Eco Fashion Goes Upscale

Discussion
Apr 20, 2007

By George Anderson

Luxury fashion designers and retailers have caught onto the green wave with new lines of clothing and accessories that can lay claim to being “environmentally friendly” and “socially responsible.”

Retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and others are looking to take part in and expand the $229 billion market for products and services that protect the environment and increase social justice. That figure is defined by Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability in Broomfield, Colo., a network of companies engaged in environmentally sustainable business practices.

“There is no question that there is an enormous opportunity,” Bloomingdale’s Chairman Michael Gould told Bloomberg News. “People are developing an affinity for companies that can talk in a meaningful way about being friendly to the environment. But you can’t give up quality, fashion and newness.”

Quality and fashion has been an issue facing designers who, in the past, explored do-good duds but found production technology was not able to deliver what luxury consumers demand.

That has changed as evidenced by designer Linda Loudermilk’s fall fashion show held back on February 1 in New York. Ms. Loudermilk made use of hemp satin and reclaimed fake fur in the evening gowns worn by models on the runway.

Designer Stella McCartney, daughter of famous vegan parents Sir Paul and Linda McCartney, has designed leather-free shoes and handbags. She also has a new line of organic skin-care products, Care, sold at Sephora.

Designers such as Ms. Loudermilk and Ms. McCartney are looking to succeed where others have not in the past.

Lynda Grose, one of the creators of Ecollection, a line of clothing using organic and recycled materials that failed in the nineties, said, “Before, the clothes were too ethnic, the fabric not quite right. This wave around is more stylish and is more in sync with the marketplace. The whole industry is going toward more advanced product.”

Discussion Question: Why has high-end fashion lagged behind other categories in areas such as environmental friendliness and social responsibility? Are consumers of high-end fashion more or less environmentally conscious than those of more moderate means?

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7 Comments on "Eco Fashion Goes Upscale"


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Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 1 month ago

Psychology theorists might argue that those with greater affluence are much more likely to alter behavior in response to social and moral issues. It is difficult for someone on a budget to sacrifice essentials or the few luxuries they do have to pay extra for basics which support moral imperatives.

However, my personal experience is that the affluent are almost equally likely to completely ignore issues such as global warning as they are to embrace them. From a retail perspective, the one area that affluent followers reliably do act in support of their beliefs is in minor changes to purchase behavior.

I think this is long overdue, and yes, there are enough affluent consumers who either actually care about global warning or care about being perceived as caring about global warning to make a difference in luxury retail.

David Biernbaum
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Linda Loudermilk’s fall fashion show February 1 in New York was a step in that direction to transform upscale fashion to become eco-friendly. This crowd follows the lead of celebrities that they look up to in Hollywood, New York, and in the business world. Once it becomes in style to be eco-friendly, and taboo not to be, this market will come around.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 1 month ago

David is exactly right, no left…whatever! Fashion is to some extent set by the “I want to be like Mike” syndrome. Most people want more than they have. Most people would prefer others think they have more than they actually have. “Being like Mike” actually means that people admit they don’t have any fashion sense or taste and look to others to provide leadership. Often, these others are TV personalities who thrive on publicity. Some of these personalities actually post schedules and wardrobes in hopes of luring “green” protesters to them to create a scene that garners publicity. Many “green” organizations have become household names due to this convenient conspiracy. In a society where everything seems to be manipulated, I don’t see why we can’t convince those with money to pay more for fabric than leather–oh, but that’s already been done–remember Ultrasuede?!

Liz Crawford
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Sure, Hollywood will don fake fur. But Park Avenue? Don’t hold your breath. I agree with my colleague; working conditions and fair labor practices are what’s really at issue here. Witness Nike.

The middle tier consumer, the bridge clothing buyer…is all about eco-chic. While the true consumer of designer labels (here I mean Pret a Porter starting at about $1K on the low end) will integrate key eco-chic pieces into her wardrobe for badging purposes.

Q: What is recycled designer clothing?
A: Consignment.

Joy V. Joseph
Guest
Joy V. Joseph
15 years 1 month ago

I do not think that consumers of high-end fashion are more or less environmentally conscious or socially responsible than other consumers. The key differentiating factor is practicality. If it is practical and affordable, general consumers can be as environmentally conscious as their high-end counterparts. The high-end consumer does not have to worry about this aspect, and so has one less factor to worry about in their purchase decision–the cost of being environmentally conscious. On a different note, the article has briefly glossed over an important aspect of eco-fashion- social responsibility; specifically the working conditions in which fashion products are manufactured. I think this factor is as important as the materials used in production, and has more immediate ramifications on living conditions of people around the world.

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
15 years 1 month ago

Fashion is the romance of springtime. It comes every year. Missing one will result in a big drop in sales, but could one very, very, extra special spring bring more income than another? Maybe, a little bit.

Environmentalism and fashion have only one thing in common; spin.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

High-end fashions change all the time. And the life blood of the fashion industry is publicity. If clothing designers and labels think they can get more attention by being ecologically responsible and animal-friendly, then that’s what they’ll be. If all they get is yawns or the attention of an underspending minority, they’ll go on to something else. Customers vote every day at the cash register.

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