Grasp your pearls, for the future of the luxury market is at risk! We saw this video over at EcoStiletto (a special that appeared on The Luxury Channel) and were both intrigued and sort of disgusted by these luxury brands who are finally realizing that their own futures are at risk if the resource-tap they call Earth dries up. With their own mortality in sight, the main question this video raises is, "Does looking and acting rich conflict with sustainability?" Hello? Does a bear shit in the woods?
Let's get over the noble idea that these brands actually care about the Earth, right now. It's like the classic case where a Hollywood mega-star get's a disease and then suddenly they're the biggest advocate for finding a cure. They are simply trying to save their own existence, which is not the worst thing. Often it can help, but in the case of an entire market, that means certain sacred cows can not be questioned. Like what? Poverty. Caste and class systems. Money. Materialism. Greed. Hierarchical power structures. Resource access. Viewing the planet as a stockpile of resources. Anthropocentrism. The list goes on.
One glaring issue is that companies like Gucci, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Alexander MQueen, and others that rule the world of luxury, who perpetuate images of desirable and unattainable lifestyles, are all addicted to leather, fur, cashmere, wool, and other animal products. We also know that raising livestock is the single greatest ecological threat that exists. So, until these brands convert all their products to be vegan (which is possible), it's all greenwashing and very difficult to take them seriously. Even Stella McCartney, who uses no fur or leather, still uses plenty of wool. Once again, when talking about environment and sustainability, the livestock industry was completely brushed over and left out, although it is the single greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
If we leave it up to luxury brands to define the mainstream understanding of environmentalism, of course extracting things from nature and turning them into expensive products (and the social and political atmosphere maintaining their position to do those things) will not be questioned in itself. If we let luxury brands use their powerful positions to create the mainstream discourse on sustainability, it's like letting a drug addict head up the ATF.
I was astounded to hear the list of luxury brands who helped create the documentary "Home" by Yann Arthus Bertrand. Do they not see how drastically they need to change everything about themselves? If the current definition of sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without undermining the ability of future generations to meet their needs" then I wonder whether these brands could ever be capable of accommodating such an aspiration as that?
According to the video, the "I am not a plastic bag" phenomenon reduced plastic bag consumption in England, but is it simply an accessory of mass distraction as The Observer's George Monibiot suggests? My fear is that greenwashing will prevail, not unlike the Canadian Fur Council's "Fur is Green" and Diesel's "Global Warming Ready" campaigns, and they will attempt to capitalize on the market value of "green" as opposed to actually changing industry practices from labor and environmental impact to animal welfare.
Heritage is what is at risk for luxury brands. Changing the factories, formulas, and ingredients of their products changes who they are at the core, which is a huge and uncertain undertaking. But if done thoroughly, honestly, and openly, it's more than an opportunity. It's common sense. It's not biting off the hand that feeds them. It's realizing that there is only one Planet Earth, yet many of us live in a way that requires three Earths to sustain the status quo.
What do you think? Can luxury brands change their ways? Or is the very nature of luxury in conflict with sustainability?