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As discussed in part one of this piece, Materials, Overproduction & Waste, changing production and disposal habits are some ways luxury can make strides towards sustainability. In addition to that, it’s also up to fashion houses, jewellers and beauty companies to realign their values, benchmarks and goals to match the needs of the environment and the demand of buyers.
Social or environmental impact is longer a green footnote in fashion’s narrative, as new-gen customers demand that companies take sustainability into account.
A New Bottom Line
“Luxury brands and all brands need to look at the impact they are having in a real way – on the environment and the societies in which they are operating,” said Robert Skinner, Executive Director – United Nation Office for Partnerships.
Skinner explained that it is no longer solely about the financial bottom line but that organisations need to ask themselves what their impact bottom line is – on the planet and on people.
“I think that can be a tough question to look at honestly for any industry, for any government or for my own organisation at the United Nations. We really need to have a real look at how we are operating and what we are doing to the future of our planet and the future for people.”
In order for businesses to successfully make strides towards sustainability, they can no longer see sustainability as its own silo within a business explained Rachel Arthur of the innovation consultancy Current Global.
“Think of [sustainability] as something that needs to infiltrate across the whole organisation. By doing that, you help to fundamentally change the business model and not just individual components bit by bit,” said Arthur who believes it will lead to sustainable efforts being adopted faster and more efficiently with a wider impact within organisations.
Growing a business by selling less
Another way to tackle the environmental impact caused by overproduction is to cut consumption in commercially viable ways and replace it instead with brand experiences.
“We need to consider how to generate revenues from not selling products,” said Tom Meggle, Founder and CEO of luxury brand consultancy Momentom 8. “How can you actually get people into a store where they can’t shop and what do you offer them in order to engage and connect with them?”
Meggle uses Chanel’s New York Flagship as an example. The space recently underwent a huge makeover and is now adorned with sculptures, art installations and floor reserved solely for VIP customers. Gucci is doing it too, their SoHo location has a bookstore with 2000 curated titles, a screening room and café.
So how do you grow a business by selling less? As Meggle said, it is all about encouraging the consumer to invest in experiences. “People are prepared to invest and pay in experiences. I think there are fantastic opportunities which are unused.”
This idea is backed by McKinsey’s report Luxury in the Age of Digital Darwinism which listed experiences as one of the biggest future disruptions hitting the luxury market, “Consumers are no longer just purchasing a product. They are purchasing the experiences and emotions the brand can offer them.”
Believing in a brand is an important part of the purchase journey for many shoppers and as the Global VP Sustainability at Swarovski Dax Lovegrove explained, one thing luxury brands must stop doing is being opaque.
“The challenge of the luxury industry is that we like to create mystery and that sometimes means we don’t always like being transparent. So we need to stop being opaque, we need to work towards radical transparency because trust in businesses is at an all-time low across the private sector and the way to combat that is through radical transparency,” said Lovegrove. “It won’t be easy because we want to still create intrigue and we want to get people excited about the brands but there are ways of doing that you can also be transparent as well.”
Giving a voice to social and environmental campaigners
With social media saturated by influencer culture and CGI models on the rise, could we have reached a tipping point where A-lister fronted campaigns become a thing of the past? Tom Punch, Global President and Chief Creative Officer at Spring Studios, believes substituting celebrity representatives for a more soulful, socio-political brand message is the answer.
“Luxury brands could stop working with celebrities and their huge entourages to reduce the carbon footprint of their campaigns, and instead give voice to the unsung environmental and social campaigners, making them aspirational faces for new-gen consumers,” he said.
“More than anything, millennial consumers crave purpose, authenticity and passion. They’re attracted to companies that demonstrate a committed, ethical approach to business. So, luxury brands must embrace a higher purpose if they want to win over millennials,” reported Forbes.
Stop seeing rental as a threat
Another interesting argument that arose during the event was the need for luxury brands to stop seeing rental as a threat. With upscale sustainable fashion brands like Swedish clothing company Filippa K turning rental services into a USP, the integration of rental and resell with the luxury sector is not to be ignored.
Victoria Prew of the fashion rental start-up Hurr Collective urged brand founders to stop seeing rental and resell as a threat and instead incorporate it into their business models. Perw explained that Rent the Runway has proved over the last ten years that rental isn’t a threat to purchase and traditional e-commerce.
“Instead, it excels a user’s relationship with a brand.” The sooner luxury sees rental as a massive USP, the better,” said Prew.
Setting the tempo
Luxury is also in the unique position to influence the rest of the market explained Michael Beutler, Sustainability Operations Director at Kering.
“Luxury sets the tempo for the entire fashion industry, said Beutler. “It leads in style and it sets the trends. This is a very powerful megaphone to help lead the fashion industry forward in sustainability as well.”
This is less of a choice than one may think.
“Recognising that they need to be considering the sustainability issues not just because it’s the right thing to do but because their clients are demanding it,” explained Skinner. “We keep hearing it repeatedly – younger clients and customers are demanding that the companies with which they are doing business are taking sustainability into consideration.”