How To Shop Luxury Clothing Sustainably
Written by Eunoia House
It's no secret that while fast fashion is affordable, it comes with a cost much greater than its price tag. How?
At the expense of this planet we call home, fashion has been carelessly producing things built to look pretty but not made to last. Because of that, it has now become one of the greatest environmental offenders from its excessive consumption of raw materials needed for that beautiful item on the rack to the consequent excess waste coming from its manufacturing.
According to McKinsey & Company’s Nathalie Remy, the cheapest apparel are treated as close to disposable by consumers after just a few wears.
One day in the closet, out to the trash the next, and the consumer is back in the store or back to online shopping purchasing a new top again. This happens most especially when garments are quick to fall apart due to the low quality it was made with.
And it goes right back to square one at the manufacturing warehouse to the consumer, the landfill, and the harvesting of the earth’s raw materials to produce the next hot item. It’s a vicious cycle.
And that’s not all. Did you know that the women and children who bring these designs to life through their stitching aren’t as thrilled as we are when it comes to fashion?
Not because they don’t appreciate beauty and creativity but because they’re forced to do the labor.
The New Standard Institute (NSI), a movement and organization whose aim is to “transform the global apparel industry into a force for good” for the sake of the environment and labor involved, reports that the fashion industry is closely associated with unfair labor practices with the women and children it employs.
In the same article by Remy, these workers are underpaid and are exposed to unhealthy working environments especially when the fabrics they handle are cotton and leather.
The NSI calls this “the ugly truths behind a beautiful industry”.
Prominent designers’, influencers’, and consumers’ increasing awareness of these costs have enabled them to see the significance of sustainability for everyone and everything involved in the industry -- the environment, the laborers, the suppliers, and consumers like you and me.
But what is sustainability in the first place?
According to Remake, a community advocating sustainable practices in fashion, sustainability is the practice of utilizing means to produce, design, and consume clothes that are conscious of the impact it will make on the earth’s ecosystem, making sure that these are at the minimum or none at all.
The remake goes the extra mile by including human welfare in its definition, where sustainability also involves a sustainable living wage for workers alongside a healthy working environment.
This is where we find the other end of the spectrum - luxury clothing.
Luxury clothing is fine fashionable pieces ethically created and made to last longer than 3 washes because timeless enduring pieces are what these brands have always had in mind way before sustainability even became a movement.
It’s an investment, definitely, but it pays off. Most significantly the next generation, are starting to realize this. After all, the earth wasn’t just made to last for this generation, but for the next as well. If we don’t take care of it now, what will be left of it for them?
The Next Gen Demands Sustainability
When anyone mentions the next generation, millennials come to mind first but it’s Generation Z that people should look out for.
Generation Z in the US leads the workforce population by approximately 78 million with millennials coming in second at 73 million, making generation Z the leading audience and the largest consumer market. They also make up one-third of the world’s population says Deloitte.
Generation Z has been disrupting global industries for years though they’re only between the ages of 7 and 22 years old. As young as they are, they sure are a force to reckon with.
Morgan Stanley discovered in their survey that, “Trends are less important to Gen Z, but value remains a key determinant of purchasing behavior.”
This makes sustainability a key term in understanding Generation Z’s spending habits which will be a major key (“essential” in Gen Z terms) for retailers wanting to connect with them. And because this generation grew up much more environmentally aware and aren't happy with low prices if it damages the earth, harms animal life, or wastes resources, they’d rather not purchase from a particular brand if it does so.
As such, they’re shown to be willing to pay more so long as it’s sustainable. They're not just looking for trendy items, they’re now future-oriented too and look for sustainably made quality pieces. This is a generation that’s fashionable and socially-responsible.
Shifting Trends To Sustainable Luxury Clothing
Trends have shifted from seasonal outfits that expire after a few months to sustainable luxury clothing because of this demand from the leading consumer population and the rest.
Harper’s Bazaar reports that sustainable shopping is desired by 60% of Selfridges’ customers while 84% of them are also environmentally and socially-conscious of their purchases’ impact.
