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Is sustainable luxury fashion possible?

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Can eco-sustainable fashion (i.e. fashion that is friendly to the environment during and after the production process) be also fashionable? While fashion is generally conceived as a process of recurrent change, eco-sustainable fashion implies fashion that lasts. This apparent contradiction in the definitions of fashion and eco-sustainability is most salient in the fashion industry’s luxury segments, where change itself is considered an element of luxury and thus upheld by consumers. This chapter unfolds the challenges and opportunities specifically faced by luxury fashion brands in pursuing the eco-sustainability agenda by taking a theory-informed, action-oriented approach towards the six core principles of fashion. In light of the principle-based investigation of how both consumers and producers can take advantage of each principle in favour of practising eco-sustainable fashion at the individual and brand levels, we suggest that the institutionalisation of eco-sustainability paradigms in luxury fashion can be realised without negating the core principles of fashion.
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Is sustainable luxury
fashion possible?
Frédéric Godart and Sorah Seong
INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France
Introduction
Since the 1980s there has been increasing awareness towards ethical fashion both
from the producer and the consumer sides, particularly with regards to ethical
sourcing and apparel production (Shen
et al.
2012). Ethical fashion, to use a defi-
nition suggested by Joergens (2006: 361), is 'fashionable clothes that incorporate
fair trade principles with sweatshop-free labour conditions while not harming the
environment or workers by using biodegradable and organic cotton'. Based on
the notion that ethical fashion can be achieved on both social and environmental
dimensions, we divide the concepts into two highly interrelated categories: Eco-
sustainable fashion and socially responsible fashion. This conceptual categorisa-
tion is in line with the so-called 3P (people—planet—profit) or triple bottom line
(TBL) approach (Elkington 1998). The TBL approach posits that a 'corporation's
ultimate success or health can and should be measured not just by the traditional
financial bottom line, but also by its social/ ethical and environmental perform-
ance' (Norman and MacDonald 2004: 243).
Eco-sustainable fashion engages in environment-related practices with the spe-
cific aim of reducing environmental damage during and after the production proc-
ess. One example of this is producing longer lasting products. On the other hand,
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible? 13
socially responsible fashion focuses on improving issues related to communities,
working conditions or salaries. It should be noted that, although eco-sustainable
and socially responsible fashion can be distinguished at the conceptual level, the
distinction is often tricky in practice. The sustainability effort is driven by, and aims
to achieve, the goal of benefiting both people and planet. Thus, while the focus of
this paper is on eco-sustainable luxury fashion, the discussion can also be relevant
to the social component of TBL.
Such mounting interest in ethical fashion is accompanied by the question of
whether eco-sustainable fashion is compatible with the very definition of fash-
ion. Fashion, in itself, can be a confusing term, as there are usually two mean-
ings attached to the word: fashion as change and fashion as dress (Kawamura
2011). In the empirical setting of the fashion industry, the distinction between
these two meanings is not very useful, as fashion can be defined as a process of
'recurrent change' (Aspers and Godart 2013) in dress. That fashion is 'a passing
trend, something transient and superficial' (Gardetti and Torres 2012: 7) involves
the unnecessary replacement of still useable fashion items, such as clothing and
fashion accessories. The renewal cycle for fast fashion collections can be less than
two weeks.
On the other hand, eco-sustainable fashion is the type of fashion that can last
long enough to reduce negative environmental externalities. In the industry's retail
markets, the introduction of fast fashion as a new business model has increased
the rate of premature product replacement and fashion outmodedness (Kozlowski
et al.
2012). Does this mean that fashion cannot stand hand in hand with the pur-
suit of sustainability? This incompatibility issue can be even more pronounced in
the fashion industry's luxury segments, where change is systematically driven and
maintained by bi-annual fashion seasons. While change can be slow at the bottom
of the 'fashion pyramid' (e.g. commodity and fashion basics) (Doeringer and Crean
2006), and probably slowed down in the mass market segments, slow change may
not work for the higher bound of the pyramid (i.e. haute couture and designer col-
lections), because the luxury identity of these segments is based on change. In the
next sections, we will examine the concept of luxury, and luxury fashion in particu-
lar, and discuss the specific sustainability opportunities and challenges faced by
the luxury fashion industry.
