Image: Stella McCartney
Luxury is not typically connected with sustainability; in fact, the two notions are considered as mutually incompatible. Luxury and sustainability looked to be diametrically opposed themes a decade ago. While luxury is associated with an extravagant, exclusive, and distinguished way of life, sustainability is associated with a modest way of living focused at minimizing, safeguarding, and respecting the planet’s scarce resources. As a result, in the luxury business, environmental considerations were frequently disregarded.
What we don’t realize is that sustainability is built into the DNA of luxury. Rarity in the luxury market is connected to the utilization of rare materials such as skins, leathers, and pearls, which rely on environmental sustainability in terms of natural resource preservation. On this premise, luxury is dependent on sustainability, and sustainability sees luxury as a potential ally.
Start-ups In Sustainability
Image: Stella McCartney
“It’s all about sustainable solutions,” designer Stella McCartney said in an Instagram video last weekend. The brand’s mission is to “replace the traditional, larger industries with these new, problem-solving, sustainable businesses.” Following the launch of a US$200 million climate-focused venture capital fund, it appears that fashion firms and executives alike still see promise in start-ups exploring sustainable solutions. The designer is presently collaborating with the investment business Collaborative Fund to support early-stage start-ups reinventing materials, ingredients, energy, and supply chain; he is also collaborating with leather-alternative makers Bolt Threads and kelp-yarn manufacturer AlgiKnit.
Image: Evolved by Nature
She isn’t the only one who took advantage of the situation. Even in the face of a bleak economic outlook, firms like Chanel and Adidas have taken steps to enter the sustainable IT field. Chanel acquired a minority share in a green chemistry startup that is researching ways silk might replace chemicals used in apparel manufacture in June 2019. Bolton-based Evolved by Nature has created a natural, silk-based alternative to the harsh and hazardous chemicals currently utilized in the production of many high-performance fabrics. The company’s technique enables it to achieve comparable results by manipulating liquid silk protein. Its revolutionary activated silk may prevent pilling in cashmere and improve the performance of nylon and polyester.
Kering, the French luxury conglomerate, followed suit, investing US$46 million in VitroLabs, a San Francisco-based lab-grown leather business. Kering’s investment in VitroLabs is the latest in a string of recent wagers aimed at promoting the group’s environmental aims. “A partner like this is a sign of approval, and we’re seeing an increasing number of businesses looking for solutions when it comes to leather and other alternative materials,” said VitroLabs co-founder and CEO Ingvar Helgason.
While many firms have concentrated on plant-based leather replacements such as mushrooms and grapes, VitroLabs employs stem cells to manufacture leather that is indistinguishable from the real thing without the need to breed and slaughter animals. This implies that the material may be integrated into the supply chains of fashion companies and craftspeople while avoiding the negative environmental effect and animal welfare concerns connected with cow ranching. Ralph Lauren acquired a minority position in Natural Fiber Welding, a material science start-up focusing on increasing the quality of recycled cotton, in August 2022. Similarly, Adidas obtained exclusive access to Mylo, a mushroom-based leather substitute created by biomaterials company BoltThreads.
The Future Of Luxury Fashion Sustainability
For many businesses, the current trend represents a departure from years of experimental programs that, although extremely marketable, did not necessitate large financial investments and did not significantly move the needle. However, considerable hurdles to industrial transformation remain. In comparison to the magnitude of the problem, the amount of cash going into sustainable fashion start-ups remains minimal. According to publicly accessible statistics on investment tracker Crunchbase, the fundraising rounds in which premium fashion businesses participate seldom exceed US$10 million.
However, according to a January 2020 analysis by Boston Consulting Group, restructuring the business to meet ambitious climate objectives will need yearly expenditures ranging from $20 billion to $30 billion. The good news is that venture capital firms, impact investors, and, most significantly, huge fashion companies are all interested. There are also significant tailwinds driving increased interest in the field, such as the maturity and commercialization of recycling technology and leather substitutes, as well as political shifts, like as the recent legislative support for climate action in the United States.
To be fair, the fashion industry‘s investments in sustainable innovation are in their early stages, but there are encouraging indicators of a larger trend. While exclusive access to emerging technologies or novel materials with restricted availability might potentially provide businesses with a competitive advantage, there is a growing recognition that one company cannot do it alone. Brands are collaborating more closely with manufacturers in order to integrate new technologies into the supply chain, indicating the possibility for greater collaboration.
For example, when Fashion for Good — a platform aimed at driving the collective movement toward ecologically sustainable solutions — was established four years ago, it had a small number of business partners. Manufacturers are now among its collaborators. “We realized how vital it was to have those upstream suppliers at the same table,” said Brittany Burns, Fashion for Good’s head of strategy and development. “We believed it was critical to establish these chances for concept cross-pollination as well as co-development throughout the whole fashion sector.”