Unsold Inventory Is Fast Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

Image: Christian Boltanski’s installation ‘No Man's Land’ at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Image source

There is increasing awareness now around the issue of a disposable fashion culture, which has been spurred on by fast fashion. And, with the average Australian discarding 23 kilograms of textile waste each year, it is clear that we’re now running out of land into which we can dump all of these unwanted clothes. But what about the clothes that don’t get sold in the first place and, therefore, don’t find a home before being thrown into landfill? The issue of unsold inventory is a mammoth one in large corporations that overproduce clothing today and, thus, the insidious waste that goes on here has become fast fashion’s dirty little secret.

In theory, a successful fashion business should be able to match inventory with sales, but that is becoming the case less and less in a fast fashion world – where big brands deal in the business of producing to excess. And, as a result, many cheap fashion companies now find themselves saddled with deadstock that they simply cannot move. According to The New York Times, for example, Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M is currently “struggling with a mounting stack of unsold inventory” – to the tune of US$4.3 billion, no less. That’s a whole lot of $10 T-shirts.

This is an issue that has come about both because of H&M’s focus on excess, as well as their steady decline in sales – which has left a gaping hole between the clothes being made and those actually being sold. So what happens to all of this waste, then? Well, according to an investigation launched last year by Swedish television channel SVT, H&M has allegedly been destroying that deadstock. This investigation slammed the organisation’s so-called ‘recycling program’ and claimed the retailer has actually destroyed 60 tons worth of recyclable garments since the program was launched in 2013. This is because it now has more unsold inventory than it knows what to do with.

H&M, for its part, has claimed that it only burns clothes to produce ‘cleaner’ energy at a combined heat and power station in Vasteras, northwest of Stockholm. But that doesn’t change the fact that this company and many others are still producing far too much clothing, relative to what we actually need. Which only further perpetuates a very dangerous cycle of waste. The consumer, meanwhile, is led to believe that aggressive discounting of barely-old stock is simply commonplace and conducive with the true value of clothing – which it absolutely is not.

So what can we, as individuals, do to help combat fast fashion’s insidious waste problem, then? For a start, we can all focus on supporting smaller independent labels instead of the big corporations that care only about the bottom line. Supporting the smaller guys isn’t just about keeping diversity and craftsmanship alive in fashion, it also helps to reduce the textile waste being pumped into the planet too. Because, in general, independent labels focus on smaller production runs than fast fashion brands do – which means there is less deadstock to deal with at the end of the season.

From a personal style perspective, this is great news too, because it means that you are able to buy something truly unique – rather than dressing like everyone else, as the Zara Dress Tumblr proved is often the case with fast fashion. In addition to small production runs, though, independent brands also tend to focus on timeless designs – which will last you well beyond one season – and quality materials that won’t fall apart within a shockingly short space of time. All of which helps to reduce the post-consumer waste that will inevitably clog up landfill as well. In other words, supporting independent fashion means you can buy less, but buy better – and thus keep it for a whole lot longer.


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