Burberry, the iconic British fashion label known for its trench coats and classic plaids, apparently doesn't want its luxurious apparel and accessories falling into lesser hands. Burberry burned $37.8 million worth of unwanted merchandise last year in what The Times described as an attempt to keep its products from being discounted and sold to the "wrong people."
Even considering the label's sky-high prices, that's equal to more than 20,000 of the company's signature trench coats.
The actions have prompted negative responses from shareholders and consumers with environmental concerns.
The unwanted attention is shining a light on a common practice in the high-end fashion business to protect a brand's cachet. Companies would rather destroy their merchandise than devalue it by having it sold at a lower price or be worn by people who aren't their target consumer.
Burberry said it only destroyed items that carried its trademark and harnessed the energy during the process.
"Burberry has careful processes in place to minimize the amount of excess stock we produce," a company spokesman said. "On the occasions when disposal of products is necessary, we do so in a responsible manner and we continue to seek ways to reduce and revalue our waste."
More than $116 million worth of Burberry products have been destroyed over the past five years, The Times said.
Burberry has recently been trying to make the brand exclusive again after a period where counterfeiters were "sticking the Burberry check on anything they could," Maria Malone, principal lecturer on the fashion business at Manchester Metropolitan University, told the BBC.
"The reason they are doing this is so that the market is not flooded with discounts. They don't want Burberry products to get into the hands of anyone who can sell them at a discount and devalue the brand."
An angry backlash — and a debate
Destroying fashion to save a brand's reputation didn't go over well on social media.
"In the year we had the coldest winter on record and an ever-growing homelessness crisis — surely giving the clothes to charities or shelter would have crossed someone's mind?" tweeted Dominic McGregor.
"This is outrageous," tweeted Sophia. "There are millions of people struggling to survive because they don’t have clean water to drink, food to eat or clothes to wear. This is an unforgivable and irresponsible practice, and all because @Burberry don’t want to diminish their luxury brand. Pathetic."
"When there are people all around the world who can't afford new clothes for themselves and their children it is criminal to be destroying useful goods," Buttons writes. "If a brand can't keep its customers loyal without artificially making its clothing scarce, then it does not deserve to have those customers' loyalty."
Burberry is working to make the brand exclusive again. (Photo: Willy Barton/Shutterstock.com)
Others understood the importance of a fashion label wanting to keep the brand exclusive — but they suggested alternatives that aren't so wasteful.
Lu Yen Roloff of Greenpeace told the BBC that one way Burberry could've prevented this is by slowing production rather than making too much and then having to destroy the extra items.
Twitter user dom. suggested, "I get why @burberry would want to protect their brand image by destroying products rather than donate them as is. But surely a better solution is to de-brand the products, remove all labels, possibly dye items black or something to obscure the pattern and then donate anonymously?"
Many people suggested that donating the item to charity would certainly be worth the payoff.
"The alternative is to donate stock to particular charity outlets — specific stores — and watch people queue up to buy it up," tweeted Philip Priestley. "Create a positive image and a media sensation."
Several people have said this is a good time for fashion houses to take a look at their practices and their priorities.
"The value of a brand should be in making everyone feel beautiful and doing so in a conscious way that's fair trade/wages, environmentally and socially supportive," said Business of Fashion user Gianna Fusto. "Redefine your values and you'll still make bank. Infuriating."
Ending the practice
In response to the backlash, Burberry announced in September that it would no longer destroy unsaleable products, effective immediately. The company said in an online statement that they "reuse, repair, donate or recycle unsaleable products and we will continue to expand these efforts."
"Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible," said CEO Marco Gobbetti. "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."
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in July 2018.