Sustainable luxury might take some sacrifice, but it is possible.
Just last weekend at the G7 Summit, French president Emmanuel Macron announced a "Fashion Pact" that has now been signed by 150 brands; many of which are high-end. Brands such as Gucci and Burberry have signed the pact, vowing to adhere to a set of objectives that will reduce the fashion industry's overall environmental impact. This is encouraging news, as many of the brands who have signed the pact don't have the best track record with sustainability. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, some are questioning how luxury fashion will maintain its appeal if materials such as leather and cashmere are replaced with eco-friendly alternatives.
History of luxury brands going sustainable
Several luxury brands have been on the sustainable fashion bandwagon long before it was even a hot topic. Stella McCartney, for example, has been practicing sustainability since founding her self-titled brand in 2001: all cashmere is recycled, no real leather or fur is used, and all cotton is organic. McCartney is not the first to explore the realm of faux fur, however. It is said that the anti-fur movement really began back in the 80's and 90's, with brands such as Fendi and Calvin Klein opting for synthetic fibers.
How luxury can be made sustainable
According to a report from INSEAD, there are three main ways luxury fashion can be made sustainable; without sacrificing style.
1.Adopting a "slow fashion" mindset
Designers have the ability to reduce the number of collections they produce each year. The concern with this, however, is how they will continue to meet consumer demands. Well, the answer is creating collections that are timeless; a concept that encourages consumers to keep their clothes hung in the closet longer, and costs less in the long run.
2. Sourcing alternative materials
This is an easier approach, and is much more appealing to designers who don't necessarily wish to slow their production. Sourcing sustainable materials is easier than ever, and there is no excuse for brands to not entertain the option. In addition, designers can look at reusing old materials obtained through textile recycling programs such as Community Recycling and I:CO.
3. Two words: strict regulation
By enforcing strict federal regulations on luxury (and non-luxury) apparel brands, we can ensure that designers are adhering to sustainability. While there are many private organizations, such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, that are teaming up with brands; sometimes that is just not enough. This may be a radical approach, but it might just be the push the industry needs.
Common Concerns Regarding Sustainability
1. Standard of quality
One of the largest concerns among high-end brands is quality. Their customers pay a high price for something that will last a lifetime, and that is exactly what they should receive. Many believe that once you replace say, genuine leather with vegan leather, the quality of the product will be poorer. While this may be true in some cases, it is not necessarily the case for all sustainable substitutes. In fact, Stella McCartney's "Fur-Free-Fur" does not compromise style or luxury. Consumers are getting a comparable material, and may even be saving a little money in the long run.
Another major concern in the industry is the cost of making the switch to sustainable materials. Organic, made-to-order fabrics require a more lengthy process to produce. In addition, there are some strict federal regulations on certified organic products. To put it simply, sustainable fashion requires more intensive labor and time. However, it is well worth the extra effort when you think of the money being wasted everytime a shirt is thrown into a landfill.
Why sustainable luxury is important
Whether you are a luxury brand like Chanel or fast-fashion like Zara, sustainability is an important matter to look at. As our world is being depleted of resources, and the amount of waste we produce is increasing, we must find alternatives to lower the environmental impact of our actions. The well-being of this planet depends on it. When brands convey an environmentally-friendly message in their actions, they are not only aligning themselves with a movement, but influencing their audience to make better buying decisions. So, the positive impact brands can have is really two-fold.
Only time will tell where luxury fashion goes in terms of sustainabilty. Without a doubt, this will be a long process and any major difference in how luxury fashion goods are made won't be noticeable for several more years. And, that fact is not meant to be discouraging. Instead, it should be motivation for brands to come together for a cause; a cause that affects us all. We certainly look forward to seeing the sustainable luxury movement grow in the years to come, and we hope the topic stays alive as it is one of great importance.
This article has not been edited by Fibre2Fashion staff and is re-published with permission from synzenbe.com