How luxury and society can change each-other for good
Jem Bendell PhD
This paper outlines the contemporary luxury sector, showing it is global, thriving and influential. It shows how creative destruction is typical in most industry sectors, including luxury, and how disruptive innovation by entrepreneurs is key to that process. It proposes that the current time is potentially disruptive for incumbent luxury brands and groups, due to five key trends that are beginning to re-frame the markets that luxury brands sell to. Sustainable luxury entrepreneurs from USA, UK, Philippines, India, Argentina, China and Hong Kong are profiled and described as pursuing “elegant disruption”: a well-designed intervention in markets that both uses and affects aspirations in ways that change patterns of consumption, production or exchange, for a positive societal outcome. The paper reviews the response of mainstream luxury brands to the sustainability agenda, proposing some possible reasons why they appear to be encumbered in embracing this agenda fully. Some of the paradoxes in the notion of “sustainable luxury” are described, in order to draw implications for both the luxury industry and people interested in positive social change. The paper draws upon the authors five years of interaction with the luxury industry on sustainability issues, and is therefore written as a “first person inquiry” and draws upon principles of “appreciative inquiry” in documenting the breakthrough approaches of some sustainable luxury entrepreneurs.