What do sustainability and luxury have in common, one might ask? That is the question lingering on tongues tied. Especially when discussing the Middle Kingdom, because when they all collide, the effects are, well, unknown.
Fingers often point at China for its negative impact on the environment due to the amount of industry found across its landscape.
This tiny accusation has given rise to talks on how China can better contribute to saving the planet while maintaining the status quo in its consumption and production numbers.
Simultaneously, China’s luxury market has excelled and its consumer is one of the most sought after demographics in the world. Ergo, the question often begs… How will the role of sustainable fashion impact the Chinese luxury consumer market?
Many companies are making an effort to edit towards a more sustainable model, and the conversation surrounding eco-friendly fashion is definitely rising. However, when it comes to sustainable fashion, consumers are asked to shift their mentality from one of the more selfish needs to those of caring for the well-being of others and the environment. When a person makes a decision based on what they eat or drink, it’s easier to make the healthy decision, because said person will directly reap the repercussions.
When it comes to material items, people can not directly relate to the landfills where fashion dies, or see the chemicals creating breathable toxicity. People are a lot less likely to make shopping decisions based on how their decision is going to affect others for years into the foreseeable and unforeseeable future.
The irony here is that many people living in China insist on wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the pollution, but will still wear shirts dyed with poisonous chemicals. So many questions beg to answer the illogical thought process behind this backward thinking.
Sustainability, A Luxury Item?
The challenge and possibly the answer lies in educating people about the sustainability industry, and effectively proving why it is so crucial, and getting them to consider certain facts before making a purchase. It’s also imperative that the companies create a product that fulfills the consumers need for luxury while also saving the earth. The story needs to be told as one, in regards to both education and quality of product. There was a report on Jing Daily in regards to companies that are trying to be sustainable, such as Stella Mccartney. Her brand is renowned for being vegan, one pillar of sustainable practice. However, her product is very highly-priced, which is frowned upon by Chinese consumers, for being so expensive while her materials are not considered rare.
Case in point, rare should not be the scale of luxury. Luxury should be weighed by the level of TLC the planet receives on a daily basis. Just as brands needed to educate Chinese consumers upon first entering the China market, now too is re-education on sustainable luxury an absolute must.
It is not just about labeling the brand as sustainable, but also about doing something that really exhibits a visible change in the ethos of the product and brand; a change that makes a difference, not one just for show.
Building A “Sustainable Brand”
A common way to build relationships with Chinese consumers is through interaction and connection. A story that resonates with an individual’s lifestyle and way of thought is crucial to building a sturdy bridge between consumer and brand. As a result, brands may need to start selling through experiences that promote and embrace sustainable practices. Kering, for example, launched a mini-program on Wechat called “EP&L”, standing for “Environment Profit & Loss” which essentially allows a consumer to see where their buying decision lands on the eco-ethical scale.
It’s unsure as to whether or not this actually impacts buyer decisions, but it’s a step. Right now, the general consensus is that buyers are buying sustainably to appear sustainable, not in actual belief.
This conversation also includes young emerging designers, not just established brands and consumers. Emerging designers in China are low on budget, but trying to make meaningful collections that appeals to a wide audience. Is sustainability something that should be adopted from the beginning, even if the price point for sustainable goods is too high? Will this work for them or against them since many still refer to vegan leather as unluxurious and undesirable?
If people were to (fore)see the ultimate repercussions wasteful fashion has and will have on the planet, there might be a deeper empathy for sustainability and an invested interest in bettering the manufacturing processes. The price for sustainable fashion is, however, going to hike even higher, so the largest challenge here for brands is proving that a product was indeed produced sustainably and that it is also worth the price tag.
This, of course, requires a significant amount of transparency from companies, and a willingness to stand by ethical decision making. So really it’s a joint venture and an oath to the truth, and a desire for the betterment from all parties involved.
All companies are searching for a profit, and sustainable fashion feels like the long road to get there.
If there is such a genuine understanding and demand from the consumer for this type of business practice, then the transparency and higher prices shouldn’t be too much of a commitment.
Why waver, when you can have the arti cupcake. And urbane-ly eat it, too?
Be a foxy fashion lady| gent. Re-dressed to kill.
Disclaimer: the term “arti,” starting now, is Temper-ly short for “artisanal”
WRITTEN BY JESSICA LAITER OF CHINESE GRAFFITI FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE REDRESSED REVOLUTIONARY ISSUE,” 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS FEATURE WAS COMMISSIONED BY TEMPER MAGAZINE.
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FEATURED IMAGERY: ANTWERP COLLAGE ARTIST LEBASILLE CREATIONS COMMISSIONED BY TEMPER MAGAZINE FOR “THE REDRESSED REVOLUTIONARY ISSUE,” FALL 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Laiter went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese Studies and Communications Rhetoric at The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Translation at NYU. Immediately after college, she moved to New York City and since then has worked in a number of different industries such as branding, manufacturing, fashion, public relations and real estate. China always acting as the common denominator.
Inspired by her career, Laiter launched a website called Chinese Graffiti, on which she features emerging Chinese designers, talks about the intersection of tradition and modernity in China, as well as the evolution of society and business culture. As time went on, she sought out like-minded businesses individuals who were interested in a similar market, which is how she became involved with Temper Magazine.
The China market is creating a whirlwind around the glob and it’s only just getting started.
The world can be a small place with a dash of mutual understanding and Laiter loves to be the storyteller who helps to bridge that gap.
Latest posts by Jessica Laiter (see all)
- Close-Up: The New Made In China Resolution — Videmus Omnia - October 14, 2019
- China’s Fashion Fox Gets Re-Dressed To Kill: Wavering Between Luxury And Sustainability - October 1, 2019
- A Fast And Furious 360 Turn: How Technology Fuels The Fashion Industry - August 19, 2019