“Pretty is as pretty does.” Uh-oh, Burberry isn’t looking so good then. The upscale British fashion company is burning, slashing, or otherwise ruining unsold merchandise. That means destroying millions of dollars in brand-new clothes, shoes, perfume, and accessories. Burberry officials claim spoiling goods helps their brand. But how does such wastefulness make sense?
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Last year, Burberry destroyed $37 million worth of product—over $13 million in perfume alone. In the last five years, the company has ruined over $100 million in first-rate merchandise.
Lu Yen Roloff of environmental group Greenpeace sees another problem. She says, “Burberry shows no respect for their own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to made them.” Ouch.
Burberry officials say that if they don’t destroy unused products, items get stolen or sold cheaply. Having their product show up in TJ Maxx or a local flea market hurts their image as a luxury company. Their image is already suffering. In recent years, counterfeiters have hit the company hard. Purses, shoes, umbrellas, coats—all fake and all bearing the distinct Burberry plaid—have flooded discount stores and street stands. Suddenly, the Burberry brand doesn’t seem so special.
Burberry isn’t alone in destroying products. Fashion observers claim French leatherer Louis Vuitton burns its high-end goods, and Swiss watchmaker Richemont buys back its own expensive timepieces—only to tear them apart.
Some companies say they use the energy generated from burning products or recycle parts of trashed merchandise. Still, that kind of waste angers environmentalists and others. Should companies show modesty and simply produce only what they can sell?
Tim Jackson heads a fashion school in London. He says companies like Burberry keep growing to please investors—even if that means weakening their brand and producing too much stock.
“There’s no way they are ever going to solve this problem,” Jackson says.
The situation gets more complicated. U.S Customs law refunds the taxes foreign companies pay on exported goods—if they can prove the product is destroyed. That gives companies like Burberry and Louis Vuitton an economic reason to see their products literally go up in smoke.