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Why sustainability is Luxury's future

Updated: Jan 4

A key goal of the COP26 conferences, and one of the most important factors in addressing climate change is sustainability and the protection of communities and natural resources.

As with all other sectors, Luxury has a key role to play in helping to avoid waste and finding alternatives to natural resources that are being rapidly depleted.


But when Luxury is built on rarity because of the precious materials used how can the industry respond?


This 60 second Briefing will highlight a few of the ways that Luxury can be a force for Good in future, rather than a careless user of limited resources.


In some ways, Luxury should be one of the most sustainable industries. The materials and the craftsmanship that are an essential part of the traditional luxury goods that are produced mean that it is far less likely that they will be disposed of after a few uses. The price alone will deter any such behaviour, and for many these items are truly the heirlooms of future generations.


However, the big luxury brands have been incredibly slow to respond to the sustainability demands particularly from younger consumers. Even when they have made big commitments, they are all too often quickly forgotten once the press release has been filed away. Sustainability has to be more than a PR exercise if Luxury is to be relevant to future generations of consumers.


In short, Sustainable Luxury is the only future, so why is it so hard to convince the global players to change?


The simple answer is that it is tough to be more sustainable. It costs money and it takes time. The disruption in well-oiled supply chains is huge, so it is easier to try to get away with as little as possible.

New materials, such as ‘leather’ made from pineapple leaves or grape skins, are often tricky to work with and that means that they are sometimes dismissed as being too limiting for

the creativity of the designers. Some more 'forward-thinking' designers are making efforts to get closer to how the materials are produced to understand and work with their limitations, however the Brand image is a stumbling block.


Inconsistency in finish is considered unacceptable in an industry that prizes ‘Perfect’ over ‘Perfection’. Every item has to be identical according to the brand owners. But isn’t that the opposite of what ‘Luxury’ truly means? When products are made by hand it’s just not possible to make everything identical. Each craftsman puts their own individual ‘stamp’ on an item as they create it. For many consumers who appreciate this touch of individuality, there is a certain appeal in identifying these small details and feeling the connection with the Maker.


Some brands have tried to incorporate sustainable materials into their collections. Hermès showcased a handbag that was made from mushroom based materials, and numerous sneaker companies have launched products that use ocean plastic or biomaterials as a way of proclaiming their environmental credentials. But often these are very small elements in an otherwise wholly conventional, and therefore unsustainable, seasonal collection. Only when we see a whole season's collection made from these new and more sustainable materials can we start to feel that Luxury 'gets it'.


In some sectors, such as jewellery there are more fundamental. Value related questions that need to be addressed. These require better engagement with the consumer as well as the brand. For example, many still believe that a lab grown diamond cannot be considered suitable as a Luxury item. Why? Is it because the flaws and variations in colour and quality that make real diamonds so desirable are removed in the manufacturing process? What about silk that is made from spider's webs? Is it any less desirable than a product that requires the boiling of silkworm pupae to remove the thread, simply because spider's webs are more available? The skill involved is still considerable.


Such issues and choices exist and need to be responded to by the Luxury industry.


Sustainability can be a Luxury entrepreneur’s dream

For new luxury brands that are starting to develop their products it is certainly a lot easier to incorporate sustainability into the heart of the process, and make the right decisions from the outset, rather than trying to retrofit it post-launch.


The selection of suppliers that support your sustainable goals will help you to be true to your Vision. Using new materials from a variety of sources that avoid depleting natural resources can become part of the brand signature, and even the brand packaging can be designed with recyclability in mind.


Respecting local crafts and skills, empowering women in communities by valuing the products they produce, and recycling and avoiding waste as much as possible is simply a return to the original foundations of Luxury.


The choices made by even the smallest of brands, or at an individual consumer level, will make a difference if everyone made a change in what they do and what they buy. Luxury has a responsibility as a massive and growing market with real consumer influence to lead the way, no matter how hard that might be in the short term.


That is how Luxury can respond to climate change, by becoming more sustainable, and being part of the wider solution rather than part of the problem.


If you would like to learn how to develop a Purpose-driven Luxury brand that puts sustainability at the centre of its creation then take a look at www.helencooperluxury.com/courses.

Read the prospectus, watch the video or even have a call with the tutor who teaches the course to find out more.

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