Luxury: what are we taiking about?
What is luxury? As pointed out by Kapferer and Bastien (2008), there is a lot of con-
fusion surrounding the definition of this concept. In standard economics, luxury
goods are defined 'as those whose income elasticity of demand is greater than one'
(Kemp 1998: 592) or, in other words, goods for which demand increases as income
rises. However, this definition does not give a fully satisfying answer to what defines
the core attributes of luxury goods, other than consumers' responses at different
14
Sustainabie Luxury
income levels. Outside the mainstream economic model, Veblen (1899) was one
of the first to undertake an analysis of luxury in the context of a comprehensive
theory of social class dynamics. With a renewed interest in the subject matter in
the 1990s, Allérès (1997) defined luxury by building a three-level hierarchy, each
representing a different degree of accessibility: 'inaccessible luxury', corresponding
to exclusive models (e.g. in fashion, haute couture); 'intermediary luxury', corre-
sponding to expensive replicas of individual models (e.g. specially tailored dresses
that are full or partial duplicates of haute couture models); and 'accessible luxury',
corresponding to products made in larger series (e.g. luxury brand's ready-to-wear
fines). Berry (1994: 24) undertook a philosophical approach towards the conceptu-
alisation of luxury based on the needs/wants distinction and, following Sombart
(1913), highlighted the idea that luxury is 'an expenditure that goes beyond what
is necessary'. There is no scholarly consensus regarding the definition of luxury to
date, but the complex nature of luxury has been discussed widely by scholars of
different disciplinary origins.
In
The Republic,
the Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 380 BCE) discusses luxury as
something that is scarce, highly desirable and indicative of individual social suc-
cess. He argues that its scarcity is the root cause for wars and conflicts, and there-
fore luxury should be banned. This first European theory of luxury set the tone for
subsequent debates on luxury and its intellectual development, at least within the
European philosophical tradition (Godart 2011). Luxury stems from the desires of
powerful, high status consumers who want to assert their status and power. These
consumers converge on scarce products or services to assert their Identity and, as
a result, scarcity becomes consubstantial to luxury. Due to its link with status and
power, luxury has often been at the centre of a moral debate. On the positive side,
we have scholars such as French philosopher Voltaire (1736) who sees luxury as a
source of Earthly joys and of economic development. On the negative side, phi-
losophers and moralists such as French philosopher Rousseau (1750-1755) con-
sider luxury morally reprehensible, not only because it causes conflicts over the
acquisition of scarce resources, such as gold (i.e. the Platonician argument), but
also because it is an activity that turns people away from engaging in more valuable
endeavours, such as studying philosophy or leading a moral political life.
From this negative perspective, luxury is seen as feeding itself on scarce resources
and continuously triggering or stirring conflicts. This particular view on luxury has
been popularised in movies such as
Blood Diamond
(Edward Zwick, 2006), which
triggered consumer awareness on where their jewellery cornes from, or the story
behind it. Consequently, luxury jewellery brands are now gearing the jewellery
industry in the direction of responsible practices, such as responsible sourcing of
gemstones and precious metals (Doyle and Bendell 2011). Luxury may not be 100%
exempt from the criticism that individuals' desire for luxury generates conflicts, as
our history has witnessed. However, as we can see from the cases of luxury jewel-
lery brands, there are numerous ways in which the luxury industry can bring posi-
tive changes to the process of luxury creation in the first place.
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible? 15
Furthermore, unlike commoditised markets, luxury can offer a unique opportu-
nity for creating sustainable business environments due to its two central features
that set it apart from other market segments or industries. First, luxury is (often-
times) characterised by craftsmanship based on unique skills. This allows luxury to
provide high quality and rewarding business conditions. Second, luxury is charac-
terised by its particular relationship with time, for its value is inscribed in the long
term. This allows luxury to offer a sustainable business model for resource manage-
ment and high quality product development, just to name a few relevant elements
of sustainable luxury.
