France's Anti-Waste and Circular Economy Law has started to take effect. Haven't heard of it? I happened to catch this article in WWD but I'm shocked that no other big news outlets have picked it up. I mean, I know the world is on fire and everything but this is huge!
Here's some of what's in the law: banning plastic wrapping around fresh produce, newspapers and magazines. Public funds to support re-use. Visible signage revealing the environmental impact of products (um, AMAZING but also how are they calculating this? Maybe there's a not-so-distant-future when my suppliers will provide me with estimates of environmental impact?) But the part that's really sending me is the prohibition of destructing new, unsold merchandise!
But why would a company destroy unsold merchandise? It's a much bigger problem than you'd think!
To avoid devaluing their brands, many large companies overproduce for the season, then choose to shred and discard unsold clothes rather than put them on sale or sell to discount retailers like TJ MAXX. Prestigious brands like Burberry and Cartier are guilty, but H&M's flagrant destruction of unsold garments garnered tons of backlash (and plenty of denials) in 2017 when it was reported that a Swedish energy company burned H&M clothing instead of coal. WWD estimates that 5% of unsold merchandise--10,000 to 20,000 tons!--is destroyed every year.
In an interview with Dressed: the History of Fashion, fashion designer Selina Sanders recounts her experiences working for fast fashion companies. She describes rampant overproduction, with companies often ordering a million units of a single garment. Their goal, however, is only 60% sell through. Once their goal is met, slow-moving merchandise will be pulled from the sales floor to make space for new merchandise. Often, she says, it was cheaper to burn the clothes than to store them.
Sanders was gut-punched by the disregard for the labor and materials that went into these garments. She left her job to start a clothing brand using upcycled table linens for adorable, quirky, one-of-a-kind garments! The absolute antithesis of everything Fast Fashion. You can check out her fabulous brand here.
So far I've been talking about international brands, of course, and it's unclear to me how much impact a French law will have. But I believe this is just the beginning of a sea change in the fashion industry! I'll take any good news I can get!