High-end brands such as Stella McCartney and Ninety Percent have since then focused their efforts on designing collections that stay relevant and stylish beyond seasons.
Now, high-end brands are focusing on classic pieces with low environmental impact.
These choices show how designer brands are taking hold of one while not letting go of the other. We can stay stylish while being a key player in sustaining the earth and humanity’s welfare at the same time.
Big names in the luxury industry such as Gucci and Kering have also taken up their stand through the G7 Fashion Pact to advocate sustainability and reduce the negative impact made by the fashion industry on the environment.
The thrust of this pact is to preserve both the fashion industry and the earth for the generation the industry serves now and the one who will hold both in the future.
Sustainable Luxury Leading The Industry
When talking about sustainable luxury, it's not about aimless purchases at all nor is it about simply looking sophisticated.
Instead, luxury and sustainability go hand in hand to bring fashion, style, and the environment together because these fashion houses always keep longevity and durability in mind coming from their history of legacy pieces meant to be passed on from one generation to another which is also the reason why only high-quality materials are used to create their beautiful collection
If you’ve ever been at a vintage shop and saw a luxury dress made way back and wonder how the style is still so in vogue, you’ll understand why. There’s still some indulgence in this because of its quality, but what's a little indulgence when you’re saving the environment?
The Fashion Pact at the 2019 G7 Summit is just one evidence of how sustainable luxury is leading the fashion industry towards an environmentally-sustainable and ethical business. Their leadership will set the culture that fast fashion must follow.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, though, sustainable luxury might seem like a contradictory statement because luxury is often associated with extravagance while sustainability with minimalism.
Sustainable luxury takes the best of both worlds for game-changing standards. One can definitely exist without the other but together, it’s magic.
Sustainable luxury is also more than just saving the environment; it's about taking the right steps forward as an industry, as a business, and most of all as fellow citizens of the modern world.
When high-end brands made sustainability a goal, it pushed the industry into an age of purposeful creativity and into a clearer direction of its responsibility for the aesthetics and its relationships too.
Now, sustainability is a standard rather than a bonus. This movement is just starting but it’s already spreading across all industry niches. Even fast-fashion retailers signed the Fashion Pact at the 2019 G7 Summit where they pledged to make their commitment to sustainability a reality.
The Benefits of Sustainably Shopping Luxury Clothing
Shopping for sustainable luxury does more than just make you look good. It’s also great for the environment, for the fashionista, and for the future too. Here are the reasons why.
For the environment. It's quite obvious that the environment wins the most with sustainability efforts.
Leaving fast fashion for sustainable luxury clothing lessens carbon emissions, preserves natural resources, and reduces water and chemical waste as you support products that are made to last for years, reducing your need to purchase another one because it broke down from low quality.
Sustainable luxury clothing is also made according to these brands’ sustainability efforts who are committed to taking meaningful steps towards choices that are mindful of its impact on the environment and on the welfare of their workers who bring these pieces together. These luxury garments are made with materials that are harvested sustainably, meaning it’s done without damaging the land or its species.
For the fashionista. Even if luxury items don’t break the bank, saving money is a universal desire.
Spending more now on quality pieces helps save cash in the long run. Since these are built to last, there's no need for immediate replacement unless it’s damaged to the point of no return.
Otherwise, your wallet (and the environment!) will be thanking you when you pass on the cheap blouse to buy the luxury top instead.
Also, the money you save on replacements can be reallocated to more important priorities you might have for your financial portfolio. Now that’s being fashionable and financially wise.
For future society. Societies move in mysterious ways and trends pass from one niche to another. Thus, if sustainable practices gain more traction, this will trickle down to fast fashion— and it already is!
Demanding this now and making conscious choices that uphold the values of sustainability can nudge the industry forward and help cultures worldwide.
One small effort is already one step towards change because moving forward no matter how small the step will make a big difference as these accumulate.
The difference may not be felt right now or right away, but our efforts today will ensure that those who are next in line will definitely see the thriving fashion industry and the earth we’re all rooting for.
