In July, British brand Burberry hit the headlines for burning over £28 million (S$51 million) worth of unsold products in 2017. Mass flak soon ensued: negative press and social media were quick to fire the luxury behemoth’s handling of unwanted goods. Many posited alternatives to destroying perfectly good clothes, weighing on the large-scale wastage and environmental damage it caused. Protecting brand image is one thing, but as secondhand retailer ThredUp aptly puts its in an open letter, “discounting your product shouldn’t be scarier than setting it on fire.”
The negative publicity was a collective wake-up call for an industry that’s still somewhat indifferent to its notorious reputation as one of the world’s most polluting industries (though it being second to oil is an unproven myth). A few days ago, Burberry revealed to Business of Fashion of the company’s new agenda on reducing waste by reusing, recycling or donating, instead of setting them up on fire.
It’s not just Burberry
The tragic fact that luxury houses and high street brands alike, from LVMH to H&M, dispose millions of dollars worth of product is an open dirty secret. Currently, 73% of the world’s clothing — from both ends of producer and consumer — eventually ends in landfills, of which less than 15% is collected to recycle and only less than 1% is regenerated into new clothing, according to Global Fashion Agenda.
While what happens to a finished product is merely the tip of the sustainability iceberg, ensuring it doesn’t end with disposal is table-turning in the industry’s shift towards a circular system. The term labels a restorative system which utilises innovation to minimise negative impact, replacing the throw-away linearity that runs rampant on various stages of production and post-production.
In the quest for a well-rounded fashion system, businesses are stepping up and positing models which double up as lucrative solutions for post-production products — whether entirely new or pre-loved. Noted ones include the likes of The Outnet, Net-a-Porter’s frugal sister site; ThredUp, the torchbearer for collective, sharing economy; to Vestiaire Collective, a leading pre-loved and vintage e-reseller.
Introducing Le Loop
Closer to home is Le Loop. Launched in June, the nascent Singapore-based womenswear e-boutique brings in past season runway and designer pieces from well-established names (Helmut Lang, Stella McCartney, Alexander Wang) to cult up-and-comers (Ganni, Staud, Petersyn) at a fraction of their original price tag.
Founder Liu Tingzhi — a Central Saint Martins alumnus who cut her teeth in the design ateliers of Alexander McQueen under Sarah Burton, the eponymous Erdem Moralagliu and Dior under then-creative director Raf Simons — had a firsthand experience of the industry’s aloofness. Wide-eyed and aghast, Liu recounted: “I remember on the first day of my apprenticeship, they opened a cupboard full of prototypes. These prototypes were complete fully sewn bags and they went, “Oh we’re going to throw and burn it.””
It became an impetus to start Le Loop. Identifying the gaping opportunity for luxury at a mid-range price point, Liu connected the dots between the need for brands to move its past season inventory and a market that’s willing to pay for it. “Unlike a traditional retailer, we don’t go to a showroom and place orders to be made. We buy what’s already there. That was the first idea: to work with something that has already existed,” explained Liu.
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