EarlyBird in The Times
Cutting the amount of excess clothing produced every year by just 10 per cent could reduce carbon emissions by around 158 tonnes by 2030, according to a report by McKinsey.
Pressure is growing on the fashion industry to change its approach regarding unsold goods and fast fashion sold at low prices that consumers are encouraged to throw away after only a few uses.
Burberry hit the headlines in 2018 after announcing it would stop burning its unsold goods. Rather than be applauded for ending an industry-wide practice, the British luxury brand was hit by a backlash because many were shocked that such a destructive tactic was ever in place. Yet burning or shredding clothing has been common in the industry for some time to stop counterfeits and maintain exclusivity through scarcity.
Times are changing, however. As well as Burberry’s shift, LVMH has recently set up Nona Source, which resells deadstock fabrics that are no longer for sale to other fashion designers at a competitive price, thereby encouraging the re-use of existing resources.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue of excess stock. Some retailers cancelled orders with suppliers and some chose to hibernate stock that wouldn’t go out of fashion quickly to mitigate the issue, but there remains a glut of unwanted inventory.
MySale, an Australian flash-sale site, takes out-of-season stock from European retailers and sells it online in Australia instead for higher prices than could be achieved in domestic markets.
EarlyBird is another recent venture that was set up during the pandemic as it became apparent that lockdowns were leaving independent boutiques with huge levels of unsold stock. “A lot of these shops used to rely on footfall and didn’t have a website that would bring in lots of customers, so stock would have been going to landfill,” Charlotte Orr, its co-founder, said. Instead, the members-only website runs time-limited discounts featuring one independent brand or boutique at a time to protect a brand’s image and reduce waste. Any unsold stock is passed on to Smart Works, the charity that provides interview clothing for unemployed women.
Another approach towards tackling waste is made-to-order manufacturing. Some fashion brands, such as Kitri, ask customers to pre-order to gauge interest before production to limit waste. There are also technology firms like Platforme that are working with brands such as Gucci and North Face to tackle the issue of overproduction by shortening turnaround times and implementing small-batch production. This means brands can test their designs and reduce their exposure to fashion flops that end up on a scrapheap.