pizzazz as one off a store shelf. Nike shoes sitting in an alley may not make one want to stunt the same way as the shoes coming out of a shoebox. But the labor that went into creating these products means something — whether it was the cow to make the leather, the fingers to sew the stitching, the hands that organized the products or the eyes that double-checked the pricing. Dismissing all that work — not just the cloth — is a slap in the face to those who are responsible for that product even making its way to the store chain.
Should knock-off companies be able to purchase discarded items?
Would it make more sense to allow savvy salespeople the opportunity to sell clearance items online, if former and current employees are banned from doing so? If the store doesn’t want the profit, why can’t these folks get it? Again, from a business perspective, there are drawbacks. Companies are already fighting against knock-offs being sold online as is, so selling lesser-value items could potentially create a new problem.
Let’s say those same Victoria’s Secret bras have a defect in them that creates underwire discomfort. A customer (or someone walking by the dumpster) collects them up and returns them to a nearby store for a refund or exchange, and a lot of fuss over receipts. Now the store is at risk of paying for something that they wanted to get rid of in the first place. Or, if it’s not up to the standard of other products, they risk their name being affiliated with poor quality.
But that doesn’t appear to be the concern here. These bras were just “sample” products” that were categorized as “damaged.” Meanwhile, perfectly usable products are being cut up, burned and thrown away for no other reason than being “old” or “used.” The truth is they just aren’t being sold within the company’s preferred timeline. If another store cannot or will not use them, then the original store is stuck with the items. Selling these products at lower rates can make a high-priced store look “cheap.” And if the clothing that is “cheap” cannot be sold at bottom-of-the-barrel clearance pricing, what else is there to do with it? The answer is still not throw it away or burn it though.
How customers can make retailers reevaluate discarding clothing
As a Victoria’s Secret customer, this kind of news — even for a location that closed its doors — is disappointing. And if any of the 50 closed Victoria’s Secret stores all had similar ideas, that’s even worse. A lot of women could’ve used these bras, including Free the Girls, The Bra Recyclers, Soma, I Support the Girls and more.
For customers in a giving mood, buying a bunch of clearance bras and donating them to organizations is a great way to give back. (Unfortunately Congress has recently passed laws allowing the Internal Revenue Service the authority to reject tax write-offs for “low value items,” according to Turbo Tax.) But if a retailer is willing to work with and/or donate to these causes, would that tax write-off or a giveaway day be worth it for them — if not only for the company but for the customer’s reputation of the store? Would you, a customer, be willing to put that as a suggestion on those store customer surveys when the retailer asks for additional comments?
While customers cannot always control what a closing store chooses to do with used inventory, businesses do listen when customers speak with their money.
When customers use their sustainable-supporting dollars more
One of the best ways to make retailers pay attention to how they treat their inventory (minus flimsy fast fashion) is to consider supporting sustainable fashion clothing lines. For example, Burberry reportedly started working with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse in 2018 to transform 120 tons of leather off-cuts from the Burberry supply chain into new products. (And Elvis & Kresse is already donating 50 percent of one line of their products to The Fire Fighters Charity.)
Macy’s and JC Penney have partnered with thredUP. While H&M’s Conscious and Zara’s Join Life may raise a few eyebrows regarding whether the second-hand products are fully recycled, at least something on the product is. And then there’s just the matter of investing in long-lasting quality products instead of fast fashion items from your favorite retailers.
So while customers cannot be the store monitor for all retailer activity once they leave the store, how we spend our money while we’re in the stores is just as important, too. Your ideas for how to help those in need shouldn’t be thrown away anymore than your bras, your clothes or your money. Victoria’s Secret, take notes.
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