The Attenborough effect: how luxury companies are tackling the elephant in the room

When I was around 18 years old, I remember doing the dishes in the small rustic kitchen of our family home in the Geneva countryside, and asking my father point-blank why we were using cleaning products that were clearly bad for the environment. My father, taken aback, explained that the (Swiss) government couldn’t impose these types of decisions on any industry. It was a free market after all, he must have said, a bit annoyed.

I argued my point: what do you mean, if it’s bad for the environment, why can’t the government not make it a mandatory change and over a period of time, like 5 years or so. My unfailing logic understood that we need to offer businesses enough time to change their practices and adapt to support the new rules.

I don’t recall him answering my point. It hung in the air.

It’s been over 25 years since that conversation and I don’t see a real change around me. I walked the isles of my local supermarket the other day and it was hard to find the eco-friendly offering.

Unlike many out there, I haven’t been watching Netflix very much for the past few months. Maybe I suffer from chronic choice paralysis; I am also fairly bored with their algorithm. However, I recently treated myself to an evening with David Attenborough with his latest documentary “A Life on our Planet”. It was both marvellous and saddening, although I felt he left me with a sense of hope and possibility.

As he says:

“Nature is our biggest ally and our greatest inspiration. We just have to do what nature has always done. It worked out the secret of life long ago.

In this world, a species can only thrive when everything else around it thrives too. We can solve the problems we now face by embracing this reality.

If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. It’s now time for our species to stop simply growing. To establish a way of life on our planet in balance with nature.

To start to thrive. We need to discover how to be sustainable

To move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature once again.”

In my previous blog post, I asked the question: who do we want to be? Well, this week I bring you some businesses who have a clear sense of who they want to be and also have a razor-sharp focus on sustainable practices.

The artist Cindy Sherman illustrated the letter “E.”Credit: Cindy Sherman

STELLA MCCARTNEY’S A TO Z MANIFESTO

I feel compelled to start this sustainability blog with Stella McCartney. Not because she is a pioneer in the field (although for that reason itself it would have been a fine choice) and neither because she works in the luxury arena, closer to my own industry knowledge. Instead, it was her answer to the NYT’s Vanessa Friedman, which stayed with me for days:

“I think, like all of us, I asked myself a lot of questions during lockdown: Why do I do what I do? Why do people work at Stella McCartney? And why on earth would you be in fashion?

I had all these sleepless nights, and then I woke up at like 4 o’clock in the morning and wrote down everything that really makes what I do important to me and meaningful. I wrote a manifesto without knowing it.”

The word ‘manifesto’ doesn’t resonate strongly with me generally, yet the resulting piece was transformed into an A to Z which covered sustainability, brand values and aspirations.

Unveiled at the same time as the designer’s SS21 collection, the collection was reduced to 26 pieces, to work in tandem with the letters. I, for example, stands for Intimacy, with all of Stella McCartney’s lingerie and swimwear now made from recycled ocean waste.

“D is for desire. It doesn’t mean we have to punish ourselves. It doesn’t mean we have to compromise. We can still have fun,” Stella reminds us.

Something I want to take forward into my day.

MUSHROOM LEATHER, A VIABLE LUXURY ALTERNATIVE?

Image via @NYT

Faux-leather made out of fungus may not be the most appealing string of words you have read this week, especially when considering this is not a new fabric to just sit on but a new sustainable offering for pret-a-porter.

However, trailblazers like Bolt Threads are developing the new material, Mylo, made of mycelium with the support and investment of Adidas, Kering, Lululemon and Stella McCartney. Industry competitors joining hands may seem strange and yet they were convinced by the need to offer their customers these new bio-materials.

Bolt Threads isn’t the only one competing in the market, as this other NYT article was already touting the interesting qualities of fungal leather. So the question is: would you get a mushroom leather jacket? Mylo products will be available from 2021. Full article at the New York Times.

MYCELIUM PACKAGING FROM FRENCH BRAND AMEN

Packaging made from Mycelium

Sustainable packaging has been a major issue for many industries. French brand Amen is launching four new candles, which will be packaged and transported in a protective casing grown from mycelium (mushrooms, encore!) and agricultural waste. The brand, which makes vegan and paraben-free candles, has partnered with biotech startup Grown, which created what is essentially the first CO2 negative packaging, so actively doing good for the environment.

While mycelium has been popular recently among designers and architects (as per the above), not many are jumping on this sustainable train, for fears the product is not luxurious enough. Said Grown founder Jan Berbee explained to Dezeen:

“I met some buyers and they suggested that I should add a gold line to the mushrooms packaging to make it ‘look luxury’,” he said. “But we’re hoping to create a new perception of what luxury is. To quote my sustainability mentor Oskar Metsavaht, we want to bring together ethics and aesthetics.”

Whatever your thoughts on this, watch the video, it’s fantastic. Full article on Dezeen.com

AWARD WINNING SKINCARE BRAND LAUNCHES “WASTE-NOT” INITIATIVE

Photo: Chris White / Courtesy of Circumference

A sustainable beauty brand using waste products for a powerful Active Restorative Moisturizing Cream sounded a bit made up to me. Until I read about Circumference NYC, who have launched their first formulation born from their “Waste-Not Initiative”. The two-year-old line, brainchild of couple Jina Kim and Chris Young are applying the Waste-Not rousing from a book called Radical Matter, via which they explored waste as a means rather than an end.

In a symbiotic arrangement with Bedell Cellars, a sustainable vineyard on Long Island, Circumference culls the remaining vines and leaves to get their extracts, then blends them with nourishing oils. All products are sold in recycled glass bottles

“By-products have a lot of untapped potential,” Jina explains to Vogue, adding that she and Chris have already begun looking into other areas of waste that can be upcycled into luxe formulas that benefit both our epidermal layers and the planet. “Since the beginning,” muses Chris, “we’ve really wanted to leave a lasting imprint within the beauty industry and help redefine what sustainability can mean in skincare.”

Read on at Vogue.com or discover more via Circumference NYC on Instagram.

This post was originally published in the AVM.Consulting newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday. To sign up for insights into fashion, luxury, design, communications and more, please visit: https://avm.consulting/

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