The Butterfly Effect: Harnessing the Power of Information to Promote Sustainability in the Luxury Industry

I am very pleased to announce that my first article contributing to the London Entrepreneurship Review has been posted on the online publication's homepage this afternoon! I haven't written any new blog posts since early March (check out my most recent post here) because I have been focused on expanding my freelance writing contributions to the larger London community, but I can finally announce that the article is in circulation! While this style of writing is somewhat of a departure from my typical blog, I really enjoyed discussing the luxury industry from a business perspective rather than a personal one. Of course this in no way means that I will stop blogging here at Joie de la mode, in fact I've recreated the article below for your convenience. To see it live at the LER's website, please click here.  

To many consumers, the words “sustainable” and “luxury” mentioned in the same breath seem incongruous, almost an oxymoron. After all, how can a high-end brand selling beautifully crafted products to the wealthy possibly make a positive social and environmental impact in the world?

Changing this perception is the driving force behind Positive Luxury, the three-year-old brainchild of serial entrepreneur and sustainability advocate Diana Verde Nieto. Last week I sat down with Diana at Positive Luxury’s headquarters in Shoreditch, where we discussed not only her vision for the future of her company but also how far the industry has come with respect to taking corporate social responsibility seriously. Though she acknowledges that the path to a sustainable luxury economy is a journey and that each brand is on its own path, Diana also believes that we as consumers have more power than we may think when it comes to reinforcing the sustainability agenda. 

Can you tell us a bit about the mission of your organization, and how Positive Luxury began?

I believe that every person wants to do good and to make the right choices. However, this isn’t often the consumer’s frame of mind, typically because they have no way of knowing where their products come from and how they are made. Three years ago my co-founder and I began Positive Luxury to address this gap in the market. We wanted to make sustainability accessible to the consumer and to enable better buying decisions by equipping them with the right information about which companies are incorporating positive social and environmental practices into their core business.

We accomplished this by building an online platform that connects brands and consumers, thus opening the channels of communication between the two parties.  Every brand within Positive Luxury’s network applies to join the platform, and we screen each company to ensure they meet our criteria before they are awarded the globally recognized Butterfly Mark. We do the homework so the consumer doesn’t have to – all they have to do is look for the Butterfly and discover for themselves all the ways in which a brand is committed to sustainability. It’s all about transparency. 

What is the message behind the Butterfly Mark? Why a Butterfly?

About five years ago I sat next to Sir David Attenborough at the 2010 International Green Awards where he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. It was there that he told me about the British “Blue” butterfly, a species that was all but extinct in 1979. Yet thanks to the dedication of several conservation agencies, this species was successfully reintroduced into the wild.

David’s tale of the blue butterfly resonated with me completely. It represents the fragility of life, and reminds me that as a human race we not only have the power to destroy, but also the power to create and to sustain. For me, this is what Positive Luxury is all about – empowering the collective people to do good by trusting and supporting businesses that are dedicated to creating a lasting positive impact in the world. 

As the topic of sustainability becomes more popular within the luxury sector, how are brands responding to Positive Luxury’s message? Where do you think we are in the process of becoming a “sustainably aware” industry?

I would say that most luxury brands are committed to bettering their social and environmental sustainability. The challenge is making these business practices known to the end consumer in a credible way, when they tell their own story.  With respect to brands themselves, Positive Luxury has received an incredibly enthusiastic reaction, because we enable brands to showcase their positive steps towards society and the environment, at the point of sale and in a jargon free language.

The biggest hurdle at this stage is that consumers do not have a true understanding of what it means for a brand to be sustainable. It goes beyond sourcing materials, and encompasses the entire supply chain and production operations. In order to really become a sustainably aware industry, the knowledge transfer must happen from both ends. As we introduce Positive Luxury to the global market, it is crucial that consumers come with us and adopt the practice of purchasing from Butterfly brands. 

How does Positive Luxury ensure that the brands you accept to the platform are credible, and that they maintain the adequate levels of sustainable business practices required to be a member?

What we don’t do is audit, as it doesn’t work in the long term. Put simply, if you planned to come to my house it would of course be really clean because I know you are coming, but as soon as you leave I’m going to open the closet where I’m hiding all of the mess. Instead, we leverage our in-house technology to double-check the facts given by the company and its publicly available information. We do this in real time, so that if there is ever a discrepancy, we are able to spot it and address it right away. We also recognize that sustainability is a journey and not a destination, and so if a brand does not comply with the requirements to be awarded the mark, we work with them towards this point and beyond. 

As CEO, you have visibility across all aspects of the business. What is your favorite part of the job? What is the most challenging?

