The most recent issue of Ecotextile News had an article about “sustainable luxury” and it got me thinking. The article asked the question whether “luxury” and “sustainability” were opposing concepts. One would think so.
Although luxury and sustainability both focus on rarity and beauty, both have durability at the heart of the concept. Just look at Louis Vuitton, which provides after sale service to any genuine product of theirs, wherever it was bought. A product seen as “luxurious” is one of lasting worth and timeless design, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the fashion and mass market industry where obsolescence is locked into a product at the design stage.
But I think the concept of luxury has an added dimension today – it is more about your state of mind than the size of your wallet. These days, people define luxury by such things as a long lunch with old friends, the good health to run a 5K, or waking up in the morning and doing exactly what you want all day long.
In the past luxury was often about things. Today, we think it’s not so much about having as it is about being knowledgeable about what you’re buying – knowing that you’re buying the best and that it’s also good for the world. It’s also about responsibility: it just doesn’t feel OK to buy unnecessary things when people are starving and the world is becoming overheated. It’s about products being defined by how they make you feel – “conscious consumption” – and giving you ways to find personal meaning and satisfaction.
Luxury today is more about the one perfectly plain organic lettuce salad from the farmers market near your home than a rich meal made of food from the other side of the globe. It’s about craftsmanship, art, intimacy, and service.
We want to eliminate the guilt of our throwaway culture. Things we buy should be produced in ways that, at the very least, do no harm, and that either biodegrade or are infinitely recyclable – or they should exhibit the timeless aesthetics and natural qualities that make them heirlooms to be passed down to future generations. This is exactly what we at O Ecotextiles have committed ourselves to providing.
Our designs are classic and therefore timeless, and our choice of natural fabrics respects a time-honored tradition.
By protecting our planet, and the flora and fauna it supports, we are assured of being able to live with linen sheets, silk velvet upholstery and pure hemp draperies – forever. The fibers are eternal; how we choose to weave and color them varies by designer and is part of the colorful history of design.
We want to make sure the fibers endure.
Once you start tinkering with the ecosystem it’s not possible to concentrate on one static facet, since we live in an interconnected and self-organizing universe of changing patterns and flowing energy. Everything has an intrinsic pattern which in turn is part of a greater pattern and all of it is in flux. To bring a sense of order out of this chaotic concept, let’s concentrate on water:
Water was not included in the 1947 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights because at the time it wasn’t perceived as having a human rights dimension. Yet today, water is becoming controlled by corporate interests, and what is known as the global water justice movement is working hard to ensure the right to water as a basic human right. Our global supply of fresh water is diminishing – 2/3 of the world’s population is projected to face water scarcity by 2025, according to the UN.
With no controls in place to speak of to date, there are now 405 dead zones in our oceans. Drinking water even in industrialized countries, with treatment in place, nevertheless yields a list of toxins when tested – many of them with no toxicological roadmap.
The textile industry is the #1 industrial polluter of fresh water on the planet. Now that virtual or “embedded” water tracking is becoming necessary in evaluating products, people are beginning to understand the concept when we say it takes 500 gallons of water to make the fabric to cover one sofa. We want people to become aware that when they buy anything, and fabric especially, they reinforce the manufacturing processes used to produce it.
This is a complex subject and trying to map and analyze it often produces inconsistent and unreliable data. The only sure thing we know is that we have to change – the faster the better.
We want our customers to depend on us to sell fabrics that do no harm… to them, their families or our world. Our company was founded on that bedrock – each and every fabric has met these standards.
Concurrently, we committed to showing our warts too – it’s complicated and difficult to follow these standards, so we would tell customers if and when we failed at any point and why. We want to empower consumers by providing as much information as they want to absorb.
Given a cursory glance, our fabrics may look like many others on the market. But like Antoine de Saint Exupery said in The Little Prince, “What is essential is often invisible to the eye”. One of our sales reps tells her clients to smell the fabrics! There is no synthetic smell – in fact some smell like new mown hay. So although you can find other fabrics that may look like ours, when you buy 25 yards of fabric from O Ecotextiles you’re also buying, at the very least, better health: your body will not have had to deal with the many chemicals used in processing (which remain in the fabric) – chemicals which have been proven to cause harm (remember Erin Brokovich?). If you choose a GOTS certified fabric, you also get:
- Clean air and water: approximately 500 gallons of chemically-infused effluent was prevented from entering your ecosystem and the troublesome chemicals which evaporate into the air in your homes and offices is eliminated ;
- A better environment: soils used to grow the fibers have been renewed rather than depleted, and in the growing of the fibers you’ve conserved water, mitigated climate change and ensured biodiversity.
And – most importantly – you’re using your purchasing power to put these changes into place!
 Ravasio, Dr. Pamela, “Sustainable luxury: impossible paradox, or inherent synergy?”, Ecotextile News, February/March 2014
 Barlow, Maude, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the coming Battle for the Right to Water, October 2007
3 thoughts on “Defining luxury”
Leigh Anne, although I enjoy ALL your informational writings, I especially appreciate it when you interrelate resource problems and conscious consumerism, weaving heart and mind issues as you have done here so brilliantly. Many thanks as always…