November 5, 2018 / Visual

Sustainable Luxuries

At the end of last year, we explored how ideas of luxury are shifting, citing the importance of creativity and diversity if luxury brands were to remain successful in the future.

This year has placed sustainability at the forefront of consumer concerns, changing expectations of luxury brands once again. Where ideas of luxury once relied on scarcity, boasting of rare ingredients from far-flung places, consumer values have shifted.

92% OF CONSUMERS BELIEVE THAT SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES SHOULD BE A BRAND STANDARD

SONAR, SURVEYING CONSUMERS FROM UK, US, AUSTRALIA AND CHINA

If sustainability is a given, then luxury brands are expected to go further. Small brands may include sustainable actions into their purpose, but luxury companies with greater spend are expected to do more: the best that money can buy now means the best for everyone.

This includes total sustainability, wherever possible, as well as inclusion of wider issues throughout entire industry chains, from wellbeing of employees, diversity and gender equality to animal rights and philanthropy.

Is there a market for sustainability within the luxury sector?

Challenging a long-held misconception in luxury goods, research from Selfridges found their luxury consumers were not only passionate about brand sustainability, but also “very exacting about where they want us as a multi-brand retailer to focus”. In short, those spending large sums on brands expect their concerns heard – concerns that now include sustainability and ethical practices.

Fashion giant Kering supports this with their brands Stella McCartney and Gucci setting “several targets to source raw materials and support supplier sustainability.”

Offering luxury consumers a place to discuss these issues, The Conduit is an ethical members club that has recently arrived in Mayfair. Dedicated to positive social impact, the club hosted a concept store for ethical fashion label Maiyet, with talks, activities and collaborations with other luxury brands.

Ethical lightbulb manufacturer Tala proves that sustainability and quality can go hand in hand, providing bespoke lighting solutions for luxury spaces, including Soho House and Third Space health clubs.

How can luxury brands commit to sustainability?

Last month we attended a talk by luxury packaging designer Vincent Villeger, who argued that sustainable thinking should be at the heart of luxury brand practices. As luxury is “intimately linked” to the concept of timelessness and quality, this now extends to sourcing and packaging design.

Sustainability in luxury brands is more than an obligation; it’s an opportunity for engagement, storytelling and innovation. Successful brands are looking to take part in the circular economy, reconsidering materials, and alternate uses and management of waste, as well as ensuring those involved in the supply chain receive fair wages.

Earlier this year, Chopard committed to 100% ethical gold in its jewellery and watches, having sought in the past to improve the lives of mining families, and to establish new trading routes from their mines in South America, thereby promoting transparent trades, as well as bolstering local communities.

In September, luxury brand Burberry announced they’ll stop burning overstock – they’ve now gone further, and have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to ‘eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source’, pledging to eliminate all single-use plastic packaging within their organisation. According to the brand’s chief executive Marco Gobbetti, “Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible”, arguing this belief is necessary to the long-term success of luxury brands.

What does this mean for packaging?

Vincent Villeger emphasises the importance of brand packaging, as a platform through which to tell the brand story, convey quality and reassurance the product was worth its price – as well as simple product protection. This is especially true for brands that mostly trade online, like Glossier and Mr Porter, whose packaging acts as the primary physical interaction between brand and consumer.

However, this doesn’t mean that packaging is free from sustainability pressures – a recent survey from API found that 78% of brand owners believe packaging that aligns with current trends and concerns result in more sales.

Luxury packaging staples of glass and metal help to sidestep some of the issues of plastic, but brands can go further:

Fragrance brand Floral Street challenged industry norms to make sustainability their brand statement, offering fully recyclable packaging. Every design choice around their packaging focuses on simplicity and ease in the recycling process, from the decision to go monochrome to the choice of materials – using wood fibres, the brand’s packaging can even be composted!

Beauty brand Lush uses packaging to communicate their mission towards sustainable, ethical practices. They strategically choose colours and labelling that can be recycled easily, going packaging-free where possible, and selling packaging as extra.

While Floral Street and Lush focus on simplicity with pared-back aesthetics, Burberry have shown that with a little creativity, sustainable packaging can look anything but plain. The brand combined innovation and sustainability in their packaging, with bespoke paper crafted to mimic the details of their iconic trench coats, while perfume lids are designed to mirror the trench coat buttons. This simple and effective thinking provides sustainable packaging, while telling the brand’s story and maintaining the luxe aesthetic.

Key Takeaways

Consider sustainability as an opportunity to engage consumers, rather than a limit.

Trade on heritage and storytelling to create sustainable alternatives without sacrificing a ‘luxe’ aesthetic.

Design with the whole product journey in mind: a simple colour or material change could make a world of difference to your brand’s sustainability, through reuse or recycling.

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