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The Future of Luxury Fashion and Sustainability

How 3 companies are taking action to go green.

“Sustainability” has been buzzing about a lot in recent years—and even more so as of late. Many fashion brands are working to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by changing up their business models. For example, these changes affect everything from fabric selection to overall design. Every little bit helps but, delving deeper, how much is moving the needle?

“Making real progress towards sustainability is one of the biggest challenges for the fashion and luxury industry,” Sarah Willersdorf, Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) tells Beauty and Well-Being. In her role, brand expert Willersdorf strategically works with companies in the fashion and luxury sector to help them grow. She says, “To move to a path of long-term prosperity financially, socially, and environmentally, the level of change needed will require active collaboration and a clear commitment by the industry’s leaders to prioritize a responsible long-term strategy, despite the pressure of quarterly results.”

Pretty much, it was a wake-up call to see that there’s still a ton of work to be done.

On the topic of stats, BCG teams up with the Global Fashion Agenda and Sustainable Apparel Coalition each year to release an executive report on sustainability in the fashion industry. The report spans topics from water consumption, chemical usage and land use to waste creation, labor practices and energy emissions. Together, they determine a pulse score, which came out to be 42 out of 100 in 2019. This shows that social and environmental performance has increased by four points since last year. Unfortunately, this is a slower rate—a third, to be exact—than the previous year. Pretty much, it was a wake-up call to see that there’s still a ton of work to be done.

Looking at the silver lining, we can use this knowledge to be more mindful while shopping, regardless of the season. Willersdorf notes, “Clothes are becoming more seasonless and you can easily extend across seasons and years with layering (for example, many summer dresses work great with a sweater or turtleneck under it).” There are plenty of ways we can have fun and get creative while going green. Here, we’ve researched three luxury fashion companies with sustainability plans in the works:

LVMH

Brands: Owns labels including Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Emilio Pucci, Christian Dior, and Celine.

Sustainable Efforts: For more than 28 years, the luxury goods company has been committed to protecting the environment and biodiversity. In 2012, it launched the LIFE program. LIFE implements actions towards using renewable energy, reducing CO2 emissions, waste management, responsible leather sourcing, and precious stones. The group also partnered with designer and sustainability superstar Stella McCartney who joined as a special advisor.

Future Plans: In September 2019, LVMH revealed upcoming plans for new sustainable efforts. Think: responsible crocodilian leather sourcing, full traceability of origin for animal-based raw materials, and partnerships to support the Amazon emergency aid and preservation). Also, the group announced its partnership with the Solar Impulse Foundation, which aims to reduce energy consumption.

KERING

Brands: Owns labels including Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Brioni.

Sustainable Efforts: Kering established its first Code of Ethics in 1996 to make a push towards social and environmental sustainability and has been expanding its actions ever since. In 2011, the group published a trial Environmental Profit & Loss account (EP&L), which measures the carbon emissions, water consumption, air and water pollution, land use, and waste production, then calculates its monetary value. Essentially, it’s a transparent tool that maps out the overall environmental footprint which makes it easier to see what changes are most needed.

Future Plans: There are three pillars to Kering’s 2025 Sustainability Strategy. The first is Care, which aims to preserve the planet and its natural resources by choosing responsible and well-managed supply sources. The second is Collaborate, to promote sustainable luxury to ensure the well-being of its employees, suppliers, and customers. And the third is Create, to drive change using biotechnologies and circular economy principles (like recycled fibers to make clothing).

THE REALREAL

Photographed by Joyce Lee

Brands: Sells luxury consignment brands including Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, and Prada.

Sustainable Efforts: Founder and CEO Julie Wainwright started TheRealReal in 2011 with a mission to make luxury sustainable. It’s pretty genius—the concept of re-selling designer goods, that is. It’s a win-win scenario in so many ways: the seller and The RealReal (the middleman and authenticator) make a profit on a product and the buyer can shop at a discount. Sustainability-wise, it reduces carbon emissions and water that would otherwise be used to create, say, a brand new T-shirt.

Future Plans: “The future of fashion is circular” is the core belief of The RealReal. So much, that it is taking the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge issued by Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzari during Climate Week NYC 2019. The plan is to encourage companies to go carbon neutral (The RealReal plans to do so by 2021) and reduce its use of greenhouse gas emissions to support the protection of critical ecosystems and help mitigate climate change.

Overall, the first step to practicing sustainability is taking time to get educated. “There is not a lot of standardization of labeling and certifications in fashion and luxury yet,” says Willersdorf. “Pay attention to materials and try to buy less treated and more sustainably sourced fabrics—some of the standards and certifications starting to get traction are the Global Organic Textiles Standard, Organic Content Standard, and Better Cotton Initiative.” Here’s to starting the new decade off on a greener note.

Feature image credit: Joyce Lee

Wendy Sy

Wendy Sy is a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle writer based in New York City. In addition to her editorial website, Style Meets Story, her work has been featured in Allure, Avenue Magazine, InStyle, and more. When she’s not brainstorming ideas for upcoming articles, you can find her spending countless hours searching for lost treasures at vintage shops. Photo by Sophie Elgort.

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