Back to nature
‘Beautiful and organic’, the new consumer’s mantra, or perhaps their cross to bear, that infuses every sector of the luxury goods industry. Is it a wild dream or a gilded cage for brands?
« GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK »
In mid-November, the 9th edition of the ‘Made in France’ trade fair was held, which, as its name suggests, promotes French production. At this blue-white-and-red fair, everywhere the emphasis was on the natural, the environmentally friendly, the ecological and the bio-sourced. No further innovation is possible without respect for the environment - and we are delighted about that - no more value creation without the creation of ecological meaning. Green has become the standard bearer for all contemporary brands, and not one would dare to defy this ‘green’ consciousness.
It is not only the prerogative of young brands that base their approach on this promise. The biggest luxury groups are also following the trend, and even anticipating it. Stella McCartney (LVMH group) is launching a biodegradable denim and dusting off the fashion sector, which is beset by contradictions between animal fur and water resources. In the same vein, Kering has announced that it will no longer use animal fur in any of the Group's brands from the autumn 2022 collections onwards.
“Bling-bling, replaceable and disposable luxury is over. Today’s consumers want luxury that is committed, responsible and conveys social values”.
Ethical, environmental and social responsibility, the world of luxury is turning green as the Amazon turns brown. All sectors are concerned, from food to clothing, cosmetics, fashion, furniture and technology, as well as industry, including the automotive sector, which is turning its back on combustion engines and rolling out its electric models at great speed.
Consumer demand or lucrative new markets? Probably a bit of both, but initially, environmental pressure from grass roots movements has strongly compelled and encouraged brands to change. This also implies a paradigm shift and a change in communication codes. Bling-bling, ephemeral, replaceable and disposable luxury is over. Today's consumers - led by the Millenials - want luxury that is committed, responsible and conveys social values. A more human and embodied luxury.
QUALITY, TRANSMISSION, LONGEVITY
Yet the essence of luxury is quality, indeed very high quality. It is therefore necessary to rethink not only the message but also and above all the manufacturing and industrialisation itself. To find ingredients that are more neutral in terms of carbon footprint, local production, and in particular, to focus on longevity. Goodbye, then, to programmed obsolescence: luxury is lasting, or even repairable, because it is passed on, it is a heritage that is part of a legacy.
Longevity has become an essential element, and brands that fail to live up to this promise should take heed. Expensive products that do not respect the environment or society have little future. Whether by conviction or necessity, brands today have no choice but to adhere to these imperatives. However, it is not enough to express and claim them, they must prove it.
Words must be backed up by actions. Each brand must be able to argue, justify and prove its commitments and detail its carbon footprint. Ethical values are just as important - sometimes even more so - than its balance sheet and profitability! We want meaning, humanity and ecology.
“A virtuous chain of events is set in motion, and whoever is the cleanest, greenest and most respectful of the climate and the planet shall prevail”.
This societal transformation should be seen as an opportunity for the luxury sector because it is avant-garde, has significant resources, is often at the forefront of innovation and sets trends. It could therefore be a boon to seize the issue and address it head on. Thus, many great wine estates are now converting their vineyards to organic or even biodynamic agriculture; some are even turning to agro-ecology and agro-forestry. They may not be the first, but they are proclaiming it loud and clear and highlighting these virtuous practices, forcing their peers to follow suit. A virtuous chain of events is set in motion, and whoever is the cleanest, greenest and most respectful of the climate and the planet shall prevail.
MEANING AND CONSCIENCE…
Consumers no longer just buy a luxury product that they like and that confers status: they buy a product and values that give them a conscience. The conscience of belonging to a world on the move and of contributing to its preservation, by preserving the climate and the plant and animal eco-system of course, but also a heritage, through techniques and craftsmanship that are the foundation of the luxury exception and which today concern everyone.
Saving a heritage, returning to nature, simplifying and giving meaning: all this is part of a virtuous process of putting oneself into perspective through the local. ‘Small is beautiful’, irrevocably.
In short, for luxury brands, ecology is no longer an option, and the environment is no longer a topic, it is the very heart of the project. What about the consumer’s point of view? How do they receive and integrate these messages?
“There is a normative rhetoric about the injunction to conform: to be happy, to be slim, to be healthy, to eat organic, to be productive”.
The underlying mechanism is the pride of doing the right thing through morality - the positive contribution to a fairer and more equitable world. But more insidiously, it can be seen as an unspoken incitement to guilt, since the injunction to be ‘greener, more organic, more ecological’ necessarily generates a reaction, a process of readjustment.
It is the very process that is at work in the well-being imperative. There is a normative rhetoric about the injunction to conform: to be happy, to be slim, to be healthy, to eat organic, to be productive. The myth of the hero revisited and revised for the third millennium; the figure of the superior being, the ultimate link in the chain of hominids, the culmination of the evolution of species. Darwin couldn't have imagined it better!
THE HEALTH IMPERATIVE
Geneviève Rail* expresses this violence of well-being and analyses its mechanisms. “ According to Michel Foucault, in the context of modernity, the ‘bio’, i.e. the very life of the population, is increasingly subject to control, surveillance and regulation. Modern biopolitics has always involved the management of bodily processes in population terms (for example, in the regulation of births, deaths, disease, hygiene or health)”. She goes on to say that well-being is now a personal matter, a matter of self-management with a ‘health imperative’ that goes beyond the medical framework and now occupies all areas of society, political, economic and cultural.
And she goes on to write: “ these messages create and disseminate the concept of the ‘good citizen’: a person who is autonomous, decisive, responsible, enterprising and in constant search of improvement. (...) The active biocitizen informs themselves and lives responsibly by adapting their lifestyle and all aspects of their physical and social environment in order to optimise their well-being”. »
Brands respond to these expectations; being part of an organic, fair trade, respectful and now CSR (Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility) approach, what used to be called, in a more restrictive sense, sustainable development, is part of this emulation and of the construction of a ‘super citizen’, that of an augmented humanity.
“The stakes are high, the market exponential, because it is essentially a question of converting the ‘old world’ into a more virtuous ‘green world’”.
COMBINING ECOLOGICAL CONSCIENCE AND BENEFITS
The stakes are high, the market exponential, because it is essentially a question of converting the ‘old world’ into a more virtuous ‘green world’.
What brand, today, would dare not to be ethical, responsible or local?
But the concept works especially well when it is sincere. When the organic conversion is a voluntary, thought-out, desired approach. When the combination of good and local is a conviction, not a pretext. When we do what we say and say what we do. That’s when you hit the jackpot: an unassailable product, a converted consumer, a potential ambassador. This is what many French brands are banking on, and they do it with audacity, inventiveness and passion. 1083, Veja, Hector & Virgile, whether in cosmetics, clothing, tech or decoration, all sectors are embracing it.
And here, the price is (almost) no longer an issue: often these brands can absorb the extra cost of production on French soil by a polished, clean, confident, and above all sincere image. You feel like you’re doing a good deed, you’re supporting national production, you’re paying your dues and you’re easing your conscience as a Western consumer in the process...
The quantity of water on earth remains the same, what changes is its distribution. Likewise, vice and virtue are in balance. It’s up to each individual to see which way they are going to lean, and the brands, like a good Jiminy Cricket, are there to show them the way.
* La violence de l’impératif du bien-être. Bio-Autres, missions de sauvetage et justice sociale, [Violence of the Wellbeing Imperative: On bio-Others, Rescue Missions and Social Justice], Cairn publications (2016).