What is luxury sustainable fashion?

To achieve sustainable luxury fashion, more must be considered than how a product is made and how biodegradable it is.

To be truly considered sustainable, brands must look towards offsetting their carbon emissions, providing 100% biodegradable packaging, offering fair pay and conditions to their workers, and using safe materials and processes for their workers and the environment. 

As a result, very few brands and companies can truly claim to be 100% sustainable. Still, some are pioneering the movement and implementing long-term plans to achieve sustainability and become as planet-kind as possible. 

In this blog, we’ll look closely at what it takes for brands to become sustainable, define some of the terms closely related to sustainability and talk about sustainable luxury brands that are leading the way in achieving luxury and designer fashion that’s perfectly planet-kind.

Table of contents:

What does a brand need to offer to be considered more sustainable?

Sustainable fashion buzzwords explained 

Stella McCartney: The pioneer of sustainable fashion

Rosamund Muir’s sustainability promise 

What does a brand need to offer to be considered more sustainable?

Rosamund's hand brushing camouflage leather

In the luxury fashion industry, many brands are starting to pay attention to the impact of climate change and the importance of making greener choices to save the planet from extinction. 

However, for every brand consciously trying to make a difference, some claim to be sustainable yet don’t practice what they preach. This is known as Greenwashing. Greenwashing is when a company claims to be sustainable in its marketing campaigns yet isn’t doing much in the background to minimise its environmental impact.

As a result, consumers find it difficult to understand which sustainable luxury brands to invest in if they want to shop more responsibly.

Luckily, greenwashing is now being taken more seriously, and some of the leading fashion brands in the world are facing legal action for making such wild claims.

Alongside this, organisations such as Good On You, founded in Australia in 2015, are actively calling out fashion brands to be more transparent with their sustainable practices. 

Good On You has analysed the data of over 3,000 fashion brands worldwide, scrutinising their ethical and environmental policies to rate them on how sustainable they actually are, so consumers can gain a better understanding of the best and most sustainable luxury brands to shop from to make better, more environmentally friendly choices.

What brands need to consider to become more sustainable

The data and processes that Good On You look at to assess how sustainable a brand is can help us better understand exactly what a fashion brand needs to think about and change to be accepted as planet-kind. These include the following

How they treat people

Atelier workers hands cutting and shaping leather

Sustainability isn’t just about pollution and processes; it’s also about people. For a brand to be ethical, it has to look after its workers across every area of its supply chain. This includes offering policies on fair pay, gender equality, diversity and practices against child labour or forced labour. As well as this, brands need to prioritise their workers’ health and safety in the workplace.

How they treat the planet

Rosamund's hand feeling out the leather

It’s estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions and for contributing excessive amounts of textile waste to landfill every year. For brands to become sustainable, they need to address their carbon emissions and how their processes impact water, food chains, biodiversity and deforestation.

To improve the sustainability of their business model, brands should focus on the durability and longevity of their products, the types of materials they use and the impact of their waste. 

It’s no longer enough to make products from natural, biodegradable materials, especially if the process causes harmful emissions or requires chemicals that could negatively impact the environment. 

To be truly sustainable, brands need to work towards zero emissions and a circular economy that minimises waste by reusing offcuts and deadstock.

Although it may take years for a luxury fashion brand to achieve all of these things, by being transparent about its processes and emissions and constantly adapting its business model, it’s easier for consumers to trust it.

How they treat animals

Another thing brands must consider is whether their garments and accessories are cruelty-free or vegan-friendly. Although this isn’t a top priority for some fashion houses, many consumers are calling out for these products, promoting a rise in vegan-friendly alternatives. 

Brands that use animal skins and animal by-products cannot be considered vegan-friendly, which is why many are looking to create vegan leathers that are lab grown or made from plants. The issue is that the processes used to create these alternatives also need to be clean for the materials to be considered truly sustainable.

Brands that use leather and other animal by-products can’t be considered cruelty-free, but they can still be mindful of their sourcing and environmental impact. 

For example, by using leather offcuts that you ordinarily send to landfill, a brand can build a more sustainable business model by minimising waste rather than simply farming for leather. 

Whilst it would be almost impossible for a sustainable luxury brand to tick all these boxes, organisations like Good On You consider these ratings and give brands an overall score. Consumers can then make educated shopping choices based on each brand’s rating. 

In turn, brands can also work to improve their sustainability business model to improve their rating. Sustainability is not something that you can achieve overnight. Still, by being transparent about plans to become more sustainable and adapting the business model over time, there is a future where sustainable luxury fashion can exist.

Sustainable fashion buzzwords explained 

A box of green lasts

Because so many fashion houses and brands are claiming to be sustainable, there are many terms out there that can make trying to become a more considerate shopper seem a little daunting or confusing. 

Here are definitions of some of the most popular phrases to better understand sustainability as a whole and help you make better choices.

