Ron Cregan shows how the long lifespan of premium products needs to be reflected in the longevity of their luxury packaging …
Given how much focus luxury consumers place on the materials and manufacturing processes of their favourite brands, it’s no surprise that they’re equally aware of sustainability. That’s because luxury items are about longevity rather than planned obsolescence and regular replacement. The pair of handmade Lobb shoes designed to still be around in 20 years’ time, the Cartier watch built to last a lifetime – the use of highest-quality materials and the ability to properly repair any malfunction means these products will ideally be around, potentially having an impact on the environment, for years. What’s true for the products is equally true for the packaging. Brands built on values of longevity, craftsmanship and quality aren’t going to compromise on the wrappers and carriers encasing their work so luxury packaging invariably has secondary and tertiary uses beyond the initial purchase.
The Dior carrier bag can be used to carry dry-cleaning while Hermes boxes are eminently suited to storing things at home. It’s not as if a focus on sustainability affects the luxury quality of packaging. There’s as much of a design story for the packaging as for what sits within. Brands work with designers who understand how materials are sourced and used in the manufacturing processes and the ensuing impact on the environment and people. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. Luxury products and packaging have a real social impact in terms of the balance between individual craft and mass production. There is a genuine economic benefit in craftsmanship and the passing-down of skills and apprenticeships.
A recent example is the 45-minute-long viral video by high-end camera brand Leica that showed one of its products being obsessively hand-polished. Luxury brands help create careers and the ability to generate wealth that is individual, not corporate. Good design, whether in product or packaging, will always create things that have inherent luxury qualities, from the selection of materials to the processes used. Luxury design cues involve how something feels and how it makes you feel.
That applies to the box as much as the product. Creating sustainable packaging has benefits for luxury brands as it can help them gain a deeper relationship with customers. It communicates business values in a way that reflects the values of the customer, building strong long-term relationships. Luxury is a massively competitive space and there are plenty of choices within the luxury brand market. Companies are therefore always looking for what can be a key differentiator between one luxury brand and another. A good way to do that is to segment the market into what’s considered sustainable luxury versus ‘irresponsible’ luxury. On the one hand, there is the handcrafted product in an equally handcrafted box, both of which are designed to last for years.
On the other, there are the parents’ nightmares of over packaged toys with multiple plastic plates, endless wire ties, impenetrable clamshells, all protecting a kid’s toy designed to be pretty much indestructible in the first place. Sustainability has become a key element of the luxury packaging market because, fundamentally, it plays into many of the same values and qualities that are core to luxury brands: the products last for a very long time, with a continuing but minimal impact on the environment.