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7 luxury brands setting the standard for sustainability in fashion

Photography By Burberry, Gucci, Stella McCartney
Published 02.06.22

From lab-grown mushroom leather handbags to bucket hats made from ocean plastic, luxury houses are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with high-end, low-impact products.

It’s a big step up when you consider sustainability wasn’t on the agenda for most luxury brands just a few years ago. But recently, we’ve seen some of the biggest household names – Gucci, YSL, Chloé and Burberry, to name a few – become leaders in sustainable design.  

2022 is set to be a decisive year for action, with more major houses and luxury groups announcing ambitious plans to reduce emissions, design circular products and protect biodiversity. One of the most notable comes from LVMH, the biggest luxury conglomerate on the planet, which has committed to 100 per cent regenerative design across all 75 houses it manages by 2030. This means the materials and processes used by Louis Vuitton, Celine, Givenchy, Tiffany (and many more) will need to actively restore and enhance ecosystems. How cool.  

It’s clear that times are a-changing in the luxury fashion and beauty industry, and the payoff could be huge for the planet. Here are some of the most exciting examples of brands stepping up in this space.   

Gucci

Gucci 


The internet gave a collective nod of approval (okay, shriek of elation) when Gucci dressed Billie Eilish in an upcycled gown at this year’s Met Gala. But this is just the tip of the sustainability iceberg for the iconic luxury house. As a member of the Kering group, Gucci was an early adopter of climate commitments. The house has been carbon-neutral since 2018, runs 93 per cent of all operations (including stores, offices, warehouses and factories) on renewable energy and has a material traceability rating of 95 per cent. It has also put policies in place to prevent deforestation and boost biodiversity in its supply chain.  

If you want to stay up to date with Gucci’s sustainability journey, @gucciequilibrium is the page to follow. The account provides updates on the brand’s environmental work, including recycled luggage line Gucci Off The Grid and upcycling initiative Gucci-Up, a project that finds creative uses for excess materials generated during the manufacturing process.  

YSL

YSL Beauty 


We love to see a brand sharing the nitty-gritty details of what makes its products better for the planet – which is why we’ve had our eye on the new range from Yves Saint Laurent Beauty. Appropriately named ‘Nu’, the collection of makeup and skincare is Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified and packaged in recycled plastics. Each product also contains at least one ingredient sourced from the company’s Ourika Community Gardens, a project that employs women in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.  

C2C assesses the circularity and responsibility of products based on five categories: material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness. Products are scored in each category – Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum – and given an overall mark based on their lowest achievement level. The Nu collection currently carries a Silver C2C rating. While this range represents a small portion of YSL Beauty’s overall output, the methods used to produce it could have a big impact if they are implemented at scale.  

Emporio Armani

Emporio Armani 


Emporio Armani is another brand testing out low impact methods with standalone collections. In 2020, the luxury house debuted its first recycled range on the runway in Milan with the words “I’m saying yes to recycling” plastered across the set.  

Continuing this theme, Armani’s new Spring/Summer 2022 collection is a tribute to surf culture, innovative materials and low-impact manufacturing processes. Psychedelic board shorts and reef shoes (you know the ones) have been crafted from recycled and recyclable fabrics. The range also features organic cotton jeans, recycled elastane vests and sunglasses made from bio-based material. All fabrics are Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified, which means they have been verified as recycled materials.  

Chloé

Chloé 


French luxury house Chloé has shown just how quickly a brand can turn things around with the right people at the helm. Since Gabriela Hearst took over as creative director in late 2020, the house has undergone a dramatic transformation from sustainability laggard to world-leader. The environmental footprint of Hearst’s debut Fall 2021 collection was a massive 400 per cent lower than the previous year’s range thanks to the addition of upcycled bags and puffer jackets made from textile scraps. In the same year, Chloé became the first luxury fashion house to achieve B Corp status.  

B Corp is one of the most reputable environmental certifications out there – and is also one of the most difficult to obtain. To become certified, companies need to complete a detailed performance review (which includes over 300 questions about environmental and social impacts) and score at least 80 based on their responses. In short, this means brands must show they are taking concrete action to become a B Corp.  

So far, some of Chloé’s include eliminating single-use plastic in its offices, transitioning 55 per cent of its collections to low impact materials, donating EU$1.3 million to UNICEF, reducing emissions by 15 per cent and reducing water consumption by 10 per cent. Impressively, these changes have not taken away from the brand’s aesthetics. If anything, they have made its products even more beautiful by birthing new lines like Chloé Craft, a capsule collection of handmade objects like giant shell necklaces and vibrant macrame dresses.  

Dior

Dior 


Collaborations are a great way for luxury brands to experiment with sustainable materials, as demonstrated by Dior 

In 2019, Dior men’s creative director Kim Jones teamed up with Parley for the Oceans to begin working on a beachwear capsule collection made from recovered ocean waste. Founded by designer Cyrill Gutsch, Parley is an organisation that brings creatives together to solve one of the world’s biggest design challenges: plastic waste. One of its innovations is Parley Ocean Plastic – a material made from upcycled marine plastic debris and fishing gear collected from coastlines around the world.  

The Dior collection, which was released in April 2022, showcases the creative applications of this technology, with signature logo bucket hats and sneakers reimagined in recycled plastic. The range also features jacquard shirts, mesh water bottle holders and technical canvas shorts all constructed from plastic waste.  

Burberry

Burberry 


Burberry is on a mission to become climate positive by 2040. This means it will go beyond net zero to have a net positive impact on the environment. It’s an ambitious goal, but the house has already reduced its market-based emissions by 92 per cent since 2017 and transitioned 93 per cent of the business to renewable energy sources. In 2020, Burberry launched a regeneration fund to invest in projects that lower carbon emissions, promote biodiversity and restore ecosystems.  

A large share of Burberry’s carbon footprint, and its highest biodiversity impacts, come from leather, cashmere and wool production. The company hopes to address these impacts by shifting from industrial farming practices to regenerative ones (that leave nature better than they found it) and scaling up regeneration efforts by continuing to invest in the regeneration fund.  

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney 


Since its inception, Stella McCartney’s brand of the same name has been synonymous with sustainability. Back in 2001, when environmental accountability was but a twinkle in the fashion industry’s eye, McCartney released her first collection of leather, fur, feather and animal-skin free products. Vegan alternatives have been a mainstay for the brand, with new mushroom leather handbags going on sale in July that give a world-first look at the possibilities this material could unlock.  

The sleek bag is constructed from Mylo, a bio-based leather alternative developed by material solutions company Bolt Threads. Mylo is made from mushroom mycelium (the root system of fungi) grown in vertical farms powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. It took scientists five years and 5,000 iterations to perfect the material before Italian artisans shaped it into a bag. The finished product has a similar undulating texture to real leather and comes complete with a chunky recycled aluminium chain-link strap. This example shows McCartney’s true commitment to sustainable solutions, even the ones that are difficult and time-consuming.  

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