The importance of sustainability in retail has never been so crucial, especially when it comes to fashion and luxury brands. In today’s world, sustainability is so much more than just a buzzword or marketing phrase; it’s now a way of life. It no longer just applies to an object being reusable or recyclable. Instead, it relates to every aspect of your business operations. From the very nature of the materials being used to the sourcing, processing and transportation of them, sustainability should now be considered a wholescale aspect of your company.

What makes a fashion brand sustainable?

A sustainable fashion brand is one that takes into account its environmental, social, and economic impact throughout its entire supply chain, from the sourcing of raw materials to the disposal of its products.

Here are some key factors that contribute to making a fashion brand sustainable:

  • Use of sustainable materials - Sustainable fashion brands use materials that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. This includes materials that are organic, recycled, upcycled, or biodegradable.
  • Ethical production - Such businesses ensure that their workers are treated fairly and are paid a living wage. They also prioritise worker safety and good working conditions throughout their supply chain.
  • Minimal environmental impact - Sustainable fashion brands minimise their environmental impact by reducing their carbon footprint, conserving water and energy, and reducing waste through recycling and upcycling.
  • Transparency - Sustainable fashion brands are transparent about their sourcing, production, and supply chain practices. They share information about their environmental and social impact and strive to improve their practices over time.
  • Longevity - Sustainable fashion brands prioritise quality and durability over fast fashion trends. They create products that are meant to last, reducing the need for frequent replacement and reducing waste.

Sustainability in luxury

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the luxury fashion industry as consumers become more aware of the environmental and social impact of their purchasing decisions. Fashion businesses are taking note.

So, what makes a fashion brand sustainable? Here are some ways that the most sustainable luxury fashion brands are incorporating sustainability into their operations:

Use of sustainable materials

Many luxury brands are incorporating sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and regenerated fibres into their collections. Some brands are also investing in research and development to create new sustainable materials.

Circular fashion

Luxury brands are exploring circular fashion models, such as resale and rental services, to reduce waste and extend the lifespan of their products.

Energy efficiency and waste reduction

We also need to consider the environmental impact of luxury fashion. Luxury brands are implementing strategies to reduce their carbon footprint, such as investing in renewable energy sources and optimising their production processes to reduce waste.

Ethical labour practices

We’re also seeing luxury fashion companies prioritise ethical labour practices and fair wages for workers in their supply chains.

Transparency and traceability

Luxury brands are becoming more transparent about their operations and supply chains, providing consumers with information about the materials and processes used to create their products.

Community engagement and social responsibility

Finally, these brands are engaging with local communities and investing in social responsibility initiatives, such as education and job training programs.

By incorporating sustainable practices into their operations, luxury brands can demonstrate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility and meet the growing demand for sustainable fashion among consumers.

Why are Luxury Brands Embracing Sustainability?

It’s a particularly damning statistic, but the fashion industry accounts for the second-highest level of global pollution, behind only the oil industry. With consumers being very much aware of this information, they want to see a clear process in how businesses are doing their fair share in order to try to help the planet and make the world a better place.

For Millennials and Generation Z consumers especially, this is a key concern. They represent a huge slice of the worldwide spending community and are driving 85% of global luxury sales growth. To connect with them in a sincere, meaningful manner, luxury brands have to understand values and align themselves with them.

Younger generations take more time to research the environmental and social impact of their purchasing decisions and won’t hesitate to ignore any brand, label or company that doesn’t embody their own personal values. Luxury brands that want to retain their place in the market and continue to grow need to evolve and adapt to the notion of ethical and sustainable luxury otherwise, they could quickly fall behind competitors that are already doing so.

Studies indicate that 73% of millennials are willing to spend more money on a product if it comes from a sustainable or socially conscious company, whilst 81% expect brands to be transparent and actively talk about their sustainability impact. They are not shy of telling you what they want and what they don’t want, it’s up to you to listen and adapt. 

Luxury brands' sustainability issues

Luxury brands have been facing sustainability issues for some time now. Here are some of the key challenges they are grappling with:

Environmental impact

Companies in the luxe fashion market often use materials that are not environmentally friendly or sustainable. For example, they may use leather from cows raised on deforested land, or they may use synthetic materials that release harmful chemicals when produced or disposed of.

Additionally, luxury brands' manufacturing processes can consume a lot of energy and generate significant greenhouse gas emissions. When achieving luxury fashion sustainability, we must begin by looking at the environment and how our carbon footprint can be reduced.

Supply chain transparency

Luxury brands often source materials and manufacture products in developing countries, where labour and environmental standards may be lower than in developed countries. This can make it difficult for brands to ensure that their supply chains are free from human rights abuses, such as child labour or forced labour.

Waste management

Fashion brands often create a lot of waste, both in their manufacturing processes and in the products themselves. For example, packaging materials can be excessive and difficult to recycle, and luxury products may be designed to be disposable rather than long-lasting.

Social responsibility

Finally, luxury brands have been criticised for not doing enough to support social causes, such as promoting diversity and inclusion or supporting workers' rights.

Furthermore, some luxury brands have been accused of cultural appropriation or insensitivity in their marketing or product design.

To address these issues, luxury brands are starting to adopt more sustainable practices. For example, they are using more sustainable materials, implementing better waste management practices, and working to ensure that their supply chains are free from human rights abuses. Additionally, some luxury brands are partnering with social and environmental organisations to promote positive change in their communities and the world at large.

