I’ve been watching some wild fashion/sustainability drama play out on social media over the past few weeks that so expertly highlights why the narrative “I’m just one person so I can’t make a difference” is wrong.
Let’s get right to it.
Fellow garbage lover Anna Sacks, aka “@TheTrashWalker,” has gained a following by documenting all the needless waste she spots in NYC. Sacks will film herself rifling through New York’s trash bags to expose — and save — perfectly good items that get tossed for a host of reasons.
She recently shared an unfathomable amount of Coach bags and shoes that the retailer discarded in its dumpsters. All of the merchandise was slashed — effectively ruined for wear, as is Coach’s policy. The practice is not unique to Coach; many retailers force their employees to destroy unsold products to maintain a false sense of exclusivity/unattainability around its branding and keep prices inflated.
Sacks also points out that Coach ruins its own products so it can write the waste off as “accidentally destroyed” merchandise for tax purposes. (Is this tax fraud, my guys?)
Sacks has been making videos like the above for some time now, but there was something extra wretched about Coach’s documented waste that ignited a fire on social media.
Timing probably helped her cause; Coach recently launched a sustainability initiative (LOL!) called “Coach (Re)Loved,” which it describes as a “less wasteful way of doing things.”
The company made an adorable, 44-second public service announcement-style video, in which the narrator says:
“Now there’s a way you can reduce [your Coach bag’s] impact on the planet. Coach (Re)Loved is a circular ecosystem where you pass along your pre-loved bag in exchange for a credit, and we refurbish, recycle, or reimagine it for the next Coachie. And guess what? It’s good not only for you, but for the planet too.”
I thank Coach for creating the perfect greenwashing case study. Coach, like countless other brands that pretend to care about climate change, puts the onus on the consumer to save the planet. It encourages its shoppers to take their little dinky Coach bags to one of its 15 pilot stores. If customers do that, they’ll get some store credit to buy a new Coach bag, one that undoubtedly strained the planet and its resources in order to be produced. Yippee!
Obviously, this messaging is pure bullshit. But I find that this messaging is what so often fuels our thinking that, as individuals we can’t make a difference in our sustainability practices. I’d argue that these two things are not the same.
Sacks’s success story kind of proves my point. Sacks took an individual action to highlight Coach’s dumb ass practices, and the people agreed, the practices were dumb. Her action had a ripple effect throughout the sustainability community and beyond: People got MAD when they learned of Coach’s hypocritical program and practices, and they made sure Coach felt their rage.
By Tuesday, Coach had no choice but to respond to the irate comments and accusations. (It’s why they tell you not to read the comments, honey.) Check out its pathetic Instagram apology:
What a nightmare! The second slide reads:
“We have now ceased destroying in-store returns of damaged and unsalable goods and are dedicated to maximizing such products reuse in our Coach (Re)Loved and other circularity programs.”
Literally so embarry. It’s going to take a lot more for Coach to walk the talk — including producing less shit to begin with. I don’t think the PR nightmare will entirely righten Coach’s wrongs, but it’s a start.
It’s not just Coach that’s going to be forced to hold itself accountable. In a not-so-new trend on social media, retail workers expose the jaw-dropping waste crimes they’re forced to commit by their employers using the hashtag #RetailMadeMe. By showing these behind-the-scenes acts, these individuals are making a difference (expose truth —> make people angry —> make company respond/promise to change).
So, no, you alone bringing a tote bag to the grocery store (or returning your frayed designer bag for store credit) isn’t going to help save the planet. But, you talking about the problems (and solutions!) around climate change truly can. So, actually, you can make a difference!
We gotta celebrate our wins — look I brought a tote bag to TJs, and so did 100 other people because I told them to! — while continuing to do the work (whether that’s making uppity retailers shit their designer pants or demanding better from your favorite yogurt company).
….Now, off to burn my Bat Mitzvah wristlet in an act of solidarity