Are luxury fashion items more sustainable than high-street fashion’s? This is a question that I am often asked. The answer is always yes. Because these brands have more capital to distribute across their supply chains, surely more care is given to the environment and people? Let’s see…
What is LUXURY FASHION?
Luxury fashion is, to me, high-quality clothing and accessories made with an emphasis on art, culture and creativity. Because collections are made in limited quantities, they are highly desirable. The best luxury fashion is often iconic and often reflects or defines the culture at the time. This includes Lady Di’s Revenge Dress to Lady Breakfast at Tiffany’s LBD. My Grenson Nanette Boots are here, they’re from Northamptonshire, the home of the cobblers and also my hometown.
Luxury fashion is at best elusive and vague. Vogue Italia’s Editors Blog 2011: “Quality, not price? It’s possible, but not enough. Luxury is a broad concept. It is not just richness that refers to expensive items. This can lead to a misunderstanding of luxury. Luxury does not always mean elegance.”
The luxury landscape is changing, however. We discovered a new passion for loungewear after the pandemic. Brands like The Row thrived while Balenciaga clothing sales fell to the point that the brand revived its haute couture to make up the difference.
ARTISANS, NOT GARMENT WORKERS. ATELIERS, NOT FACTORIES
Although it is difficult to define luxury fashion, there are certain things you can look for. A fashion brand can be defined as luxurious by everything, from its clothes designs to the logos and emblems. This even boils down to the language used for describing these brands’ creations. Ateliers, and not factories. Artisans, and not garment workers. Are these words really used to describe better working conditions, higher quality materials and a better product? It is not, unfortunately.
We discovered that a higher price doesn’t always mean a better quality garment. World-recognized brands with a high price tag will likely have a greater percentage of the money going to marketing, reputation-building, and fashion events. Although red carpets, catwalks, and couture shows are notoriously expensive, these seasonal offerings keep brands in the media’s minds, on social media, and in our minds’ eye. You may also have heard of Chanel raising their prices in order to offset lower sales. Is this fair? No. It will not stop people buying? No.
In an article published by The Guardian, Orsola de Castro, the founder of Fashion Revolution, stated that the luxury industry must return to some form of luxury. “To imagine a luxury industry that is truly luxurious, they have to redefine their parameters and go back to what luxury really is: craft, respect for human labor and skills, and beautiful material. If we want to call it a luxury product, none of these can harm people or nature.”
LUXURY FASHION BRANDS ARE SECRETIVE
The luxury fashion industry is not without its problems. One of the main issues is the emphasis on secrecy. These luxury brands are extremely protective of their brand and have a financial incentive not to talk about supply chains or manufacturing partners. Did you know that big brands have a value for their reputation? It’s an ordinary business practice and can be worth up 75% of the company’s value.
The increased secrecy results in a loss of transparency. Luxury brands make up a large portion of the Fashion Transparency Index 2021’s lowest-scoring brands.
- Tom Ford: 0/100
- Tory Burch: 0/100
- Max Mara: 0/100
- Dolce & Gabbana: 2/100
- DKNY: 2/100
- BCBGMAXAZRIA: 2/100
- Longchamp: 3/100
- Marni: 5/100
- Brunello Cucinelli: 5/100
- Jil Sander: 6/100
- Furla: 7/100
- Diesel: 7/100
- Valentino: 8/100
- Canada Goose: 8/100
- Sandro: 9/100
This secrecy can also lead to unethical practices like burning unsold stock. How can you keep an item in demand if it is already on the market? Brands like Moncler, Gucci and Burberry have all implemented anti-incineration strategies after being implicated in such scandals. However, they refuse to reveal what else they do.
SUSTAINABILITY IS DEFINING LUXURY FASHION
Luxury fashion must keep up with technology-driven changes in the world. This is becoming more urgent as Gen Z and millennials, who are the market leaders in luxury fashion, are increasingly shopping for their values. Hence, why is it that so many brands seem slow to adopt this trend?
Orsola de Castro urged luxury fashion brands to be more transparent and adopt more ethical practices. It is important to incorporate circular design into collections as well as business models, in addition to transparently showing good practices throughout its supply chain.
These things can take some time. Many are now turning to third-party certifications in order to improve their sustainability ratings and maintain their luxury status. There are many badges available, from Positive Luxury’s Butterfly Mark to B-Corp Status. These badges are an indicator of awareness and not a guarantee of putting people or the planet first.
There are many steadfast sustainability advocates in the luxury fashion industry. There are more than 50 sustainable fashion brands on my master list, from Bella Freud and Vivienne Westwood.
Before you rush to buy a bunch of Louis Vuitton clothing you should think about whether you will truly love these garments enough that you would wear them thirty times. It is possible to be more sustainable when we wear our clothes.