Saturday, January 9, 2010

Out of season, out of cycle: The problem with retailers' policies

From the frozen tundra, Going Green Mama jumps on her soapbox...

I confess to two things: Being a bleeding heart and being a person who has a hard time parting with something that's not unsalvagable. I'm probably hopelessly out of fashion, and our castoffs make their way through a network of friends, coworkers and nonprofit groups. My loft is home to rows of stacks of outgrown clothes, sorted by recipient, plucked out of my children's closets the minute they've outgrown them or the season changes.

So when I read the New York Times' article this week on two major retailers who were slashing not just prices but the clothes themselves, I was shocked.
During her walks down 35th Street, Ms. Magnus said, it is more common to find destroyed clothing in the H & M trash. On Dec. 7, during an early cold snap, she said, she saw about 20 bags filled with H & M clothing that had been cut up.
“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” Ms. Magnus said, reciting the inventory of ruined items. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.” The jackets were tagged $59, $79 and $129.

H&M, the store in question, not only didn't respond to the reporters' calls but also as of Friday night it still hadn't posted a statement on its Web site. Its corporate responsibility page states that H&M donates faulty garments to nonprofit groups - but says nothing about out-of-season clothing.

Wal-Mart, the other chain mentioned in the article, issued a statement on its Web site three days after the Times piece that the "action was not in compliance with the Walmart apparel office's long-standing practice of donating all wearable samples to an extensive array of local charitable organizations" and that "unwearable" items are "sent to a recycling center."

As a former retail managers' widow, I know that some companies do in fact toss post-clearance items in the dumpster rather than donate them to agencies or resale shops such as Salvation Army or Goodwill. That knowledge has caused me to stop supporting certain stores. But as more and more companies look to touting their "social responsibility," corporate policies of slicing and dicing perfectly usable items - particularly in a time when so many families are in need - is unthinkable.

Especially since it's so easy to do so. In my small case, a quick phone call to AmVets means most donatable items can be picked up from my doorstep. Imagine if a store had goods - most organizations would be clamouring for the chance to receive help. In fact a Vanity Fair writer spent 10 minutes researching options, and came up with 13 ideas for New York City alone.

And yes, I realize there are unscrupulous people who'll try to return anything for cash or store credit. I used to hear stories every day. But mark the label or the tags before you donate, and you've solved a problem, and hopefully helped someone else in the process. Who knows, maybe you'll even gain a customer once he or she is back on their feet!

15 comments:

Kellie said...

Wow, I had no idea! I see clearance items from Target at our local Goodwill store all the time. Huh, maybe that's why they're my two fave stores. :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I was also shocked when I read that story. It seems so insane that they would think that's okay. I wonder how many other stores do that - besides the two that were called on it. I got several invites on Facebook yesterday to join "boycott H&M" groups, but I haven't shopped at H&M or Walmart in years. But it makes me wonder if any stores I do patron have similar destructive policies.

Green Bean said...

Outrageous! I mean really really outrageous. Not only is that terrible environmental policy but its terrible people policy in these tough economic times. I remember reading about Gap and its subsidiaries throwing out all hangers a year or so ago. Wonder if they are still doing that . . .

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Okay wow, this made me literally nauseated. That's HORRIBLE.

A friend of mine works at Goodwill, and they get Target stuff all the time, much to her delight (and that of her friends for whom she keeps an eye out, since she knows what we like!) Thanks for even a small way to rationalize my Target shopping...:-)

Eco Yogini said...

ugh. disgusting

Daisy said...

I have found Target goods at a local thrift store, clearly marked so that they cannot be returned to Target, but still totally wearable. My daughter bought a pair of Converse sneakers in pink polka dots for her roommate - from Goodwill - to match her own pair from Tarjay. I'll stick with Target and Goodwill; H&M? Not any more.

concretenprimroses said...

I agree that its terrible, but they don't want you to wait until it ends up at GW. Understandably they want you to buy it from them. A solution would be to send it to a charity out of the area though if that's really their worry.
Home Depot throws away plants all the time as probably do many other stores. They upsets me because it seems like there are low income housing places for instance that could use them.
Kathy

Elizabeth B said...

There's an update: H&M has said they're going to quit doing that.

Surviving and thriving on pennies said...

I worked at Michaels the craft store for 10 years and this was their practice too. I was a price integrity coordinator which meant that I was in charge of changing all prices and taking care of clearance. Whenever an item did not sell and was around for a long time, I would have to damage them out. This meant that I had to physically pull apart all packaging, slash everything, and destroy everything. At school time I had to do this to hundreds of pens and paper that could of been sent to a local school. I asked my manager if we could donate it and he said it was not policy. So frustrating. Anything opened, packaging damaged or was missing one tiny thing had to be destroyed. This is still the practice. Im so glad I stopped working for them.

knittingwoman said...

Here is Canada, this is common practice at many stores. My oldest son who does a lot of dumpster diving says that Mark's Workhouse slashes clothes and boots. I too was absolutely horrified and then saddened because I see people on the streets here, and it is cold here in winter, who do not have adequate clothing. Knowing that big stores are deliberately ruining clothing instead of donating it is something I just cannot understand.

Pure Mothers said...

Despicable practice. Unnecessary waste by individuals is bad enough, but by corporations on a mass scale, as unacceptable! Maybe we can start the hashtag at twitter #boycottH&M

Simply Authentic said...

I saw this article on the yahoo site and was also appalled by these practices. I can't believe in these economic times and in this "green" age that companies would continue to do this, although I sort of wasn't too surprised by Wal-Mart being one of them. I've been a long time fan of H&M but this definitely made me do a double.....especially when it did take them so long to respond...

Jackie said...

You mentioned that you have stopped supporting certain stores because of these practices...would you be able to stare what stores those are?

Robbie said...

Kathy, I understand not wanting to "dilute" the brand or profits by dumping castoffs at Goodwill, but let's really think about how few clothes would actually get there. Very few clothing items do end up wasting on clearance racks.

Jackie, I know Michaels does trash its products (I think it was listed above), and I long quit going to Wal-Mart because of the way they treated their employees with lack of health coverage. Having had someone near and dear work for both lowes and home depot, yes, they do trash dead plants. I never recall my husband saying that they destroyed merchandise that was clearanced out at either store.

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

omg this makes me so mad. it is unacceptable in a city like new york that has so many needy people. and not only that, but we have textile recycling too!! so if they don't want ppl wearing it, they could at least recycle it instead of throwing it in the trash.

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