When it comes to starting a conversation about the opportunities and challenges
of luxury industries' sustainability efforts, trying to narrow down definitions of luxury
may not be the most pragmatic approach. The reason is that luxury is a highly diver-
sified construct, and there is a lack of general consensus among scholars regarding
the definition of luxury. Rather than conceptualising luxury, Chevalier and Mazzalovo
(2008) start out by building different segments of luxury in order to define what luxury
really is. These segments include: exclusive ready-to-wear and fashion accessories;
luxury jewellery and watches; selective perfumes and cosmetics; some wines and
spirits; luxury automobiles; hotels; tourism; and private banking. Based on Cheva-
lier and Mazzalovo's segmentation of luxury, this chapter focuses on one specific seg-
ment: luxury fashion (that is to say, exclusive ready-to-wear and fashion accessories).
The relationship between luxury and fashion is quite an ambiguous one, as fash-
ion does not fully belong to the luxury world as it once did up until the turn of
the 19th century, but overlaps with luxury in its most expensive and exclusive seg-
ments. Both luxury and fashion share the common need for social differentiation,
but they differ in two major aspects: first, whereas luxury is timeless, fashion is
ephemeral (relationship to time); and, whereas luxury is for self-reward, fashion is
not (relationship to self) (Kapferer 2012). Thus, luxury fashion seems to be a con-
tradiction in terms—as luxury it is supposed to last, but as fashion it is supposed to
change frequently. However, since the essence of fashion is change, luxury fashion
gives exclusive access to enforced change. Luxury fashion is recurrent change at
its highest level, and it is distinguished from other luxury segments by its constant
pressure for change.
Luxury fashion: how is it different from
Iower-end fashion?
The centrality of waste and change
Several scholars have studied ways of representing the fashion industry as a col-
lection of different segments. A useful representation introduced by Doeringer and
Crean (2006) sees fashion as a pyramid: luxury fashion, such as haute couture and
16 Sustainable Luxury
designer collections, is placed at the top of the pyramid, while commodity and fash-
ion basics, such as socks and underwear, sit at the bottom. Luxury fashion goods
are produced by high status fashion houses, which organise bi-annual fashion
shows.
1
A limited number of fashion brands are able and allowed to display their
know-how and creativity at these fashion shows, which in turn maintains their high
status. Haute couture fashion shows are largely a remnant of a former era when
couturiers dominated the industry and catered to a wealthy clientele. Thus, such
shows now represent an important investment for the participating fashion houses
and are seen as a marketing expense by many. Today, luxury fashion is comprised
mostly of designer labels belonging to major international fashion and luxury busi-
ness groups, such as LVMH, Kering (formerly known as PPR) or Puig (Barkey and
Godart 2013).
In pursuing eco-sustainability, luxury fashion is faced with additional challenges
that do not necessarily exist in other luxury segments, such as luxury jewellery and
watches. In luxury fashion, change itself embodies a form of luxury. Unlike in other
luxury segments where products are made to last (e.g. luxury watches and cars),
luxury fashion serves the need of consumers to signal their luxury affiliation not
only by purchasing the 'right' luxury goods, but also by following constant changes
in fashion style driven by the industry's fashion cycles (e.g. spring/summer and
autumn/winter seasons). Status and power are asserted through consumers' ability
to discard products that are still useable, and this prompts, and maintains, recur-
rent change—a consubstantial element of the luxury fashion industry. This need
for change in luxury trumps its patrimonial dimension in which people purchase,
for example, jewellery or watches to make an investment as these products have a
long life on secondary markets. This is even more salient in dress where the market
for collectibles is not well developed (Crane 2012). In this sense, luxury fashion may
be one of the most formulaic examples of Veblen's (1899) conspicuous consump-
tion characterised by recurrent change and waste.
