Luxury out, ethics in?

  • In times of austerity, people can be known to point the finger at the rich, particularly if there is suspicion that these individuals have come into money through anything less than the most moral practices.
  • The rich are hiding their swimming pools in Greece and selling their super cars in Italy – not only to avoid revenue inspection, but increasingly because it’s not socially acceptable to be rich. Swabians in southwestern Germany even have a phrase for it; “hälinge reich”, which means “secretly rich”.
  • Overt expressions of wealth through luxury brands now have a social cost as well as a financial one, and individuals are concealing this wealth by discarding classic luxury status symbols.
  • But there is another factor at work here. We are shifting away from the luxury brands which have been traditionally ‘cold’, quiet, exclusive and unconnected, and have found new luxury in ethical brands and social responsibility.
  • Increasingly, consumers are motivated by anti-consumerism, authenticity, connection, self expression, and ‘enoughness’ (knowing your limits, both sustainably and financially). German chancellor Angela Merkel even has a Swabian poster girl to promote this ethos throughout Germany. She promotes fewer, quality purchases, which reduce waste and actually increase quality of life.

This new movement of consumer behaviour is slowly penetrating Europe, and if promoted in the UK, could have a beneficial effect on society, the environment, and the economy. That’s right, Gerlingen, home of Swabias thrifty postergirl, has more purchasing power (approx. £400m pyr) than any other town in Baden-Württemberg, despite its size. So a new rule is needed “quality and function, over quantity and brand”.;;;

About Hayley Shaw

Knowledge Exchange Manager at Cranfield University's Centre for Environmental Risks and Futures (CERF). Sharing the latest news from Cranfield, and insights from across the industry. All things risk, environment, and the future.
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