Sustainable luxury can also ultimately raise the quality of life for laborers in manufacturing countries because it doesn’t partake in child labor, harsh dyes, and unethical harvesting.
A higher quality of life and working environment will be a beacon of hope for these nations working in the fashion industry. Because of that, they might be inspired to create their fashion designs too, and contribute to the diversity and beauty of the fashion industry.
What Sustainable Luxury Looks Like
So what does sustainability look like in high-end brands? Get ready to act now with this sustainable luxury shopping guide!
Quality over quantity. A good marker of sustainable luxury apparel is quality.
Items with durable materials and sturdy stitching signify good quality and can be sustainable since you get a lot of use out of it. No replacements nor exchanges are needed!
Similarly, shopping for quality rather than buying the same thing in bulk is the sustainable way to go and lessens your laundry load too. You save on cash and water at that.
Sustainability then covers not only your purchase of items but also the resources needed to maintain your choices.
A closet that lasts. Next is the ability to create a closet that lasts.
This is tied into quality but goes a step further.
Being able to consistently reuse items years after buying them is another facet of sustainable luxury. This means thinking not just about the enduring quality of the pieces, but also the enduring style, use, and fit.
For many in this niche, designing timeless and fashionable pieces is a key factor.
Transparency is key. Sustainable brands are also transparent. Being honest about material sourcing and clothing manufacturing is important. Remake defines transparency as “the practice of publicly sharing information about where products are made, and the makers that make them”. This is easily found when going online shopping.
Sustainable luxury brands are proud of the effort they go through to be a clean and ethical brand. Because of this, websites like MatchesFashion usually have a section or two on how their products are made as you do your online shopping.
To emphasize the point of transparency even in online shopping, Ida Petterson of UK luxury brand Browns is quoted by Harper’s Bazaar to have said that their e-commerce website has made it easy for customers to shop their conscious collection because “It’s there to help guide our customers and also to allow them to make an informed choice without having to spend hours searching through the respective brand's manifesto,”
Upcycled materials and sustainable fabrics. Knowing the kind of fabric used is another marker of what sustainable luxury looks like.
It would be great if the tag says the item is made from upcycled materials.
Upcycled materials, which are made from ocean plastics and excess textiles, are ones that retain a bit of the original characteristics and are given a new life, kind of like repurposing.
Recycled materials, on the other hand, if you’re wondering what’s the difference, are already broken down to their original component and remade to something entirely new.
Using organic natural fibers like recycled cotton, organic hemp, wool, and linen is just as smart. Both choices, upcycled or organic, would be environmentally-sustainable. Some man-made fabrics would also fit the bill, like Econyl for nylon alternatives, Tencel for cotton alternatives, and PrimaLoft, for polyester alternatives.
Luxury Shopping, But Make It Sustainable
The final stop is the actual shopping. Here are some tips to help make your luxury shopping experiences more sustainable.
Vintage shopping. In the UK, people are choosing vintage or second-hand clothing over brand new ones as sentiments shift to fashion with the least environmental impact.
Because people have seen that shopping for vintage luxury clothing is a surefire way to be sustainable.
Even if the clothing itself wasn't made sustainably, not wasting the energy, resources, and emissions used to make it by giving it another run is a sustainable practice.
A luxury item, in general, is high quality and has a story to tell in its stitches.
You'll be unique in your vintage trench coat, off-shoulder blouse, or skirt, and your closet will be full of character.
Vintage luxury shopping can be done in-store or through online sources, making it easily accessible. When you buy vintage, you shop for precious, hidden, and rare gems that will also last long after your purchase because of the quality materials it’s made of and the excellence put in by its makers.
Capsule closets. Capsule closets are definitely in style, and they’re super sustainable too. Minimizing your closet to just high-quality essentials is an easy way to ensure that all your clothing gets used.
Why buy a sustainable dress if you’ll only wear it once?
Limiting your closet size to just the fundamentals and some other fun stuff challenges your creativity and makes dressing up much easier.
