According to the 2007 WWF Deeper Luxury Report, the luxury industry lagged behind other brands of consumer products when it came to sustainability. They claimed the cause to be lack of consumer awareness and public demand.
The report ranked a number of companies that included Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes on a sustainability scale, and no companies were given a score higher than a C+. Many brands even failed to get a passing grade.
Three years ago, this report was thought to be the tipping point of the industry. After all, many luxury consumers are increasingly well-educated and concerned about social and environmental issues. Yet the luxury brands were missing out on opportunities to become sustainable leaders.
So where do luxury brands rank today? Particularly the luxury fashion brands?
The answer is not an obvious one. In fact, it is very difficult to uncover the luxury fashion companies who are demonstrating ethical excellence. Given the increase in multinationals who report on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) behavior, it would seem that either luxury brands are slow to engage, or they are doing a poor job at communicating what steps they have taken toward sustainability.
Is it accurate to say that consumer awareness and public demand is still at fault? Or is it that executives have simply become complacent? There are likely a number of reasons why this sector has a poor track record.
But let’s start with the sustainable luxury consumer. Who are they? Let’s face it, they are not you and I. Rather, they are a small percentage of the population who, by definition, can afford indulgence. They are not driven to consumption by necessity, but rather out of pleasure.
I’m not convinced that the reason for this sluggish shift is entirely due to a lack of consumer awareness. It could be that the luxury consumer has simply become accustomed to a lifestyle of waste, and can’t be bothered to make any changes in their shopping habits. Given the resources available to them, awareness is at their fingertips. So if they are truly hungry for sustainable luxury brands, they should know where to find them.
But maybe they are truly concerned consumers, keen to indulge in products that have a lighter environmental footprint. The only obstacle they face, however, is the lack of options available to them. Certain sectors are undoubtedly leading the way in the world of sustainable luxury. There are many options for the home, the car, and even travel. It appears however, that it is the luxury fashion industry that is digging in its heels.
So if its not about a lack of consumer awareness, it may have something to do with the complacency of companies – particularly those where there is a generational gap in decision-making. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right?
Wrong. Clearly it is broken. The reality is that we cannot continue to deplete our earth’s resources at the rate of those before us.
We must all come together in this crucial paradigm shift, and luxury brands have the ability to take a leadership role.
According to Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair: “For the new generation, luxury brands that will not take environmental issues into consideration will lose most of their appeal. Modern brands must address these questions. Ignoring them would be old-fashioned and would equal a return to the previous century.”
If we all aspire for luxury, then the same could be said of sustainable luxury. Will our younger generations flip through Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines, ogling ads for sustainably made Chanel bags, or hemp silk gowns by Versace? Possibly. One can only hope.
Images: chad davis, dr_vaibhavahuja, Sarah McD