In sum, luxury fashion presents a specific challenge to the eco-sustainability
agenda. While it shares some of the challenges of the luxury industries in general,
such as how to manage scarce resources and conflicts, it is also subject to the con-
stant pressure for change inherent in the fashion industry. The cyclical mechanism
of fashion seasons shapes, and is shaped by, the luxury fashion segment's rigorous
adherence to stylistic evolution each season, triggering consumers to replace still
functional fashion goods with new goods that are more in une with the season's `in
fashion' style. Since luxury fashion consumers are most sensitive to such cyclical
changes in style, luxury fashion faces the problem of how to pursue eco-sustaina-
bility when it distinguishes itself from the lower segments of the fashion industry
by driving the mechanism of systematic, recurrent change.
1 More recently, many brands have introduced additional collections, but the main collec-
tions are still spring/summer and autumn/winter.
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible?
17
The conditions of sustainable luxury fashion
Some scholars have tried to tackle the sustainability challenges faced by mass
market fashion segments. For example, Kozlowski
et al.
(2012) elaborate on the
challenges of fast fashion, which is driven by the fierce international competi-
tive environment constantly pushing for rapid cycles and low costs, and which
results in negative environmental implications for both production and trans-
portation processes. The authors propose a life-cycle assessment (LCA) approach
that encompasses entire product value chains and suggests solutions for each
stage of the cycles. Now, our challenge is to adjust the existing sustainability
paradigms and to develop new ones that fit with the very nature of the luxury
fashion industry.
In order to tackle this challenge, it is important that we are aware of the eco-
sustainability challenges that are specific to firms in the fashion industry, and lux-
ury fashion in particular. It is equally, if not more, important to identify the types
of opportunities these fashion brands have, by virtue of operating in the fashion
industry, of adding eco-sustainable dimensions to their core business strategy.
As Porter and Kramer (2006) argue, firms should be able to identify opportunities
where they can pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR), not in generic ways
but in ways that are most appropriate for their business strategies. In this way, they
can effectively create values for both society and their own competitiveness. In the
next section, we take a look at six principles of fashion, as suggested by Godart
(2012), and the unique sustainability challenges and opportunities associated with
each principle, which we summarise in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1
Luxury fashion's limitations and opportunities
for sustainability
Limitations for
Opportunities for
Principle
sustainability
sustainability
1 Affirmation
Consumers' desire to assert
their individuality and social
affiliation by being 'in fashion',
which prompts regular changes
of clothes. This leads to, and is
reinforced by, inflated production
cycles
Institutionalising the practice of
sustainable fashion by changing
consumers' perception of buying
sustainable fashion items as a
socially accepted or 'in fashion'
practice
2 Convergence
Local styles converge with
dominant fashion design trends
that are formulated, updated
and disseminated by big fashion
capitals. These dominant designs
are not always compatible with
local climates
Increasing consumers' preference
for purchasing sustainable fashion
items (principle 1: affirmation) in
order to prompt the convergence
of producers around producing
sustainable fashion
18
Sustainable Luxury
Limitations for
Opportunities for
Principle
sustainability
sustainability
3 Autonomy
The fashion industry maintains
its autonomy when it cornes to
the choice of fashion styles and
designs. This autonomy makes
it difficult for third party actors to
push the sustainability agenda in
the production process
Encouraging actors within the
fashion industry to develop
aesthetically appealing designs
that are also high on the eco-
sustainability agenda
4 Personalisation Market audiences share their
belief in individual fashion
designers' creative autonomy. This
makes it difficult for third party
actors to push the sustainability
agenda in the production process
Encouraging each designer to use
his/her autonomous influence to
set a pro-sustainability trend and
let it spill over from the fashion
industry to other social spheres
5 Symbolisation
Fashion brands symbolise a power
engine behind a stylistic trend
change in the fashion industry.
This may not go hand-in-hand with
the notion of sustainability
Encouraging each fashion
brand to leverage on, and
reshape, its existing identity to
include a proactive message on
environmental issues
6 Imperialisation Business groups play a major role
in the industry. The sheer size and
power centrality of these business
groups can make adoption of
changes in favour of sustainability
difficult
Using the power of business
groups to influence individual
fashion brands and even other
luxury segments via ripple effects
to adopt and implement a large-
scale sustainability agenda
The principles of fashion
When thinking about the sustainability challenges and opportunities of luxury
fashion, we should not forget that the primary role of luxury fashion, and fashion in
general, is to bring beauty and creativity to the world through a process of constant
change. In this sense, in fashion, there is no stability in beauty. Compromising this
aesthetic aspect of fashion in the name of an environmental agenda would mean
the death of fashion, and the end of this major cultural and economic endeavour-
after all, fashion is an economic activity that stands at the crossroads of art and
commerce and exerts an immense influence over the world (Godart 2012). By the
early 21st century, it was estimated that the clothing industry's output was topping
US$1 trillion annually and employing approximately 26.5 million people (Coop-
errider and Fry 2012: 3). More recent estimates from 2010 show that the fashion
industry, defined in the largest sense, is worth more than US$1.5 trillion annually
and represents about 6% of total global output (Godart 2012).
Luxury fashion's role as a potential harbinger of eco-sustainability is particu-
larly promising, as it can leverage on its status-based influence to play a diffusion
mechanism towards the other segments. In other words, luxury fashion's practice
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible?
19
of sustainable fashion can get diffused across segments in a top-down manner. We
build on Godart's (2012) six main principles of fashion to assess how each prin-
ciple corresponds to luxury fashion's sustainability opportunities and challenges.
These principles are, in order of historical appearance: affirmation; convergence;
autonomy; personalisation; symbolisation; and imperialisation. Based on this
assessment, we then offer principle-based action points for fashion brands and
their stakeholders, or 'any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the
achievement of the organization's objectives' (Freeman 1984: 46). Within the litera-
ture on stakeholder theory, there have been studies on how to identify the types of
opportunities and threats posed by major stakeholder groups under moral manage-
ment (Carroll 1991), and how to assemble stakeholder networks to systematically
bring together knowledge and resources in implementing social change (Svend-
sen and Laberge 2005). A strategy of stakeholder engagement is arguably effective
in transforming the ways in which firms approach their ethical issues in business,
and in enhancing public perceptions of these firms (Smith
et al.
2011). Building on
these studies, this paper examines how the fashion industry's key stakeholders, and
in particular producers (fashion brands and individual designers) and consumers,
can jointly push for eco-sustainable fashion without negating the core principles
of the field.
The first principle of fashion is
affirmation.
Driven by the desire to assert one's
identity, individuals use fashion as identity signais to express their individual-
ity and social affiliations. If 'being in fashion' implies changing clothes regularly,
producers and consumers will inevitably end up pushing for artificially inflated
production cycles, making the principle of affirmation a major hurdle to achiev-
ing sustainability. This can be tackled, however, by satisfying that same individual
desire for identity affirmation: Persuading consumers that purchasing fashion
items with pro-eco-sustainability nametags is a fashionable thing to do and that
it will let them tell a story about themselves and where they fit—the core function
of fashion in the first place. Successful persuasion would require eco-sustainable
fashion not to compromise on the style factor. As one fashion designer said dur-
ing an interview for news channel Euronews (2013): (Green fashion] should never
look as though the clothes are ethical. It should always be the surprise fact behind
them'. Once an increasing number of consumers start perceiving the act of buying
sustainable fashion items as a socially accepted practice, and even an 'in fashion'
practice, it will be institutionalised over time as something desirable for both con-
sumers and producers.
The second principle of fashion is
convergence.
In today's world, fashion is char-
acterised by global trends. Styles may have multiple local origins, but the produc-
tion of styles in the form of design takes place in big fashion capitals, such as Paris,
New York, Milan and London. There, design trends are formulated and updated
regularly, which then spread out to the rest of the world. These fashion designs,
however, are not always compatible with local climates, both in a literai (weather)
and figurative (cultural) sense. For example, Western suits are not very conducive
to operating in the hot summer of Japan, which prompted the government to start
20 Sustainable Luxury
a state-sponsored campaign («Cool Biz') promoting people to wear local clothing
items such as Okinawa kariyushi. One big goal of the campaign was to save energy
and protect the environment by reducing air conditioning usage (BBC News 2011).
