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Gucci has teamed up with Livia Firth to design a new ecologically 100 per cent traceable bag.
BY LISA ARMSTRONG | 02 MARCH 2013
Gucci & Livia Firth's new ecologically traceable bag. Photo: GUCCI
In our hearts, we all know that even if fashion isn't the biggest ecological vandal in the universe, it is almost by definition not green. If it is any colour, it is black. Black is slimming, black is classic, black is… one of the most toxic dyes.
Gucci's new ecologically 100 percent traceable bag is not black. It is a rich burgundy brownish-red, because that was the most satisfying and covetable of all the vegetable-sourced hues they came up with. And the leather is among the softest, can't-believe-it's-not-butteriest you will find anywhere, let alone in an ecologically 100 per cent traceable bag.
Forgive the repetition. But this is a big deal. Luxury brands, for all their willingness to bang on about heritage, craftsmanship and exotic skins, go very quiet, on the whole, when it comes to matters of sustainability. And they're positively Trappist on the subject of traceability.
That's because following the path of every piece of hardware, every last stitch, every zip, trim and dangly bit is laborious and time-consuming. Not all luxury houses have the resources - or the stomach - to dig for the answers. Better to forge on in a commodity that's endlessly sustainable: ignorance.
Who knew, for example, that leather is a major culprit when it comes to deforestation? It's obvious when you think about it, but even a green campaigner like Livia Firth was surprised when she first discovered its culpability via a National Wildlife Federation report.
Firth being Firth, she took her shock to the next level - specifically Gucci - and suggested they might like to turn their leather supply chain upside down, inside out and start all over again.
Blow us all down, they did. With the help of Nathalie Walker at NWF, Rossella Ravagli, Gucci's head of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, began working with a ranch in Brazil, teaching them how to farm cattle without chopping down a single tree. Two years later, the first fully traceable Gucci eco-bag is arriving in store any moment.
It's not just the leather's provenance that's impeccable. The people who made the bags and all the attendant hardware work in Gucci's factory in Florence, and have done so, in many cases, for years. The bamboo handle, a Gucci classic that dates back to the Fifties (Princess Grace had several such bags) is made from a plant that grows like a weed.
Firth came to show me the bag last week, and it is very stylish - based on the Gucci Jackie, which was a favorite with the former American first lady throughout her life. Firth said she approached Gucci because she thought the social responsibility at PPR (the holding group that owns the label) is genuinely serious about its goals. "It's the only luxury company that has so far dedicated an entire arm of itself to sustainability and when I turned up with this proposal, they jumped at it," she says.
Linking up with a snazzy megalith is a new departure for Firth, who has previously championed much smaller, certifiably green labels such as Henrietta Ludgate, or ransacked her address book of swanky A-listers (which is bulging; she's the wife of Colin) and deployed her considerable charm to persuade them to wear ecologically sympathetic dresses on the red carpet. If her Green Carpet Challenge is a worthwhile consciousness raiser, the Gucci project is another step. "It's becoming increasingly important for consumers to understand how things are made. Luxury brands are very keen to stress their craftsmanship, but after that, there's a brick wall. Things get very opaque. This is showing that it doesn't have to be."
Frida Giannini, Gucci's creative director, didn't need any persuading. "I really believe that today, more than ever before, customers want to be associated with brands that are thoughtful and responsible. At Gucci we'd like not just to be synonymous with 'Made in Italy', but also 'Made with Integrity'."
Not that it was easy to meet the green criteria without compromising Gucci's reputation for luxury. But Giannini believes the end product exceeded her expectations.
Firth is realistic about how fast she can affect significant change. She's only too aware of the paradoxes inherent in what she's achieved. Personally, she doesn't wear fur: Gucci is a big fur house. She accepts that even cows nurtured on non-deforested land would probably prefer not to be slaughtered for a bag. But she's a pragmatist. If we must wear leather, then let's do the best we can with it. That's why working with a company like Gucci, with its commercial and manufacturing might, is important.
"Let's be honest, this is a baby step," she says. "They're only producing 250 or so of these bags to begin with."
On the other hand, they will be prominently displayed and, as Giannini says, "There's definitely room for more eco-conscious handbags. We've already developed a variety of products such as sustainable eyewear models using, for example, liquid wood, and ballerina shoes realised in bio-plastic."
The overarching message is that if Gucci can make a sexy, luxurious eco-bag that people will pay £1,550 for, then eco-bags just got glamorous.