One Man's Trash

No, You Can’t Burn Your Brand-New Handbags, Says France

The French Government moves to ban the destruction of consumer goods.

No, You Can’t Burn Your Brand-New Handbags, Says France
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Thanks to a shocking revelation last year, courtesy of British luxury brand Burberry, it has now become common knowledge that luxury brands routinely destroy unsold goods. They would rather let it all burn than have their clothes appear in a downmarket discount bin. While it is understandable from a branding perspective, the sheer waste of the measure is shocking. Moreover, this destruction is practised widely throughout the consumer retail industry; even things like brand new home electronics and cosmetics are routinely sent to the incinerator.

Burberry Group has already said that it would stop destroying products, but there has been little news from the rest of the industry up to this point—until now.

Burberry’s Monogram collection

French prime minister Édouard Philippe has announced that the country will ban the wanton destruction of unsold non-food inventory—including luxury goods. Under the current practice, some €650million worth of products are destroyed each year, including electronics, cosmetics, and yes, luxury clothing and accessories. The value of destroyed products is about five times that of donated items, according to France 24.

“It is a waste that shocks, that is shocking to common sense. It’s a scandal,” said Philippe at the launch of the new measure. While the exact details of the new law are still being debated, manufacturers and retailers will be required to donate, reuse, or recycle the unsold inventory, instead of designating it for destruction.

On top of that, French president Emmanuel Macron has also tapped Kering Group’s Chief Executive Officer Francois-Henri Pinault to lead a global fashion sustainability drive to reduce the industry’s notoriously heavy environmental footprint. Given that the luxury industry in France alone is worth nearly US$16billion, their clout over fashion and luxury business practices is not in question. Plus, Kering is one of the luxury industry’s giants, and the parent company of brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga, so Pinault taking the lead lends promise.

Now the question is—what is the industry actually going to do? Will unsold sacs à main be recycled for their constituent leather? Will ever more products be shipped to off-season outlet malls ? Only time will tell.

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