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Devon Rojas

SOC101H
Professor Ha
12.15.15

Sustainable Luxury: Myth or Reality?

Introduction
With Earths 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 dont 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 its 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 its 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 todays 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 worlds 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
Brands
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 consumers
immediate desire to own the latest and greatest but much of the time, this production
isnt carried out in a sustainable way. The consumption isnt even sustainable, with
billions of tons of clothing waste accumulating each year. Whats 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 Mauers 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 lessaffluent 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 customers 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 shouldve 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 didnt receive any entries from people ages 60 and up.
Although most of the participants were in the younger generations, Im 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 wasnt produced in a sustainable way. A main concern of mine and Im 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; its 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 Kerings 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 Groups 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. Whats 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 dont 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
PVC-free
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 Churchs, 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 Groups endeavors, and from the outset
these have been allied with our commitment to civil societys 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 theyre doing it.
All of these sustainable ventures showed me that there are definitely plenty of luxury
brands embracing sustainability, there just isnt 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
Burberrys 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 wont 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 wouldve 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://


www.burberryplc.com/corporate_responsibility/environmental_responsibility

Jackson, J. (2014, October 6). Environmental Leader. Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://
www.environmentalleader.com/2014/10/06/assessing-the-environmental-impact-of-the-fashionworld/

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
www.europeanbusinessreview.com

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 http://www.thefashionspot.com/
runway-news/376851-high-end-designer-labels-ethical-fashion/

OUR COMMITMENT - Stella McCartney. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://
www.stellamccartney.com/experience/us/sustainability/our-commitment/

Sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://www.kering.com/en/


sustainability

Top 10 Green Companies in the World. (2014, June 4). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from
http://www.newsweek.com/green/top-10-green-companies-world