If you haven’t yet heard, starting in 2018 the luxury fashion brand Gucci will stop selling items made with fur from minks, foxes, rabbits, Karakul lambs, and raccoon dogs (but will still use wool from lambs, goats, and alpacas, the production of which is not cruelty-free). The decision was announced by Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri at the 2017 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion. The move was immediately applauded by animal welfare and rights organizations as a step in the right direction. Which may certainly be true, but is the decision being made for the right reason?
In reporting on the change, the Humane Society of the United States noted that they’d been in conversation with Gucci about their use of fur for eight years. So why is Gucci going fur free now? Before the official decision was announced, Bizzarri discussed the plans with the news site Business of Fashion: “Do you think using furs today is still modern? I don’t think it’s still modern and that’s the reason why we decided not to do that. It’s a little bit outdated.”
His statements on the matter are troubling, and I’m surprised that they don’t concern groups dedicated to shutting down the fur industry. Trends change all the time. Modernity is a cycle that keeps luxury fashion businesses like Gucci and its parent company, Kering, alive. Gucci intends only to remove fur from its products so long as it is fashionable to do so. We should not be applauding that decision. Gucci’s motive isn’t ethics, its business.
And it’s more desperate than ever. After facing several bad years financially, Gucci underwent a significant transformation in an attempt to surge profits. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, Gucci sales dropped 1.1 percent in 2014, even though luxury sales increased overall. In his speech at the Kering Talk, Bizzarri himself noted that in 2015 Gucci considered dropping 40 percent of their suppliers, which came out to sixteen-thousand workers. The Washington Post article attributed the decline to over-branding and changing tastes. The chief executive of Kering noted at the time that under Bizzarri’s leadership, “we are making an effort to renew our product offering” to give it a more “modern identity.”
Gucci is aggressive in its quest to transform the brand. In December 2014 it hired a new creative director, limited the number of new items released, opened fewer stores, and restricted its collections in retail outlets to create a false scarcity and increase demand. Additionally, Gucci recently announced its new ten-year “Culture of Purpose” sustainability plan consisting of two pillars: the environment (fulfilled by no longer using fur) and humanity (focus on employee welfare and innovation).
If Gucci truly cared about the environment and the nonhumans abused and killed by their industry, it would also stop using leather and wool, but wool will now be replacing fur in many Gucci products. “You could ask me, ‘You should stop using leather.’ Okay, then I need to fire eleven-thousand people,” Bizzarri said at the Kering Talk. That’s how many people Gucci currently employs—surely they aren’t all working exclusively with leather.
In his talk, Bizzarri addressed Gucci’s newfound commitment to company sustainability, or rather their insecurities regarding employee satisfaction. His interpretation of sustainability consists of “sustaining the company for the next twenty years.” He repeatedly emphasized Gucci’s commitment to its employees, their families, and even the food on their tables. One of the ways the company plans to foster goodwill among employees (while remaining on trend) is through the creation of a “shadow executive committee.” This committee of employees under the age of thirty will report current millennial trends to executives. Bizzarri stressed the importance of attracting new talent, and described that his version of sustainability “is not just about [the] environment, it’s about people.”
Reinventing itself in order to raise profits after years of declining sales requires the trust and commitment of the company’s entire workforce. Bizzarri addressed this issue in another interview with Business of Fashion,
When you implement an aesthetic change at a brand like Gucci, it doesn’t work if you don’t change the way people think and react to things. A lot of employees have been at the company for a long time. Their normality is to keep doing what they’ve done previously, from an aesthetic and an organizational standpoint…I needed to make sure that everyone working for Gucci embraced the change, because we wanted to make this happen in such a short time. In our industry, two months is an eternity, so everybody needed to be working in the same direction.
While taking care of employees is admirable, and we need to see more companies dedicating such consideration to their workforce, Gucci appears only to be pandering to the sentiments of its employees while exploiting millennial trends for the sake of increased sales. The latest attempt by Gucci to capitalize on those actually creating trends (and change), is reminiscent of, but certainly not equal to, Kendall Jenner’s repulsive Pepsi ad.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Fashion, specifically luxury fashion, is an industry significantly lacking in ethics. The brands that did well under the Kering empire during Gucci’s fall (aside from Stella McCartney which has always been vegan) have not gone fur free. Bizzarri was open in discussing the limitations of their sustainability initiatives. Their primary effort is focused on “maintaining luxury positioning because we don’t want to become fast fashion.” In a statement released by HSUS, Gucci claimed, “Being socially responsible is one of Gucci’s core values, and we will continue to strive to do better for the environment and animals,” but clearly their responsibility to do better stops when it impedes on the luxury status of their brand.
Advocates are applauding Gucci because they want to encourage good behavior, but Gucci is only manipulating and capitalizing on the sentiments of its employees and potential consumers so they can remain in business. Bizzarri admitted that those at Gucci “tend to get bored,” and want to ensure that the “company remains flexible.” These attitudes mirror the ebb and flow of fashion trends and do nothing to assure those seeking commitment from them.
This latest media campaign is nothing more than a superficial move by a desperate luxury fashion corporation—and it seems to be working. Gucci sales are now up 49 percent. We need to stop pretending that high fashion and luxury brands matter and are any indication of progress or growing trends. They are inherently reactive and predatory, and are just another cog in the capitalist machine. Gucci doesn’t need our applause, they need our criticism. We cannot ignore the industry’s long history of discrimination, appropriation, abuse of power, and violence.