INTERNATIONAL - Burberry Group Plc will stop destroying unsold products and using animal fur as it works to placate investors and compete with leading luxury brands that are racing to clean up their images with new commitments on sustainability and ethics.
Top-end fashion brands have long preferred to burn some unsold items or bury them in landfill rather than risk their labels being spotted in discount store bins. Burberry, known for its tartans and trench coats, became the face of the practice in recent months after disclosing it had destroyed almost 29 million pounds ($37 million) worth of goods last year -- a revelation that piqued investors’ ire at the London-based company’s annual meeting in July.
The amount of scuttled goods spiked from the previous year as the brand took steps to revamp its fashion offer while scrapping an in-house perfume business that was licensed to Coty Inc. The company did an about-face Thursday, saying it would find ways to repair, donate or repurpose materials from unsaleable products.
“Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible,” Burberry Chief Executive Officer Marco Gobbetti said in a statement. “This belief is core to us at Burberry and key to our long-term success.”
As fashion’s pendulum perpetually swings from halter tops to power shoulders, from skinny suits to oversized fireman jackets, while models and tastemakers jet around the world to participate in shows, waste may not appear to be a top industry concern. A fresh collection of ready-to-wear looks can be essential to setting the mood in luxury boutiques, so stores focused on selling their most profitable handbags are nonetheless plastered with jackets, gowns and other items that have little chance of finding a buyer.
Luxury companies have responded to criticism by pledging to use a greater portion of their steep markups to fund efforts to clean up their supply chains. They’re banning suppliers from using hazardous dyes and other chemicals, working to make sure animal skins can be traced back to more ethical farms, and raising contributions to carbon funds.
Burberry is following in the footsteps of Kering SA’s flagship brand Gucci, luxury retailer Yoox Net-a-Porter, and Versace SpA in dropping fur. While the material is treasured by many designers, it’s become a symbol of fashion excess and animal cruelty.
Real fur will be phased out of Burberry’s line-up as soon as this month’s London Fashion Week, when designer Riccardo Tisci will show his first collection for the brand.