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Devon Rojas


Professor Ha


Sustainable Luxury: Myth or Reality?

Introduction With Earth’s resources depleting more and more each year, and the population continually increasing, it is time to seriously think about embracing a sustainable attitude. Many people don’t think about it, but continuing in the mass consumptive lifestyle that most of us live in will eventually lead to our demise. A huge industry in mass-consumption is fashion. The fashion industry dominates a huge portion of the world today, with just about 24 million people employed globally. This number is down from 20 years ago, but production demands have skyrocketed. Fast-fashion has emerged and with new clothes arriving in stores week by week, and clothing waste has reached it’s highest point ever; 3.189 billion pounds of garments are thrown away each year, just in the U.S. alone. It is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind oil. The luxury fashion industry comprises some of that deterioration. This paper aims to discuss the luxury industry. Known for it’s lavish, over-the-top production, expensive prices, the luxury industry faces harsh criticism for being neglectful to the future of our earth. How can we fix this? By developing completely sustainable luxury brands. Is it possible? Are these kinds of brands the key to introducing sustainable social, ethical, and environmental change on a major scale in society? In this research, I ask consumers about their opinion of sustainability and luxury, both separate and as an entity, in order to asses the current development and opinion of a sustainable luxury industry. The growing attention to sustainability has caused wealthy and less-affluent consumers alike to become more critical of production methods when purchasing from the luxury industry, placing a social pressure of sustainability on the industry, and therefore requiring luxury producers to pay more attention to sustainable efforts.

Literature Review Scholarly Article 1: All that Glitters is not Green: The Challenge of Sustainable Luxury This article works to analyze the relationship between sustainable development and luxury. In today’s world, the definition of luxury has become strewn and luxury strategies are being combined with fashion or premium strategies; there are brands out there that advertise themselves as luxury but do not actually satisfy the definition because of mass-production and the importance placed on quantity over quality, rarity, and excellence. “Real luxury is not aimed at cost reduction but at the creation of value, through rare and unique singularities”. Durability is at the heart of both luxury and sustainability and the delocalization of many companies has thrown them outside of the exclusive circle of luxury because they seek efficiency on labor costs through sweatshops in China and through mass-production. The high visibility of the luxury sector imparts a significant responsibility for creating sustainable luxury brands. Luxury is at the top of socioeconomic inequality and social tension and encourages the middle-class to pair towards a rich, lavish lifestyle and depart from rational purchasing towards aspirational consumer buying. There is a misconstrued idea that luxury is the most environmental impacting sector when it is really the mass-consumptive society that takes up most of the world’s resources. Because of the grandiose irrationality of luxury, the sector comes under significant scrutiny. However, many of the luxury groups have already embraced a sustainable goal, although most of it goes unpublicized. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the high-profile luxury consumers to bring visibility to brands embracing sustainability, as endorsing unsustainable brands has a large impact on their reputation. “The rich of tomorrow by their conspicuous choice of luxury brands will demonstrate not only their taste and wealth but their sense of discernment and altruism”. It is these lifestyle choices that will shape the sustainable future of society.

Scholarly Article 2: Conspicuous Conservation: Using Semiotics to Understand Sustainable Luxury

The luxury sector is under fire for poor commitment to social welfare, even though many luxury corporations have embraced a sustainable business model. Luxury and sustainability are seen as an oxymoron, and so the strategic challenge for luxury brands becomes one of engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility without losing brand authenticity as well as avoiding the customer perception that they are simply greenwashing. The use of semiotics in luxury “provides an interpretative model for the understanding of consumers’ meaning on sustainable luxury.” Logos of luxury brands are the indicator of status and taste. Consumers that place no importance on those two values prefer discreet or silent logos while loud logos portray status and trendiness but also superficiality and conspicuousness in the eyes of others. Because of this, many luxury retailers have chosen to develop more toned down logos. The presence of animals of some luxury logos is used as a stage for environmental groups to suggest forms of exploitation. However, some brands use animal logos as a way to get private investment to put towards the protection of various endangered species. Several subjects were used to analyze the effects of various luxury brand logos. In speaking in terms of sustainable luxury, most subjects held a strong belief in that paying a premium for a quality product that would last for decades was justifiable. For instance, buy a Cartier watch that would be passed down from generation to generation, a Louis Vuitton luggage case that could endure the elements but still receive repair and treatment 20 years from now and last another 20. It is somewhat in this sense that affluent consumers view brands as being sustainable. All unanimously agreed that a sustainable brand would satisfy the criteria of reducing, protecting, economizing, respecting, and giving back. Scholarly Article 3: Is Green the New Black? Sustainable Luxury: Challenge of Strategic Opportunity for the Luxury Sector

