Burberry destroyed £28.6m of clothing and cosmetics last year as part of efforts to protect its upmarket brand and guard against counterfeiting.
The luxury British label incinerated the equivalent of 81,000 of its signature plaid scarves, according to its latest annual accounts, in a practice said to be rife among fashion houses.
Industry insiders say high-end brands burn unwanted stock to prevent their clothes being sold at knockdown prices and worn by the “wrong people”.
But the fashion houses say surplus goods are incinerated to prevent them falling into the hands of counterfeiters.
Burberry destroyed more than £90m of products over the last five years, and the amount burnt annually has increased dramatically. In 2013, Burberry incinerated £5.5m of unwanted stock, less than a fifth of last year’s total.
“The stuff that Burberry is burning is not waste – it is surplus, which is a very different concept. It is perfectly useable stuff,” said Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, a not-for-profit group that campaigns for greater transparency in the supply chain.
The fashion designer told The Independent clothing brands destroying “vast quantities” of stock was a “massive, massive issue” that was “absolutely not unique to Burberry”.
“In the case of the big brands, it’s absolutely very negative for them to suddenly have the same product with slashed prices,” she said.
“Burberry, I can imagine, is particularly concerned about this because we all know that it went through a huge image change from sort of shabby to high gloss, high fashion. So they are probably worried about making things cheap and rolling back the clock.
“It is brand protection, in this case. They don’t want it to go to the wrong people.”
Burberry’s clothes are priced at the high end of fashion retail, with men’s polo shirts selling for as much as £250 and its famous trench coats priced at around £1,500.
The company also sells perfumes and cosmetics, which accounted for £10.4m of the products destroyed last year.