Today I ran across a recent New York Times Article about a South Korean man who has a new way of updating his closet: he steals other peoples designer shoes. In South Korea, it is customary for people to remove their shoes before entering a building. The suspect, identified as a man in his fifties by the name of Park, is said to have stolen multiple pairs of shoes a day by visiting funeral homes wearing cheap shoes, taking them off and leaving wearing someone else’s fancy footwear.
The police hit a few road blocks – one in trying to prove it was indeed Park who stole the shoes, and another in attempting to return the 1700 pairs of shoes they recovered.
Finally, the police came up with what they called the “Cinderella solution.”
For four days last month, they spread out Mr. Park’s footwear on an outdoor basketball court and let anyone who claimed to have lost shoes drop by and try them on — all 1,700 pairs, if they liked. But before doing that, a claimant was required to write down his or her shoe size, design, color and brand to limit the chances of a person’s taking someone else’s pair.
About 400 people showed up, but only 95 found their shoes.
The police said there was a decent chance that Mr. Park would eventually keep most of those unclaimed shoes.
“But we hope our crackdown will scare away shoe snatchers for a while,” Detective Kim said.
A word to the wise: if you want designer shoes, try ebay instead.
When I chose to write about the issue of H&M destroying unsold merchandise, I had no idea that the articles I found were just the tip of the iceberg. Upon further inspection, I have come to realize that the reporting Jim Dwyer did at the beginning of the month opened a giant can of worms I failed to fully understand or research properly.
Jim Dwyer‘s original article was posted on January 5 and began with a description of homeless people digging through the trash outside of H&M to salvage any clothing that hadn’t been purposely destroyed. The article then states that in the same area of New York City, a graduate student had found bags of tagged clothing from Wal-Mart that had also been purposely destroyed and thrown out. The next day, Dwyer posted a follow up article quoting an H&M spokeswoman and recapping his original post. These are the two articles I read and wrote about in my previous post.
A third article, posted by Dwyer on January 10, does further reporting on the New York Clothing Bank, an organization which collects unsold clothing from retail stores, strips the labels and tags and donates the goods to other organizations, who assist more than 80,000 needy individuals. Dwyer then discusses the reaction to his two original posts – he claims to have received hundreds of emails from people working in retail who stated that their stores destroy garments the way H&M and Wal-Mart were caught doing.
He then delves into the reasons, many of which didn’t (but should have) occurred to me. He discusses branding & imaging -the notion that a clothing company does not want homeless people wearing their label, as it “defeats the purpose” of pouring millions of dollars into advertising and modeling.
In addition, he states that if a store were to throw out or donate clothing in good condition, individuals could easily take the items and attempt to return them at stores, causing the companies to lose huge amounts of money.
These articles have created a whirlwind of reaction – other articles and blog posts have reported on other stores that have done similar things and the outrage is clearly rampant. The most shocking blog post I found was written by another NYC resident who found hundreds of dollars worth of slightly worn down Urban Outfitters merchandise in boxes placed on the street and marked “broken glass”. Once the blogger was caught digging through the boxes, a staff member at Urban Outfitters threatened that the police were on their way and claimed that the boxes were being donated to the Salvation Army.
This post brings up a whole slew of other incredibly interesting, confusing and heartbreaking issues. I cannot really even begin to wrap my head around all of it, but the bottom line is this: no matter how much money you’ve spent on advertising your brand, whether you are Wal-Mart, H&M or Urban Outfitters, it should never be okay to let protecting the value of your label push you to do something so bizarre as destroy clothing that is desperately needed not only in the United States, but across the world.