In a world affected by climate change, society is embracing now more than ever, a sustainable lifestyle and societal approach. In luxury, consumers expect excellence

from a product that is also “green”. The most recent generation is the most critical of this factor. However, it is hard for consumers to discern this information due to the lack of transparency of luxury brands on sustainability. The approach of sustainability is categorized into four parts: sustainability through conviction, sustainability as a business model, sustainability by nature, and sustainability as risk management. Luxury and sustainability share core values such as excellence, transmission, quality, heritage, and craftsmanship. The time for luxury corporations to fully embrace sustainability is now; demand is at its highest by both the people and the planet and the reputation of luxury brands is on the line. Scholarly Article 4: Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury


Fast-fashion is a huge sector of the fashion industry. Consisting of low-cost clothing collections that mimic luxury brand trends. This helps satisfy the consumer’s immediate desire to own the latest and greatest but much of the time, this production isn’t carried out in a sustainable way. The consumption isn’t even sustainable, with billions of tons of clothing waste accumulating each year. What’s strange is that consumers who are concerned for the environment still play into this market yet see no contradiction of their actions. This article went in depth on analyzing the possibility for development of values both in quality and sustainability. If so, the researchers believe that actual luxury brands are the key to uniting the fashion industry and sustainability. Scholarly Article 5: The Value of Sustainable Luxury in Mature Markets

The article explain exploratory research on the value of sustainable luxury throughout various “mature” cultures. They found that sustainable luxury consisted of three values: socio-cultural values, eco-centered values, and ego-centered values. Through their research, the went into depth on those three values. Socio-cultural values consisted of conspicuousness and a sense of belonging as well as national identity. Ego-centered values consisted of guilt-free pleasures, health and youthfulness, hedonism, and durable quality. Finally, eco-centered values encompassed not doing

harm and doing good. Many luxury brands now embrace a sustainable luxury model and those that do are perceived better by consumers, especially the wealthy. The difference lies in whether or not the brand is “making luxury” or “showing luxury” the latter which warrants suspicion of sustainable claims made by that company. The researchers also analyzed the different views that cultures have on sustainability.

Methodology I conducted a survey as my primary research method. In order to assess my hypothesis I distributed two electronic questionnaires through SurveyMonkey to participants surveying their consumption and opinion of luxury goods, their demographic, whether or not they place sustainability as a high priority factor when purchasing, and what they view as “sustainable” within any particular luxury brand or any brand for that matter. My goal poll size was 200 people, but was later reduced to 30. I based my survey questions on Mauer’s Master Thesis on Sustainable Luxury. I measured luxury good possession, thought processes in purchasing goods, and what the participant considers “luxury”; I told participants to use their own definition of luxury when answering the questions. My hope was to obtain data for both affluent and less- affluent individuals in order to have a valid data set to compare. I collected data from peers at MiraCosta College and within my own friend group. Once the data was compiled, I looked for any relationships between sustainable luxury opinions and income levels, education, and location. Aside from researching and surveying I examined many high-profile brands considered luxurious in their efforts to become a more sustainable brand. Brands such as Burberry, which had a Bloody Burberry campaign pitted against them for animal abuse by PETA, Kering Group, Hermes, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Prada, and Stella McCartney were analyzed. I also consulted the various websites of these companies as well as online articles of sustainability, luxury, or both. Through these research methods, I analyzed the motives for luxury companies to embrace sustainable business models, their participation in sustainable ventures, and the factors that influence the sustainable development within luxury brands. These were used alongside the data

collected of customer’s opinion on sustainability. I then drew conclusions about the current influence of sustainability in society.

