Where do unsold clothes go?
The fashion industry has an insidious issue: producing to excess. Disposable fashion culture, which has been encouraged by fast fashion, has shortened fashion cycles. There is simply more stuff available
The fashion industry has an insidious issue: producing to excess.
Disposable fashion culture, which has been encouraged by fast fashion, has shortened fashion cycles. There is simply more stuff available on the market than ever before. Brands over-order merchandise to keep cost price at the lowest and expect to sell 50% of it at full price and the remaining is discounted to attract a lower price consumer. In reality, 30% of the total stock ends up unsold.
Over the years, the decline in sales has generated a larger gap between the items produced and the ones that end up sold. Companies have taken different strategies to overcome the issue, although their effectiveness remains controversial. British brand Burberry, for example, incinerated £28.6m of unsold merchandise. Strategy adopted to preserve its image of exclusivity and prestige factor.
Burning and shredding clothes are the most common practices used across all industry from fast fashion to high-end labels. From an environmental perspective, the major impact caused by these practices is the carbon emissions generated when burning chemicals, often added to the textiles, and synthetic fibers such as Polyester, which accounts for about 60% of the overall textile available in the market.
When it comes to recycling, only some garments can be recycled and turned into insulation or new textiles. When the process involves mixed fibers or fastenings, repurposing clothes is much more limited and requires more manual labor to separate the different parts.
Ultimately, destroying dead stock is simply cheaper than recycling it.
Another practice used by companies to get rid of unsold goods is donations. Historically, donations were sent to Africa, Latin America, South America and some parts of Asia, however African countries including Kenya and Uganda have recently introduced a ban on importation of secondhand clothing from the West as part of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a deal introduced with the aim to bring dignity and development by lifting internal trade and promoting economic growth.
The import of secondhand goods coming from developed countries has severely damaged the textile and apparel industry. Imported goods are simply cheaper than locally produced products and, moreover, the job market has become significantly more competitive.
“Kenya, for example, had half a million workers in the garment industry a few decades ago. That number has shrunk to 20,000 today, and production is geared toward exporting clothes often too expensive for the local market. In Ghana, jobs in textiles plunged by 80 percent between 1975 and 2000. Many people in Zambia, which produced clothes locally 30 years ago, can now only afford to buy imported secondhand clothes.” – New York Times
words and visual by Giulia Mummolo
Well Made Clothes (Rosie Dalton )
Vox (Chavie Lieber)
New York Times (Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura)