Building on Berluti CEO Antoine Arnault’s comment this year that “the mystery and romance of luxury flourish when the doors are open”, Positive Week 2018 saw some of the top voices in the luxury industry come together on October 11th at Hotel Cafe Royal in London to celebrate and acknowledge those brands and individuals that are changing the conversation surrounding sustainability.
With two panel events moderated by Samantha Conti London Bureau Chief of WWD and Daniella Vega Director of Sustainability for Selfridges Group, CEOs took to the stage to discuss what luxury means in this day and age and how brands should meet the modern consumer’s demands of transparency, trust and quality.
“93% of our customers think one should be contributing to society, not just profit” claimed Vega, proving that the luxury customer cares but as Desirée Bollier Chair and Global Chief Merchant of Value Retail questioned, “How do you make decent money decently?”
The bottom line is always going to come first but does it need to be at the cost of our society and planet. Modern-thinking brands are designing in a way that can sit comfortably in that overlap; in today’s world there is no longer a tension between doing well and doing good.
“Its about giving your customers as many tools as possible to live sustainably” stated jewellery designer to the A-list Stephen Webster, who this year designed a much-coveted plastic straw alternative The Last Straw, in partnership with Plastic Oceans. “It was intended to ignite debate, to ignite a bit of anger about the plastic waste we’ve contributed as a society so far and we had people coming into the store for the first time because of it.”
And for the consumers already loyal to a brand, being a responsible business is no longer expected but even presumed. “For a luxury brand today, not using child labour or paying your hotel staff a living wage is already expected by people staying with us. You have to build sustainability as part of your brand, not a separate message” argued Janice Lao Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels.
The discussion has come exactly at the right time and is needed now more than ever. “Soon we’ll start to see companies looking to other companies and asking the question Well we’re doing it, so why aren’t those guys?” Mark Ferguson, Partner & Co-CIO of Generation Investment Management declared. “It’s an uncomfortable thing for Directors to think about, but right now we’re seeing a massive change in voice via the internet and social media and there’s a lot more transparency out there and millennials will soon seek influence from brands and start to pick them apart. There’s a very fine time period that companies have to get their act together and vocalise what they’re doing before the consumer conversation gets even louder.”
For Pierre-Alexandre Bapst Chief Sustainability Officer of Hermès’ craftsmanship is inherent to their way of doing good and long-lasting business. Their 2017 sustainability report lists savoir-faire and corporate responsibility as top of their priority, and Bapst emphasised how artisans are key to their success: “We have more than 4000 artisans making products with their hands every day, 95% of them having had no leather training prior to joining Hermes we train them directly.” With a business model “centered around our values”, the brand also recycles with their Petit H scheme, re-making products from leftover materials; their passion for longevity in quality reaches beyond just creating a profit.
It seems no matter the approach, no matter the product they could all agree on one thing: sustainability is a non-negotiable when doing business. “To make a great investment long-term, you really have to be incorporating sustainability into the framework were exiting the phase of greenwashing and we are now entering the phase of connecting with the consumers and employees, and the investments will follow later,” Ferguson concluded.
Newly appointed Miller Harris CEO Sarah Rotheram is all for ringing in the changes: “We have to be disruptive, otherwise customers will start doing it for us and we risk not being relevant to today’s consumer.”
With thanks to our host, moderators and speakers Pierre-Alexandre Bapst, Desiree Bollier, Samantha Conti, Storm Keating, Janice Lao, Arizona Muse, Aurelie Picaud, Mark Ferguson, Sarah Rotheram, Daniella Vega and Stephen Webster.
Special thanks to Dan Sound
Photography by Pascal Emmeran