Where Luxury and Sustainability Meet

31 Oct 2011|Added Value

Leslie Pascaud (Added Value’s sustainable marketing practice) and Melanie Skotadis (Added Value’s prestige brands practice) ask what shifting value systems, brought on by the global recession, mean for the luxury industry.  

The age of ostentation nominally ended when Chanel boss Karl Lagerfeld announced in 2009 that “bling is dead” and called for “a new modesty”. The global financial crisis and the recession which followed, brought with them a rejection of excess, replaced by concerns for the environment and a new view on waste.

This new value system has caused luxury brands to review their marketing and manufacturing strategies. Some brands have begun to look more carefully at their supply chain to ensure products are ethically sourced. In an era where consumers increasingly ask questions and demand transparency, certain brands have attempted to launch marketing campaigns with explicit references to ethical issues and sustainability.

Many of these campaigns have flopped, particularly when they made the people buying these brands feel guilty about their wealth and their purchases.

As recession caused luxury brands to reassess strategies, it also brought a change to luxury consumers’ buying patterns – a shift from conspicuous to more considered consumption. Luxury purchasers weren’t spending less per se, but were buying fewer, less disposable items. They were looking for more enduring value, something which would last for more than a season.

These changes have meant that some companies have been able to build their own ethical beliefs into brand and business, and turn this to their advantage.

Many luxury brands are still associated with conspicuous consumption and mass production, where sustainable messaging can seem incongruous. Thus telling a sustainable story isn’t right for everyone.  However, there are elements that can serve as natural links between luxury brands and sustainable practices.

One of these is craftsmanship. Customers are beginning to recognise the value of high-quality workmanship by artisans as opposed to mass-produced, factory-manufactured items sold in large volumes. Another link is the use of luxurious, natural fabrics rather than synthetic materials. Then there is durability. Timeless products can be aspirational and certain brands have been using this argument for decades to promote their products. Products which last from one generation to the next fall naturally into the sustainable luxury product arena.

Brands with these credentials don’t necessarily need to frame them in a sustainable light. But consumers are increasingly making the link on their own. People want proof of how products are manufactured, who has made them, and under what conditions they are made. They expect transparency and trust brands that make it clear they have nothing to hide.

The sustainable claim does not necessarily justify a higher price. People already pay a premium for luxury brands and expect this ethical good behaviour and sustainable sourcing without having to pay more.

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To contact either Leslie or Melanie, contact info [at] added-value [dot] com
A version of this article was originally written for the Financial Mail’s AdFocus, South Africa

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