Indeed, you’ve heard of luxury brands. You may not be a customer of theirs, but you know that they exist. This industry is known for its timeless style, expressive clothes, and shockingly high prices. While style and fashion seem to fluctuate periodically, these brands seem to prosper in leading the changes.
We may see a vast diversity in the designs each fashion house produces. Some may take a more timeless and classical approach like Chanel, while others more extravagant and expressive designs such as Versace. However, there is one thing that the luxury industry prides itself in, and that is authenticity.
Luxury brands can keep their names on the top due to their willingness to work with the best. Many luxury houses employ professional hands to spend hundreds of hours producing an item, from materials to sewing.
Albeit, luxury brands aren’t all glitter and gold. As a result, voices are questioning the luxury industry in these past years. So naturally, the first question that arises is if the industry is ethical?
The Guardian released an article back in 2014 discussing the ethics behind some luxury fashion brands. Tansy Hoskins, the author, explores the question of expensive clothes come with a guarantee of ethics. It’s no secret that the fast-fashion industry gets its high profits from exploiting workers in sweatshops around Asia. However, the Guardian article wrote that the higher mark-up price of the luxury items does not necessarily reflect the ethical standards that the brands maybe should have placed.
At the time, luxury brands such as Prada and Hugo Boss transferred their labor to workshops in Europe with the notion that “Made in Europe” items had a higher guaranteed standard than “Made in Asia.” However, reports find that workshops in Germany and Italy (the garment hub in Europe) have a bigger wage gap than in Asia. Note that the wage gap calculates the minimum wage difference paid to the workers and the minimum compensation needed to lead a decent life.
Perhaps, you saw one or another luxury brand doing their due diligence of contributing their support for social activism and environmental issues. However, we need to understand that many luxury brands have yet to undergo a systemic change within the structure to ensure ethical practices.
Unfortunately, ethics are not the only issue that raises doubts in the luxury industry. Many are now commenting on the sustainability of these fashion houses, but why?
Firstly, did you know that luxury brands burn their goods?
Previously we mentioned how luxury brands pride themselves in authenticity and creativity, but they also take pride in exclusivity—but that is not the issue. Instead, the problem lies in what they are willing to do to maintain that exclusivity. These luxury brands maintain their exclusivity by achieving the scarcity of their items circulating in the market. So, how do they do this?
Well, they burn their goods. Crazy, right?
Unfortunately, it’s true. Destroying unsold inventory is a common method that is not widely talked about by these luxury brands. Well, it would give them a massive backlash if the majority knows (probably why they have kept it hidden all these years).
Recently, Burberry has pledged to stop this system from the pressure of environmental activists. The pressure may have stemmed from the knowledge that Burberry destroyed £28.6 million worth of goods in 2018. Burberry and Louis Vuitton, and Nike are also accused of wasting their goods in the same way.
Remember, those burning goods are not only wasteful but also highly harmful to the environment. Why? All burning is just another way of wasting an excellent product, a product that requires hours of hard labor and kilograms of materials to produce. Those materials come from farms or agricultural lands that would have taken seasons to grow and maintain excessive water and pesticides. This wasteful cycle will not end if the more prominent players don’t stop.
But it gets even crazier from here.
Italy is known to give these luxury brands tax credits for the items they burn. Essentially, the government is incentivizing these luxury brands to destroy their goods. This ordinance not only maintains this harmful system but also perpetuates the cycle.
So, let’s give ourselves a small recap.
Luxury brands are known to be the face of fashion. This industry is known for its unreachable prices to paint an image of exclusivity for most of us. Behind the elegant facade, however, they are hiding ethical issues of underpaid workers. Even more apparent than that issue, luxury brands are also burning their goods to maintain the scarcity of their items circulating in the market.
From that small summary, we should understand why this issue needs to be a big deal. The fashion industry, fronted by these luxury brands, will continue to exist and prosper as long as there is a market of people willing to buy their goods—and there will always be a demographic willing to pay for their goods. This undeterred audience is why we need to start demanding the transparency of these fashion brands, starting from where they obtained their materials to material production factories before they are handed to the seamstresses to sew.
We need to start raising awareness about the importance of this issue because, without our voices, these brands will not change.