As fashion stores around the world lie dormant, two Edinburgh businessmen have taken action to tackle the surplus stock problem which has left thousands of poor factory workers facing starvation.
Cally Russell and business partner Callum Stuart have created an initiative called Lost Stock that encourages British shoppers to order £70 worth of garments which is delivered to their homes for half the price.
The clothing is produced by Bangladeshi garment workers hit by big retail chains cancelling orders worth an estimated £2.6 billion during the lockdown.
Mr Russell and Mr Stuart, who run the shopping app Mallzee, were driven to take action after hearing of mountains of unsold clothes left in more than a thousand factories.
While the clothes were destined for landfill, the workers were facing destitution.
The two Scots set up Lost Stock which asks consumers to fill in a form giving details of their tastes and size and the boxes are then be made up in Bangladesh before being shipped to the UK.
Each box supports a worker and their family for a week and the goal is to support 5,000 families in May and 100,000 by the end of 2020.
Mr Russell said that he was prompted into taking action after hearing a factory worker say that ‘if coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers then starvation will’.
“With no safety net available for some of the poorest workers in the fashion supply chain we couldn’t sit back and do nothing – leaving families to starve and new clothing heading to landfill,” said Mr Russell.
“Through Mallzee we have a relationship with over 1.5 million UK shoppers so we have come up with a way to enable them to save lives as they shop.
“After using all our connections to speak to the Bangladeshi factories we now have access to £20m worth of the clothes.
“People in the UK have really come together to support each other in the fight against coronavirus and it’s been really heartwarming to see so many fashion influencers get behind this initiative and help those in the industry who are really suffering as a result of the pandemic.
“Covid-19 is a health and economic crisis in the UK but it’s going to be a humanitarian crisis in countries like Bangladesh unless support is provided. With the Lost Stock approach consumers get a great deal and get to help at the same time.”
Four million Bangladeshis are believed to work in garment factories making clothes and half of them have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Primark, and Edinburgh Woollen Mill are among retailers that have cancelled and suspended orders as they scramble to minimise losses, according to the Bangladeshi and Garment Manufacturers Exporters Association.
Primark, speaking to The Guardian last month, said it was “deeply saddened” by the effect this would have further down its supply chain, but it had had “no option” but to cancel orders that had been placed with its Bangladeshi suppliers.
It later said it was able to commit to paying for some £370m of additional orders for product over and above the £1.5bn of stock in stores, depots and in transit. That meant it could take all product that was both in production and finished, and planned for handover by the middle of April.
This followed extensive one-to-one conversations with its suppliers to help identify mitigating options, including extended payment terms.
Primark said its product and sourcing teams will continue to work closely with suppliers to implement these plans. It also hopes to place new orders for Autumn/Winter stock once there is further clarification of the reopening of stores.
CEO Paul Marchant said: “Transparency and clarity have been at the heart of our longstanding relationships with our supply base and we were obviously disappointed that we were not initially able to commit to this stock. Our partnerships with our suppliers are invaluable and we want to continue to support them as we navigate our way through this global crisis.”
Edinburgh Woollen Mill also confirmed to the paper that it had cancelled all existing orders saying: “Our relationships with suppliers are absolutely fundamental to our business, and this is not what we would ever normally wish to do but the current circumstances are such that this is a necessity.”
Mr Russell and Mr Stuart and a team from Mallzee worked with the Sajida Foundation, a not for profit organisation, founded in Bangladesh in 1987, whose mission is ‘health, happiness and dignity for all’.
Muhymin Chowdhury, Sajida Foundation’s head of challenge fund and fundraising, speaking on behalf of the out of the garment workers, said: “A recent study carried out here found that 47% of these workers now have no income.
“With so many of these workers having absolutely no income they don’t have access to basic necessities.
“We are very pleased to partner with Lost Stock whose approach helps redress the unfortunate failures of global brands to practise responsible sourcing. Every Lost Stock box sold will provide a food and hygiene package to support a family for a week.
“Additionally, Lost Stock purchases garment products at a fair price from Bangladeshi factories helping support them longer term.”
Loststock boxes, available for both males and females are on sale at £35 from https://loststock.co