One of the biggest challenges facing the luxury brand market is meeting the challenge of true sustainability.
Luxe brands are, by their very nature, ‘extra’. They’re for people who want to spend on non-essentials. They’re for consumers with money and time, and traditionally, this doesn’t necessarily go with the move towards green credentials.
But with the threat of climate change, the goalposts have changed. Non-luxury brands have been reacting to this for a couple of decades, but how do luxury products and brands do the same without compromising on what makes them special?
Why luxury brands must balance sustainability
The tide has been shifting towards ethical values for years, of course. But it’s probably only over the last five or so that luxury brands have been fundamentally changing. From their manufacturing to their sources, and from their positioning to their product, it’s time for luxury to go green across the board.
A pre-pandemic Accenture survey shows that 62% of consumers are drawn towards brands with ethical values. We can theorise, with some accuracy, that this will have increased after two and half years of global pandemic.
COVID-19 shocked much of the world, and particularly perhaps the developed economies that take a certain stability for granted. As the economic fallout continues to permeate around the world, and as the virus continues to mutate, goods and services must adapt.
Consumers are collectively demanding that brands do better. And while some may point towards luxury brands as problematic self-indulgence, more are now concerned with their impact on the environment.
Difference in the luxury market’s approach
The non-luxury market response to these changes has been in improving the company’s ethical position. This could be through ensuring that labour practices are fair, a living wage is paid and materials are organic or recycled.
But this doesn’t necessarily work in the same way for luxury brands.
Greenwashing is always a problem, with consumers at all levels ready to scrutinise a marketer’s claims with the reality before them.
According to Harvard Business Review, there have also been studies that show consumers can be turned off by luxury brands that shout about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) drives. So, what can they do?
Reacting to and pre-empting further changes in consumer expectations
Consumers respond to authenticity above all. And this is what luxury brands should be fostering, at least according to Giorgio Armani.
By shifting away from classic marketing in order to shift consumer’s perceptions of the ethics of the brand, authenticity is revealed.
Linking to their origins is a start, retaining artisanal processes, handcrafted products are also key. But it’s also about creating beauty through ethics – this is what ensure the consumer comes away with a personal connection.
So, retaining tradition through a prism of sustainable ethics will go along way to repositioning a luxury brand in 2022. Art, style, tradition and sustainability all have to come together in a real-world way. It must be immediately identifiable to the consumer as sustainable but recognisable. Curated and artistic but with real sustainability credentials.
Bvlgari’s Shanghai store shows what can be achieved
I think we can see all of this in Bvlgari’s Shanghai flagship store. At first glance, the glowing, jade green storefront links with everything we feel about Bvlgari as a luxury brand. On closer inspection, however, the jewel like frontage is made from recycled glass bottles.
Inspired by the original Bvlgari Rome store’s iconic Art Deco design, the architects and designers have managed to incorporate the sacredness of jade with sustainably sourced products and, above all, a beautiful product.
A mix of white, transparent and green champagne bottles were melted down and fashioned into panels to cover the exterior of the frontispiece. At night, a backlight enhances the glow and brings to mind the intended vision of a vast piece of luxury jade jewellery.
Designed and installed by contemporary ethical architects MVRDV, the store screams luxury with an ethical bent. The glass is recycled and treated at the specialist Magna factory in Germany. The store represents an important step towards Bvlgari and MVRDV’s goal of all store designs being built using only circular economy materials.
It also represents a visually stunning example of what can be achieved by the luxury sector. And it’s something we will continue to see more of over the coming years.