Superbrand's have a bigger role to play than ever before. As the designers of iconic luxury goods, coveted by millions of people across the globe, they should lead by example and continue to introduce eco-friendly initiatives to support the circular economy. Their role is no longer just about providing the consumer with supremely luxurious products that are infinitely stylish. Their role extends to showing they’re taking an eco-responsible approach when designing and producing future collections. In doing so, they have the power to influence other brands to act sustainably. Additionally, consumers are no longer happy to purchase something without understanding the brand’s values.
Consumers Want Brands That Align with Their Own Values
More and more consumers of today are seeking out products that come from sustainable brands and align with their own values. Many (especially Millennials) are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from an eco-conscious brand. In terms of Superbrand's, consumers expect them to prove that they are making positive decisions to reduce their carbon footprints and are responsible in their approach to manufacturing. They want to know that their preferred brands are constantly revaluating sustainable ways of designing and distributing their products so as to prevent further deterioration to the planet’s natural resources. Consumers want to be responsible, they expect the same from their brands and they do check-up, by reading websites and finding out how brands manufacture their goods
Many consumers will even go as far as to avoid buying something if it’s not socially conscious, because they don’t want to buy products that make them feel guilty – they want to know where their products have come from, who made them, what the materials involved are and whether they’ve impacted the environment negatively or positively. It makes a difference as to whether a consumer decides to buy something from one brand over another.
There’s Much to be Done By Superbrand's
So it’s up to all brands including Superbrand's to communicate what they’re doing. While it’s encouraging to see more and more Superbrand's releasing press releases on their eco-friendly strategies, there’s still much to be done. We’ve seen Gucci lead the way with its sustainability campaign, starting with its fur-free commitment five years ago in 2018. Their Culture of Purpose plan introduced just a year before in 2017 promised better usage of energy, water, waste production, hazardous materials and choosing sustainable fabrics. Gucci also has a traceability system in place, which accounts for 95% of its raw materials. The brand has adopted a “scrap less” programme, and by 2025, Gucci plans to have reduced its emissions by half.
Gucci and Resale
The brand further supports a circular economy by reducing waste, using more recycled materials, for example, ECONYL (a recycled and regenerated nylon) and it has partnered with The RealReal to sell old stock. There’s more too, for every Gucci item purchased from The RealReal, both companies plant a tree through One Tree Planted to help with reforestation. Additionally, there’s a wealth of information on how people can better connect with the planet on their dedicated website, Gucci Equilibrium.
Another brand that does an excellent, sustainable job is Stella McCartney who’s always supported vegan materials. In 2014, Stell McCartney introduced something called Clevercare, which is a labelling system that educates consumers in how to care for their clothing to prolong its life. The company also gives money back to organisations such as Bioplanet and Million Trees Miami. McCartney is a member of The Ethical Trading Initiative too, careful with how it chooses its suppliers, preferring to partner with small, artisanal suppliers in Europe.
While it is important that a circular economy be considered at all stages of designer collection development, with Gucci and McCartney there’s an overriding company strategy that covers sustainability as a whole. No doubt this does filter down to the design teams in charge of developing new ranges, with considering the types of raw materials used, how design will incorporate more sustainable materials and the overall campaign’s theme too.
Chloe Communicating Its Sustainable Message Through Fashion Shows
Chloe is one designer whose designers consider sustainability right at the start of the process. Last September 2022, Gabriela Hearst held her first Chloe fashion show in Paris, alongside the River Seine. The collection was all about sustainability and the messaging was clear through the show’s theme. Guests were invited to sit on cushions made from leftover Chloe fabrics, benches were crafted by stacked, re-used bricks and built by refugees. Clothing was made by independent artisans, using recycled materials. Even the catering was sustainable, with anything remaining given to those needing food. The thought process behind the show was reusing materials, passing things on and being “circular”. It worked and it shows one way where designers can think about a circular economy right at the beginning of the process – by getting the message across through ways that gain publicity.
More Superbrand's Should Embrace Preloved
While the focus is heavily on brands needing to prove their sustainability and adopt an even greater eco-friendly approach to their entire process, (from how they design, manufacture and ship goods) – there’s plenty of opportunities that so many Superbrand's just haven’t bought into yet.
One of those is preloved which we’ve mentioned above. Mulberry is a luxe brand that has a designated area on its website where consumers can consign their preloved Mulberry items back to the brand, there’s no third-party involved. Those items are then authenticated and refurbished before being listed on Mulberry’s website. So Mulberry is already steering the circular economy by providing a service to its customers, making owning a Mulberry bag more affordable for many as well as ensuring that consumers buy with a clear conscience.
Possibly this is something that more Superbrand's could do and it’s definitely an impressive way of embracing the circular economy. Plus, it helps fight back against the counterfeit market.
Technology for a Circular Economy
On the topic of counterfeits, new methods of authentication can also support the Superbrand's’ sustainable efforts and can be adopted right at the very start of the process, at the design stage. We’ll tell you why.
Technology continues to evolve at such a huge rate that consumers can now trace their products’ journeys from start to finish – and beyond too. We’re talking about QR codes or digital codes and other scannable codes that accompany products when they’re sold to the consumer. This is one area where designers at the very beginning of designing a brand-new collection could include technology through ID codes and embrace this innovation as part of a circular economy approach.
How ID Codes Work
Using this type of technology, codes store every element of an individual product (becoming a product ID), from the materials it's made with to how and where it’s manufactured, how it’s shipped and more. When scanned, the end user can read about their product and even check its authenticity, therefore helping to eliminate the authentication and counterfeit problems.
As well as authentication, this tech allows today’s consumer to understand the ecological impact of any product just by scanning it. Furthermore, the consumer can keep adding information to the technology, so the item builds up a history. Then, when it comes to replacing the product, they can resell it, upcycle it or recycle it. The next user will be able to scan the code and see where the product came from, where it went next and so on.
Reducing The Need for Unnecessary Labelling
The other opportunity here is that perhaps in future, products don’t need to have as much labelling – rather relying on digital scanning on mobile devices instead, therefore decreasing the use of so much paper and protecting forests.
The ID codes could also include Stella McCartney’s initiative – with guidance on how to care for and lengthen the life of products to keep them in circulation for longer.
Real Item NFTs
Digital IDs is a revolutionary idea that will become the “norm” and an excellent way for Superbrand designers to build in a circular economy approach right at the beginning of their collections. Some brands are already using a version of this idea, using Real Item NFTs which are digital versions of physical products and hold the same information as detailed above. So, for a luxury item, the consumer gets to own their very own NFT which also holds a wealth of information on the product, its history, its materials and manufacturing process etc.
In summary, of course Superbrand's (and all brands, fast fashion too) should be thinking about resale and the circular economy right at the beginning of the process but it’s not just the designers’ role. Companies should be considering the circular economy as part of their overall strategy and every area of the business should adopt initiatives to improve their sustainability. It should be at the very heart of everything. It is therefore not just the designers’ job – it is everyone’s job, from design right through to selling products on the sales’ floor and recapturing the customer once they’ve left the building (or received their parcel), so they have a clear pathway showing them what to do with their product once they wish to replace it.
WRITTEN BY EMMA CROSSICK