Luxury brands take a more thoughtful approach to business—from sustainable practices to upcycling programs to conscious consumption and beyond.
For fall/winter 2020, Stella McCartney distinguished itself once again with eco-efficient performance fabrics, buttery soft faux leathers, biodegradable stretch denim and bio-based recyclable faux fur.
The ever-changing tides of 2020 have had an effect on nearly every business imaginable—no one, including the fashion industry, has been immune. What has risen to the surface is a softer, more thoughtful approach to all things sartorial from some of the biggest luxury houses on the market. Whether it’s a commitment to more sustainable practices or responsible actions in the age of a pandemic, brands are making a statement.
No brand has led the sustainable charge with more gusto than Stella McCartney, whose “ethical and modern company” believes it is “responsible for the resources it
uses and the impact it has on the environment.”
To wit, her fall collections bring with them two new materials. For pre-fall 2020, McCartney launched Koba fur-free fur, the world’s first bio-based and recyclable faux fur created from Sorona. Meanwhile, the autumn 2020 collection introduced the first biodegradable stretch denim made from plant-based yarns, a collaboration with Italian manufacturer Candiani. These launches prove once again the undeniable, increasing relevance of eco-friendly fashion.
Last March, Chanel announced Mission 1.5°, its four-pronged commitment to fighting climate change. “The climate crisis represents the biggest issue of our age and demands urgent action to reduce negative environmental impacts and drive broader change,” says Chief Sustainability Officer Andrea d’Avack. Among the tenets are the reduction of Chanel’s carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 and its supply chain emissions by 40% per unit sold by 2030, as compared to 2018. The company has also pledged to focus on responsible sourcing and production of raw materials while simultaneously reexamining how it designs, manufacturers, moves and distributes goods.
Whether a new build or renovation, Chanel boutiques are now held to the highest environmental standards: 65 are currently LEED certified, with more than 40 on their way. The house will also transition to 100% renewable electricity in its operations by 2025, will finance climate-change adaptation for communities and landscapes in need of assistance, and will invest in related scientific research.
A longtime feeling of responsibility for the world’s sustainable beauty makes Brunello Cucinelli one of fashion’s most progressive proponents of ethical sourcing and manufacturing clothes that are meant to last. Both the land the designer, seen here with his family, uses and the people he employs are valued: Cucinelli instituted farm-to-table lunches in the company canteen and time limits on employee workdays.
Brunello Cucinelli has customized its approach to sustainability in ways that stay true to the brand’s ethos and are paramount to the founder, who was raised in Umbria, Italy. “I feel responsible for the beauty of the world,” says Cucinelli. “Surrounded by my beautiful Umbria, it has been an inspiration: The colors, smells, tastes, landscape and people in this region move my soul.” That devotion has grown into a company mantra, which relies not only on designing artisanal luxury products that last, but also into the treatment of the land where the brand is headquartered and the people who work there. “The company was founded on taking care of people and is rooted in humanistic sustainability,” says Cucinelli. “I feel responsible for the people who work for the company to not only have balance in their lives, but also a great quality of life.”
The designer’s latest actions prove he is indeed a man of his word, as he recently announced he would give—not sell—the surplus inventory in boutiques to organizations in need. The total amount of the donations will equal more than $34 million.
Rethink, reuse and find ways to encourage the next generation. These ideas are part of the Louis Vuitton (top) ethos and the philosophy at Alexander McQueen (bottom). Look for thoughtfully repurposed materials in everything from clothing to accessories to the runway itself.
Other high-end brands, including Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton, are also finding ways to rethink and reuse. At Alexander McQueen, surplus fabrics are donated to fashion universities in the U.K. so students can use them in their work. “The ethos at Alexander McQueen is that everything we use in researching and designing collections has always been archived and stored,” says Creative Director Sarah Burton. “We’ve never thrown anything away.”
Louis Vuitton, too, has found thoughtful ways to repurpose both its fabrics and show sets. Extra fabric is given a new life via the Be Mindful initiative, a capsule collection of excess textiles reinvented into fashion jewelry. Additionally, recent collections have creatively demonstrated ways in which upcycling can be accomplished, including new designs crafted from the overstock of past seasons.
“With time and education, the fashion community has taken drastic steps to reinvent our business wheel,” says celebrity stylist Jill Lincoln. “We still have a long way to go, but there are so many new and existing brands that are dedicated to making permanent changes.”
A vintage photo of the late Bijan Pakzad with his daugther, Alexandra, and his wife, Tracy,
The self-proclaimed world’s most expensive men’s store, Bijan, may be known for being appointment-only, but the brand showed its softer side almost immediately when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Founded in 1976 by the late Iranian immigrant Bijan Pakzad, the label gave back to its Beverly Hills community by partnering with L.A.-based AcuShield this spring to order 10,000 face shields, which were directly donated to frontline workers. The effort was a conscious attempt to give back to the neighborhood Bijan has called home for more than 40 years. “We are living through a difficult and unprecedented time—not just in our country, but around the world,” says Nicolas Bijan, Pakzad’s son and the current vice chairman of House of Bijan. “We felt it was important to use our brand and platform to help those in need, as well as inspire others to do the same.”
Photography by: Louis Vuitton photo by Peter White/Getty Images; other photos courtesy of brands