Having fewer items to choose from will shave off time in your morning routine. When you can’t find anything to wear, it might be about having an overwhelming number of options rather than needing new clothing.
Think of a capsule closet as your collection of fashion essentials.
Business of Fashion defines a capsule collection as one containing your most important styles. They also add that this goes beyond seasons as it’s comprised not only of your favorites but of your most functional ones as well.
A capsule closet is, then, a sustainable and smart choice.
With this, you'll usually already have the bulk of items you’ll need and would only have to shop for just a few more items to make it work. Since you'll be using these quite often, high-quality sustainable luxury pieces are the way to go. Go Donna Karan and create your own “Seven Easy Pieces” with those luxury clothes.
Luxury fashion rental. Another option is to rent luxury.
Say you have a super important event coming up. You probably didn't include a gown in your capsule closet and buying a new floor-length gown that you’ll barely wear is not a sustainable decision.
In this case, luxury fashion rental is a clever alternative. Platforms like Rent The Runway and Nuuly will take you far in your events. For those seeking plus-size clothing, Gywnnie Bee, a monthly subscription box, specializes in just that.
By renting, you'll be reducing clothing waste and extending the life of the apparel that rental companies already have. It also gives you the joy of online shopping without a serious commitment.
A wise buy. There’s a time and place for new clothing.
Disasters happen, some wine stains can’t be scrubbed out, and some weight differences need a size change. Either way, you can still shop from your favorite high-end brands so long as you’re sure it’s a wise buy.
While you shop, consider its versatility, how frequently you'll wear it, and if its quality matches your needs. Purposeful purchases and future-mindedness is our shopping pro-tip.
Quality-wise, be sure to check the stitching, the fabric’s texture on your skin, and its opacity or thickness.
If you prefer online shopping, you can check its materials, reviews, and the brand’s manufacturing processes. This helps make sure that it was sustainably made and that you'll be able to make full use of it. Lifetime clothes are the goal, not just the dream!
Local luxury. Shopping locally is another trick to sustainable luxury.
Many high-end brands tend to use locally-sourced materials to help out their economy. Taking part in local luxury is an awesome way to support your countrymen and ensure quality. If you're from somewhere with strict waste guidelines, this is an even bigger plus.
Shopping from a local brand will also lessen carbon emissions during shipment and will minimize packaging. If you shop for it online, it'll have less distance to travel and have less carbon footprint. If you buy it in-store, then the packaging itself is reduced.
Online shopping. Our last tip is to go online shopping.
The biggest danger of going to a physical store is that you'll be surrounded by temptations and unplanned shopping sprees are easier to happen. It only takes one shiny window to buy more than what you came for, and that could be a sustainability problem.
Shop from the safety of your home and be fashionably sustainable too!
Online shopping also offers more transparency and more opportunities to know where products came from. When you shop online, you’ll have a lot of time to think things through rather than to buy things on a whim. You also get the chance to research the materials the products are made from and how it was manufactured which you don’t get to do in-store.
You’re more able to make a conscious and informed choice as you sustainably pursue luxury shopping, sustaining your fashion while sustaining the environment. This extra time could also be all the difference between a capsule closet and a closet bursting at the seams with only twice-worn clothing. However, online shopping isn't infallible. The packaging and shipping come into question. The sustainability of online shopping is debatable and will depend on what and how you purchase. In the end, that's up to you and your discernment.
Sustainability is the new black and the rallying cry of the new era in fashion. Gone are the days when the environment was sacrificed for cheap prices. Now, sustainable luxury is paving the way but, of course, we've got our roles in the process too. If you want to shop from some high-end brands, feel free. Investing in key pieces that will last long in the future will do a lot of good. Spending more now on investment purchases could save much for your wallet, the environment, and the future.
Shopping sprees aren’t ideal, and having clothes that grow with you is special. What's more satisfying than wearing a soft sweater that still feels good as new, even years after buying it? Sustainable luxury shopping is killing two birds with one stone — you save the world and you'll look good doing it too. Choose sustainable for yourself, for the fashion community, for the next generation, and for the world that holds us all together.