Monday, February 1, 2010

A Cruel Death of Clothing

Most people are familiar with the fantastic prices that can be found on clearance racks – whether it’s at Target, Macy’s or another store entirely – but have you ever wondered where the clothes on clearance racks go if they are not sold? After all, no matter how many times a store marks down that hideous t-shirt, sometimes everyone realizes just how awful it looks. Or perhaps the size of the clothing is simply not what anyone is looking for. For whatever reason, there is clothing that stores do not manage to sell. What happens to that clothing?

A month ago The New York Times published an article by Jim Dwyer entitled “A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed.” In it, Dwyer calls the reader’s attention to two stores in New York City – H&M and Wal-Mart – outside of which partially destroyed clothing is frequently found in the trash. The clothing is intentionally destroyed before disposal; the items from the Wal-Mart mentioned had holes punched through them by a machine. The clothes outside H&M had been slashed to make them unsalvageable. The actions being taken by these two stores (and likely others) are atrocious. There are (at least) thousands of people who could benefit from the donation of this clothing. It is not only wasteful in the sense that it could benefit less fortunate people, it is environmentally irresponsible. There is no reason for the destruction of the garments when they could be donated.

It is understandable in one way that a store like H&M would not want their clothing to lose any amount of exclusivity that it has. However, this is not a good enough reason to destroy the clothing they are unable to sell. If no one wants to buy the clothing from H&M, then it will not matter to customers that poorer people who did not pay for it are wearing it. Basically, if the concern is that the sight of less fortunate people wearing clothing from H&M will lessen its value, the solution is not to destroy clothing, but rather to donate clothing when it is no longer wanted by paying customers. Wal-Mart does not even have the flimsy defense just offered for H&M.

The destruction of garments is not only a cold and heartless policy it is one that generates negative public opinion. For example, imagine you have two stores that are considered to be on par with each other in terms of quality, styles available, customer service, and any other factors you may consider before shopping at a store. Now imagine you have no particular preference for either, but one morning you read an article about how one of these stores destroys the merchandise they do not sell while the other donates it to a local charity. The latter store now has a better reputation than the former in the eyes of most people (I hope). As a result, the store that donates gains customers as people decide they no longer wish to shop at the store that destroys garments. Would it not make more sense for any store to adopt the policy of donating clothing, if not in order to be socially responsible, then at least to better their reputation in the eyes of customers?

Why do these stores destroy their clothing instead of donating it? I cannot seem to find a logical reason for it. I would postulate that the stores are lazy, but it would be easier to donate the clothing whole than to spend any effort or time destroying it. The store would not lose any more money by donating the clothing than it does by destroying it. It is entirely unreasonable, heartless, cold and plainly stupid that these stores ruin the garments instead of giving them away to charities.

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