Many consumers today recognize that their spending habits and choice of products are a direct reflection of their identity. This is especially true when it comes to luxury items and lifestyles.
Just like other facets of our culture, tastes in what is considered luxury have shifted as we gain a greater understanding of the world around us. Things like minimizing waste, eating healthier and being an ethical consumer have become even more popular over the past few decades. As these elements are considered to be emblematic of a higher-quality lifestyle, the concept of the ethical consumer became increasingly aligned with the idea of luxury.
The bottom line is that ethical and sustainable business practices are typically more costly for the companies that adhere to them. This means a higher cost for the end consumer to make up for larger margins. In recent years consumers have continued to prove that they are willing to pay extra for these products. As a result, a market of luxury products and experiences driven by ethical values has emerged.
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What is Ethical Luxury?
‘Ethical luxury’ is not the easiest term to define. On its own, the word ‘luxury’ itself has been overused to the extent that its definition has become subjective. What is considered ‘luxury’ to some people, may be simply average to others who are accustomed to a world-class lifestyle. As a general rule, any product or service that a consumer consciously pays an above-average price for, with the promise of higher quality can be considered a luxury.
Defining ethical products or services also has its nuances. However, for the sake of this article, we will look at the two most common defining factors: business practices and environmental sustainability. Ethical business practices primarily concern the conditions in which employees along the supply chain are subject to at work. You can likely name a few prominent companies that have been accused of operating sweatshops in the past two decades. In addition to working conditions, ethical business practices analyze employee wages in relation to local costs of living.
Environmental sustainability is also increasingly important to consumers. Environmental concerns considered by consumers are quite plentiful and they include, sustainable farming practices, recyclable packaging, chemical emissions during production and food waste along with a handful of other factors.
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Rise of The Responsible Consumer
The prominence of ethical luxury began with general shifts in cultural values. Increased conversations and education about humankind’s responsibility within the world around us, led to new consumption habits. For example, wearing a fur coat in 2022 comes with a few more connotations than it would have 50 years ago. Greater compassion for animals (and other humans) has had a massive impact on consumer habits.
As an example, veganism, the practice of not consuming animal products, has become more popular in North America over the past decade. While the diet has its health benefits, most vegans adopted the lifestyle for its ethical values. Veganism is appealing to responsible consumers as it supports both ethical business practices and environmental sustainability.
As responsible living has been considered less of a fringe lifestyle, more businesses are willing to cater to luxury consumers who are pursuing ethical habits. As a result, most metropolitan areas like Toronto are home to high-end vegan dining experiences and specialty boutiques that stock ethical luxury items.
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What Do Ethical Luxury Items Look Like?
When it comes to ethical business practices, many traditional factors of luxury goods already meet the expectations of responsible consumers. As an example, artisan or hand-crafted items often already come with higher quality standards. In addition, these products are also often produced by local small-scale teams with better workplace standards.
Inversely, items that are produced for mass consumption, such as ‘fast fashion’ products, typically have much lower quality standards, In addition to this, they typically have less ethical business practices. As you may expect, the low price tag offered to consumers means many cut corners during production.
In addition to methods of production, luxury materials can have a direct impact on sustainability. This could mean the fabric used in top-of-the-line fashion, metals used in jewelry or the packaging used to house and ship luxury products.
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