The Moral Conundrum Of Owning Designer Goods After A Scandal

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In August this year, Balenciaga went viral for producing a high-end trash bag for over $2000, sparking widespread outrage over its hefty price tag. At the time, the brand's creative director Demna said, "I couldn’t miss an an opportunity to make the most expensive trash bag in the world, because who doesn’t love a fashion scandal?" But less than three months later, its more palatable offerings were doomed to the same ironic fate, albeit under very different circumstances.
It all started when Balenciaga released a controversial advertising campaign featuring children holding teddy bears wearing what appears to be bondage gear, and another displaying a desk strewn with paperwork, including a page from a United States Supreme Court decision to uphold child pornography laws.
Since then, reactionary clips on TikTok show the rising trend of influencers destroying their Balenciaga goods. In one video with nearly a million likes, drag queen and model Halessia snaps her designer sunglasses in half and throws her extensive collection of bags, jumpers and sneakers into the trash, before spitting on the bag and calling it a day.
Other videos show content creators hacking at their once beloved possessions with scissors, while the viral hashtag #BurnBalenciaga incites owners to set their products alight.
Boycotts are a vital part of activist movements, helping utilise consumer power by putting our money where our mouths are, and offering an straightforward and productive outlet for showing outrage.
However, while it's easy to throw up our hands and vow never to buy from a brand again, a grey area remains for the people who already have designer goods from a now-problematic brand in their possession, having dropped thousands of dollars to buy them.
In the TikTok videos doing the rounds, it's unclear how much of the action is actually taking a stand against injustice, or just performative, for views and clout.
Owning a luxury fashion item in the first place is a privilege. But there's an additional layer of entitlement to ruin it in protest — particularly if you saved hard to buy it and don't have the benefit of a disposable income to cut ties with your collection and replace it with a new one.
From a sustainability perspective, chucking out a perfectly usable item also isn't ideal, as the now-cursed goods will end up in landfill where, depending on the pieces' materials and fastenings, they might take decades to break down, if at all.
People who don't want to be associated with or support a brand that has placed itself in hot water are faced with consumer limbo: let the expensive product gather dust or risk social backlash for taking it out in public.

"I honestly don't know what to do with them...They were expensive and it's hard just throwing them away."

Sophie Williams
But there is another option. You could try to resell the luxury goods and wipe your hands clean, as once-diehard Balenciaga fan Sophie Williams is trying to do.
"I honestly don't know what to do with them besides trying to sell," she tells Refinery29 Australia, explaining her choice to list an all-over logo scarf, a pair of sunglasses, and two bags online this week. "They were expensive and it's hard just throwing them away."
She initially wondered if the fall from grace would blow over, but says that in hindsight, she doesn't think she'll ever be okay with the brand again.
"It's not like I have no options — I'd be happy wearing literally anything else," she says.
And she's not alone. The influx of listings on Depop, Facebook Marketplace, and consignment sites present a moral conundrum, where due to the distinctive silhouettes and obsession with logomania, even if you disguise or upcycle the products, everyone will still know.

"It's really difficult to decide what to do with these pieces given the controversy and problems that have recently arisen."

Paris Tui
Sydney-based Paris Tui recently listed a pair of Yeezy sneakers on Depop, only to have it be joined by a Balenciaga handbag two weeks later.
"It's really difficult to decide what to do with these pieces, given the controversy and problems that have recently arisen," Tui tells Refinery29 Australia, saying that it's not as easy as separating the art from the artist.
Trying to part ways with her pieces felt like the best course of action as she doesn't agree with the demolition route.
But if listings aren't being snapped up — even at a significant markdown — some alternative avenues still exist, even outside of Balenciaga's own resale platform (which is not available in Australia).
Recycling programs exist for shoes and textiles across Australia, but many outlets don't accept handbags. Donating to charity is also an option, but whoever buys it may be unwittingly setting themselves up to face the same social vitriol.
Yes, we can say 'boo hoo' to people who can afford premium products that they no longer feel comfortable using, but that reductiveness doesn't address the issue at hand. The fact is that these goods still exist in the world regardless, and that it doesn't automatically undo the damage done by creators who doomed them to obscurity through tactless marketing.
There's no clear-cut solution on the spectrum of not letting your sullied piece ever see the light of day again and wastefully destroying it. But the former is the best option we have so far, taking stock of the lessons from inherited fur jackets and the sustained social faux pas of wearing them to this day.

Hopefully, in the years to come, better upcycling programs will be created to address the gap in the market, and more small business creatives will work with old garments to turn them into something new and usable — and separated from their problematic roots.

But because fashion behemoths continue to push boundaries and incessantly try to cross the line between 'edgy' and dangerous, it's not the last time we'll have this conversation.
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