Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Luxurious CSR

One ongoing theme I have covered in my blog on Justmeans is the role of CSR in fashion and luxury goods. In the piece that initiated the series, I wrote about my discovery that luxury department stores are--- at least publicly--- doing close to nothing in the way of CSR and sustainability. Apparently, there is a consensus among these stores that the responsibility for social and environmental issues rests primarily with the suppliers.

In short, these stores have the luxury of being fickle, if necessary distancing themselves with any brand too deeply entrenched in controversy. Not surprisingly, luxury brands themselves seem to take CSR more seriously than their buyers. Reputation-wise, each individual brand has a lot of eggs in one basket, so when controversy hits, it hits them hard.

But CSR and sustainability don’t have to be entirely about managing the risk of controversy. Sustainable products can be a good thing. In theory, consumers should be willing to shell out more for a responsible product. The data says so. Right?

Wrong. In fact, I have not yet stumbled across substantive data to support this claim. It makes some sense that consumers are willing to spend a bit more on lightbulbs or windows that will save them money over a reasonably short time horizon. Unfortunately, at least in the case of the luxury apparel industry, few garments are likely to save customers money. This is why we see relatively few sustainable brands being marketed by major department stores.

So I end this post with a call to action. If you have good data on demand for luxury goods, please send it to me or include it in a comment on one of my Justmeans posts on the subject. Good information on this topic has the potential to shape how wealthier consumers interface with sustainability issues.

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