Results and Discussion I collected data from 31 people. 30 people answered my first questionnaire, and 31 answered the second. It should’ve been an even number, but since there were two different surveys someone most likely forgot to take one. My participants were 71% female and 29% male. 39% were under 20 years old, 45% were ages 20-29, 3% were ages 30-39, 6.5% were ages 40-49 and 6.5% were ages 50-59; I didn’t receive any entries from people ages 60 and up. Although most of the participants were in the younger generations, I’m happy I received data from at least a few older adults. 84% of the participants said they spent between $0 and $1000 on luxury goods annually and 16% said they spent between $1000 and $10,000 annually. This showed me that my survey group consisted of mostly lower-middle to upper-middle class, there were no exorbitant 1%’ers in my survey group. Since my research was based on the luxury industry, my results may be less significant as ones received from wealthier individuals, but I think these results give a better insight into the actual opinion of sustainability since my survey group proportionally represents a larger population of the United States than the wealthier class does, and it is this group that should be most concerned with sustainability. From my survey, 87% said that they were at least somewhat concerned with sustainability in general and 90% said that sustainability in the luxury industry is important. However, only 32% believe that luxury and sustainability went hand in hand. This led me to think that there is some sort of misinterpretation or knowledge gap on the topic of sustainability with the participants. 81% did indicate that they would appreciate more information about sustainable efforts from a company when purchasing luxury goods. From my results it can be concluded that both younger and older generations alike favor sustainability today. I was surprised that every age group was concerned on some degree about our sustainable future, especially since it is assumed that the younger generation is the most socially conscious and critical. It is important to note, though, that I only received negative views towards concern for sustainability in the younger generation; the older generations (30 and up) all at least somewhat were concerned

about the topic of sustainability. Even so, 73% of the participants said they would still buy a luxury good that wasn’t produced in a sustainable way. A main concern of mine and I’m sure many others is the strong interest towards sustainable that many people have in the present time, but a lack of action taken with regard to that interest. This could be due to lack of knowledge of the current environmental status or simply confusion on how to take sustainable efforts up in everyday life. I also compiled data of various sustainable efforts employed by different luxury companies. The Kering Group, Prada Group, and Stella McCartney were three companies I chose to explore. Kering Group is one of the largest players in the luxury industry; it’s revenue was around $11 billion last year. It was also rated #4 by Newsweek for being one of the greenest companies in the world. On Kering’s Sustainability page, under Commitment, is the following:

“Kering empowers an ensemble of brands to reach their full growth potential in the most imaginative and sustainable manner. The same vision that drives the Group’s business strategy drives our commitment to environmental and social sustainability. We are propelling our brands to lead with new business models that contribute to a better world economically, socially and environmentally.” They further elaborate on their definition of sustainability equating to quality as well. What’s funny, however, is that these extensive efforts towards sustainability are most likely completely unknown to the general public, especially when they see brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, and Saint Laurent and don’t automatically associate the idea of sustainability with them. Most of the time, luxury brands are seen as wasteful and excessive because of the general superficially constructed ideas of them through the media or other experiences however, these brands are the ones more often than not embracing the most environmentally and socially sustainable practices. Kering Group has outlined sustainability targets to hit by 2016 to further improve their sustainable business model. They are:

