For anyone who hasn’t been following Remake’s #PayUp campaign, 18 major fashion labels are currently under fire for cancelling clothing orders that had already been sewn by garment makers around the globe prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result of this delinquent behavior by brands, millions of unclaimed — and, in many cases, unpaid — apparel orders still remain in the possession of Bangladesh suppliers, leaving many to question what will happen to all the unwanted clothes that have now been discarded by brands.
Lost Stock is making headlines for offering a unique solution that seems to be advantageous to both the consumer and the factory suppliers — however, this innovative solution to waste may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. The company, which is owned by Mallzee, purchases cancelled orders from factories and offers the clothes at a discount to consumers. For £35, customers receive a mystery box containing three items of clothing. All items are unbranded, and a portion of the sales from every order is donated to SAJIDA Foundation to provide a week’s worth of food and supplies to a Bangladesh garment worker and their family.
While the mystery box aims to help garment makers, Lost Stock may pose an ethical quandary to consumers who want to ensure that brands #PayUp.
Glamour (UK) and Business Insider both reported that the box includes brands like Gap and Topshop, which remain on Remake’s PayUp list. When Remake reached out to Lost Stock about the items in the box to learn more about which brands are featured, Lost Stock refused to be specific.
“Whilst there has been a lot of media coverage on the brands and retailers that have cancelled stock and we are buying cancelled stock — we aren’t actually naming the brands that the stock we are buying were destined for as Lost Stock packages will be made up of items from a wide range of retailers and all labels will be removed (and in most instances replaced by Lost Stock branding),” stated a Lost Stock representative via email.
Remake has pushed for accountability from major brands that have refused to #PayUp for cancelled orders and over 150,000+ signatures have been added to the #PayUp petition in a fight to advocate for the garment makers not being paid for work they’ve already completed.
If the items in Lost Stock boxes include clothing made for brands that have yet to #PayUp, then consumers aren’t purchasing “lost” stock — they’re purchasing goods made from stolen labor.
Financial transparency also is important. The Lost Stock rep confirmed that 37 percent of proceeds benefited SAJIDA and 30 percent of the cost from boxes go back to factories for the stock. Lost Stock provides this cost breakdown on its web site; however, the details that are lacking are the prices paid to suppliers for the product. Because of the marginal profit made by factories for sewing clothes, even the slightest discount could lead to suppliers not making a profit off of their goods. While a portion of proceeds may provide a week’s worth of aid to garment workers, purchasing a box doesn’t ensure that those workers are receiving full and fair payments for the clothing Lost Stock is purchasing.
No Label Means No Accountability
Nazma Akter, Founder and Executive Director of Awaj Foundation, offered Awaj’s stance on Lost Stock, and more specifically, the ethical concerns tied to cutting out brand labels and reselling cancelled stock:
“We believe Lost Stock is not a solution for the challenges that workers are facing. By jumping in and buying the goods emerging from holding and cancellations, Lost Stock acts as a middleman without any direct business responsibilities towards workers. In spite of their having charitable goals, there is no accountability mechanism or way of negotiation with them, and they are not taking any risk or assuming any responsibility.
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Suppliers agree to sell products to them because they have no choice and it is an incredibly difficult time for them, but they will make a loss on the sales. Lost Stock didn’t buy the raw materials or pay worker wages. Workers, who are our ultimate concern, will not get the wages they are due for producing those products.
Although we often find ourselves critical of brands, at least if the product goes to their stores, we can make them accountable for the conditions in which the products are made.
However, if Lost Stock cuts the labels from these products and brings them directly to consumers, it removes that accountability and we lose our ability to connect consumers and conditions.
If people buy from a store, we can connect to them and say ‘here’s what we want to change.’ No label means no accountability.
Lost Stock is providing a good service for the consumer, who may find it appealing and get significant discounts for products, but it’s barely helpful for suppliers and it doesn’t help to improve our society. The charity hand-outs that workers receive are no replacement for the wages that they are due.”
The Problem of Waste
Many Bangladesh factories are in a dire financial situation because of cancelled and unpaid orders. Mostafiz Uddin, Managing Director of Denim Expert Ltd. Founder & CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange, has been vocal about brands not paying up and how the lack of financial responsibility has impacted his livelihood. Uddin recently discussed his factory’s situation in an interview with The Guardian and alleged that one brand cancelled about $2 million in orders. Uddin also wrote an article titled “Fast fashion’s thorny question,” which touched on the issue of textile waste and the problems that these unclaimed orders cause for sustainability.
“The stark reality is that in many garment production hubs, the options for up cycling, recycling, or down cycling clothing are somewhat limited,” Uddin wrote. “These are new and emerging markets in many cases. Nobody knows what will happen to the – literally – billions of garment items that will no longer be required because of Covid-19. But I fear that a sizeable amount of these items will be either incinerated or land filled.”
Adding more textile waste to the sizable mounds that already decorate landfills isn’t an ideal option. While third party resellers like Lost Stock could potentially rescue millions of garments from the threat of landfills during this Covid-related fashion crisis, rescuing these fashions also means disrupting the natural order of the supply chain. When brands continue to leave invoices unpaid, all other efforts are simply adding time to a ticking bomb. Selling off cancelled stock, ultimately, is a way for factories to try to survive for a little while longer. It’s not a real solution. It’s a quick fix.
Brands Are Still Liable
Simply put: brands need to #PayUp. Yet, the issue of the unclaimed glut of clothes remains both an environmental and an ethical dilemma. Remake reached out to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to inquire about its position regarding factories selling unclaimed orders to third parties like Lost Stock.
“Factories may be forced to clear the stocks and get rid of the liabilities as much as possible by selling the cancelled goods or disposing of through other means, to remain in existence,” the BGMEA stated in an email. “But this doesn’t warrant indemnity of a buyer from its liability, since factories may not recover the total value of goods by selling or disposing through alternate means, and there has to be a lot of other added costs due to warehousing, bank interest due to extended tenor of liability, etc.”
These additional accrued costs — the warehousing, bank interest, etc. — all add to the debts of factory owners, compiling into immense financial strain and making it even more difficult to pay workers, especially as invoices remain outstanding from brands like Gap, Arcadia, Primark, and Urban Outfitters.
However philanthropic Lost Stock’s mission may appear to be, it is not a true resolution to the financial and ethical woes currently being endured by garment makers. It’s simply a bandage that’s allowing factories to catch a few drops of the bloodletting caused by brands refusing to #PayUp. Lost Stock’s mystery boxes won’t and can’t pay workers what is owed to them — only brands can do that.
Images: Mike Mozart/Flickr, Unsplash