My favorite part of this job is working with the brands and helping them to tell their story. The most challenging aspect is the speed at which we are scaling from a consumer perspective. I would love for every consumer to recognize the Butterfly trademark and have an intuitive sense of what it represents, but I am also conscious that this will take time. If every person who reads this interview shares it with a friend or goes online to their favorite brands and looks for the Butterfly, they will be contributing to a movement where brands that are investing in social and environmental responsibility are awarded with consumer purchases. In this way, we as consumers can make our voices heard, by voting for positive brands with our money.  

If you could give one piece of advice to current and future entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Never ever, ever, give up. You may be rejected on a daily basis, and people may tell you that you’re crazy, but if you love your product and you hold that vision nearest to your heart, just keep at it. Imagine a world without the platforms you use every day, such as Facebook and the like button - most were told that their ideas would never work. Prove those people wrong by loving your product and staying committed to your vision. 

I would like to acknowledge and thank Diana Verde Nieto, CEO of Positive Luxury, for her willingness to participate in this interview. 

Friday Chic-Out: Wardrobe Staples for the Fit and Fashionable

Happy Friday everyone! I'm trying something new here, something that I hope will keep me on a more regular schedule blog-wise as well as provide an exciting way for readers to keep up with the latest trends in fashion and technology. Those who know me will already understand that the intersection of fashion and tech has always been my sweet spot, but for those less familiar, let me explain. For a long time the only way people could buy stuff was to...go to the store and buy it (shocking, I know). Then came the Internet, and before long people realized they could use this new-fangled invention to buy stuff and have it delivered to their door without putting on pants. This was a huge revelation because no one thought fashion had anything to do with technology (and vice versa), but it turns out they have everything to do with each other and now every day we are seeing cutting-edge technology infiltrating the notoriously exclusive front lines of the fashion industry. This evolution can be seen anywhere, but a few fairly obvious and well-known examples are: e-commerce (remember: you don't even have to be wearing pants), mobile shopping, 3D printed design, shoppable media (hello, Conde Nast - I see you), wearables, and what us industry fanatics call "creating an omnichannel experience" (e.g, you check out a pair of Brian Atwood's on your phone during the morning commute, drool over them at your desk at work, check and re-check your bank statements to see if the shoe fairies have observed your salivating state and dropped an extra couple hundred into your debit account, and finally pick up your iPad at home while on the couch after two glasses of wine and "accidentally" hit the "Confirm Purchase" button. Omnichannel = always buying shoes).

I find this booming new industry terribly exciting, so exciting in fact that I quit my job and moved across the world to go to business school in one of the fashion capitals of the world so I can make it big. And since I also blog, I realized it would be a missed opportunity not to share with you some of the trends that are moving fashion and tech closer and closer together. So without further adieu, let me introduce my first topic: wearable technology.

Wearable tech is not brand-new, but what is new is the idea that it doesn't have to be ugly. Apple of course helped this cause greatly with last year's announcement of the hotly anticipated Apple Watch, but many designers have been paying attention to the growing demand for tech accessories as well - devices that monitor your every step, heartbeat, and calorie burned (or consumed) - and are trying to figure out how to tap into the market. As a person who enjoys being fit and healthy but who also loves cake and dressing up, I find this market to be very attractive. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Tory Burch is now selling these beautiful art-deco-inspired bracelets and necklaces in partnership with Fitbit, and my complete euphoria when I received one of each from my in-laws for Christmas!

IMG_1751

IMG_1753

IMG_1758

 

The Fitbit that works with Tory's accessory line is called the Flex, and it's perfect for people like me who just want to keep track of their exercise habits but who do not want to sport a half-inch rubber band bracelet 24 hours a day. I love that I can wear the Fitbit band to work out and while sleeping (for more accurate measurements), but can also be monitoring my health while out and about with friends and not have to sport an eyesore on my wrist. Well done, TB & Fitbit!

The other interesting development with respect to fashion, tech, and fitness has to be the industry's recent obsession with chic sneaks (for those in the UK, read: trainers). Ever since Karl Lagerfeld marched his models down that Chanel Supermarche runway for his AW14 show clad in a sneaker assortment of the tweed and neon variety, designers everywhere have jumped on the trend. After about six months of thinking it ridiculous to wear sneakers with "regular" clothes, I caved last week and bought this super cool pair from Nike (via eBay):

IMG_1739

IMG_1741

IMG_1725

 

(Note: my hands are clenched into fists in the above picture not because I'm angry but because I was cold). They're pretty sweet, no? I still don't think I'd wear them to a cocktail party, but they sure make the days I wear lululemon to class more edgy. And while I was warned that one shouldn't buy fashion sneakers for the purpose of working out, purchasing these from Nike means they are as functional as they are chic.

So there you have it! Your first Friday Chic-Out, a weekly post on what's happening in the world of fashion and technology, brought to you by yours truly. Have a great weekend!