Rethinking Luxury

6.5 minute read

The fifth article of Earth Matters looks at how sustainability and luxury can be compatible and how forward-thinking luxury brands are using the power of storytelling to do good, are crafting planet-friendly heirlooms, and are using their clout and status to challenge conventions with experimentation and innovation.

Sumptuous, exclusive, priceless, rare, extraordinary. These are some of the words that might spring to mind when thinking about luxury. Sustainability probably wouldn’t. Especially in view of the luxury sector’s bad eco-reputation, earned by its history of reckless destruction (for example, Burberry burning excess stock to preserve “brand value”) and cruel exploitation (as with Kering – owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent – recently admitting that the working conditions of Indian embroiderers are still “very far from satisfying”).

Buying, owning and experiencing luxury is arguably an act of carefree, pleasurable indulgence. On the surface, there seems to be little space for restraint, reduction and responsibility. But today we are seeing positive signs that the luxury industry is moving in the right direction. For example, Positive Luxury is a UK-based enterprise that assesses and awards luxury companies with the Butterfly Mark, a seal of approval that demonstrates positive social and environmental impact. To date, over 100 luxury brands have achieved Butterfly Mark status.

 

 

Sustainable luxury is still a relatively new concept, but a closer look reveals that the synergies between the values of luxury and those of sustainability are many and significant.

“Sustainable luxury is about going back to the basics of the classical meaning of luxury, a thought-over purchase, a craft manufacture, the beauty of materials in the broadest sense, and the respect for social and environmental aspects.”
Solantu, sustainable luxury brand.

So how are disruptive, progressive luxury brands using a responsible, green narrative to enhance their exclusive image and underpin their values of quality, care and craftsmanship?

Sustainable stories

Part of the desirability and value of a luxury brand comes from its heritage, tradition and provenance, brought to life through storytelling. Indeed, it is the detail of the skilled tailor’s stitch, the artistic genius of the designer, the rare, inimitable quality of the materials used that give luxury brands the creative clout to tell inspiring, desirable narratives.

And when these stories become (or are born) sustainable, this puts luxury brands in a position to inspire creatively and lead the way when it comes to positive social change.

Treasure trunks

Elephant Gin dedicates 15% of its profits to endangered African elephants and supports local workers in Kenya. The product is founded on a cohesive, premium eco-narrative, from the rare African botanicals infused in the gin, to the recyclable, plastic-free packaging, to the brochures made of elephant dung paper. The result is a luxe spirit with an authentic and holistic sustainability story.

Elephant Gin

 

 

Give ’em lip

US cosmetics brand Beautycounter have collaborated with artist Lisa Congdon to create a limited edition run of lipsticks paired with change-making slogans. The covetable tubes are made from FSC-certified paper and are emblazoned with uplifting messages like Powered by People, Our Future Depends on You, and Let’s do This, encouraging consumers to be part of the brand’s clean beauty movement.

Beautycounter

 

 

Desert desire

Antonin.B’s Desert Serum for hair strengthening and repair features organic oil from the date palm of the Sahel desert. Growing and refining this fruit not only provides an innovative, provenance-powered ingredient for luxury haircare, it also helps support local farmers’ livelihoods, funds better education, and fights desertification thanks to the planting of these palm trees in the region.

Antonin.B

 

Luxury of time

In the traditional sense, luxury goods such as jewellery, fine art, clothing and furniture are crafted, one-of-a-kind, cherished heirlooms passed down through the generations. Their rarity and prestige is directly linked to the incredible skill and precious (material and human) resources behind their creation, a process which naturally requires time to deliver the highest level of quality. Therefore, the luxury values of quality and craftsmanship align strongly with the sustainable values of longevity and ethical sourcing.

Forward-thinking luxury brands both old and new are creating products designed to pass the test of time and forge longstanding emotional bonds with the consumer. Exquisitely designed, with timeless aesthetics and crafted with quality materials, luxury players are creating products so beautiful that consumers never want to let them go.

Precious packs

Another lipstick example worth mentioning is by Hermès, which launched its first ever make-up line in March 2020. The collectable hues come in plastic-free packaging manufactured from the same metal used in Hermès handbags, and lacquered in bold colour blocks to create an ageless aesthetic that ties the lipsticks in with the rest of the collection. Each pack is refillable and designed to be kept for a long period of time, an object as precious as a jewel.

Hermès

 

 

Bag for life

Luxury leather goods brand Issara make timeless, quality, ethical bags. Bypassing plastic-based vegan leather, Issara uses responsibly sourced cow leather, free from insoluble dyes that escape conventional wastewater treatment. Issara invests in its artisans, with futureproofed savings, fair wages and safe working conditions. The quality materials and skilled craftspeople, combined with an enduring style, result in bags that will last more than a lifetime.

Issara

Lovingly worn

Created by Japanese packaging designers Anna Sakaguchi and Miki Kawamura, A Time Bottle is a refillable perfume bottle made from reused ocean plastic. The bottle is designed to feel soft and tactile in the hand –like beach glass – a pleasure to hold and rediscover over the years as the material picks up the signs, shapes and scratches of daily use, marks that tell a unique story and through which the consumer builds an emotional bond with the packaging.

A time bottle

 

Creative trailblazers

In many ways, creative experimentation is a luxury. And it is also an avenue into sustainable innovation.

Luxury brands and fashion houses have the material resources and creative credibility to be trailblazers, incubators for disruptive positive change that can shape the zeitgeist.

They can afford to be daring, to make bold statements and be a little eccentric, as consumers of luxury goods are often looking for something creative and unique that stands out from the crowd. Pioneering sustainable luxury brands surprise and push consumers out of their comfort zones, offering products and experiences that are sustainable, unconventional and desirable.

Bone china

Ceramicist Gregg Moore has created bespoke crockery for fine dining restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns (NY). As part of an unusual nose to tail narrative, the pieces are made from the bones of the cows whose dairy and meat is served in the restaurant. The ultra-white, delicate and luminescent collection tells a complete, zero waste sustainable story that is just the right mix of elegant and eccentric.

Gregg Moore

 

 

Less is more

Lagom is a high end holiday company that challenges the notion of luxury being about add-ons, perks and a culture of excess. Its destination discovery tool lets travellers build a use-only-what-you-need experience by offering simple choices: How often do you want your bed linen laundered? Do you want toiletries? Small things that add up to make travel more thoughtful, positive and therefore valuable.

Lagom

 

 

Electric gold

Each year in the US, it is estimated that $60 million in gold and silver is thrown away in old mobile phones, and only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled into other products. Spotting the untapped potential for unconventional eco-luxe, jewellery brand Bayou with Love collaborated with tech giant Dell to make The Circular Collection, where waste circuit boards are recycled into 14-18 carat jewels.

Dell x Bayou with Love

 

 

Luxury brands are ideally placed to adapt and lead the sustainable change with speed, conviction and creativity.

Now’s the time to do it: by 2025, it is estimated that Millennials and Gen Z will make up 40% of luxury consumers. And, as we covered in our first issue of Earth Matters, for these generations being kind to people and planet isn’t optional – it’s a necessity.

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