My Experience Destroying Products and Why Kept SKU is a Solution

By Angie Washington, Duke MBA Candidate

It was my first late night shift working for a  popular fast fashion retail company. We had to re-stock inventory, place new products on the floor, and markdown items that had a price drop. I remember when my manager told me, “I need you to help me destroy these shirts.” Confused, I couldn’t fathom destroying something that was in perfect condition. Makeup, t-shirts, and shoes had all been “dimed out” – the prices had fallen to zero which meant these items were no longer of value. It was company policy to destroy them in a way that rendered them unwearable

A group of six of us gathered around a table in the back stockroom to demolish the merchandise. I saw my manager take a pair of scissors to cut the first t-shirt. “Okay now everyone pick-up their scissors and cut it just like this.” About 50 t-Shirts that night were purposefully torn to shreds. Afterwards, we moved on to the makeup, tearing open the packaging, breaking the compact and gouging out the eye shadow in the pallet to throw in the trash. I couldn’t understand. Why not return the items back to the headquarter’s distribution center? Or donate the items to a shelter? It was jarring to see all of that product go to waste. I also understood why. 

Many companies fear brand dilution if their products are easily accessible. This is especially an issue when brands that are known for being hard to find and high value run into excess.  Afterall, what do certain brands stand for? A lot their sales power is in exclusivity and the feeling of belonging to a community that defines their customer. Incineration of products has happened for years and light is now being shown on the wasteful practice across all retail. If a company misjudges demand and overproduces, what are they to do if they have thousands of units of the product still available? Of course there is price dropping but what happens next. It becomes a question of, will donating or liquidating these items dilute their brand and hurt their overall value as a company? Destroying the items prevents just “anyone” from acquiring the item.  

Re-selling products could still be a way to cater to a certain subgroup of the population. 

Retailers such as TJ Maxx, Ross or Marshalls resell items from companies that couldn’t sell through certain products off their shelves. Resale retailers such as ThredUp, Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real do the same and they all cater to a different type of customer.

After my retail experience with product destruction that could have been re-sold, I became more interested in circular and sustainable fashion and learned to have respect for a retailer's dilemma. As an MBA student at Duke Fuqua School of Business I’m beyond blessed to intern here at Kept SKU to make a difference in the world and to reduce textile landfill waste. Kept SKU redefines the market in re-sale, sustainability and retail by providing customers with unique items from companies that were returned, excess, or had slight damages but are still in excellent condition. Kept SKU bridges the gap between retailers and fashion returns to provide a sustainable solution to customers.