March 7, 2023
5 min read

Could sustainability be the future of luxury?

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Is the Eco-Age the dawn or death of luxury?

The notion that luxury is anything near sustainable is far from consumers' minds. In fact, a recent survey found consumers put the luxury industry last in a ranking of industries associated with sustainable commitments, scoring lower than the financial and petrol sectors.

After all, when it comes to 'luxury' we tend to think of excessive consumerism, disposable income, and guilty pleasures. Despite this observation, an interesting thing is happening: Millennials and Generation Z consumers are driving 85% of global luxury sales growth.

As a millennial, and observer of market evolution, Millenials are more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of their purchase decisions and are more likely to buy from a brand that resonates with their own personal values. Rising interest in sustainability necessitates that luxury brands align with customer values

Supporting studies show that 73% of Millennial respondents were willing to spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable or socially conscious brand. High-end brands that want to retain their status in the luxury market need to evolve to keep up with this growing trend towards ethical and sustainable luxury.

“We feel [sustainability] is imperative for the industry as a whole and something that all companies have a responsibility to address.”

So, are luxury and sustainability two opposing concepts incapable of convergence?

At first glance, perhaps yes. After all, the word luxury derives from the Latin word ‘luxus’ and conjures up images of ‘pomp, excess and debauchery.” Whereas sustainability invites us to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

So should the luxury industry admit defeat and ignore sustainability? No: with a closer look, we see that luxury and sustainability are one and the same:

  • The growing impact sustainability is having on the industry cannot be ignored.
  • The globalization of luxury has led to greater environmental and biodiversity impacts.
  • Outsourcing to developing countries has brought to light abusive employment policies and working conditions.
  • The health impact of toxic residues present in many textiles, foods, and cosmetics is increasingly an issue of concern for consumers.
  • And in certain markets, luxury is perceived as a threat to social cohesion. The Chinese government restricts communication around certain luxury brands as they are seen as ‘a a provocation’ to the poor.

"By reinforcing the fundamental values of luxury, sustainability can distinguish its difference vs more ‘common’ premium brands"

Overlapping DNA

We recently ran a qualitative study across three continents to uncover the seven fundamental values of luxury. Of these, three values overlap with sustainable principles:

  • Timelessness: luxury isn’t trendy. It is, by its nature, durable and long-lasting.
  • Uniqueness: the ultimate luxury is one of a kind. Tailor-made products that allow the owner to resemble no one else and that show an appreciation and respect for craftsmanship.
  • Soul: luxury is a vector for emotion; products are charged with meaning, heritage, and story.