The convergence principle complements the first principle of affirmation by ena-
bling key industry stakeholders to converge around consumers' interest in pur-
chasing eco-sustainable fashion items.
The third principle of fashion is
autonomy.
This principle concerns the creative
dynamics of the fashion industry, where the creative choice for styles and designs
maintains its autonomy against external factors. This autonomy makes it difficult
for third party actors, such as policy makers, to penetrate the industry and push for
the sustainability agenda in the production process. Such difficulty is magnified
by the common notion that eco-sustainable fashion advocates for slower fashion
trend cycles to reduce waste, and that therefore it impedes fashion designers' crea-
tivity efforts. However, sustainability does not always have to equate to a dimin-
ishing of creativity. Several high-end fashion houses have already been engaged in
mobilising exceptional creativity across the fashion industry in order to develop
aesthetically appealing designs that are also high on the eco-sustainability agenda
(e.g. cutting down on the amount of fabric used or using eco-friendly materials)
(Euronews 2013).
The fourth principle of fashion,
personalisation,
brings individual designers cen-
tre stage. Instead of arguing that individual designers have absolute autonomy in
their creative choices, this principle captures the market audience's shared belief
that individual designers indeed possess creative autonomy. While such perceived
autonomy of individual designers may hinder outsiders from coming in with a
sustainability agenda, this belief can be used by each designer to influence a pro-
sustainability trend and let it spill over from the fashion industry to other social
spheres. For example, German-born, Paris-based Karl Lagerfeld has recently shown
that he could use his personal influence to convince French drivers to wear pre-
sumably unfashionable yellow safety jackets (LEXPRESS.fr
2008). Such influence
of individual designers can be actively utilised for mobilising a sustainability drive.
The fifth principle of fashion,
symbolisation,
is about the power of brands and
the importance of meanings in fashion. The power of brands, and of luxury brands
in particular, lies in their time-proven tradition and stylistic adaptation to bi-
annual fashion seasons. Brands symbolise a power engine that drives a stylistic
trend change in the fashion industry. While it is true that such symbolisation may
not go hand-in-hand with the notion of sustainability, each fashion brand can also
leverage, and reshape, its existing symbolic power to include a proactive message
on environmental issues. When each brand's symbolic power is aggregated, there
could be an industry-wide discourse infused in the practice of fashion based on the
portrait of mutually 'inclusive' fashion and sustainability.
Additionally, the 'citizen sector', or those `groups established and run by mis-
sion-minded individuals across the globe who are attempting to address criti-
cal social needs' by providing strong insights into consumers and communities
(Drayton and Budinich 2010: 58). These citizen sector organisations (CSO) can
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible? 21
play an integral role in semantically and cognitively reframing fashion as a styl-
ish and ethical consumption that does not necessarily have to follow fast trend
cycles. When fashion brands collaborate with CSOs, or engage in what Drayton
and Budinich (2010), term a 'hybrid value chain' to draw on each side's comple-
mentary strengths in tackling large-scale problems, they can more effectively
enhance consumer perceptions of sustainable fashion while leveraging the sym-
bolic power of their brand names.
The sixth and last principle,
imperialisation,
could be a major leeway for sus-
tainability. This principle is about the major role played by business groups in
the fashion industry, and also about how fashion has come to stand at the core
of many other industries, such as high technology and automobile manufacture.
Although scholars have suggested varying definitions of business groups, we take
on Granovetter's conceptualisation of business groups as 'legally separate firms
bound together in persistent formai and/or informai ways' (Granovetter
1994:
429).
The sheer size and power centrality of these business groups can make the
adoption of changes in favour of sustainability difficult, but when they do adopt
changes, the impact can be powerful. They can leverage their power in the fash-
ion and luxury industry to influence affiliated individual fashion brands to adopt
and implement large-scale sustainability agenda. For example, in 2012, the luxury
brands group formerly known as PPR (Kering as of June 2013) launched a five-year
plan to implement a series of core environmental targets across its brands, which
include reducing water use, waste and carbon emissions, eco-sustainable sourcing
of raw materials and eliminating hazardous chemicals. The plan will be comple-
mented by an environmental profit & loss account (EP&L) as a measurement tool
to calculate, and subsequently compare, environmental performance across the
group's product categories and business units (Niculae 2013). Furthermore, busi-
ness groups can also make use of the ripple effects to spread the practice of sustain-
able fashion across other luxury segments, and even industries.
