Catharsis: What happens to items that don’t sell?

NOTE: This post was written in 2008…hardly up-to-date information. For anyone reading this now…please know that this is not current store policy.

Before I begin, a disclaimer: the following is a policy of MANY retail stores (not just Anthropologie). I debated whether or not to post the following at all. Please note my intention is not to make anyone feel bad about shopping at any store. It is simply to expose some lesser-known practices.

A friend of mine is working at Anthropologie for the holiday season. So far she has loved it — the people she works with are nice, she gets to hang out at her favorite store all day and she gets a discount. Over the weekend she and I were talking about past season items that we wish stores would carry again so we could buy them (like the Bloom Sweater — the photo at the top of this post).

Then my friend related some this story. To paraphrase her:
I was on stock and we were clearing out a bunch of sale items that hadn’t sold. I asked the manager what I should do with the clothing and she said “destroy it.” Destroy it? I asked. Shouldn’t we donate it? ‘No,’ the manager replied, ‘we are only allowed to donate certain items. Corporate policy is to destroy everything else.’

I didn’t have a choice so I did it. Perfectly good shirts, sweaters and pants got ripped, torn and generally wrecked. It was really depressing! Another associate told me they destroy furniture too — almost everything that doesn’t sell. We couldn’t figure out why. Later on another manager told me that Anthro does it to maintain their brand integrity. They don’t want their brands at discount stores or anywhere that would cheapen the brand. Nothing is too common and they want to keep it that way.

Another anecdote: I occasionally moonlight as a personal shopper. One time a client was in a very high-end store in SoHo. She found a top that she liked and asked the store how many other locations were carrying the shirt. We found out it was a store exclusive. She then proceeded to grab every shirt off the display table and asked if there were any more in the back. Then she proceeded to buy every single one of the shirts, even ones that were not her size. In total she paid thousands of dollars.

When we left the store I had to ask why she did it. She looked at me and said “I don’t want anyone else to have this shirt.” She said it as if that was totally normal and almost seemed surprised and angry at me when I recoiled at that idea. We stopped at her apartment so she could pay me. I watched as she threw every extra shirt she had bought into the trash compactor. Shredded to bits.

Unfortunately this mindset is not unique. It is an extreme take but there are people who want to be the only. In many ways I shop at the store because I myself want to be a bit different and find looks that aren’t so cookie cutter. Certainly I don’t think you or I would take to buying our Anthro out of stock on something to purposely deny others the enjoyment of a shirt, sweater or necklace. But in destroying their extra stock this is effectively what Anthropologie as a brand is doing.

On a very selfish level it’s depressing because it means the only way I’d get an item from a past season is if an owner posts it on eBay. Or if I happen to see it in a thrift. I think Anthropologie could keep the items and still convert sales off them. Many high-end stores keep items in storage for years and then re-present them as ‘classics.’ Just knowing an item is no longer being produced automatically raises its profile and prestige in consumers’ minds. And there are always sample sales. But maybe this misses the forest for the trees. Really it’s just such a shame that the clothing isn’t recycled or donated.

As I said at the top this is the policy for many retail stores. I worked for Pottery Barn one year and at the time they did the same with many of their items. This doesn’t stop me from shopping at Anthropologie but I do wish they’d change this policy. I often wondered what happened to their overstock (I was kind of hoping they’d open outlets or something). The truth is often stranger than fiction.

What do you think? Had you ever heard of this type of policy before?


  1. December 10, 2008 / 6:21 am

    *jaw drops*That is just bizarre. And I'll admit- disappointing. I understand the brand integrity idea, but I agree with you- why not hang onto it and re-introduce it? It seems like they do occasionally do this (like the Visiting Professor Cardigan, which I remembered from last year and was happy to snag it when they brought it back this year!) but it's sad that some of their clothes are apparently just *that* worthless to them. :(Thanks for the very interesting post, though!

  2. December 10, 2008 / 1:27 pm

    That's really depressing! I can't afford most Anthropologie clothes, although I covet them… and I only get to the mall maybe twice a year to check out the sale section. When I worked at a large corporate bookstore we had to tear the covers off the paperback books and magazines that didn't sell and then throw them in the dumpster. We didn't even recycle them. That was really upsetting to me, too.

