As new luxury markets expand around the world against a backdrop of mounting social and environmental concerns, the idea of sustainability in luxury has become increasingly significant. However, is luxury being unfairly victimised as the enemy of sustainability when it in fact sets an example worth following?
Is sustainability in luxury really a new idea?
Luxury has often been associated with the notion of a wasteful and greedy society. However on closer inspection, luxury’s emphasis on durability and quality make it the antithesis of that society. The importance of provenance, a love of artisanship, the requirement for permanence, an interest in innovation and a meaningful identity are actually characteristics relevant to both luxury and sustainability. Established brands pride themselves on creating beautiful products that will last a lifetime and so are founded on inherently sustainable principles.
“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation” – so the slogan of the luxury Swiss watchmaker goes, conveying the timeless quality of their product. The brand sees its creations as an investment, for the present as well as the future, that will outlive any passing trend. Likewise, Montblanc is a brand that embodies a philosophy of tradition, elegance and preservation, and their products are testament to this. As CEO Lutz Bethge aptly puts it, “A Montblanc product is luxury because it’s a lifetime companion that is worthy to be handed down to the next generation.” Based in Northampton, Church’s shoes are all handmade by artisans and can take up to eight weeks per pair – the result is a product that combines style with reliability.
In the fight against waste and excess the idea of investing in an item that may cost more but will ultimately endure is becoming increasingly important.
The emergence of a new type of luxury?
The growing emphasis on sustainability within the luxury market is allowing for the rise of a new breed of luxury brand, one that has ethical and sustainable values at their core and informs every part of their process. Their luxury is defined by their sustainability.
Fashion brand Edun, set up by Ali Hewson (co-founder of skincare brand NUDE) and singer Bono, focuses on its positive trading relationship with Africa. Aiming to source sustainable materials wherever possible, it plans to produce at least 40% of its fashion collection in Africa this year. Similarly, online fashion boutique Beautifuli will launch in the autumn of 2013, dedicated to sourcing and selecting sustainable lifestyle products for women. Elvis & Kresse are a unique brand that turn old fire hoses destined for landfill into bags, belts and wallets. They want to tackle waste and champion recycling, aiming to use many more unwanted materials for their products. Such innovation as this will be a key driving force behind the sustainable movement.
By offering luxury items that are eco-friendly and come with a clean conscience, brands like these demonstrate that there is no need for a compromise between luxury and sustainability.
Towards a sustainable future…
Though at first glance they may seem to be at odds with each other, luxury and sustainability have always been inextricably linked, defined by their similar core values such as provenance, artisanship and permanence. As the environmental and social issues surrounding luxury grow ever more pertinent, luxury proves that far from being the enemy of sustainability, it is in fact the most sustainable of concepts. The history of luxury has been informed by this idea and the future of luxury will be too.