By Lisa Marie Chirico
It's not yet passe to ask someone if their purse, shoes, or formal wear were created by a well-known designer. In spite of the global economic downturn, designer goods remain the purchase of choice for some consumers. According to an HSBC luxury-goods analyst, the future for this market is bright. "Trends in luxury consumption in the United States have continued to outperform overall consumer trends," he says.
People like Livia Firth, creative director of eco-age.com and co-creator of the Green Carpet Challenge, are helping to change the discourse around designer goods. "Is that a Rainforest Alliance Certified leather Gucci handbag?" has begun to replace "Is that a Gucci handbag?" during some conversations. CSR, is clearly an idea whose time has come for luxury goods manufacturers, who undoubtedly desire to be seen by their customers as socially and environmentally responsible. Today, 71 percent of American consumers align their spending with their values.
The renowned Italian brand Gucci recently made a giant leap into sustainability. They chose to partner with Firth and the Rainforest Alliance to produce the world's first handbag line using leather from Rainforest Alliance Certified ranches. The result is a beautiful thing.
“Gucci’s new line sets a shining example in the fashion industry, demonstrating that leather can be produced in a way that benefits the environment and farming communities, while promoting the humane treatment of livestock,” said Sabrina Vigilante, director of Strategic Initiatives at the Rainforest Alliance. "Agricultural conversion for cattle production is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon,” she added.
Gucci's partnership with the Rainforest Alliance for their first sustainable handbag line is a wise choice. According to their website, the Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.
If you believe that your leather goods probably have an insignificant impact on our planet, think again. Tropical deforestation is an alarming issue with a significant worldwide affect. It is a major contributor to climate change and threatens an extensive range of animal and plant species. According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the last 50 years approximately 17 percent of the Amazon forest has been lost primarily due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.
Although their response is viewed by some as delayed (according to one report, designer brands face little pressure to invest in CSR) luxury brands have not turned a blind eye to the move towards greater social and environmental responsibility. In the fashion world, some of the first signs of eco-consciousness emerged in the early 1990s. From Giorgio Armani, who weaved hemp into his clothing lines, to Stella McCartney, who refused to use fur or leather in her creations.
Gucci is not new to "sustainable" luxury. They were one of the first luxury brands to start a voluntary certification process in the field of CSR (SA8000) in 2004, and proceeded to earn their official SA8000 certification in 2007. Then, in 2010, the company attained the ISO 14001 environmental management certification.
In addition to their new Gucci for the Green Carpet Challenge Handbag Collection, the company also offers sunglasses that are made from liquid wood (an eco-friendly alternative to plastic); Sustainable Soles, an eco-friendly line of shoes for women and men; and eco-packaging made with 100 percent recylable paper. Gucci is clearly on course to become a leader in sustainable luxury.