How is sustainability affecting the luxury industry? Let’s just say: change is coming…!
There can be little doubt that most luxury brands have a more sustainable advantage over fast fashion companies in the sense that their higher-quality products are made for longevity, rather than being trendy, temporary and disposable. Yet, for some of the world’s favourite online luxury fashion retailers, including Net A Porter, Matches Fashion, Selfridges and Browns, that’s not enough.
These platforms have all chosen to make sustainability a higher priority on their sites, reflecting the fact that there’s an obvious demand for it. But what exactly is next for high-end fashion, and how is sustainability affecting the luxury industry in particular?
1. Supply And Demand
Thanks to protests by the likes of Extinction Rebellion and PETA, consumers and producers of fashion are both much more aware of the environmental impact the fashion industry has on the Earth and its animals. Consequently, over thirty companies – spanning fast-fashion and luxury fashion houses such as Chloe, Chanel and Prada – have recently signed a fashion pact, which promises to combat single-use plastics, greenhouse gasses and emphasise sustainability in the industry. Other luxury retailers have also embraced more eco-friendly approaches to what they do.
For example? Farfetch has collaborated with Thrift+ this year, an on-demand donation service for pre-owned clothes. Shoppers fill Thrift+ x Farfetch donation bags with old clothing, which will be recycled, and are then rewarded with Farfetch spending credits. This is a good illustration of circular fashion, an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources. It challenges fashion’s linear production line that ends with clothes being tossed in the bin, and it’s a model that millennials and Gen Z consumers are increasingly insisting on.
The latest True-Luxury Global Consumer Insight report by Boston Consulting Group describes the behaviour and buying habits of that key demographic: millennial and Gen Z consumers. It confirms that this generation does indeed expect much more from retailers than their predecessors did: namely, uniqueness of product, which can be gained via co-creation and personalisation, a sense of community (easily created through social media marketing), circular economy concepts and the availability of secondhand goods.
2. Old Is New Again
Far from abandoning physical retail stores, younger luxury consumers have developed a taste for the resale or vintage space, which has seen strong growth due to specialised and trusted online marketplaces such as Vestiaire Collective. This secondary luxury market represents an entry point for owning luxury goods, is more accessible for young consumers and is more sustainable, giving preowned pieces a second life and keeping them in circulation. Brands don’t yet seem to fully appreciate the potential of secondary channels, but would do well to exert more control over their vintage products for brand loyalty and after-sale services.
There is another important aspect drawing consumers to these resale platforms: the uniqueness of pieces they can find there. Whether it’s a one-off vintage dress from the 70’s found on a vintage fashion site, or a more recent grunge style top found in a thrift shop, Gen Z and millennials will be thrilled with their purchases, so long as they know no one else will be sharing the same outfit on Instagram.
Even more coveted are iconic items, limited editions and collaborations no longer available on the first-hand market, which are so desirable on resale platforms, that prices can sometimes exceed retail costs. Rare watches in good condition with original parts or hip, vintage sneaker collections continuously set new records at auction houses.
3. Upcycled Luxury
With regards to new collections, consumers also prefer if these are somehow ‘old’ – in terms of fabrics. Once a term only bandied about by industry insiders, ‘deadstock’ has entered common parlance thanks to much-loved brands like Reformation, who use plenty of the stuff to form their dresses, jeans and sweaters. And speaking of sweaters, conscious brands including Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher are making theirs from old cashmere and wool that’s been unravelled and recycled from not only deadstock fabrics, but even secondhand clothing.
It seems clear that using recycled and upcycled materials is something else that’s next for the luxury industry in terms of sustainability. More and more brands are doing it, including The R Collective, who have recently created an eight-piece collection for Net A Porter’s Net Sustain, featuring dresses, pants and a jacket, all made from upcycled textiles.
Designed in collaboration with award-winning sustainable designers, Wen Pan and Weiyu Hung, the goal of the collection was to demonstrate the beauty of upcycling and circular fashion, and to prove that luxury fashion need not be wasteful. “For me, fashion is not only clothing,” explains designer, Weiyu Hung, a Chinese contemporary womenswear designer based in the Netherlands. “Fashion is about how we see our world. It’s about living with our changing attitudes so we can find better solutions to benefit others.”
The R Collective’s collection has been a big hit with young women – but whether that’s due to its chicly wide culottes, slouchy. comfy sweaters and beautifully cut dresses, or its sustainability (or both), we cannot say.
4. Bye Bye Beasties
Another enormous change that has been rippling through the luxury fashion industry is the perception of fur and exotic leather. Once believed to be the epitome of ‘luxury’, increasing numbers of consumers are now (quite rightly, in my opinion) disgusted by the notion of wearing the corpses of animals.
So, how is sustainability affecting the luxury industry in terms of vegan fashion? Well, thanks to this evolution in perception – as well as pressure from PETA and other animal rights groups – many design houses have declared themselves to be free from fur and/or exotic skins. Just a few fur free luxury brands include Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren.
That being said, there’s still a desire by many luxury lovers to wear something plush and soft. To fill that gap in the market, a new generation of faux fur designers have arisen, such as the likes of the House of Fluff, Maison Atia (below) and Dagmar. Some, such as Culthread and Calcaterra, are even creating innovative fashions from upcycled, recycled and natural materials to mimic the softness of fur, but without the pollution of plastics. In short, the luxury fashion industry is going cruelty-free, and is even moving towards eco-friendly veganism.
5. Virtual Shopping and Immersive Experiences
According to research by the Initiative media agency in their report called ‘L’État des Cultures Mode Luxe en France’, changes are afoot in the luxury industry in terms of tech.
The report aimed to address the question: How is sustainability affecting the luxury industry? and identified six consumer types and the new ways in which they interact with labels. But something else emerged from their research: a clear desire by consumers towards a more immersive customer experience.
“While the reinvention of the physical shopping experience continues, via venues that are inspirational, immersive, personalised and ephemeral, less focused on product purchasing and more on discovering brand values, digital shopping experiences in the luxury sector are undergoing a profound transformation, as they strive to keep pace with consumer needs and behaviour,” the study stated.
From virtual shopping to resale options, personal shopping experiences, online raffles, gaming and augmented reality, it seems luxury shoppers are demanding much more than mere personal attention when it comes to how they decide to make purchases.
So, ultimately: how is sustainability affecting the luxury industry? From demand for second hand designer goods and upcycled design, to the durability of heritage, married with innovation: these are significant factors which all point to sustainability in luxury being the new normal, not a trend. We sincerely hope this is all indicative of luxury fashion consumption taking on a new direction in this new decade.
All images by the R Collective unless otherwise marked. Main image: League of Legends videogame – Louis Vuitton Riots Games