Evaluating suppliers

Improving efficiency


Eliminating hazardous chemicals

Sustainably sourced gold and diamonds

Sustainably sourced leather

Sustainably and humanely sourced precious skins and furs

Sustainable packaging and paper

The Prada Group, consisting of Prada, Miu-Miu, and Church’s, has also embraced a similar approach. Their Corporate Responsibility page begins, “Our quest for excellence and our passion for beauty provide the foundation for all the PRADA Group’s endeavors, and from the outset these have been allied with our commitment to civil society’s fundamental values: respect for the environment and observance of ethical principles. Our determination to pursue these objectives is expressed in our corporate culture, in our relations both with institutions and with our partners all along the chain of production, and in the cultural projects we undertake for the benefit of the community in every place where our Group has a presence.” It is increasingly important for luxury brands and non-luxury brands to embrace a sustainable perspective. Reputation is a huge factor in company success and sustainability has emerged as an influencing force in affecting reputation. Those brands that fail to keep up with the quickly increasing demand for sustainability risk losing their reputation and ultimately the future of the business. This spike in attention to sustainability has become more visible in more recent years, especially now that more and more people are beginning to realize that resources are significantly decreasing due to both a high demand and failure to ensure future replenishment of those resources, as well as increasing transparency of social treatment in the fashion industry wholly. Profit continues to triumph over quality and leads to over-priced luxury goods being sold to consumers, even as those goods are being produced in the same factories that are also employed by mass-market producers. Is it possible to produce fashionable and ethical clothing? Stella McCartney, a fashion house under the Kering Group, is a prime example of eco-fashion, although Stella McCartney refuses to be solely acknowledged as such. A vegetarian company, Stella McCartney aims to create fashionable eco-friendly clothing, and they’re doing it. All of these sustainable ventures showed me that there are definitely plenty of luxury brands embracing sustainability, there just isn’t a lot of publicity about it. However, there are plenty of luxury brands that have yet to fully embrace sustainability. Burberry, an English brand, was another luxury company I researched and I found that they had just started working towards

environmental and social improvements, beginning in 2012. No surprise, as there is an ongoing campaign against Burberry, rightfully named Bloody Burberry, which criticizes the production of Burberry’s furs and skins, bringing to light animal cruelty methods used to obtain these materials. It is campaigns like these that help bring social change to the world, and help create a more sustainable Earth for us to inhabit.

Conclusion Without social pressure, luxury companies won’t change. It is up to the consumer to take action and demand change from not only the luxury industry but every industry on a global scale. With the high visibility of sustainability now, it is at the forefront of society. Those that refuse to embrace sustainable ventures will face the consequences of a societal shunning. It is the perfect time to jump on the sustainable bandwagon, and turn our focus onto maximizing the social responsibility, economic efficiency, and environmental preservation we have as a human race. Improvements could definitely be made in this paper. More thorough research that examines each and every value of consumers in shopping the luxury industry as well as the values of sustainability, especially in the luxury industry. A larger survey group would’ve been more insightful as well, and one that was spread diversely across age groups. Deeper analysis and exploration into each luxury corporation would have been extremely informative, but the scope of this article could not accommodate such information. There is certainly room for expansion on this topic of research and hopefully over time, there will be a visible shift into a completely sustainable approach in luxury brands. There are many facets of the industry to explore and they must be continually explored, as the values of generations are constantly changing and new ones are being created, too. Without research like this and others presented in the literature review, transparency of huge luxury companies is limited and the public is left in the dark when wondering about the progress of sustainability within luxury.

Works Cited

Cervellon, M., & Shammas, L. (2013). The Value of Sustainable Luxury in Mature Markets: A Customer-Based Approach. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 90-101.

Cervellon, M. (2012). Conspicuous conservation: Using semiotics to understand sustainable luxury. International Journal of Market Research Int. J. Market Res., 55(5), 695-717. doi:10.2501

Environmental Responsibility. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://

Joy, A., Sherry, J., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J., & Chan, R. (2012). Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 16(3), 273-296. doi:10.2752/175174112X13340749707123

Kapferer, J. (2010). All that Glitters is not Green: The challenge of sustainable luxury. The European Business Review. Retrieved September 27, 2015, from

Mauer, E. (2014). Is Green the New Black? Sustainable Luxury: Challenge or Opportunity for the Luxury Sector. Master Thesis. Geneva School of Business Administration.

Works Cited Cont.

Mavrody, N. (2014, February 18). Why Haven't Big High-End Brands Embraced Ethical Fashion? - theFashionSpot. Retrieved December 15, 2015, from


OUR COMMITMENT - Stella McCartney. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://

Sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from sustainability

Top 10 Green Companies in the World. (2014, June 4). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from