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by Emily Ellis From Public Fibre

In our second Public Fibre column, we look at how collaboration culture needs to get sustainable.

Whether it’s the “FENDANCE” swap from Fendi and Versace or the two “Gucciaga” hacks that have combined two of Kerring’s most successful brands, it’s safe to say that the Luxury x Luxury collaboration doesn’t seem to be losing momentum… even if both have made a point of claiming that the C-word doesn’t apply to them (and no, for the first time in 18 months we don’t mean COVID). But what do these collaborations achieve beyond the obvious hype and more important ££?

We don’t have a problem with collaborations: they can be a great way for brands to test the water with consumers about a future brand direction, or to share expertise, audiences and supply chains. When done well, of course, they can create huge amounts of value. We don’t just mean value for the brand or even for the reseller (we see you), of course, they do that too, but they also add value to culture. Take the 2017 Louis Vuitton capsule collection with Supreme, as the first luxury brand to embrace a skating culture so openly (and loudly), this strategic collab evolved the category into what it is today. The luxury category saw the value in tapping into a scene rooted in identity, belonging and cultural literacy and grasped the opportunity, producing some of the best-branded partnerships we’ve seen in a long time, from Ralph Lauren x Palace to Gucci x The North Face. They were strategic, smart and rightly successful.

Another great way to use collaboration is to shine a light on a shared ambition or make a statement about the direction a brand is heading in. Sports giant adidas x footwear disruptor Allbirds exemplifies this: adidas has been building their sustainability credentials for a while now, so a partnership with the intrinsically conscious Allbirds gave them the platform they needed to amplify that. Meanwhile, for footwear’s newest member, Allbirds, nothing says, “look mum, I’ve made it!” like an adidas collaboration. The pair worked together to make the lowest ever carbon footprint sneaker – less than 3kg’s per pair – from conception to manufacturing in just 12 months, all during a pandemic. Full marks to the A-team. The three-stripe brand haven’t stopped their eco-friendly collab strategy there either, with the latest adidas x Palace conscious running essentials collection further consolidating their leadership position in sustainable streetwear (personally we’ve got our eyes on the vegan UltraBoost.)

We can’t deny that ‘Gucciaga’ was a masterpiece of design (we’re so here for the “BB” monogram), and as an industry first it definitely raised an important and interesting point about ownership of iconic assets. Yet when we start to creep into the realms of two luxury brands colliding just for the sake of it (FENDANCE I’m looking at you here), we’re just wondering… what point are they trying to make? Two of the oldest names in fashion, and from competing houses no less, we can’t deny the magnitude of that, but it feels a little like luxury is shouting into an echo chamber.

Is this luxury trying to take back the reins of exclusivity? Or have we simply come to an impasse between the battles for hype and heritage? We’re all for tearing up the rulebook and trying something new, but from an industry that still accounts for 8.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (something Extinction Rebellion and other activist groups reminded us of at this year’s Louis Vuitton show in Paris) isn’t it about time we chose to collaborate with the planet?

At Public Fibre, we like the approach of cult-brand Haeckels who talk about co-solving not just co-branding. The luxury body, fragrance and homeware brand from Margate, Kent focuses on manufacturing the most effective natural products harvested from the sea. Their Coffee and Seaweed block is a staple in our bathroom, a circular collaboration with Ozone Coffee, it combines waste coffee grinds with seaweed, aloe vera and tea tree to actively hydrate and repair the skin. It even comes packaged in waste coffee cups, which is a total vibe and a great example of co-solving: from coffee shop waste to delicious new skincare essentials. What’s not to love?

If we’re going to create hype, shouldn’t it be around products that are actively fighting to combat some of these environmental challenges? We’d love to see a bit more hacking of textiles or swapping out for sustainable alternatives. Like our Oliver Spencer x MONC collaboration, where they worked together to create three unique and exclusive styles of wire-frame sunglasses; or the Viron x Swedish sustainable denim house Jeanerica that saw the elevated combat boot 1992 reworked through upcycling Jeanerica’s leftover denim.

After COP26, we know that fashion’s impact on the environment will continue to be a hotly debated topic, and many players will likely up their climate ambitions or talk about current progress. But whilst almost all fashion houses today have a commitment to become more sustainable, (our favourite of these being Gucci’s Equilibrium) we’re wondering whether we should be pushing for these sustainability pledges to include a perspective on future collaborations too? As well as greater transparency between brands on their initiatives. Individually no brand is going to make a dent in our industries impact on the planet, but this new collaborative spirit between previous rivals has given us hope that maybe one day we’ll see greater teamwork when it comes to co-solving the future of our industry. Could trading logos and designers today turn into exchanging the secrets to a more sustainable supply chain tomorrow? Here’s hoping.

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