  3. December 10, 2008 / 1:33 pm

    Wow, that's completely bizarre! thanks for the inside info…there are so many other ideas that would make more sense. like why not give the leftovers to store employees? that way the brand would still get out but it's not cheapened in any way. bizarre…just bizarre. (I think I would have wept if I had to destroy perfectly good clothing.)

  4. lauren.
    December 10, 2008 / 2:11 pm

    i worked at both gap and old navy and we kept stock until it sold out. sometimes, but very rarely, we pulled stuff and sent it back (they resell at their outlets the next year). i understand keeping the integrity of the brand but it's sad that clothes are wasted. 🙁

  5. December 10, 2008 / 3:23 pm

    Wow. I really didn't know that, and I worked there for a while. Our sale section seemed to house things forever, and I always wondered if they kept it there until it sold. I did notice that if a client wanted an additional % off a regular or sale priced item because of a damage (large or small), then a manager would take, in my opinion, a lot off the tagged price. I guess to them it was a sale rather than something that was "damaged out" and a loss of money. So I guess this bizarre policy kind of makes sense, but it's still bizarre. :-

  6. December 10, 2008 / 5:26 pm

    I'm shocked!There are people out there who live in total poverty and could have benefited by receiving the clothes that are getting wasted anyway, but who cares about the poor when store integrity has to be preserved! As for the woman who bought shirts just to throw them away, one does wonder if people like her have anything at all on their mind besides for their status. To ascribe so much importance to clothes, she must be a very empty person indeed. Shame…

  7. December 10, 2008 / 6:04 pm

    There are people out there who need clothes. How about the charity for women that provides interview wear (I cannot think of the name), Or a foreign charity! I really think this is scandalous. The store I used to work for (small, locally owned) donated the stuff that wouldn't sell. Same with my friend who owned a shoe store. I just don't understand it. This really bothers me. Maybe I need to boycott.

  8. December 10, 2008 / 10:00 pm

    I called the Anthropologie customer service and they said it is not their policy to discard the clothes. The women I spoke with said they is never anything left. I asked about the stores and she said she didn't know, then said the items were given to charity. I really want to believe her. Anthropologie is close and I like the clothes. I have to go today and return some things so I will ask my store. Maybe I should call the customer service again and see if I get a different person/different answer.

  9. December 10, 2008 / 10:17 pm

    That does bring up an excellent point Georgine. Many of Anthropologie's items do sell out. So in those cases there is nothing left to either donate or discard anyway! It is quite possible that the policy varies from store to store, or that this was simply a rogue manager.

  10. December 10, 2008 / 10:29 pm

    I worked at an Anthropologie store several years ago and we sent all of the unsold clothes to various charities. The policy may vary from store to store, but that's what we did. Nothing was thrown away.

  11. December 10, 2008 / 11:13 pm

    never heard of this before…. to be honest, it makes me sad, sick and disappointed but of course ill never stop shopping at anthro.

  12. December 11, 2008 / 12:26 am

    I just got back form my Anthropologie store (got good stuff too!). THey said whatever they have left goes to a local charity. Ahh sigh of relief!

  13. December 11, 2008 / 12:39 am

    Whew…I do feel better hearing that Anthropologie stores are donating their stuff. I will have to ask the 3 NYC stores next time I go in to each.

  14. maggie may
    December 11, 2008 / 2:15 am

    Well Anthropologie merchandise routinely appears at Jeremy's which is an outlet for high end stores. There are two locations, one in SF and one in Berkeley. Berkeley tends to have more Anthro stuff (and JCrew too) while SF has higher end (Bergdorf dept store, top designers). So it isn't ALL tossed anywhere or donated to charity!

