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Why are luxury fashion brands going green silently? Is eco-fashion a golden secret?
Gucci is going through a green renaissance.

Gucci opts for polyurethane over PVC in their trendy $2,400 Dionysus shoulder bags, but their marketing doesn’t focus on this switch whatsoever — a perfect example of the gap between luxury and eco-fashion.

After nearly a century of operation, the Florentine brand is once again the center of attention. Despite several recent studies revealing that luxury shoppers prefer niche labels, Gucci is still being featured in magazine spreads and its collections are coveted by the new generation of fashionistas and celebrities. Newly appointed creative director Alessandro Michele is the genius behind this revival, bringing bright colors, lace, bows and floral prints back in style — and that was just their men’s line.

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“I like to mix geometrics with florals. It’s a cliché, but it’s beautiful.” -Allessandro Michele

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Reflecting Michele’s elegant taste in furniture and interior design, he brought Gucci to Washington DC with a bang. Outfitted with storage units that mimic steamer trunks and Hannibal-esque tables, the retail space was designed to showcase a treasure trove of costly handbags. Despite all the attention their runway lines get, Gucci at its core is an accessories specialist, making the bulk of their revenue off purses and shoes.

That’s a huge problem and not just for Gucci as a company, but for the environment.

Every aspect of producing these two products with traditional methods is resource intensive and terrible for the earth. Shoes and handbags heavily rely on leather, meaning lots of cattle ranching. First off, cattle ranching requires a decent chunk of land and water. Next, leather tanning uses heavy metals like chromium and the waste from this process is a health hazard that can often be tough to manage. PVC is also a commonly used material in making bags — an environmental risk in just about every way.

Marketing efforts of luxury brands don’t highlight their green philosophies

The $2,400 Dionysus shoulder bag is one of the first Gucci products with the GG supreme canvas print made from polyurethane instead of PVC. Among other changes in their production processes, not a single Gucci marketing campaign makes mention of this. In fact, even if you knew they were going green, the only information on their website about the shift is a short note that the Dionysus is made using an “earth-conscious process”.

The new Washington store is also LEED certified gold, a global measure of sustainable building construction, but this goes unmentioned as well. Gucci’s parent company, Kering (LVMH’s only true rival in terms of mass-scale luxury conglomerates) has been putting forth huge changes in philosophy, pushing all their children to go green. Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney have begun the battle against waste earlier this year for example.

Outside the company, Kering has also issued a $20,000 sustainable fashion design grant in addition to guaranteed internships within their brands.

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How can luxury make eco-fashion… sexy?

Veterans of fashion say Kering and LVMH’s initiatives fall short of their goals. It’s an amazing start and the difference they’re making is not only measurable, but unrivaled. However — this is an industry full of innovators with the unique ability to anticipate desires months, even years ahead of schedule and create markets from nothing. By bringing the climate to the foreground of fashion, we might see a change in consumer behavior as a whole — not just within fashion.

Millenials are putting a larger focus on how green their clothing is and fashion schools have followed this trend. By offering a better understanding of carbon footprints, production chains and material sourcing, the next generation of fashion will surely be aiming for a zero waste economy.

The day when the upper echelon of luxury fashion proudly shows off their ethical manufacturing methods, eco-fashion will become irresistible to consumers.

Manufacturing can be good for the environment. Not a phrase you hear often, but that’s the bottom line. What we’re seeing today just may be the beginnings of a cultural revolution for the better.

Eco-fashion will one day replace luxury at the top of the pyramid

With complete control over supply chains, plenty of resources to research and develop new production techniques, luxury brands sit at the top of the fashion pyramid.

I honestly think the brands are doing what they’re doing because they think it’s good business -Gemma Cranston, Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership

Sustainable fashion is already proven profitable

Kering put out its first Environmental Profit and Loss Report, carefully combing through its chain of over 1,000 suppliers in 126 countries to definitively explore its impact on the environment. They aim to pinpoint problem areas to minimize their carbon footprint.

In this report, Kering measured out their overall air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water consumption. After this, they translated this large scale data into more understandable terms — revealing how much a single leather handbag costs the planet.The burden comes out to about $12.50 USD per bag.

Just 2 years ago, Kering’s luxury goods cost the environment around $817 million. PricewaterhouseCoopers cites that a similar sized conglomerate would damage the earth 15%-20% more on average, a $1.2 billion strain. In 2014, their environmental cost went up by 2.2% to $838 million — and profits increased by 4.5%

This entire report was published online for all eyes to see, making Kering a shining example of sustainability in the fashion world.

Their hope is that others will follow in their footsteps, making a bold claim that “no one can manage a company without thinking about climate change.”

Originally published at on December 9, 2015.