The idea of new products being designed to be both luxurious and sustainable maybe seem to be antithetical in nature and the yet the concept of positive luxury' is rapidly becoming the newest marketing strategy in the luxury products industry. So is this new development a real phenomenon or merely a cynical manipulation of the modern market? Perhaps it is an attempt to make the consumers of luxury goods feel less guilty about their conspicuous consumption during the current global economic down turn; or could this new trend actually be more about values, respect and brand image?
As the word luxury originates from the Latin word for excess, it suggests products which are not only expensive, exclusive and quite possibly, difficult to obtain, but it also suggests products which are in not essential to the needs of everyday lie. As our concept of what constitutes a necessity, rather than a luxury, is constantly evolving in this modern age, many of the things which we once believed to be luxuries are now seen as essential to everyday life.If our idea of what constitutes luxury is constantly evolving, then product design must also evolve to capture that never ending quest for greater comfort, design, craftsmanship and desirability.
As we now, as consumers, demand ever higher standards form manufacturers, the bar as to what is considered to be luxury is continually rising. It seems that designers and manufacturers of luxury products have been scrutinizing the markets closely and have surreptitiously been asking the question: Is luxury for its own sake as desirable as it was a decade ago? Consumer research undertaken by many luxury bands have not only seem a shift in thinking towards sustainability, but some are ready to change and influence the current markets themselves, moving towards a climate in which sustainable luxury' is not only desirable, but a major influencing factor in the future of product design.
Interestingly, many market leaders in luxury bands believe this new strategy is not only desirable but crucial to future competitiveness in the luxury brand industry. Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of PPR Home, which owns a group of luxury business interests and fashion houses, including Gucci and Stella McCartney, recently proffered this view, "My deep conviction that sustainability creates value is part of my strategic vision for PPR. Sustainability can - and must - give rise to new, highly ambitious business models and become a lever of competitiveness for our brandsв".
At first glance, sustainability, with its connotations of durability and reliability, may not seem entirely compatible with the concept of luxury. In its purest essence the word sounds eminently sensible and the discerning consumer may well ask: where is the excitement factor in all of this? Of course the combination of an exclusive, expensive product, which is also hard wearing and long lasting, has significantly more appeal. The concept of spending more initially, but buying less is a lot more persuasive in times of economic recession, where conspicuous spending on luxury is a little less fashionable than it once was, regardless of the level of wealth of the customer.
In theory, we all want what is best for the planet, unless of course, it causes us undue inconvenience; and there is little doubt that less consumption of products with a higher quality would mean that the environmental impact of consumer consumption would have considerably less long-term damaging effects. But the interesting question is: would consumers of the luxury goods and services, be willing to pay extra for goods which are already expensive, if it was proved that doing so, was beneficial to the environment?
Obviously for this concept to work there must not be any perceivable drop in the quality of the product; and customers are much more likely to embrace the idea if there is a perceived enhancement of some sort within the new product. Increased sustainability offers that very incentive. If products are seen to be of better quality, higher durability or improved design, then the criteria of sustainable luxury' is not only ethical and functional, but mostly importantly, it becomes desirable - and desirability is the golden chalice of luxury consumerism.
In answer to the question has sustainability luxury' become the new reality? It appears, that not only is this entirely conceivable, but this concept could herald the future of modern marketing; as hopefully what began as an enlightened concept in the luxury sector, may eventual trickle down to the mass market. Whatever you may think of the concept of sustainable luxury,' if its presence leads to improvements in the way in which we impact the environment with our consumerism, then sustainable luxury' is not only a good idea, but a highly desirable concept too, offering increased and substantial benefits to the discerning customers of luxury goods.