From the analysis above, we can conclude that pursuing eco-sustainability does
not have to mean a threat to the luxury fashion industry, despite some hurdles.
Implementing a new sustainable paradigm may require some adaptation to the
existing industry structure, but it does not negate the core principles of fashion.
In fact, we have seen that various stakeholders can actively use these principles in
favour of propelling eco-sustainable development, with mutual support coming
from both producers and consumera. As Smith (2003: 68) wrote: 'In figuring out a
CSR strategy, stakeholder engagement must be at the core.
We will now introduce three possible scenarios in which the various stakeholders
of the fashion industry can proactively take on an eco-sustainability agenda. While
these three scenarios might already be, to some extent, in place, we believe they
are, for the most part, still to be implemented. Each of the three scenarios dem-
onstrates different ways of developing and implementing market-based solutions
to eco-sustainability, though they can also occur simultaneously. In Table 1.2 we
summarise the three scenarios: institutional change through slow luxury fashion;
innovative luxury fashion; and upgrading luxury fashion through regulation.
22 Sustainable Luxury
Table 1.2
Three sustainable fashion scenarios
Scenario
Institutional
change through
slow fashion
Most relevant
principle(s)
Affirmation
Convergence
Summary
Sustainability goal: efficient management of scarce
resources
Implications: modification of current institutional
dynamics based on fast trend cycles or 'seasons' to
slower seasons
'Degrowth' strategy: slow fashion motivates producers
to focus on designs with lasting appeal and consumers
to keep their clothes for a longer period of time
Requirement: institutional level change
Challenge: turnover reductions for producers due to
reduced purchasing cycles
lnnovative
fashion
Symbolisation
Imperialisation
Sustainability goal: efficient management of scarce
resources and reducing waste
Implications: fashion cycles remain as they are, but
innovative solutions make fashion items both creative
and sustainable. Three possible innovative solutions:
Use materials that have a lower impact on the
environment (e.g. organic fabric)
Reduce waste at each step of the production
process
Increase recycling of discarded clothes
Requirement: investments, collective efforts to redirect
creative talents in the field, and some support from
advocacy groups and governmental bodies
Producers drive innovative fashion, but consumers
complement the effort
Upgrading
Autonomy
luxury fashion
Personalisation
through
regulation
Sustainability goal: establishment of sustainability
enforcement
Implications: industry-wide regulations are developed.
External considerations (e.g. legal frameworks, norms
and traditions) determine formai versus informai stance
of these regulations
Challenge: regulations may prompt price increase,
which then reduces consumer purchasing
Requirement: the entire fashion industry has to shift
upwards to the premium segments, where the practice
of producing less with better (and more expensive)
techniques is the norm
Both producers and consumers play pivotai roles with
the strong support of public authorities
24
Sustainable Luxury
Sustainable Apparel Coalition has created the Higg Index 1.0 to coordinate and
help industry actors measure the social and environmental performance of their
apparel products across various stages of the supply chain (Euronews 2013). More
recently, in December 2013, Higg Index 2.0 was released as a follow-up to the origi-
nal version, adding footwear to the target product category and social/labour per-
formance dimensions to the existing sustainability topic.
2
Having regulations in action may prompt a price increase and reduction in con-
sumer purchase: the autonomy principle can be preserved through leveraging
the personalisation principle, and by relying on individual industry stalwarts who
would internalise regulatory principles. Consequently, this scenario requires the
entire fashion industry to be `upgraded'. When both low- and high-end segments
are shifted upwards into premium segments, the practice of producing less, locally,
and with better (and more expensive) techniques is accepted as the norm. Both
producers and consumers are expected to play a pivotai role in this scenario.