The Controversial Side of Fashion Sustainability

When answering the question ‘what is sustainable luxury?’ your approach has to be sincere otherwise, it can lead to some controversial situations for your luxury brand. There have been several luxury brand sustainability issues that have come to light in recent times, with greenwashing arguably being the most discussed. This is where companies or brands put more effort and money into convincing people that they are enacting environmental policies than they do actually carrying them out. Essentially it is a mask that a company will use to cover up any unsustainable practices they might carry out, such as chemical usage or damage to the environment.

Unless the industry is willing and serious about enacting sustainable luxury trends, the fashion industry will continue to be one of the most environmentally damaging sectors in the world today.

10 Best Sustainable Luxury Fashion Brands

But there are some brands that are leading the way and illustrating just how luxury fashion can be sustainable. So let’s have a look at who is managing to achieve a truly sustainable form of luxury and how they are doing so:

1. Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has been one of the leading pioneers of combining sustainability and luxury for many years now. The brand is extremely picky with their suppliers and works with a number of different environmental conversation organisations. Adding to this notion, the company recently introduced something called Clevercare to their products. This is a simple, five-step labelling system that helps consumers care for and prolong the overall life of their clothing to improve their sustainable nature.

2. Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood prioritise the use of renewable energy and has previously called out for luxury labels to switch from using fossil fuels to green energy. The brand’s commitment to environmental practices was also emphasised by a V&A exhibition in London that featured information concerning sustainable fashion. 

3. Farfetch

Second-hand fashion is growing at an incredibly fast rate. Farfetch is embracing this concept and has begun collaborating with Thrift+, an on-demand donation service for pre-owned clothes.

4. Rag & Bone

Launched as a denim label, Rag & Bone started a program that encourages customers to donate old jeans to a physical store for recycling. Once donated, the denim is recycled and transformed into insulation for homes as they try to reduce the level of waste that is rife across the fashion industry.

5. Tiffany & Co

Famous diamond luxury brand Tiffany & Co was one of the first big jewellery names to exclusively source metals and diamonds from responsible mining companies. Tiffany now has a zero-tolerance policy in regard to buying diamonds from countries with human rights infringements and also has a foundation working on reef conservation and raising awareness for responsible mining practices.

6. Rolex

The heralded watchmaker Rolex created the Rolex Award for Enterprise. This awards a large cash prize to entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 30 for projects that have brought about a positive environmental change. This approach sees the company aim to take real steps towards improving the sustainability of their industry as well as the planet as a whole.

7. Mara Hoffman

Mara Hoffman emphasises the use of sustainable materials at every opportunity. They utilise regenerated nylon fibre made from waste, polyester fibre made from recycled plastic, hemp, organic cotton, linen, ethical alpaca wool, and fibrous plant-based materials, all alongside sustainable means for shipping, packaging, and branding.

8. Everlane

In a truly innovative move, Everlane offers consumers the opportunity to meet the makers of their clothes and take digital tours of their factories. When Millennials talk about transparency, this is what they want. It displays their fair and ethical practices as well as underlining the fact that these products are made locally in a sustainable and authentic way. This is what sustainable luxury looks like.

9. Patagonia

Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign was an incredible statement, one a lot of other brands wouldn’t have had the guts to make. But it illustrated them as truly being a brand that places ethics above profits. Not only do they embrace causes, but they also build them into their brand values and connect with their consumers in ways other companies can only dream of.

10. FH Christensen

Sustainable and ethical are words FH Christensen wants to be associated with. They manage to craft sustainable luxury garments using ethical procedures without ever having to compromise on quality. All of their manufacturing processes are plastic-free, and leave as small a carbon footprint as physically possible.

Luxury sustainability trends 2023

Luxury sustainability trends are rapidly evolving as more consumers demand environmentally friendly and socially responsible products.

Some of the main luxury fashion sustainability trends we expect to see flourish in 2023 include:

  1. Regenerative agriculture - We expect to see more luxury brands focusing on regenerative agriculture, which involves sustainable farming practices that improve soil health and biodiversity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This could lead to the use of more sustainable and eco-friendly materials in luxury products.
  2. Net-zero emissions - A lot of brands have already set targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. This will require significant investments in renewable energy and carbon offset projects.
  3. Green packaging - There will be an increased focus on sustainable packaging, which could involve using more biodegradable or compostable materials, reducing packaging waste, and using more sustainable shipping practices.
  4. Resale and rental - Luxury brands may continue to explore rental and resale options for their products, as this can extend the lifespan of products and reduce waste.
  5. Transparency and traceability - Consumers are demanding more transparency and traceability in the supply chain, and luxury brands will continue to respond by providing detailed information about their sourcing and manufacturing processes.

The Future of the Sustainable Fashion Industry

Essentially the future of sustainable fashion has to happen now. Alongside incorporating all the luxury trends 2023 has to offer, becoming more sustainable and ethical is key for luxury fashion brands to achieve success with the younger generations. Luxury brands need to build upon the great work already being done by people within the industry towards improving sustainability if they want to stay relevant. Reusable materials, environmentally-friendly practices and a lack of reliance on fossil fuels will hopefully soon become industry standards for luxury companies.

This blog post is Last updated on May 15th, 2023.



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