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Burberry to Stop Burning Unsold Products, Using Fur

When Burberry admitted to destroying $38 billion worth of clothing and cosmetics in July, the backlash was immediate and vociferous.

Although the London-based heritage house attempted to justify the practice at the time, arguing it had to protect its “brand value” by preventing goods from being sold on the counterfeit market at deep discounts, a public furor developed as politicians, environmentalists and even comedian Russell Brand took the brand to task for its wastefulness.

Kirsten Brodde, a Detox My Fashion campaigner at Greenpeace, blasted Burberry for showing “no respect for its own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to make them.”

This makes you feel an odd sense of anguish and doom, Brand, who is English, tweeted.

On Thursday, Burberry announced it would cease burning unsold stock “with immediate effect”—also, it would appear, with an eye toward maintaining its brand as it ramps up engagement with millennial consumers, who tend to be more environmentally and socially conscious than their generational forebears.

Burberry said it already reuses, repairs, donates or recycles unsaleable merchandise and will “continue to expand these efforts” as part of its five-year “responsibility agenda” and work with Make Fashion Circular, an Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative that seeks to reduce waste in the apparel industry.

In the same statement, the company said it would no longer use animal fur. No real fur will make an appearance in Riccardo Tisci’s debut collection for Burberry later this month, and all existing fur products will be phased out.

By banning fur, Burberry joins the ranks of Armani, Gucci and Michael Kors and Versace in outlawing the material on ethical grounds. 

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“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” said Marco Gobbetti, who succeeded Christopher Bailey as CEO last July. “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.”

Burberry laid waste to 28.6 million pounds of finished product in 2018, according to the company’s latest annual report, up from 26.9 million pounds in 2017 and 18.8 million pounds in 2016.

John Peace, its outgoing chairman, told shareholders at Burberry’s annual meeting last month that destroying stock is “not something we do lightly,” a sentiment that was echoed by chief financial officer Julia Brown, who insisted that “we take it extremely seriously.”

More cosmetics needed to be incinerated this year because Burberry’s beauty line was acquired by Coty, Brown said.

Burberry is far from the only retailer to have destroyed products in this fashion. Chanel and Louis Vuitton have also been dogged by similar allegations. Richemont, which owns the Cartier and Piaget brands, bought back and dismantled $567 million worth of watches from its retail partners in the past two years, according to its 2018 earnings report. Nike drew attention last year for slashing unsold shoes before discarding them.

In 2017, Danish television channel TV2’s “Operation X” program accused H&M of sending 12 tons of clothing up in smoke every year. The fast-fashion retailer quickly hit back, however. 

“H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use,” Johanna Dahl, head of communications for H&M in Sweden, said in a statement at the time. “However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed.”