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Embrace sustainability or prepare to be irrelevant

Brands are waking up to the fact sustainability is going to be essential to stay relevant and attract the modern consumer.

 

By Alex Colley, Founder and Creative Director at ikon, a Boutique Branding & Creative Agency in London helping brands engage affluent audiences.

Embrace sustainability or prepare to be irrelevant

More and more brands are embracing sustainability and becoming BCorp. Brands like Ganni, Chloe and Aesop are some in the luxury space. I also had an interesting discussion with a Marketing Director at Audi recently, with their new vision for only launching electric vehicles starting in 2026. They want to align with businesses that mirror their intention, it’s changing whole industries as we know it. People want to buy from businesses and brands who are conscious of their impact on the planet and are trying to make a difference.


That doesn’t mean they have to be founded as sustainable businesses but brands changing their strategy and operations with sustainability at the core is such an important shift.


The most fascinating mix for me is sustainability and luxury as you would assume the luxury market would be the least sustainable - Perceptions may be extravagant, wasteful, ostentatious. But applying a different lens, they are about superior quality and craft which lends itself to a longer life cycle or as Patek Philippe, a luxury watch brand states: You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.


Brands that are leading the way with sustainability include Stella McCartney championing vegan leather and experimenting with mycelium (mushroom), Polestar in the electric vehicle category using recyclable materials in their interiors but still retaining a premium feel.



Not to mention another watch brand that is built to last and to be passed down generations, Rolex has had sustainability as a core value since inception and has invested in marine conservation for years.


It’s an ethos I firmly believe in that brands need to apply a longer-term mentality. Not by being irresponsible and promoting fast fashion, fast food, fast anything as this usually means cheap and cheap typically means low production value.


A lot of brands think being sustainable means more cost which may be true initially but even if it is, people are demanding and aligning with brands that are sustainability led which should make up for any additional costs incurred in delivering their product or service through acquisition of new customers who align with them and brand loyalty.


A brand I am personally bought into is Nudie, they aren’t considered luxury but are a premium purchase. They offer free repairs forever and in 2022 repaired 65,386 jeans. Around 96% of the material they use is organic, certified or recycled fibres. They are a brand that makes jeans that look good, fit well and I will pay the premium over other jean brands as I know they will fix them if they need repairing and at the core, they align with my values - Buy less but better. And the more brands that can adopt this sustainably led approach the better.

This is why your brand story and the narrative you push can be so powerful. Once you have this position in the mind of the customer, it’s a hard one to shift.

Sustainability should be fully integrated with business strategy, not a bolt on to ‘greenwash’ with public facing communications.


If brands don’t fully embrace sustainability, the signs are certain, they may not be around for much longer or they will be left fighting it out for scraps with customers who still don’t care about their environmental impact.


The luxury industry has a huge responsibility and opportunity to lead the way in sustainability as often, ideas and culture are often informed by luxury brands trickle down to the mass market. It’s an exciting time to innovate across every industry.


One of my favourite quotes about sustainability is “It is no longer about making sustainability part of our strategy. Our strategy is sustainability,” - Anne Pitcher, Selfridges Managing Director.


Brands have to make money first but they need to try and do it in the most sustainable way possible.


One thing is true, they need to fully embrace sustainability or prepare to be irrelevant.



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