Can luxury fashion be sustainable?

The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is considered as the second most polluting industry (just after the oil industry) accounting for up to 10% of global carbon emissions and producing 20% of the world’s waste water through textile dyeing and other treatments (UN data). To grow the necessary cotton for one pair of jeans you need about 7500 liters of water.  It is widely believed that fast fashion is the main cause for these disastrous numbers – however, luxury fashion is definitely not doing enough. Just to give one example, in 2018 Burberry reported to have burnt 37 millions U.S dollars worth of unsold luxury goods, including clothes and accessories to prevent them from being stolen or sold off cheaply.

With Millennials and Gen Z representing 85% of global luxury sales growth, things are starting to change. Younger generations are indeed more conscious of the environmental and social impact of their actions and prefer to buy from brands which respect their personal values. So what are luxury brands doing to evolve and keep up with a new sustainable luxury?

Luxury group Kering, which owns brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta has created a new position in the board hiring a CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) who is in charge of helping sustainability and innovation departments effectively align commercial goals and sustainable practices. Another positive example is represented by Chanel who in 2020 became carbon neutral and joined the Fashion Pact, a global coalition of 60 + companies operating in the fashion and textile industry who are committed to sharing key environmental goals in three different areas: climate change, biodiversity and ocean protection.

Another key issue is related to fashion shows which are synonymous with waste. On this matter, Burberry and Gucci have claimed to put on carbon neutral shoes whilst other brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton have created sets from recycled materials. However,  fashion shows are still a recurrent target for climate activists. Just three weeks ago during Louis Vuitton’s runway show for the Paris fashion week, a climate protester invaded the show holding a white banner with the words “overconsumption=extinction.”

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