In a sector where social and environmental commitments have traditionally focused on philanthropic efforts, luxury is perhaps the most poised for instigating positive change within the fashion industry, argues Nicola Giuggioli, CEO of Eco-Age. According to Giuggioli, the luxury industry’s intimate knowledge and appreciation of high-quality materials, manufacturing and notions of provenance, alongside its smaller scale in comparison to mass fashion, position it to become a leader in the sustainability space.
Eco-Age, a London-based consultancy that tailors sustainability and accompanying branding and communications strategies for luxury brands, aims to reposition the industry’s understanding and pursuance of sustainability through a consumer-centric, strategic-oriented, communications-savvy lens. It is doing this in part through its widely celebrated initiative, the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC).
“It all started four years ago,” Giuggioli recalls, “when my sister, Livia Firth['s husband, Colin], was nominated for an Oscar.” Firth’s friend, sustainable fashion pundit Lucy Siegle, challenged her to wear a ‘green gown’ on the red carpet. And so the Green Carpet Challenge was born.
In its not-so-humble beginning, the GCC worked with emerging fashion designers, who were then the only ones working with recycled or upcycled garments; today, renowned fashion houses are eager to participate in this highly valued and publicized initiative. The GCC, which participates in distinguished events from the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards, counts notable designers including Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera and Christopher Kane amongst its collaborators, as well as industry A-Listers, such as Anna Wintour and Nicole Kidman, as supporters.
Alongside the early successes of the GCC however, fashion brands’ increasing monetization of fame and style on the red carpet has presented challenges for its continued growth. In competing against brands that pay top dollar for celebrities to sport their gowns, the GCC, which does not provide payment of any kind, recognized the need to evolve.
In response, Giuggioli and his team decided to move from red carpet-based to event-led initiatives with a focus on collaborating with a broader cross-section of brands. Eco-Age’s integrated expertise and understanding of sustainability, both internally and externally, has presented the industry with a compelling narrative.
“We have worked for almost ten years in a standard CSR management consultancy approach, focusing on certifications, supply chain reengineering and basic governance,” Giuggioli explains. “We realized that most of these initiatives were borne out of legal compliance or at the request from a Board of Directors or key stakeholders. No one was focusing on initiatives that were centered on the customer.”
With a team of seasoned sustainability management consultants working alongside branding, marketing and retail experts, Eco-Age works to shift brands’ understanding of sustainability as an integrated business strategy worth talking about.
“Success in sustainability is the result of focusing on initiatives that can be communicated [to consumers] and add value. We understand that luxury fashion brands still operate within the industry’s expectations and that their products need to be beautiful and something people want to buy,” observes Giuggioli.
This new notion of value, as co-created by Eco-Age, its notable client roster and external partners, places the consumer at its core alongside a reinforcement of established brand values and positioning.
Following the successes of the GCC, Eco-Age recognized how consumers were placing trust and importance on the GCC brand as a signifier of environmentally and socially responsible products, and also equally on high quality. In response, Eco-Age launched the GCC brand mark earlier this year.
“It was a natural development,” Giuggioli explains, “with our clients and collaborators very happy to associate with a mark that is not a certification but a solid code of practice.”
The new mark presents an interesting proposition amidst a growing and potentially overwhelming list of sustainable fashion certifications. The first products to bear the GCC brand mark, Gucci’s new zero deforestation handbags, launched in March 2013 in the U.S. and Europe.
“This project with the Green Carpet Challenge was conceived to show how we can be proactive on environmental issues, by raising awareness and demonstrating action on the subject of deforestation,” Gucci creative director, Frida Giannini, told Vogue.
Another recent collaboration between GCC, luxury jewelers Chopard and the Alliance for Responsible Mining saw the release of Chopard’s first sustainably driven pieces, entitled The Journey. Composed of responsibly sourced, Fairmined gold from communities in South America and diamonds certified by not-for-profit standards organization the Responsible Jewellery Council, the collection marks a milestone in the brand’s sustainability journey.
GCC’s collaborative approach also extended into retail this fall through a new partnership with online luxury retail juggernaut Net-A-Porter and HIV-activism organization (RED). A Worldwide Exclusive Capsule collection of sustainable gowns was specially commissioned by five renowned British designers, with all pieces adhering to GCC’s ethical criteria. Launched this past September, all pieces sold out within two weeks, with 20% of proceeds donated to (RED).
“This was a positive surprise, and also a sign that there is an appetite for sustainability amongst luxury consumers,” Giuggioli said.
Eco-Age’s approach towards integrating sustainability efforts that more closely align with luxury brands’ existing positioning and core values is beginning to resonate.
“A lot of [luxury] brands have done philanthropy for a number of years, but for initiatives that don’t belong to their market – we have seen brands work with the WWF on saving the tiger, for example; a great cause though with no connection to their business,” Giuggioli explains. “We try to realign a brand’s philanthropy efforts to their core business, as our work with Chopard — they operate in the jewelry business and so investing in responsible mining is meaningful for them, their supply chain and their customers**.**’
Giuggioli’s view on the future of luxury? “I would love to see luxury brands competing on sustainability. There should be fierce competition on who creates the best initiatives, the most sustainable products. We need to change our thinking of sustainability and its opportunity as a differentiation tool.”
As for Eco-Age, we can expect a lot in the coming year. From expanding its journey with Chopard to developing another capsule collection and the launch of a sustainable silk project, 2014 will prove an exciting time for this growing consultancy. Beyond fashion, we will also hear about Eco-Age’s clients in other sectors including film, football and architecture, and further development of the GCC brand mark.