Sustainable Luxury: How Fashion and Hospitality Can Lead the Way

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When I first went vegan over three years ago, I have to admit that I initially found it to be a struggle. The food side of things was fine, but the transition between beauty products, fashion and international travel was not so easy. Fast forward to 2018, I now work in the sustainable luxury sector and have been monumentally excited at the sheer number of businesses that are taking our roles as ‘guardians of the planet’ seriously. Whether it’s Stella McCartney and her range of vegetarian and vegan high-end fashion and accessories, or Gucci joining Armani, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors in pledging to go fur-free; change is happening, wherever we look.

If you search for #sustainableluxury on Instagram, you will notice that not all the posts are promoting vegan items, in fact, upcycled leather and fur, beeswax and lanolin can come under the guise of sustainable luxury. Whilst for us, these products are anything but luxurious, we must also accept that some of the manmade materials used in ‘faux’ products can be extremely detrimental to the environment, thus pushing some brands to use ‘traditional’ materials in their place.

Of course, as vegans we know that you don’t need to use animal products to be either sustainable or luxurious, but we also have to take responsibility concerning the materials that we do use. There are plenty of leather alternatives in the high street, and whilst budget does impact our spending, cheap materials like PVC have been called “the most damaging plastic on the planet” by Greenpeace, due to the release of harmful pollutants. We therefore need a balance – there’s no reason to wear animal products anymore, but we don’t want to harm the planet with the alternatives either. There are other options - Polyurethane vegan leather is a great alternative to consider.

Sustainability is a huge focus in the fashion industry at the moment, with luxe sportswear brand Rapha adding vegan leather and synthetic down, Patagonia releasing a vegan-friendly coat, and a collaboration between One Direction’s Zayne and Versace, featuring vegan leather items. And let’s not forget Ryan Gosling’s vegan shearling coat designed by Renée April for Blade Runner 2049. The fashion industry is finally realising it has a responsibility to look after the planet as well, and the offerings from high-end designers that want to cater for the more consciously-minded millennials is set to increase drastically.

We also see the rise of 100% vegan companies that are luxurious, sustainable and passionate about spreading their messages wide: Save the Duck winter coats, Dá Quy Italian shoes, Matt & Nat leather-alternative bags and goods, AMAZ Sneakers that are eco-friendly and handcrafted, and MADE Diamonds  - ethical, man-made natural diamond alternatives, to mention just a few.

Finally, consumers are driving the conversation, in the same way that we want to know what ingredients are in our food, we want transparency with clothing, accessories and all products we use.

Steven Foulkes, director of MADE Diamonds has a clear vision to “provide a new generation of demanding, morally conscious, principled individuals with remarkable engagement rings that are aligned with their values”, believing that high quality, beautiful pieces can be both aesthetically pleasing and ethical – sustainable luxury at its best.

The travel and hospitality industry is making great advances to catering for vegans, plant-based eaters and those wishing to enjoy organic, local produce. This sector is key to making plant-based eating more accessible, and hotels and restaurants would be wise to capitalise on this, as we know – where the vegan eats, everyone eats! Luxury hotels from around the world want to offer vegan guests a culinary experience that represents their establishment: Hotel Bristol in Vienna has clearly marked vegan menu items, the staff are all trained in dietary requirements and you can even enjoy a vegan breakfast banquet in your room, famous London hotel Claridges offer guests vegan afternoon tea, Joia, a Michelin star restaurant in Milan specialises in high-end vegan and vegetarian cuisine, and Hotel Raphael can delight you with an Italian vegan tasting menu as you gaze over Roman rooftops.

There is a distinct shift happening, and it is a reflection of consumer desires – in particular the millennials. A diverse menu is necessary in all establishments, which means that everyone can be accommodated. Each eatery or hotel has a responsibility to provide an enjoyable experience for their guests, and acknowledging dietary trends must be done properly.

Sustainable luxury is perfectly possible for hotels and restaurants that want to provide their clientele with an experience that is in keeping with their beliefs. By putting vegan or environmentally-conscious guests at ease with thoughtful options and touches, the demand for more and more places to cater in this way will only grow. High-end products and experiences will always be sought after, so why not make them eco-friendly and sustainable as well?

We’re still quite a way from a vegan world, but it’s so inspiring to see industry stepping up and listening to what we are saying. Perhaps it’s to drive more sales (business is business after all), but maybe, just maybe, the desire to create good, to bring the planet back from the state that we’ve let it get into is tapping into the consciences of the people at the top of these sectors.

We can and must work together to create a better place for animals, for the planet, and also for humans too. We need to vocalise what we desire, what we seek to change, and we need business leaders and industry giants, like those in luxury fashion and travel, to listen and take action. It is our collective responsibility.

This article, written by Rachida Brocklehurst, was first published in Vegan Food & Living Magazine.

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