How Luxury Fashion Can Seize Its Sustainability Opportunity

Black and white headshot of Amina Razvi
Amina Razvi
February 28, 2023

This month has been host to New York, London and Milan Fashion Weeks, in which the luxury clothing industry has put on a series of exciting shows with their latest collections.

Fashion weeks, in all their brilliance and ostentation, might not appear to sit comfortably alongside the cleaner, greener, and fairer future our industry should be striving towards. However, the luxury industry has the power and responsibility to shift mindsets, be creative, and do something different.

We need radical transformation more than ever

We can no longer act as if change isn’t coming when it’s already here. Policymakers around the world are moving towards legislation on sustainability across the consumer goods sector. Consumers themselves are demanding change, with most early adopters already preferring ethical brands that show their willingness to protect both people and the planet.

One thing is certain, the systems we’ve built for ourselves won’t stay as they are. We are facing a climate emergency and we need radical transformation. We must see this as a profound opportunity to not only change how we do things, but also the mindsets behind what we do. At its best, the fashion industry offers limitless possibilities. And those with the most power have the greatest potential to innovate. This is a chance for genuine and daring originality, an opportunity to reinvent our industry not just rehash old trends.

Luxury can use its position in the market to do something extraordinary

Luxury brands have the best kind of business models for trailblazing innovation. Given their position in the market, luxury brands have an important opportunity to lead the entire apparel and footwear industry on sustainability action. Brands, and particularly luxury brands, have it in their power to do more to address the large footprint of our industry.

Larger luxury organizations tend to have high profit margins. They also make fewer products than high street brands and retailers, and their supply chains tend to be smaller. What’s more, their relationships with suppliers are often more strategic. Their capacity to input ideas, co-create solutions with partners and inspire new ways of working is unequaled. Most luxury fashion houses are packed full of world-leading creative talent. In this moment of change, they have the capability and resources to do something extraordinary.

There are plenty of trailblazers. For example, Stella McCartney uses cutting-edge materials to reduce the impacts of their garments. However, many luxury fashion houses aren’t yet living up to their full potential and are not on track to meet upcoming legislative requirements or industry targets.

Seizing the moment for creativity 

Sustainability also offers a unique opportunity to tell new and compelling stories around craftsmanship and de-industrialization. Luxury brands have greater capacity to embrace handcrafting. They can partner with artisans to create beautiful garments that also happen to be produced in an environmentally-sound and socially-just way. We know this is possible and some brands are already embracing this. For example, luxury brand Chloé introduced the Chloé Craft initiative, which includes products handcrafted by independent artisans, such as a multicolored sleeveless dress in recycled hand-crocheted cashmere. But this must be embedded in a company’s ethos otherwise it risks being just another capsule collection that does little to move the industry forward.

Another option could be nearshoring their production facilities which could not only reduce their carbon footprint, but also help stabilize supply chains in a difficult geopolitical and economic context. Provided this transition takes into account the implications of these decisions, leaving no one, particularly garment workers, behind, it could help to mitigate risk in a rapidly changing world.

Let’s take up the challenge, together

Only together can the clothing and footwear sector address the systemic challenges of human rights and climate change. Collective action is essential, and luxury brands are perfectly placed to be leading from the front.

At the SAC, we would love to collaborate with more luxury fashion companies and help them realize their creative vision for enhancing the way they operate. Now’s the time for luxury to lead from a position of power and influence by cutting emissions, phasing out pollution, becoming transparent around their supply chains, and demanding fair pay and good conditions for all workers. Using scientifically rigorous data, we can help organizations to invest in areas which have the most impact and set an example of best practice for the entire industry.

The clock is ticking. The science is clear. We need everyone to step up to their responsibilities and seize their opportunities. For luxury fashion brands, this means taking a leadership role in creating a reimagined industry that leaves the world a better place.  So how about we trade fashion weeks for a sustainability week? With all the luxury players coming together in a non-competitive space to outline clear action and progress made on reducing their environmental impacts and protecting the people they rely so heavily on. We’re here and ready to help, in any way we can.