Ethical and sustainable luxury: bluff or real commitment?

11. 25. 19 3 minutes

Recycling, eco-friendly and responsible products, sustainable materials... So many notions that buyers of luxury - inclined to dream and drawn to refinement - aren’t used to hearing from their favourite brands. However, for a number of years now, brands have been shifting towards a development strategy based on preserving our planet. 

And people’s reactions are often quite critical: we hear about greenwashing, of publicity stunts etc. So what about this new phenomenon? Is it just marketing hype or a real change in habits towards more virtuous luxury?

A response to consumers’ new demands 

In the 21st century, the current trend is for more ethical and transparent consumption, which is fairer and more respectful of the environment. More than just a trend, it’s a real customer demand. The luxury sector is no exception.

Social wearers, a category of consumers that appeared a few years ago, swear only by sustainable development-stamped products.

Luxury brands have grasped the message. To keep their faithful followers, there is only one solution: embracing sustainable development and not forgetting to pass on the message via their marketing teams.

Values in accord with the spirit of luxury

“Luxury is, in essence, very close to the concerns of sustainable development because it relies on rarity and beauty, and therefore would be well advised to preserve them” explains Jean Noël Kapferer, professor at HEC and co-author of the book Luxe Oblige (Luxury Dictates).

Would the values advocated by the green movement therefore be in agreement with one of the planet’s most pollutant industries? Apparently!

Indeed, companies are actively getting involved in the protection of certain rare animal and plant species, used for their products (crocodile, vicuña, ostrich, sustainable cashmere), while some are attempting to achieve zero waste.

Others put their R&D departments to work to develop new materials: vegetable leather made from grape pomace or pineapple fibres, soya or coconut-based fabric, bamboo fibre, packaging made from cornstarch, recycled kraft, bagasse (sugar cane pulp) or even reed fibres and vegetable-based ink... the possibilities are amazing!

Lastly, some brands are upcycling. They recycle their old products, utilise local and artisan production and make public commitments to environmental associations.

Luxe éthique

A challenging approach

Luxury is not stagnant; it reinvents itself non-stop. This is part of its DNA.

So, when it is about surpassing yourself to come up with different, innovative and unique creations in order to preserve the health of the planet, it's another stimulating challenge!

From sourcing raw materials to eco-responsible and innovative packaging, via R&D, each stage of the production chain is impacted by this environmental responsibility. 

A question naturally arises for us consumers: if these companies use their progress for marketing and commercial purposes to reinforce their brand image, is this really a problem? 

Setting an example: an engaging approach

Real change is at work, even if it is still difficult to measure the real impact. At a time where every action taken by a brand is analysed, shared and rewarded or criticised on social media, the least faux pas can be fatal.

There isn’t a choice. Luxury brands need to follow through on their promises to customers, and also to set the example. Because luxury is a trendsetter. Via their ecological strategy, luxury brands are on an ethical path of no return.

Okay then, so the sector is taking advantage of it to widely publicise its eco-responsible approach for marketing purposes. But let's look on the bright side: new customers are moved by this environmentally-friendly message!

And if, thanks to this, ethical production and the environmental cause become glamorous and trendy, who’s complaining? Certainly not our beloved planet.


Luxe et éthique: bullshit glamour ou vraie tendance?
Développement durable et luxe sont-ils compatibles?
La responsabilité sociale des entreprises du luxe : de l’image à la fabrique de normes
Engagement des marques dans la mode éthique et durable - effet marketing ou réalité?
La responsabilité sociale et environnementale, un enjeu majeur pour le luxe

Written by
Charlotte MATTEI
Key Account Manager - Parcome
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