Sustainable AND Luxury – A Myth?

Words: Susanne Norris
Featured Image: Fashion Revolution

In July, it was announced on nearly every news outlet that Burberry were destroying their surplus stock, instead of seeking it. Moreover, they were destroying it by burning it – a method which we all know is synonymous with damaging the Ozone and causing climate change. Burberry’s chairman, John Peace, has insisted this is a sustainable way to reduce waste (due to the incinerators supposedly generating new forms of energy) and has said it’s not something the company does “lightly”.

Paired with positive environmental change via the Vivienne Westwood collaboration, was the consumer distracted from what was really going on?

According to an article published by The Guardian, Burberry are not the only luxury fashion brand doing this. In fact, it is extremely common for brands to burn surplus stock in order to make themselves less vulnerable for counterfeiting and clothes being sold on the black/grey market. However, for the average consumer and not a spokesperson for a fashion brand, this leaves me with one question – is luxury fashion sustainable?

With the waste report on Burberry, it would be easy to be pessimistic. The burning of clothes is problematic in so many ways. It is obviously problematic in an environmental way, but there are social implications too. A Burberry trench coat could easily set you back over a thousand pounds. Yet in the U.K., it is estimated in 2017 that 7.3% of the population experienced persistent poverty. Given it is still hard for many people to afford clothing, there is something extremely distasteful about Burberry burning stock which amounts to such a huge price.

But despite this, things are changing for fashion sustainability. Fifty years ago, it was fashionable for women to wear fur coats. Yet now, major fashion houses such as Versace, Armani and Gucci have pledged to be fur-free –  a feat that seemed impossible just a few decades ago. Moreover, Kering, the company which owns brands such as Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, was announced the most sustainable textiles company at the World Economic Forum this year.

There is evident change here. Certain companies appear to be dedicated in moving towards more sustainable fashion. Whether it’s reducing fur use or energy put into garment making, there is considerable effort being made by the industry. The hope is that brands like this will inspire the likes of Burberry to move towards more sustainable ideas. This, couples with the backlash from the public against the burning of surplus stock, could be enough to push fashion in a better, more sustainable direction.