Once upon a time, extravagance, exuberance and exorbitance ruled the luxury landscape. Fashion fanatics would sport their latest luxury acquisitions featuring the most exotic leathers and skins as a form of status. And then 2020 happened. Stymied by lockdowns and paused social lives, homebound consumers came face-to-face with overstuffed wardrobes and had little use for their most prized accessories. While eco-sentiments were already on the rise, Covid-19 has, along with unwelcome fear and anxiety, laid bare the luxury industry’s penchant for overconsumption and its voracious effect on the environment. And so, a new era in luxury retail is under way. Dubbed the “sustainability decade” by consultancy Bain & Company, brands and retailers are pivoting to sustainable offerings and conscious initiatives to cater to an emerging generation of affluent consumers, turning over a new leaf and shifting their consumption from an accumulation of “It” bags to purposeful buying. Can luxury packaging really be sustainable? At the forefront of this is Farfetch, which is providing a blueprint for what a more responsible luxury experience could look like. “The pandemic has effectively accelerated trends which were in existence already,” says Thomas Berry, director of sustainable business at Farfetch. “Consumers are looking for products that epitomise either of two things: having better social impact or being more environmentally sound – or both.” Farfetch boasts the largest global edit of conscious product, featuring up-and-coming brands such as Bode, Anouki and Nanushka, all of which understand the growing role of mindful consumption – not least because it’s paying off. Data from Farfetch’s first “Conscious Luxury Report” revealed that conscious product sales grew 3.4 times faster than the Farfetch marketplace average from 2019 to 2020. The conscious proposition is notably resonating with Chinese consumers, with the company recording a 188 per cent year-on-year growth in conscious gross merchandise value in China. “Sustainability won’t be a choice, it will be a requirement very soon,” says Nanushka’s founder and creative director Sandra Sandor. “Nanushka’s commitment to sustainability is to try to find ways that will have the least amount of impact on the environment while not compromising on our aesthetic and quality.” English designer Stella McCartney has long led the industry in sustainable practices. Then there’s Marine Serre, whose Crescent Moon top, made with 50 per cent recycled materials, was one of the most popular ethical choices on Farfetch, with sales surging 662 per cent between 2019 and 2020. But despite this shift in high-end spending, fashion still rules. “When consumers are buying consciously, they still want the best in modern luxury fashion, which is what they come to Farfetch for,” Berry says. “It’s just that there is an added element of conscious awareness.” Vegan diets are doomed to fail in Asian households – so try flexitarianism This burgeoning desire to be purposeful is proving to be the latest iteration of status. “There is a certain amount of clout associated with sustainability,” says Faith Robinson, co-founder of CogDis, a creative ethics consultancy. “It enriches a product with an additional dimension of hierarchy in luxury, which consumers can use to elevate their status.” Across the fashion industry, the luxury sector is perhaps best positioned to do this, as identity is so often defined by an individual’s personal style and aesthetics. It perhaps explains why there’s been a flurry of ethically sound initiatives. Net-a-Porter launched Net Sustain, a curation of consciously crafted fashion and beauty. Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford stores, often the city’s arbiters-in-chief of high style, proposed a list of sustainable gifts for the holiday season last year. Even the old guard have thrown their proverbial hats into the responsible fashion ring, introducing limited-edition conscious capsules in conjunction with their seasonal collections. Gucci launched Off The Grid, a line created with organic, bio-based, recycled and sustainably sourced materials. Their Italian counterpart, Prada, has reinvented iconic bag silhouettes in a regenerated nylon, Econyl. LVMH’s new venture, Nona Source, ensures mindful rarity from the point of creation, weaving purpose into the DNA of its material. The platform repurposes deadstock fabric from the luxury giant’s ateliers, whose high quality standards meet the next generation’s expectations through this conscious sales circle. “Luxury consumers want quality, durability and exclusivity,” says co-founder, Marie Falguera. “It’s our goal at Nona Source to underwrite this idea,” highlighting that all the materials sold are certified as LVMH Maisons’ deadstock. Not only does this brand-backed certification negate the stigma of deadstock fabric, it could also signal the next luxury must-have for status seekers – a highly sought-after conscious stamp of approval. But Robinson argues that luxury players are still not doing enough, confining what is now an urgent societal need to monotonous aesthetics of forests, oceans and muted pastels. “They [luxury brands] have to move marketing budgets away from product and make it more about learning, feeling and experiencing,” she explains. “When you bring ethics and morality into the storytelling, that’s when consumers can embrace the emotions and intimate experience of being responsible.” Is this K-pop’s first sustainable album release? Robinson agrees that Farfetch is an outlier in the industry. “The best brands in society right now come with an offer of education,” she affirms. “Conscious fashion is incredibly personal, but a lot of consumers don’t know where to start,” says Berry, noting the role Farfetch has in enabling the broader community. “It needs to be made easier so we’re giving them [consumers] the tools to do it.” Educating consumers to make smarter luxury investments, the platform has partnered with Good On You, an ethical rating agency that evaluates how fashion favourites from around the world are measuring up. Farfetch has also released a Fashion Footprint Tool, a calculator that assesses the impact of your fashion choices. Farfetch is aiming to energise the fashion world with its ethical appeal to consumers, allowing them to maybe, just maybe, imagine living in a responsible world sometime in the future – a feat that a tiny minority have achieved to date. For the next generation, status and exclusivity will arise from demonstrably meaningful consumption, and that will soon become a baseline consideration, if not an expectation. The new luxury identity will stem from purposeful aspirations and the need for ethical integrity. Until now, the industry has shown relatively little of that integrity, relying on promises and pledges not always fulfilled. Yet while there’s a long way to go, the next generation of luxury will surely look starkly different from that of today. To quote Berry, “For the sake of the world, it has to be.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .