Yves Saint Laurent, which is part of the Kering Group, has decided to stop producing clothing that includes animal fur as of 2022. The brand is the last of the Kering group to have done so, following Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, and Alexander McQueen. 

From a sustainable point of view, this act is certainly significant, since it is aimed at the preservation of animal species in the world and the production of clothes that do not involve the exploitation and mistreatment of animals in general. As a matter of fact, this activity is surely seen in a positive way. There is growing attention towards sustainability, not only of the environment but also of the flora and fauna as a whole. However, it should be pointed out that these actions were taken after several animal rights groups put a lot of pressure on brands to stop the production of these items. The question is now legitimate: did they decide to stop producing because of the pressure (following their “brothers” who preceded them) or did they stop out of an intrinsic desire to do good to the world and animals? 

Animal groups’ rights aside, the growing attention to sustainability around the world puts pressure on luxury brands that are still not fully committed to operating in a more sustainable way. It is certainly in their interest to listen to the voice of the people and try to convey a positive brand image, however, their efforts should not be limited to image representation but should also cover the REAL activities that take place within the brand. 

Yves Saint Laurent must therefore be able to demonstrate transparency in the implementation of this practice, showing that its efforts to produce clothes without harming the animal world are true and not dictated by the simple need to appear and follow those who have already abandoned this practice. 

Sustainability becomes a marker of status when sustainable practices are transparently shown to consumers, without just a simple statement “Hey, we’re sustainable, buy our products!”. A test of credibility, bringing the consumer “inside” the company, allows sustainability itself to take on a real role and for people to see for themselves. At that moment, it becomes an added value for the company. How to do this? Certainly through communication. Today there are many channels to reach your target groups, especially in the digital sphere. Leveraging Social Networks to communicate truly sustainable practices can allow the very concept of sustainability to become valid. 

The moment this happens, then being TRULY sustainable becomes attractive, it becomes something to show off to consumers as well (by carrying and dressing products from sustainable luxury brands). 

The world of luxury certainly has a lot of influence. Luxury is synonymous with authenticity and uniqueness: in that sense, if sustainability became part of this world, it would become something everyone would want to aspire to. We can be unique by buying these products and if we do, we are also sustainable. This could give new value to sustainability itself, putting it on an even more important level as it is associated with these brands.

Brands, by embracing this as a core value, might be able to bring the consumer towards a sustainable perspective, which would only be good for planet earth and mankind included. 

Luxury products are not only purchased as a status symbol or to increase self-esteem, these products are a concrete representation of authenticity. Luxury brands do a great job in communicating the authenticity of their items and in persuading consumers. Therefore, luxury brand leaders definitely have the tools and capabilities to convey concrete messages and to educate consumers on the importance of sustainability. Politicians and activists have definitely less influence on individuals’ behaviors, this is due to the fact that they might be perceived as “annoying” or redundant when trying to deliver a message.

Overall, people often see luxury goods as wasteful self-indulgence and potentially damaging to the environment (De Kerviler, Gentina, Heuvinck). Indeed, there are luxury brands that have been doing much more than others to promote sustainability as a core value of their organization; but, in our opinion, there are many contradictions in the way the industry operates and it cannot yet call itself sustainable. Circular business models are becoming more and more popular in many industries and represent a concrete solution to make firms more sustainable. However, this might represent a challenge for luxury brands, given that their products are supposed to be durable and iconoclastic, which is in contradiction with circularity. 

To conclude, this doesn’t mean that improvements haven’t been made and that luxury brands will always be less sustainable than others, yet, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

By Marija Poposka, Josua Bohl Nishayama, Anastasiia Karpenkova, Mariia Poliarush, Giacomo Bottinelli, and Giulio Rezzonico @HEC Lausanne

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