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INDUSTRY Q&A: Sustainability and reinvention in the jewellery sector

Following a recent seminar session at International Jewellery London (IJL), Retail Jeweller chatted to Lianne Piroddi, assistant editor fashion, at research and advisory firm Stylus, to hear her thoughts on the topic on sustainability and reinvention in the jewellery sector.

Q: Just to put things into context for us, can you tell us why sustainability and reinvention is relevant to the jewellery sector specifically?

A: The fine jewellery industry historically fraught with ethical issues – from diamonds sourced in war-torn countries and labour violations in mines, to massive carbon footprints and a general lack of transparency. Consumers are now increasingly aligning themselves with brands that represent values they care about and so sustainability is key, and it is important that jewellery brands are addressing this.

The jewellery industry has successfully evolved over the last few years to capture shifts in consumer desire and purchasing patterns, through new aesthetics in product design, new categories – as well as consumer engagement. Also, women are now buying fine jewellery for themselves as rewards for success in their lives or as a celebratory purchase. It is great to see how the jewellery industry has responded to these shifts so far.

Q: Do you have any stats or research that support this?

A: There is a real opportunity for the jewellery sector at the moment. A recent McKinsey report said that the global jewellery industry has seen healthy sales growth – up by 10% in 2017. Also Euromonitor stats show the industry is set to grow to a $364bn dollar industry by 2022 and that the retail value of the UK fine jewellery industry rose for the fourth successive year in 2017 to a high of GBP£3.2billion pounds. So, this is quite an Exciting time for the industry. The category is majorly on-trend at a fashion level and incorporating sustainable practices can only support this momentum.

Q: Clearly the jewellery sector is fairly traditional, so would you say it needs to adapt in order to meet the needs of a new consumer?

A: It is definitely important to have an awareness of this shifting landscape. A Stylus report published earlier this year showed that generally, as a whole, the industry has already impressively adapted to capture contemporary shifts. There are already examples of smart jewellery brands where responsibility and ethics credentials clearly integrated into business and marketing strategies. Also, the new demi-fine, affordable luxury category has been seen exponential growth by tapping into new consumer trends and shows people’s desire to invest in quality on a budget. Ecommerce platform Net-A-Porter expanded into demi-fine jewellery in late 2016, has since grown the number of demi-fine brands on the site by 250%.

Q: Do you have any case studies of any jewellery brands or retailers who have adapted and are appealing to these new consumer groups and can you outline some of the things that they are doing?

A: This more fashion-focused direction for jewellery began in the early 2010s. We saw the emergence of social-media-savvy designers such as Delfina Delettrez. Since then the sector has really seen an explosion in design talent - Labels like Dauphin of Paris and New York’s Foundrae achieved rapid growth. Foundrae increased from two stockists to 23 in less than a year. We have also seen a retail reboot coming through in department store layouts and merchandising of jewellery as a category. Design-led stores like Liberty, Harvey Nichols, and Dover Street Market have turned the traditional formula of selling jewellery on its head and introduced new jewellery aesthetics and environment. The Business of Fashion recently reported that department stores in London and New York now carry, on average, 40% more fashion fine jewellery brands than they did in 2012. This Reflects the popularity of these new categories as well as an improved shopping experience.

Q: Are these same groups of consumers also concerned with issues around ethics and sustainability and is this influencing their purchasing decisions?

A: Sustainable and ethical issues are integral to new consumers. Consumers are much more engaged with the brands they shop with and brands/retailers can talk to their consumers more easily about things like the materials used in products which increases engagement. It is also about brands and retailers future proofing their businesses.

Q: Are there any examples of brands, either from jewellery or other sectors, that have been particularly forward-thinking when it comes to embracing sustainable practices? Can you tell us what they have done and why you think they have been successful?

A: Luxury fashion Group Kering has implemented sustainability into the heart of their philosophy. Gucci (part of the Kering Group) have launched their sustainability manifesto which is a 10-year plan focused around the three pillars of environment, people and innovation (extends to suppliers and day-to-day business, including products used in cleaning processes).

Q: How do you believe brands can reinvent themselves and make positive moves to tackle sustainability?

A: Clearly, looking to other brands and other industries to see how you can apply more sustainable practices to your specific brand set up is a very good way to start. There are also educational supports available to fill the knowledge vacuum. For example, The London College of Fashion has launched a new course on sustainability aimed at industry professionals. Developed with luxury group Kering, this is the first course of its kind in the world. There is also the Gemstone and Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub - collaboration between the University of Delaware in the US, the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland - supported by Tiffany & Co. Foundation. This hub aims to facilitate learning across the full supply chain of coloured gemstones and also contribute to sustainable development in this area.

Q: Is it only large brands and big corporate companies that have the resources to do this? How can sustainable practices be applied in a smaller more niche way to smaller organisations and brands?

A: Smaller brands can be at an advantage as they are more nimble and responsive with more direct control over entire business strategy. Tools that help build knowledge and collaborative ways of working are going to be key to smaller brands adopting sustainable practices. But, it is important to remember, every brand is different and it is important to consider every stage in process and assess how change can be implemented.

Q: Do you believe sustainability can also be commercialised?

A: Absolutely, yes. The media is also becoming bigger part of sustainable message in terms of raising awareness with consumers. Celebrities are also becoming a big part of the conversation and I am sure we will see brands aligning themselves more with sustainable influencers.

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