Back in 2008, I had the pleasure of working alongside the guys at Better Thinking to help them launch their inspirational project, Luxury Redefined. In collaboration with the British knitwear brand John Smedley, the design consultants – Mike Betts and Mark Holt – undertook two years of research and development to create ‘the perfect t-shirt’.
The opinions of people from various countries were canvassed as they planned every detail of the product to minimise environmental impact and maximise social benefit. Covering everything from energy efficiency and water-usage to eco-friendly packaging and clear labelling, the process was consistently led by good design.
In the highlands of Peru, sustainable grown organic cotton was handpicked by local workers on a fair wage, before being ginned and spun and sent on the long journey to Smedley’s manufacturing HQ in Derbyshire, England. Inside the pre-industrial revolution factories, waste was kept to a minimum as the cotton was handcrafted and hand-finished. The garment was complete as an ultra-soft, long-sleeved crew neck, in natural cream (no dyes were used), available in different cuts for men, women and children.
Telling the story of how the garment came to be was equally important to the founders and the “Made in England. Grown in Peru. Developed in London.” slogan was explained in full with stunning photography both online and in a mini brochure with every purchase. The heritage and craftsmanship of John Smedley, combined with the progressive design and sustainability innovation of Better Thinking, resulted in an exemplary sustainable luxury blend.
The finished product (which took pride of place on display in the international shopping mecca that is Selfridges, London) asked us all to reconsider the term “luxury” and proved that there is no need for brands to compromise on any level – aesthetics and desirability, quality, social, economic or environmental.
Perhaps we didn’t shout loud enough as it’s taken a while for most to realise that luxury and sustainability make perfect bedfellows. An admirable few in the fashion world have had this pairing at the heart of their business for many years, but now every leading luxury brand has corporate social responsibility (CSR) on its agenda.
As the world gets ‘smaller’ and online audiences grow exponentially, the key factors of sustainability, provenance, story-telling and transparency have never been more important. Intelligent consumers will not accept social or environmental exploitation anywhere in the supply chain and they demand to know that their “aspirational” purchase really is just that. Luxury fashion brands can consider it a huge responsibility or a great opportunity to help design a better future for everyone.