Jota-Kena AW17
Jota-Kena AW17
Image: Supplied

When Gucci’s chief executive officer, Marco Bizzarri, announced in October that the label would be fur-free from 2018, the new generation of conscious fashion consumers celebrated.

This is not the first, nor only, step taken by brands in the Kering Group, which, apart from Gucci, also houses the queen of eco-fashion, Stella McCartney. It has long been voicing a commitment to sustainable and ethical practices.  

The mood has proved to be catching. Recently, Bernard Arnault, the chairman of the board of LVMH (owners of Louis Vuitton and Moet & Chandon), said that his organisation had begun to rethink its products and its clients were becoming more and more insistent that “the products they consume should respect the environment”.

These changes have broader implications for not only the luxury sector but the entire fashion industry, as Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco-Age noted: “Once Gucci decides to go fur-free,” she said, “It will be a real game changer for the industry”.

In fact, it’s Firth’s initiative, the inaugural Green Carpet Challenge event in Milan last September, that could be the game changer.

At a glamorous, high-profile gathering of fashion’s most important players, Italian designers, producers and manufactures were recognised for their commitment to social and environmental sustainability. Celebrities attended wearing bespoke sustainable pieces from the world’s biggest design names. (Gisele Bunchen wore a Stella McCartney gown made from sustainably sourced viscose, and Amber Valletta wore an, “upcycled” dress – one that was being reused – by Missoni.)

And then there were the multiple awards acknowledging many of the top luxury brands for committing to sustainable solutions for fashion. Winners included seamstresses at Valentino, Tom Ford, Gucci, and Zegna. 

Trend analyst and cultural strategist Nicola Cooper, who says that luxury brands are critical to the transmission of new cultural ideas because of their roles as gatekeepers, innovators and influencers, says that times are definitely a-changing.

“Luxury designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are leading the pack. But many have followed suit. Viktor & Rolf have completely up-cycled using only vintage dead stock fabrics for their last two collections,” she says. 

These trends filter down the design chain to be worn by masses of consumers across the world. Their practices and messages of ethical and sustainability have spread too, and Cooper predicts that for 2018, green will definitely be the new black. 

With power to shape culture comes greater responsibility, something Kering’s chief of sustainability, Marie-Claire Daveau embraces, believing that it is because the luxury industry sets trends a for some many, that “Sustainability should be at our core,” she says. 

There are several reasons why brands are moving in this direction, including taking the responsibility of not doing business as usual. With climate change becoming a threat to our way of life, carbon emissions must be reduced. Increasing the awareness of this issue are celebrities, such as Emma Watson, Pharrell Williams and Leonardo DiCaprio. Key too is greater consumer awareness and sensitivity, a potent force made more potent by a new generation of customer.

Millennials and Generation Z want to associate with sustainable, ethical and transparent practices and products, says Cooper. A recent Nielsen report found that two out of three of the world’s consumers “are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.” 

But even with all this development in what is undoubtedly right direction, Positive Luxury, a consultancy assessing luxury brands, thinks that more work needs to be done to get the movement moving along faster. Companies will only act more quickly once they recognise that that sustainability and profits go hand-in-hand. 

In case you were worrying that you will soon look like a Middle Earther eco-activist in shapeless organic clothes, don’t fret. Trend experts at WGSN, say that a brand’s sustainable credentials alone are not enough to encourage shoppers to spend money: sustainable collections must stand up to core fashion collections in terms of design, quality, fit and fashion credibility.  

Thanks to Stella, Demna and Alessandro taking the lead, we can keep on looking good, while doing trying to do good. 

TOP SUSTAINABLE BRANDS

Luxury brands:* 

Stella McCartney
McCartney forged the way for many other designers. She is committed to sustainability and supports research into new materials and ecological processes.

Alexander McQueen
Part of the Kering group, Alexander McQueen benefits from the group’s commitments to sustainable and ethical practices.

Gucci
With one of the most exciting and relevant creative directors Alessandro Michelle setting and creating trends for Gucci, it’s no surprise that this brand is one of those leading the pack. 

Balenciaga
Already a Demna Gvasalia fan? Well there is more reason to respect the creative director. Balenciaga is “committed to releasing collections that reflect its engagement for a better world and a sustainable future.” 

Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent has a programme to reduce the environmental impacts of its stores. 

Burberry
Burberry has detailed policies to guide the company on anti-bribery and corruption, transparency in the supply chain, modern slavery, ethical trading, human rights and responsible sourcing. 

Louis Vuitton
An in-house carbon fund has been increased to 30 euros for every tonne of CO2 emissions LMVH companies generate.

Mass retail brands:

H&M
This Scandi brand has implemented several policy measures to reduce the climate emissions of its operations and the supply change. For a fast fashion brand, it is trying hard. But can, and will it, slow fashion down? 

Local brands:

The Joinery 
The Cape Town-based, sustainable, ethical fashion and lifestyle brand strives for a high-end design aesthetic. Nicole Cooper, trend forecaster, says despite the difficult manufacturing and sourcing environment, The Joinery has been “actively altering the landscape since 2012”.  

Jota-KenaJota-Kena produces handcrafted items with “love and care”.  Natural fabrics are sourced sustainably and the small company is committed to “incorporating better practices throughout our supply chain”. 

Jane Sews 
All items are made from natural fabrics and designed in-house by a small team of makers. 

*These luxury brands have been listed on Rank a Brand, one of Europe’s largest brand-comparison sites on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. 

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