Barbara Coignet: Sustainable Luxury

13 : 05 : 2014 1.618 : Sustainability : Luxury

A few years ago luxury was all about products. Today’s trends are more focused on experiences – across travel, design and fashion. For clients, luxury is an emotion. It is an immaterial luxury.

Brands are right to concentrate on sourcing and transparency. A few years ago you didn’t have so many sourcing options, so brands are now moving faster. Consumers want to explore the issues around sustainability more deeply, but their perception of how brands do it changes all the time.

Consumers expect brands to tell them their story. They are more and more aware of sustainability now because of social networks. Brands such as Honest by have shown that there needs to be transparency between the consumer and the brand.

Brands need to tell their story in order not to alienate future customers. When consumers buy a luxury handbag, they want to know what that €10,000 is worth in terms of its manufacturing story. Consumers are now almost lobbying brands to do this. Brands have no choice. 

One fashion sustainability pioneer is Oskar Metsavaht, UNESCO ambassador and the founder of Osklen, a sustainable sportswear brand in Brazil. His attitude is ‘you can make a new economy’, and he is a great example to others about what can be achieved.

The big luxury fashion houses have the most difficulty in achieving sustainability because they are scared of being too transparent. Everything they do has a message of excellence, so in all of their communication they can’t afford to talk too much about how that is achieved. They are afraid of being totally transparent, and to talk about the realities of the manufacturing process is a dangerous area for them. Some brands, however, are very good at it. Gucci Group is one of the best – across Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Gucci itself. In other sectors BMW and Six Senses hotel group are also finding ways to do it.

A philanthropic mood among luxury brands is gaining momentum with consumers who can see that brands are caring more. So when Fendi and Tod’s or LVMH make huge investments to save important architecture or buy traditional artisan workshops, they see it for what it is, a communications tool that makes a statement about the brand’s ethical standpoint. 

Brands need to consider the younger customers who care about these things. These people are the future of luxury and brands will alienate them unless they act appropriately.

Barbara Coignet is founder of sustainable luxury conferenc1.618