Conclusion and discussion
As the goal and practice of eco-sustainability stretch beyond individual countries
to the global community, it is crucial that the luxury fashion industry stakehold-
ers collaborate in ethical fashion movements towards making a tangible impact on
the environment. Taking an active stance in global responsibilities can also benefit
companies in return (Smith 2003), as being ethical, and being seen to be engaged in
concrete actions, can protect and promote a company's brand in light of changing
social expectations. By addressing the environmental dimension of TBL, compa-
nies can save costs through reductions in waste and raw materials usage. They can
also drive up financial performance by finding a niche market within the industry
where their eco-friendly agenda will give them competitive advantage over others.
The notion of eco-sustainable businesses serving as a new profit-driving engine for
companies, however, can get thorny when it is applied to the fashion industry, and
luxury fashion in particular.
For certain fashion consumers, keeping clothes from past seasons may mean
being unfashionable or out of fashion. Some mitigate the risk of falling out of fash-
ion by exploring new venues in vintage clothing, given the cyclical nature of fash-
ion styles, or mixing vintage with contemporary. At the systemic level, however,
the luxury segment of the fashion industry runs on seasonal change, which then
drives the rest of the industry to adopt the changes with differing levels of social
accessibility and speed (e.g. fast fashion in retail markets). Against such an institu-
tional force that has been continuing since the birth of fashion, how can consum-
ers and producers work together to reduce the use of resources and thereby achieve
2 www.apparelcoalition.org/higgindex/,
accessed 18 June 2014.
1 Is sustainable luxury fashion possible? 25
eco-sustainability at the individual and collective levels? What does eco-sustaina-
ble luxury fashion mean for producers and consumers? How can both sides work
together in realising sustainable luxury fashion without negating the core princi-
pies of fashion?
In this chapter, we used the six core principles of fashion to examine the eco-
sustainability opportunities and challenges specifically faced by luxury fashion. We
conclude that both consumers and producers can play an integral role in facilitat-
ing the practice of eco-sustainable fashion, while upholding what fashion means
to both sides. The core principles of fashion do not have to be undermined in order
to achieve ethical fashion. Rather, we suggest that these principles can be actively
used by luxury fashion brands to invent and reinvent eco-sustainability paradigms
in creative ways. This coupling of eco-sustainability and creativity could lead to
an institutional-level uplifting of fashion as a leading industry of ethical business,
where the mechanical embodiment of functionality, style and creativity lasts for a
long time. Long lasting beauty is our global responsibility.
Acknowledgement
We thank Christine Driscoll-Goulay for her comments and suggestions.
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Frédéric Godart
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holds an MPhil in social and political sciences from Cambridge University and a PhD in soci-
ology from Columbia University. He is the author of
Unveiling Fashion: Business, Culture,
Identity in the Most Glamorous Industry
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godart@insead.edu
Sorah Seong
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from Harvard University and an MSc in theory and history of international relations from
LSE. She currently specialises in organisational behaviour from a macro-interdisciplinary
perspective. Email: sorah.seong@insead.edu
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... Sustainability should be achieved by innovating products and processes to produce fashion items that are creative and sustainable. It preserves luxury fashion and does not hamper fashion cycles (Godart & Seong, 2017). These should then be projected and communicated, as mentioned in the previous section. ...
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Cambridge Core - Texts in Political Thought - Rousseau: The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings - edited by Victor Gourevitch
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Proposing a comprehensive account of the global fashion industry this book aims to present fashion as a social and cultural fact. Drawing on six principles from the industry, Godart guides the reader through the economic, social and political arena of the world's most glamorous industry.
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Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach was first published in 1984 as a part of the Pitman series in Business and Public Policy. Its publication proved to be a landmark moment in the development of stakeholder theory. Widely acknowledged as a world leader in business ethics and strategic management, R. Edward Freeman’s foundational work continues to inspire scholars and students concerned with a more practical view of how business and capitalism actually work. Business can be understood as a system of how we create value for stakeholders. This worldview connects business and capitalism with ethics once and for all. On the 25th anniversary of publication, Cambridge University Press are delighted to be able to offer a new print-on-demand edition of his work to a new generation of readers.