  • Greenwashing – we touched on this before, but greenwashing is when a brand makes bold claims about its sustainability without actually putting this into practice. If you’re shopping from a brand for the first time, check out its practices and policies on its website on sustainability, read customer reviews, and conduct some research to make up your mind on whether what a brand is saying rings true. 
  • Ethical fashion – a term often used but rarely explained; ethical fashion is when a fashion brand’s business model, from design to production, focuses on being planet-kind whilst reducing harm to its workers. Often seen as the opposite of fast fashion, ethical fashion brands benefit everyone in the supply chain, offering fair pay, a better working environment and fully transparent, environmentally friendly policies and practices.
  • Vegan leather – this is leather that has been manufactured and does not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products. Many brands use this as a vegan-friendly alternative to animal leather. Vegan leather isn’t always environmentally friendly, sustainable or biodegradable, so it’s important to take care when investing in it and to be mindful of green-washing. The processes involved in making some vegan leathers need large amounts of water and chemicals, which can be detrimental to the environment and workers. Whilst vegan leather is a new phenomenon and processes will improve over time, more transparency is needed before viewing this alternative material as sustainable.
  • Circular fashion is when garments are recycled, and materials are used over and over for as long as possible, then left to naturally biodegrade or be reused in textile production. For circular fashion to truly happen, brands need to use natural, fully recyclable materials to eliminate production techniques and materials that can impact the environment, reuse offcuts or offer them to those that can and keep garments in use for as long as possible.
  • Deadstock fabric – also known as overstock or surplus, deadstock fabric is the leftover fabric at the end of a production process. For this to be sustainable, it needs to be used rather than wasted or sent to a landfill. At Rosamund Muir, we use surplus leather to create our shoes, preventing unnecessary waste.
Rosamund choosing Montana Hope coloured leathers
  • Preloved fashion – buying preloved usually means buying a luxury fashion item on the secondhand market instead of buying new. Buying preloved fashion is another way of investing in a circular economy.

Stella McCartney: The pioneer of luxury sustainable fashion

Although increasingly luxury brands are striving to become sustainable, Stella McCartney pioneered the movement before it became headline news. The brand’s business model is a great example of how you can achieve sustainable luxury fashion over time.

Since the creation of the Stella McCartney brand in 2001, the fashion house has constantly evolved and adapted its business model to become increasingly sustainable and planet-kind.

Originally recognised as the first fashion house to reject the use of leather, fur, feathers and animal skins in her collections, McCartney began developing an action plan to ensure that across every area of the business, the fashion house would be as ethical as possible.

Rejecting natural furs and skins posed challenges surrounding the use of non-biodegradable materials. The brand responded to this by educating its customers on how to care for their products to make them last a lifetime whilst constantly coming up with innovative alternatives to these man-made materials to achieve more planet-friendly options that are safer for workers to use. 

Using vegetarian leather since 2013, Stella McCartney was one of the first to use an alternative to traditional leathers. The material combines polyester and polyurethane with a recycled polyester backing layer. The coating on the vegetarian leather is made with over 50% vegetable oil which is natural and renewable.

Developing the material’s make-up over time, the brand switched its polyurethanes to water-borne and solvent-free to ensure it used lower energy and water intensity and to make it safer for workers to handle. And that’s not all; the brand is now working towards producing lab-grown leather as a more progressive approach towards sustainability. 

Implementing recycled cashmere and viscose sustainably sourced from certified forests allowed Stella McCartney to cement her commitment to circular fashion further. Using organic cotton, recycled polyester and nylon and conducting further research into turning recycled plastic bottles into fabric only help to solidify how committed the brand is to become fully sustainable.

As for emissions, McCartney spent time looking at her brand’s environmental impact across the business, from manufacturing to selling in stores, tweaking business decisions to achieve a minimal environmental impact. 

The Stella McCartney model is a great example of how the fashion industry can step up and take responsibility for its environmental responsibilities in the fight to prevent climate change.

However, this business model also helps to detail how difficult it is for a luxury fashion brand to become completely sustainable overnight. The Stella McCartney plan has been tweaked and developed over twenty years, with the brand constantly evolving to ensure it meets its ongoing sustainability objectives. 

McCartney has achieved her goal of becoming as ethical and sustainable as possible by offering complete transparency to consumers during the process. 

For consumers to trust a brand’s message and decisions, they need to be aware of the goals and changes being made during the journey. Only then can greenwashing be avoided – and the goal of achieving a more sustainable model be reached.

Rosamund Muir’s sustainability promise 

Rosamund choosing soles in the atelier

Much like at Stella McCartney, at Rosamund Muir, our brand’s decision-making revolves around a consciousness of the environment and a drive towards sustainability.

Championing slow fashion, all of our high-quality footwear is made from premium materials built to last for the longevity of wear. 

With a zero-waste policy, all the leathers used in our shoes are 100% by-products from the leather industry, with 80% sourced from a premium Italian leather deadstock supplier.

Then, in creating the shoes, each pair is handmade in the atelier, with each piece of leather being hand-cut to achieve its maximum potential. This avoids unnecessary waste (any other waste is donated to local schools for craft projects – in our quest toward promoting a circular economy). Our heels are made from wood which is currently the most sustainable option on the market.

Male worker hammer leather onto a last in the atelier

Our packaging is also 100% plastic free and eco-friendly as we’re committed to giving customers a luxury experience without negatively impacting the planet.

Luxury sustainable fashion: The highlights

Whilst it is clear that for a brand to become truly sustainable, they need to develop and review decisions over time, sustainable luxury fashion does exist.

For a brand to become sustainable, it must review its manufacturing processes and look at every area of its business, from how it treats its people to how it sources materials and how much waste and pollution it creates.

By setting out a long-term sustainability plan and being fully transparent, brands can engage with their consumers and build trust, giving them the confidence to shop. 

Sustainable luxury fashion occurs when all of these things marry up – when a brand has a clear message and goals on how and when it aims to hit its sustainability targets but offers consumers clear and concise updates along the way to withhold trust. 

Brands such as Stella McCartney prove how long the sustainability journey can take and that it is ever-evolving. But the brand’s model also proves that by being fully transparent and making actionable changes along the way whilst avoiding greenwashing, there is a way the luxury fashion world can be sustainable. 

Learn more about Rosamund Muir’s creation and slow-fashion ethos here, then shop our sustainable luxury shoes, to find the perfect pair to last a lifetime. 

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