Luxury Fashion Brands: “Luxury is recycled “

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“I’m saying yes to recycling”  : this is the slogan displayed on their clothes designed from “regenerated materials”, the models of the Emporio Armani fashion show organized in Milan in January, before the start of the pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis seems to have reinforced the Italian designer Giorgio Armani in his choice of so-called “sustainable” fashion, he who, in an open letter (published in the Women’s Wear Daily, April 3) had rebelled against the “waste” of fashion, its overproduction and a rhythm of collections that has become “criminal”.

In the luxury sector, he is not the only one to change his speech. Louis Vuitton is also daring, for the first time, to “upcycling” (reviving an already existing garment by transforming it): the men’s spring-summer 2021 collection will thus include 25 looks created from existing materials (drawn from stock or in surplus materials), 25 looks from previous collections and totally upcycled pieces such as, for example, high-top sneakers from summer 2019 transformed into low-top sneakers by the artistic director Virgil Abloh.

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“Do these so-called“ recycled ”collections carry the message: buy less? Not really. Hopefully this is not simply a way of selling the Covid stocks… ”
Elizabeth Laville, of the Utopies firm

Make something new with old and say it, in an environment accustomed to offering more than reason: this is the new face of luxury in the pandemic era, with a less guilty appearance. At Gucci, we also recycle and we make it known, with “Off the grid”, the mixed collection of accessories and ready-to-wear, presented in June, totally designed in the circular economy. Here as at Vuitton or Armani, the prices of these recycled pieces remain the same as those of classic pieces, no discounts in sight.

Challenged by emerging brands that have been upcycling for several seasons already – Marine Serre, Germanier, Duran Lantink, for example – luxury brands are therefore taking the turn of the circular economy, encouraged by the health crisis but also constrained by the Law of 10 February on the fight against waste, prohibiting the destruction of unsold non-food items from 2022. In 2018, Burberry caused a scandal by announcing, in its annual report, that it had destroyed products with a total value of 28 million of books to “protect your brand” . In luxury goods, this practice was then widespread to avoid the sale of stocks at low prices. Two years later, things have finally changed.

Says “regeneration”, not “reused waste”


But if Marine Serre & co have made the concept of upcycling desirable, the challenge for luxury is complex. The “piece of string” and “waste” recycling aspect is at first glance hardly compatible with the idea of ​​high-end clothing. “In the discourse of brands, rather than talking about “ recycled clothing ” or “ reused waste ” , we use the more suggestive expressions of “ regeneration ” , “ ennobling ” , “ second life ” . It is a rhetoric more compatible with the stereotypical image of a so-called “ luxury ” fashion., renowned for sourcing materials of excellence, fashioned in an innovative way ” underlines Marie Schiele, Gucci philosopher and fashion specialist.

Communicating on these subjects, which directly impact the design and manufacturing processes, is new in the industry. “To engage is to expose yourself. For brands, speaking out on the circular economy means taking the risk of self-attacking. People will then be waiting for you at the bend, you can no longer go back  ”, underlines Elisabeth Laville, founder of the firm Utopies, specialized in sustainable development.

At Maison Margiela, we find coats transformed into collars, restored wicker bags, but also Tabi boots made from scraps of leather.

John Galliano, known for his exuberance, embodies this shift in luxury. The one who now works at Maison Margiela does not hesitate to advertise upcyling, with his storytelling voice interspersed with caustic laughter, in the House’s podcast “The Memory of… With John Galliano” . In a spiritual mood, he announces that the time has come to “create with a conscience” .

In the fall-winter 2020-2021 collection, he introduced the concept of “Recicla”, finding pieces in thrift stores to then restore or transform them. Pieces sold in limited edition, with a label indicating their provenance and their period of origin (and at higher prices than classic pieces, to justify the artisanal approach). There are coats transformed into collars, restored wicker bags, but also Tabi boots made from scraps of leather.

“It’s a return to values, to principles, to what we believe in,” says the designer. “The change takes place in terms of fashion values, that is to say representations conveyed by the environment: humility, sobriety, highlighting of less noble materials, revalued by an artistic approach, are now required. », Emphasizes Marie Schiele. In 2010, a forerunner and against the trend, Hermès launched its “petit h” line, small accessories or decorative objects created from the remainder of the workshops.

Hitherto discreet on environmental issues, the Y / Project label also unveiled in July its Evergreen ecological line comprising 16 iconic pieces from the brand’s wardrobe, drawn from past collections and reinterpreted. “Luxury brands have a key role to play in this area. They have the power to say what is the basis of the new social distinction, to promote ethical values ​​and to make them desirable, ” continues Elisabeth Laville.

However, this movement does not seem to be accompanied by a slowing down of the pace of collections. Covid-19 or not, life goes on with parades or presentations now virtual. “To date, only 1% of clothing is recycled, with overall production increasing by 4 to 5% per year. If we do not address the basic problem, namely the dictatorship of the rhythm of the collections, these initiatives will remain an illusion. Do these so-called “ recycled ” collections carry the message: buy less? Not really. Hopefully this is not simply a way of disposing of the Covid stocks… It is a question of integrating recycling into a broader process of changing the economic model ”,continues Elisabeth Laville. An approach that involves producing less.

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