Is Sustainability the New Luxury?
The 21st century has seen the rise of a conscious consumer, a demand for responsibility and a response that could drive the necessity of sustainability, into a luxury commodity. But what does this mean for brands whom sustainability is at the core of everything they do?
The new age consumer needs more than just a name or a brand, they want to stand by something bigger. With the information accessible to us across platforms, print and digital, we’re no longer blinded by high costs, a startling logo and celebrity endorsements. We demand quality, we need to know what goes into the products we buy and we want to stand proudly by the brands we love, because we know they’re doing good. It’s true that every pound, dollar, euro, yen or bitcoin you spend on a brand is a vote to support that organisation, and now, more than ever, in a time where we see big brands unethically cancelling orders, leaving thousands of workers without pay1, that currency is a show of what you believe in. Brands that don’t recognise the need for sustainable and ethical practice will get left behind and the people that wear them will be doomed to the same fate as the fur donning, Canada Goose wearers of old2.
This desire for responsibility isn’t a just a trend, it’s a core expectation of rising generations. Gen-Z, the don’t-take-no-shit, LGBTQ+ / vegan / BLM-ally, forward thinking, conscious generation are driving for a more emotional connection with brands, and this demand is growing. Despite only accounting for 4% of luxury sector sales at present, by 2035 Gen Z will account for 40% of the luxury consumer market (and with how quick 2020 has gone, 2035 is only around the corner). Gen-Z are the growing luxury consumer, and this consumer wants more from brands - 80% of the luxury consumer say they prefer brands that are socially responsible2.
But that’s 15 years in the future. For now, we’re in a transitional phase of consumer wokeness, brands are adopting sustainable lines every week. We’ve seen The PRADA Re-Nylon collection, the Econyl Capsule from Burberry (seen above) and GUCCI’s Off The Grid collections (seen below) (the majority of which concentrate on the use of Econyl, a recycled nylon made from collected ocean plastic waste). With these global fashion houses recognising the demands of the consumer, building collections that can act as a social currency beyond the brand name, it’s evident that sustainability is becoming a luxury commodity, a commodity that undermines the requirement for it to be an environmental necessity.
Greenwashing is a tactic worthwhile recognising in this conversation, namely, the use of sustainability as a marketing ploy to paint a thin vail of responsibility, whilst the majority of practices employed by said brand come with negative social and environmental consequences. Often, luxury Econyl collections distract from the unethical practices adopted by the mass industry, or the mistreatment of people making the clothes, brands utilise a “sexy” material to paint a green vail over dark reality, and make the sustainability conversation convoluted.
Unfortunately for brands making a difference, this use of sustainability as a tactic to sell can undermine the work that is actually being done. Prada’s environmental consciousness doesn’t span significantly beyond their use of Econyl3, whereas GUCCI have respectably outlined a plan for environmental responsibility4. You’re forgiven to perceive them as both being "sustainably" or equally making a difference seeing the collections.
Images courtesy of Gucci
Paris Fashion Week saw greater polarisation of trends to nurture mother nature, utilising our dear earth as a luxury commodity. With a breakthrough show from the American-classic & wholesomely responsible Spencer Phipps with his eponymous brand, Phipps International, we saw how conscious design can envelop a respected high-fashion and luxury collection. Take this in contrast to the shallow introduction to Paris Fashion Week by the Hollywood brand Rhude. One would be forgiven to think the voice ringing "our Mother Earth will not be able to support life, we will not be able to breathe... If we don't open our hearts and our minds, it's the End," preceded a show with environmentalism at its core, as Rhude made their Paris debut. But when questioned by the French news hub AFP backstage, the designer Rhuigi Villasenor admitted there was nothing sustainable about the collection at all3.
Whilst the big brands adopt sustainable lines, some wrapped up in the guise of greenwashing (we promise not to say the word anymore) the sex appeal of sustainability grows, evolving from a necessity to a luxury. However, the combination of sustainable luxury isn’t all so bad. The idea that sustainability is something that can draw in the consumer is a good thing. Yes, it should be the first consideration of every designer and the demand for every consumer, but, if people are drawn to sustainability as something that they can show off to their friends, is it all that bad? After all, making something desirable is a key to making it successful. Have a listen to this TED talk if you have a spare moment (it’s relevant and don’t pretend like you’re too busy. You’re reading this article after all).
Sustainability should be at the core of everything we do, to ensure a survivable planet. We’re not there yet, but you can see we’re on the right path (albeit slower than we should be). The trend to embody responsible practice is evolving, and we (public fibre) exist to showcase brands that have this as a core consideration, showing the desirable yet aesthetically pleasing approach of a selection of brands. We've spent months searching and curating brands that have a wholesome approach to design and development, but they still exist as relatively small and independently run, versus the behemoths that dominate our eyeline. Luckily, they’re on the rise and as we see the growing appeal of sustainability, we know that if the entire industry is heading to change, ways of old will be cast away.
We are hopeful about the future of fashion, but not because of the ‘big bois’, but because of an array of smaller independent brands that really, truly, give a shit. Like many revolutions, the usurping of current practices will be galvanised by the people (here, you & the smaller brands), rather than larger organisations who’s rise is founded on current norms. These smaller brands recognise the qualities of sustainability, it’s throughout everything they do, their designers meticulously consider every step of a garment’s life, they have close personal relationships with the factories who make their clothes, they know their footprint and work to offset it where they can and importantly; in development of their collections, they recognise luxury must be sustainable, but sustainability shouldn’t be a luxury.
A piece by Stefan Schröder, co-founder of public fibre.
- The Independent. May 2020. Accessed September 2020. Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/coronavirus-clothes-workers-bangladesh-high-street-shut-a9500111.html
- Bain & Company. February 2020. Accessed September 2020. Link: https://www.bain.com/insights/eight-themes-that-are-rewriting-the-future-of-luxury-goods/?utm_source=luxe.digital
- Fashion United U.K. January 2020. Accessed September 2020. Link: https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/is-fashion-greenwashing-to-distract-from-its-not-so-sustainable-practices/2020012247165
Gucci. Accessed September 2020. Link: https://equilibrium.gucci.com/gucci-sustainability-strategy/