  15. Anonymous
    January 13, 2009 / 2:43 am

    I too work at Anthropologie. The only things that are "destroyed", called "damaged out", are those items either broken or terribly torn during their time on the sales floor. Because of the undated return policy we do end up with clothing so old it is way out of season/style and comes up worth 10 cents on the cash register. If a customer has her original salescheck she receives a full refund. If not, she receives a standard $9.95 store credit– pretty decent policy for stuff that may be two years old and sitting around in her closet or the trunk of her car. These "dimed out" items and any other merchandise that has gone beyond its selling time, are then given to charity. Also wanted to let you know that Anthropologie sent boxes of clothes to staff members who lost theirs due to a recent natural disaster.

  16. November 3, 2009 / 11:02 pm

    I have a question– if anyone can help me. I've noticed ALOT of ebay sellers selling anthro clothes (some even new with the anthro hang tag) but they have a black mark on the inside designer label (i.e. moth, odille, etc). where do these "marked label" anthro clothes come from ? how do these people acquire them? somebody "in the anthro know" must know the answer to this question… thanks !!

    • erick
      September 13, 2017 / 11:58 pm

      hope you get this and other people see this as well. I have worked for the company and many of the clothes and jewelry that you see with tags on and are "new" are stolen merchandise. It is a huge business, bigger than anyone could even imagine. This also includes gift cards, any store credit with an uneven amount for purchase are typically not unwanted gifts cards but merchandise credit obtained through theft.

  17. Anonymous
    January 30, 2010 / 5:00 am

    Who is the supplier of Anthropolgie merchandise? Items have got to be manufactured somewhere and sold other other stores. even if it's similar look. ShopRuche is similar style to this store. kindaWhere else can i purchase shoes with Anthrolpolgie STYLE. Please help. thanks you. I love the store but it's pricey.

  18. Anonymous
    July 13, 2010 / 4:34 pm

    I have to say, I understand exactly why they do this. I think the idea of holding the stock and re-offering it is a much better idea.. or perhaps they could find a new party to remake items using the fabrics and try again- I'm great at putting old things together in a new version. I also think it's indicative of needing better buyers in the chain- some things you see and know immediately they're not going to sell.

  19. Anonymous
    September 8, 2010 / 8:18 pm

    I have read several articles in NY Times and Huffington post. They have sited that this happens with H&M, JCpenny, Wal Mart, and Anthropologie. What I don't understand is how with the info age they get away with it. What are we as consumers supposed to do with this info? How do we know if the Corp policy is bogus?

  20. jennifer
    October 1, 2010 / 2:10 am

    im actually doin my research paper on how wasteful america is and it makes my nausaus to my stomach….why dont companies take the tags off…why destroy something if someone can use it

  21. Anonymous
    December 5, 2012 / 8:42 pm

    I saw something very similar to this on the TV show Undercover Boss. I believe it was a shoe company, but the CEO didn't know it was happening and implemented a policy to have all the unsold goods donated. If they don't want to lose the money, they should definitely open an outlet.

  22. Anonymous
    December 12, 2012 / 9:50 pm

    Totally bizarre! And in a world where being "green" is the height of trendiness too. If they won't mark down any further(as if the mark downs in the "sale" room are truly afforadable anyway:) at the very least they should donate. Give. Have some charity! It's a crying shame for those of us that would love to shop there but can barely afford a lovely embroidered pencil case nestled atop a stack of literary classics in an artsy little nook of the store. Of course, they probably never had such an item, but you get my drift. Ah! It this is indeed a gastly practice and makes me not like the company any longer but oh how I do LOVE their clothes! arrgh! What am I to do?! Oh well. I'll just continue to recieve their dreamy catalogs and dream myself into the clothes whilest using the pages of the catalog that I can part with for unique wrapping paper(recycling is hip!) and reference for art projects and upcycling their look. Ha!

  23. February 12, 2013 / 6:38 pm

    wow, I just went back to randomly look at old posts and saw this! Very interesting!

  24. December 23, 2013 / 5:11 pm

    this is so depressing! :(Thank you for sharing though, I always wondered about this!

  25. Emily
    September 16, 2017 / 9:00 am

    A friend of mine works at an high end bag store and she said that products that dnt get sold they cut them with box cutters.. I was like dammnn girl just put it in a plastic bag and take them home.. she was like I wish but our store policy is that each employee at the end of there shift gets there bags checked by other employees to see that nothing from the store has been taken..

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