Illustration for article titled Shocker: Not All Luxuries Are Created Equal

As we're smack dab in the middle of the holiday shopping season, do you wonder if that oh-so-cheap cashmere sweater you've purchased was stitched by malnourished six year olds? Do you question whether the python that gave up its skin for your handbag was killed humanely? (It definitely wasn't!) Some of the big luxury names have received poor grades in a ranking of ethical and environmental performance, according to the Financial Times. The WWF released a report called Deeper Luxury and gives both Italian jewelry company Bulgari and Italian accessory company Tod's grade F for their "environmental, social and governance performance and reputation." PPR, which owns Gucci, received a D, as did Swatch. Hermès, L'Oréal and LVMH got the highest grades: C+.

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Anthony Kleanthous, a senior policy adviser at WWF, said most of the luxury companies did well in some areas but were weak in others. "Luxury companies do not consider their products to be particularly damaging to the environment," he said. "They just don't think people are going to be asking the questions. But there has been a paradigm shift." In fact, in a recent survey of 950 high-income American adults, 57% said they'd pay more for a brand that had socially responsible practices. 70% look for brands with "superior environmental records."

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Meanwhile, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, and designer Tom Ford seem to agree. They attended the International Herald Tribune conference on luxury, and spoke about so-called "ethical luxury" — products that "define their owners or wearers as people with human and ecological consciences." Said Ford: "Luxury is not going out of style. It needs to change its style. We need to replace hollow with deep." (He also mourned the state of luxury in the 1990s, when "luxury went from hard to find to hard to miss.")

And if making luxury products eco- and employee-friendly winds up inflating price tags, so be it. As Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, says in a Q&A in AdWeek: "Affordable luxury is a contradiction in terms. Those luxury brands racing to transform themselves into affordable luxury by making deals with mass retailers have forgotten that their business model is not just about stamping out more products."

Do luxury brands have a responsibility to be ethical? Can they be, while selling fur, ostrich, fine cashmere? And would they make a difference in the world? And, despite what the survey said (people lie!) do luxury consumers actually care how something was made? Or do they just want the logo?

Luxury Brands Fail To Make Ethical Grade [Financial Times]
At IHT Luxury Conference, Ethics Are In Vogue [International Herald Tribune]
Q&A: A Social Approach for Luxe Brands [AdWeek]
Earlier: My Week With A $4000 Snakeskin Handbag

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DISCUSSION

@missdelite: Lots of stores will sell everything left over at the end of the season to third parties in bulk. Which is how eBay has an infinite, erratic supply of last-last season's Gucci sandals, BNIB for $120. I bought a pair of gorgeous Prada patent pumps that I remember seeing in advertising around F/W 03-04 through eBay for $90 including shipping maybe 18 months ago. You gotta have armour when your job consists of meeting fashion people day in day out.

Also, and this doesn't go so much for luxury items as it does for mass-market stuff, sometimes things will be sold in bulk back to the third world. When I lived in Morocco, for instance, you could sometimes find at the local outdoor market apparel branded with the imagery of a rugby league team called the Auckland Warriors (which, ironically, was the team my Dad supported when we lived in New Zealand). At first we thought the stuff was fake, but it actually was real — just stuff from an older season, with an old version of the team logo and strip. You could also buy Levi's (and Levi's knockoffs). I have no idea what the supply chain for that stuff is, only that I've seen it happen.