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The sin of Burberry

Luxury fashion brand Burberry lays bare the contradiction between materialism and the life that the Christian faith invites us to. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya argues that the high fashion and motor industry are the face of crass materialism and consumerism. He says that young people need new brand ambassadors who will promote simplicity as a worthy lifestyle.

Burberry, the upmarket British fashion label is in the news for reporting that it had destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m (about R505 million) last year. It did this to protect its brand.

The figure takes the total value of goods that Burberry has destroyed over the past five years to more than £90m (about R1,58 billion).

It turns out that this is a trend among the big fashion enterprises. They destroy millions of dollars worth of merchandise to avoid having their products stolen or sold more cheaply because they're no longer seen as being “in season”. The idea of a factory outlet store that would sell Burberry merchandise at a significantly reduced price, like many other commercial brands already do, would simply be out of the question for them and for other of the world's most elite brands.

This practice probably summarises the crass materialism and the perpetuation of inequality seen in the world.

The elites want to keep being elite. They cannot countenance “their” holy space being trampled on by our dirty feet. They want the exclusivity that money gives them and would rather destroy the leftovers than share them with the “the great unwashed”.

The high fashion industry – together with the luxury car industry –  is the face of crass materialism and consumerism.

It is founded and grows fat from selling the mirage that owning one or more of its obscenely priced items counts for having “made it in life”.

Making it in life has become a primary driver in our times. In a country where so many people live miserable lives on the margins of society, and know what it is like to be a “have not”, it is not difficult to see why they would assume that “having” and “having a lot” would be the antidote to the unhappiness they live.

It is necessary to reject the false dichotomy that seeks to conclude that those who question the logic of super wealth prefer super poverty. That would be as absurd as suggesting that one’s options are limited to riding in a Rolls Royce or riding a donkey.

An honest mind would know that there is a wide range of options between the two.

Yet the consumerist culture relentlessly sells the idea that you have not lived until you have swum in opulence.

It is easy to feel helpless in the face of the marketing might that is employed by big corporates to normalise the consumerist and materialistic culture.

Billboards from the smallest village to the biggest cities shout the false message that the path to happiness lies in buying and consuming more.

Marketers have become the modern-day prophets of the false gospel that things maketh the (wo)man.

Also, in direct contradiction of what The Beatles professed, they believe that money can buy love. If not, at least improve your chances of being sexually attractive.

Under these circumstances, the Church is again called to fill the void exploited by marketers. This is the need to see that life has an intrinsic worth that does not depend on the often-felt false affirmations that bought items appears to bring.

The scriptures are replete with voices against this descent into the bottomless hole of materialism and consumerism.

One does not need to be a psychologist to figure out that many of those who seek comfort in that which comes with a price-tag, often do so to compensate for a deeper need or insecurity.

The call by President Cyril Ramaphosa for lifestyle audits of top government officials is the tacit admission that many seek power and high positions to live the lifestyle that they could not otherwise afford had it not been for the abundant proceeds generated from the corruption that their occupation of office brings.

There is ample evidence (albeit anecdotal) that many of those who pull-off the daring cash van heists do so to live or maintain a lifestyle of unending “good times”, wearing luxury fashions, expensive cars and surround themselves with the company of pretty women.

One of the five men arrested at the end of a dramatic car chase after attacking a cash van in Boksburg, on the East Rand, Thato Gaopatwe, is such an example of the link between crime and consumerism.

He had in earlier weeks posted pictures of himself buying luxury fashion brands and expensive German cars.

The Sowetan newspaper reported that the neighbours of a 32-year-old woman arrested in Polokwane in connection with a cash-in-transit heist were curious as to how she managed to live the ostentatiously high life that she did, while unemployed.

“We would see big expensive cars parked outside her house and friends braaing meat and drinking. It was always a surprise to us how she could afford such a lavish lifestyle when she is unemployed,” a neighbour told the Sowetan.

Paul could have been saying to this crowd what he told Timothy: “Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:9–11)

The need to buy more and more stems from the inability to be thankful for what you already have. Instead of being grateful, we covet our neighbour’s goods.

Not only does consumerism divert us from the injunction to “give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we also break the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods”.

The world desperately needs an alternative lifestyle to that which is preached by Burberry and the likes of. We need new brand ambassadors who will promote simplicity as a worthy lifestyle.

Our young people need this alternative narrative so that they are not ensnared by the hollowness exemplified by the likes of rapper 50 Cent who foolishly advocated that his fans “Get Rich or Die Tryin”.

Burberry’s callousness is the clearest message that the merchants of consumerism and materialism are nobody’s friend.

They represent the very image of the rich man in the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) who dressed up in high fashion and lived in luxury while poor Lazarus had to make do with crumbs falling off his table while dogs licked his wounds.

If anything, this industry’s logic of saying that those who want to be the most noticeable must go to extraordinary lengths to buy what others do not have or cannot afford, is at odds with a faith that asks of its followers that “whoever wants to be the greatest among you must be the least” (Matthew 20:26) and that they must learn to be meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29).

As important as it is that the church takes up the cudgels against the state when its actions and policies adversely affect the most vulnerable, it must also put the corporate and its false promises of the good life under as harsh a light.

It is after all the Christian message as summarised by Christ. “What will it profit a person if they gain the world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:6). SA.

Image: Pexels

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


  1. Deadly accurate description of the destructive effects of the neoliberal capitalism of the world, both from a moral and ethical point of view. I would suggest that all the world, including the “Bluberry’s”, read Richard Layard the economist, who wrote in his 2007 book on Happiness, that the human being is at his/her happiest when he/she is helping somebody else. He further sugges