Burberry plans to stop destroying unsold products after environmental groups and shareholders objected to the disposal of millions of pounds worth of goods. The fashion company also says it will stop using fur.
LONDON — When British luxury label Burberry said this summer that it had burned tens of millions of dollars of unsold goods — an announcement that prompted fierce criticism — the practice was justified as an effort to maintain its “brand value.”
On Thursday, the company said it would cease burning stock immediately. In effect, it was once again seeking to preserve its brand.
Burberry, Britain’s largest luxury label by sales, revealed in its annual report in July that it had burned 28.6 million pounds, or about $37 million, of clothing and cosmetics.
The practice, which is widespread across the retail and consumer industry, is often used as a safeguard to prevent unwanted items being stolen or sold at a significant discount and in that way eroding the high-end price tags they can command in stores.
Other luxury labels, including Richemont and Louis Vuitton, have been accused of destroying unsold watches and handbags so they cannot be bought at reduced prices. Even companies like Nike have faced allegations of deliberately damaging unwanted stock.
At the time, Burberry said that it only destroyed items that carried its trademark and that the burning of cosmetics was a one-off action related to a license with the beauty company Coty. A Burberry spokesman said that when it burned products, it did so “in a responsible manner.”
Still, the case prompted fresh scrutiny of such practices. Politicians, campaigners and other critics rounded on Burberry. Kirsten Brodde, who heads the Detox My Fashion campaign at the environmental charity Greenpeace, said that Burberry “shows no respect for its own products and the hard work and natural resources that are used to make them.”
With many customers, particularly younger shoppers, becoming more ethically and environmentally conscious, the practice was becoming increasingly damaging to Burberry’s image.
Finally, the company said Thursday that it would stop destroying unsold merchandise, adding that it would also stop selling products that used real animal fur.
“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s chief executive, said in a statement.
Burberry has grappled with issues around its brand image before. In the 1990s and 2000s, the company’s trademark camel check became closely associated with a low-income social group that is portrayed as being obsessed with brand names and cheap jewelry. The company suffered a sharp decline in sales and was forced to gradually rebuild its brand.
Gobbetti, a veteran of the luxury industry, became chief executive last year, and has since unveiled an ambitious plan to overhaul company practices and take the business more upmarket. A new creative director, Riccardo Tisci, will unveil his debut collection for the brand at London Fashion Week this month.
The decision to stop destroying unsold items takes the rebranding effort one step further.
Burberry had originally outlined a five-year “responsibility agenda” in 2017. On Thursday, it said that it already reused, repaired, donated or recycled unsold products, but added that it would increase those efforts as part of a partnership with Make Fashion Circular, an initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that aims to prevent waste in the industry.
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Burberry said that another partnership, with the sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse, would involve transforming 120 tons of leather off-cuts from the Burberry supply chain into new products in the next five years. Burberry has also established a research group at the Royal College of Art, a higher-education institution in London, to invent sustainable materials.
In the same announcement Thursday, Burberry pledged to stop using fur, after criticism from environmental campaigners. Tisci’s first runway collection will not feature any fur, and the company will “phase out” existing fur products, Burberry said.