LONDON • Britain's Burberry will no longer burn unsold luxury goods to protect its brand after an admission that it destroyed almost US$40 million (S$55 million) worth of stock last year sparked a furore over waste in the fashion industry.
Burberry also said on Thursday that it would no longer use real fur such as mink and raccoon, in another step towards improving its social and environmental credentials which was immediately welcomed by animal rights campaigners.
The waste revelation in July from Burberry came only months after the owner of Cartier and Montblanc admitted to destroying some of the brands' unsold watches and coincides with growing public awareness of waste and its environmental impact.
"Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible," said CEO Marco Gobbetti, who is taking Burberry more upmarket. Its coats sell for more than £2,500 (S$4,500) and handbags are priced at up to £1,500.
Many retailers have been called out in recent years for destroying unsold stock, including by slashing or punching holes in garments before throwing them out.
Richemont, owner of luxury watch brands, said it bought back unsold stock from dealers during a recent downturn and recycled the precious metals and stones that were in the high-end pieces.
The worth of finished goods that Burberry physically destroyed in the financial year to April.
Burberry physically destroyed £28.6 million worth of finished goods in the financial year to April, up from £26.9 million the previous year, including £10 million worth of beauty products such as perfume.
The products are generally those that did not sell via discount outlets and are more than five years old.
Burberry said it would try to reuse, repair, donate or recycle its products while a strategy to make fewer, more targeted collections should help reduce excess stock.
It is also working with the sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to transform 120 tonnes of leather offcuts into new products over the next five years.
Exane BNP Paribas analyst Luca Solca said Burberry's announcement could put pressure on other luxury names to be more transparent about how they handle unsold goods.
"Concerns about sustainability are slowly but surely becoming more relevant for luxury goods consumers," he said.
Some luxury groups offer sales to employees and journalists to limit unsold stock.
Both Kering, owner of Gucci and Alexander McQueen, and LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton, Celine, Christian Dior and Givenchy, declined to comment.
Chanel said it did everything it could to avoid destroying stock, including selling items from previous collections to employees and partners, and starting production on goods only after it has received orders from buyers.
The issue of excess stock is, in volume terms, a much bigger problem in the mass market, where retailers and consumers churn rapidly through different styles.
Greenpeace says 73 per cent of textile fibres used to produce more than 100 billion garments each year end up in landfill or incinerators after they have been used.
H&M, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer after Inditex, has said in the past that it burns stock, but only when it is damaged or, for example, has high levels of chemicals in it.
At the end of May the Swedish group had US$4 billion of unsold stock that it said it hoped to sell. "Under no circumstances do we destroy clothes that are safe to use," a spokesman said.
Britain's Primark said unsold products and samples were donated to charity.
Burberry is following the likes of Versace, Gucci and the trailblazer for ethical fashion, Stella McCartney, in removing real fur from its ranges.
Peta, the campaign group for the ethical treatment of animals, welcomed Burberry's move to stop using fur, which it said was a sign of the times.
"The few fashion houses refusing to modernise and listen to the overwhelming public opinion against fur are now sticking out like a sore thumb for all the wrong reasons," said Peta's director of international programmes Mimi Bekhechi.