Coach deliberately slashed their bags for tax benefits, but they’re not the only guilty ones
Many brands quietly destroy their products while touting "sustainability", but what can we do about it?
Whether you’re an avid TikTok user or not, some information about the whole Coach scandal is likely to have trickled down to you by now. Summing the drama up in one concise Instagram post, Diet Prada does a fairly good job of explaining what went down.
Anna Sacks – a.k.a The Trash Walker – caused quite the stir over the weekend after a video she posted online went viral. An influencer of sorts, Anna has garnered herself a reputation as a “dumpster diving” environmentalist who goes through what she finds and airs “corporate America’s trash” on social media. Her latest find? A large selection of damaged designer bags from Coach.
Originally found in an industrial waste bin outside a Dallas mall on August 31, Sacks bought the bags from Dumpster Diving Mama – another influencer who resells products that have been thrown out by stores but that are still useable. Filming her first unboxing video, viewers can see that all of the bags (and shoes) she got are actually severely damaged. Detailing how it’s a pretty common internal policy for Coach and other brands to deliberately damage unsold merchandise for tax purposes, she explains that it’s part of a US loophole that allows the company to return a lower gross profit. “In short, damaged inventory reduces a tax bill,” Diet Prada writes.
Questionable behaviour in and of itself, it has not helped that their site boasts of their supposed commitment to sustainability. Sacks explains that “Coach actually has a repair programme for their bags and hopefully their shoes too. So, I’m going to bring some of these into Coach and ask them to repair them for me.”
The plot thickens. “According to their website they really care about the circular economy and they really care about sustainability. They’re a publicly traded company but this is not disclosed anywhere. See, ‘don’t ditch it, repair it’, Coach says. Repair your bags! ‘It’s another small thing we can do to keep bags out of landfill and reduce our impact on the planet.’
“Coach is working to make fashion circular,” Sacks finishes – a statement heavy on the sarcasm, in case you didn’t pick up on it.
According to Diet Prada, Sacks’ hope is that Coach, and other such brands, will “stop the destructive practice”. Publicly shaming the company by way of her video, she’s going one step further and is also in the process of organising a coalition (@donatedontdump) to work on it too. “Ultimately we hope to pass a bipartisan, common-sense federal #donatedontdump law that closes the tax loophole (potential tax fraud) that retailers use when they deliberately destroy usable items,” she said. “It should incentivize donation of physical items so that it becomes the obvious choice for retailers.”
Coach has addressed the backlash since the video first aired with the team releasing a public statement on their own social media channels that says they have “ceased destroying in-store returns or damaged and unsaleable goods”.
“We always strive to do better and we are committed to leading with purpose and embracing our responsibility as a global fashion brand to effect real and lasting change for our industry,” they captioned the post. Also noting that they donated a total of $55million to support low-income families, individuals in need, those re-entering the workforce, and education programmes last year, the company does seem to suggest that their good deeds should cancel out this negative one.
We all know that’s not how it works though and unless such companies are held accountable and such tax loopholes are altered, nothing will ever change. Coach may be the one bearing the brunt of the controversy this week, but many retailers do similarly – destroying merchandise so it’s unusable is actually much more common a practice than anyone probably realised, either to claim the tax on unsold items or to heighten a brand’s “desirability” by ensuring their wares don’t filter down to discount stores and resellers.
A quick Google search for the phrase “retailers that destroy goods” returns over 159,000 results, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Making 1kg of fabric generates an average of 23kg of greenhouse gases and yet countless brands have come under fire for actively destroying their goods. According to Insider, Amazon reportedly destroyed 130,000 unsolved and returned items in one single week while many other fashion brands, both high-end and high-street, have also all faced similar allegations.
Burberry previously came clean about their practice of actually *torching* their own clothes, trying to minimise the outrage by saying that they used “specialist incinerators that harness energy from the process”.
“Burberry has insisted it’s recycling the clothing into energy, except the energy that is recouped from burning clothing doesn’t come anywhere near the energy that was used to create the garments,” Timo Rissanen, an associate dean at Parsons School of Design and a professor of fashion design and sustainability told Vox in a 2018 interview.
Anna Sacks’ Coach video highlighted the murky underbelly of the fashion industry, but it’s clear that the problem has been allowed to go unchecked for far too long. The climate crisis gets worse *by the day* and yet here we are slashing bags and burning clothes as if none of that affects us. As Emma Watson once pointed out though, “we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy”. Boycotting brands that greenwash and try to cover up shady practices with flowery explanations of their sustainability practices will actually make a difference, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.