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Markets & trends

Is luxury sustainable?

On the occasion of the Luxe Pack New York tradeshow, Karen Young, marketing consultant, CEO and founder of The Young Group, chose to confront two concepts that seem mutually exclusive: luxury and sustainable development. Karen Young has accepted to answer to Premium Beauty News and to analyze the compatibility between sustainable development and the values of the luxury industry. An exclusive and surprising interview on an issue that is still a taboo for many insiders.

Premium Beauty News : You’re trying to demonstrate that, contrarily to preconceived ideas, luxury and sustainable development are not entirely opposed.

Karen Young: Exactly. Indeed, everything seems to oppose these two concepts. By definition, luxury is something beyond necessity; eventually it’s about what is superfluous. The term also includes notions such as exclusivity and high quality. It’s an emotional concept, and very individualistic. The exact contrary of what ideas such as environment conservation or ecology do cover.

Nevertheless, it would be quite unrealistic to get rid of the luxury industry. Worldwide sales in this sector have merely tripled within four years and luxury goods count for 3% of total sales in the US.

At the same time, Americans generate hundreds of millions of tons of wastes every day (the double than their parents). For example, in 2007, Americans have used around 20 billion plastic bottles. They spend something like 40 billion dollars a year, just to transport, burn and recycle these wastes.

Premium Beauty News : Such figures make us shiver, but what about luxury?

Karen Young: It clearly appears that companies operating in the luxury segment will have to struggle stronger than many others in order to find their place in a world where natural resources must be preserved. So far, we have to admit that, with few exceptions, they are lagging behind. They are not really keen to recognize their specific responsibility and to seize positive opportunities now available to them.

Frankly speaking, it is urgent for these companies to propose a new definition of what luxury is, in a world where individuals increasingly share the values linked to sustainable development.

Today, those who buy luxury products want that their preferred luxury brands also bear their own expectations towards a better world; that’s not only true in developed countries, the same phenomenon is also visible in emerging countries such as India, China, Russia or Brazil.

Premium Beauty News : Why the luxury industry should act as a key player in the move to sustainability?

Karen Young: For the only reason that this industry is the mirror of our society and must be exemplary. Its sales have never been so high, its margins are impressive and its impact on consumers is based on emotion. This industry get everything needed to build a new vision of what luxury is, based on authenticity and the respect of the environment.

So, what can the luxury industry do? To better understand the meaning of branding and the expectations of consumers. As far as the environment is concerned it means: correct its own faults, reduce the footprint of luxury consumption through the use of eco-friendly materials and components, accept that the luxury industry has specific responsibilities and innovate.

It is important, also, to think about wastes at the very beginning of the design of a new product. Same thing about not using toxic materials. We need to adapt a famous sentence and to reword it as such: “The expression of beauty can pass through an object in relation to its meaning and not only to its appearance.

Premium Beauty News : Do you mean that the luxury industry is absent from the environmental battlefield?

Karen Young: Just look at the communication or at the concerns of companies in this sector… As far as environmental responsibility is involved, the world’s ten biggest luxury companies are poor performers.

When you pay a visit to twelve important websites in the sector, you realize that apart from Tiffany and LVMH, none of them discuss the issue of sustainable development.

The John Hardy jewellery company is one the few makers of luxury good to pro-actively communicate on this issue, so as fashion designer Linda Loudermilk. French group LVMH is also a good illustration of what can be done in this field.

However, sustainable development is very important for beauty and luxury industries and is shifting as a key factor of success. And the luxury industry also has the power to contribute to the evolution of the concept. This is why Donna Karan’s definition of luxury has changed. “Luxury is no longer limited to what we give to ourselves, but can extended to what we give to others,” she said.

A real environmental awareness is growing within the industry. I like to quote Graydon Carter’s remark about this new era. According to the Editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair: “For the new generation, luxury brands that will not take environmental issues into consideration will loose most of their appeal. Modern brands must address these questions. Ignore them would be old-fashioned and would equal a return to the previous century."

See online : The Young Group

Interview by JYB

Portfolio

  • Karen Young, consultant
© 2008 - Premium Beauty News - www.premiumbeautynews.com
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