Combining the Worlds of Sustainability and Luxury

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Introduction

Traditionally, sustainability and luxury have been two phrases that have not exactly gone hand in hand. The term luxury is often thought of as something which is of excess and waste – it has connotations with words such as extravagance, indulgence, and couture. On the other side, sustainability matches terms like green, environmental, climate change and carbon footprint.

The two worlds of sustainability and luxury may not be as far apart as we once thought. For example, luxury goods tend to come with a certain level of quality which often equals long-lasting. This is a strong ethos within sustainable living as when someone purchases a designer handbag, the qualities which are looked for include elegance, uniqueness and longevity. With luxury designer products, the average consumer buys less as they are more focused on the long term quality and design.

At the core of ethics and aesthetics, there is sustainable luxury. Luxury does not have to be at the expense of the environment and fair trade. It can be created so that those involved in its creation have a positive impact, which is something luxury brands are taking notice of.

More consumers, including those who enjoy a luxury lifestyle, are becoming more aware of climate change issues and how their purchasing choices are adding to the problem. For example, the fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Luxury fashion brands and a few fast fashion brands have joined forces to try and fight the climate crisis and help protect biodiversity and the oceans. These companies include Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren, and fast fashion brands H&M Group and Zara. This is truly a huge step forward for the fashion industry in working towards sustainable luxury.

Without some profound changes from the fashion industry, they will be accountable for almost a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. This article explores a couple of ways luxury lifestyle brands are working towards improving their sustainability.

Consumers of Sustainable Luxury

Studies have found that both millennials and Gen Z make up for around 30% of luxury products sales. However, this percentage is expected to rise to at least 45% by 2025. A consumer study conducted by Nielsen also indicated that 73% of millennial consumers are willing to spend more on products if they come from a sustainable or socially conscious brand. With the large share of luxury goods consumers showing their desire for sustainability in the luxury industry, brands will need to make some changes to stay relevant to millennials and Gen Z.

Sustainable luxury is not seen as another fad, and consumers understand that the way they spend their money can directly affect the environment and society. People want a better world and are on the lookout for ways they can make a positive change. If luxury brands would like the growing number of sustainable consumers to continue to buy their products, they need to show how they fit in with the sustainable luxury lifestyle.

For years the demand for luxury goods has been on the rise, and this has led to some brands making questionable choices on their labour practices and how they source materials. As a result, there is some concern over the impacts the production of luxury goods has on the environment. The luxury brands have been giving in to high consumer demand to make more sales, but this production method needs to stop. Sustainable luxury is about satisfying the consumer’s needs while also protecting the environment – so the consumer will also be required to make some alterations to their purchasing practices.

Luxury brands are not meant to be fast fashion, so there is no reason they should not take the time to be sustainable and ensure their products have longevity. Sustainable luxury is also not eco-friendly brands that raise their prices to appeal to luxury consumers. There is a considerable amount of thought and craftsmanship that goes into a luxury designer product. Sustainability will be the differentiator between socially conscious and environmentally aware luxury brands and those that are irresponsible money-making ones.  

Consumers now expect transparency from brands so they can make more informed purchasing choices. They want details of every stage of the manufacturing process – from the materials used, where they were sourced and the treatment of workers. They even want to know if the energy used to make the luxury product came from renewable energy companies or from fossil fuels. Luxury brands need to question themselves and ask what they would like their customers to see if they were able to pull back the curtains on their factories.

Brands Facing Sustainable Luxury Issues

Becoming environmentally conscious and creating sustainable luxury will be appreciated by consumers of luxury goods, but for the industry, making the shift towards a more environmentally friendly way of production will take a lot of patience and determination. Not all brands can afford to alter their methods, and they will need to be creative in modifying some of their practices. Others will struggle to compete with other brands with the same values and continue to function the old way to keep their costs low. For these brands, it can be challenging to find a balance between price and production while not compromising on design and creativity.

As challenging as sustainable luxury may be, it is needed, and it is required now. Here are some examples of the luxury brands that are taking steps to become more sustainable:

Stella McCartney – Perhaps seen as the pioneer in sustainable luxury, Stella McCartney has been a vegetarian brand since it launched in the 90s. She is a designer that states she likes to work with fabrics that do not bleed, so she avoids all animal skins. Stella McCartney instead uses recycled nylon and polyester, organic cotton and other sustainability-source fabrics. In addition, all her creations are made using fur-free materials which have the environment in mind.Tiffany – Historically, Tiffany has not had a good reputation for its social responsibility following reports of being involved in conflict diamonds (otherwise known as blood diamonds) in some African communities. However, they recognised the destruction this was causing and became one of the first brands in the jewellery industry to bring in a policy to ensure all its diamonds and metals are sourced from responsible mining companies. As a result, Tiffany has zero tolerance for purchasing diamonds from nations with human rights infringements and a foundation that spreads awareness of responsible mining practices.Rolex – This luxury watch brand is becoming well known for its role in creating a sustainable future following the launch of the Rolex Award for Enterprise. This programme supports young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 to 30 who take up projects that bring a conscious change to the environment and society. The winners are awarded large cash prizes to help support their work. Rolex sees this as a way to help improve the lives of those working hard to make a positive change and support green initiatives.NAK – The luxury shoe brand NAK stands for ‘No Animal Killed’. This brand is out there to prove that animals do not need to be killed to create a pair of sleep shoes. Unlike many other eco-friendly brands, NAK caters to those who seek luxury and are fashion conscious. NAK shoes are made by Italian designers who share the same ethos of cruelty-free fashion.

The Takeaway

Luxury brands will need to become more sustainable to keep up with the changing times and be relevant. After years of abusing natural resources, consumers will want to see luxury brands step up and give back to the environment. Changes are happening, but there is a long way to go until sustainable luxury is the norm in the industry.

One day sustainable luxury will be the norm, and designers will incorporate it into their design ethos. Of course, it is going to be a difficult task to update all their production processes. Still, it needs to be done to help protect the planet and further enforce sustainability for all types of lifestyles.

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