Why K-pop Fans Are Taking on the World of Luxury Fashion
05 September 2023 – by KPop4Planet
K-pop fans worldwide are rallying together to demand luxury fashion labels do more for the environment, calling out brands hiding weak climate commitments behind the star power of K-pop idols.
In a campaign by Kpop4Planet, the digital climate initiative created by and for K-pop fans, luxury brands Chanel, Celine, Saint Laurent and Dior are accused of “K-washing” their clothes behind the girl-band sensation Blackpink.
Launched to coincide with the K-pop group’s seventh debut anniversary on August 9, 2023, the campaign, “Unboxed: High Fashion, High Carbon,” calls on the four brands to live up to their sustainability promises.
Working with Blackpink fandom groups worldwide, including France, Indonesia and Mexico, this campaign has made headlines in Vogue Business and Euronews, as well as coverage in major South Korean outlets like Chosun Ilbo and Hankyoreh21 magazine.
While fast fashion has been under significant pressure and public scrutiny to answer for their polluting practices, luxury labels have been able to hide behind prestigious names and the mistaken assumption that paying more for an item translates to better sustainability practices.
The issue of climate commitments in the luxury fashion industry is complex, as there are significant gaps in data available – with many luxury brands not disclosing their global supply chains, making it impossible to see the full scale of the issue.
“Blackpink is an A+, but luxury fashion is a total fail on climate,” said Kpop4Planet campaigner Dayeon Lee. “These brands are K-washing fans into buying products threatening our future. We’re calling on them to clean up their act.”
It may seem an odd pairing to a mainstream audience. Still, K-pop and the world of luxury fashion have been interconnected for years, with idols chosen as brand ambassadors for luxury labels.
Many fans see the arrangements as something to take pride in, with the prestigious reputations of many luxury brands acting as social capital for those who represent them.
Blackpink members Jennie, Lisa, Rose and Jisoo represent Chanel, Celine, Saint Laurent and Dior respectively.
These ambassadorships are very successful for the companies. Jisoo’s appearance at the 2022 Dior show in Paris accumulated buzz worth $7 million for the brand (CNN).
Analysts have also calculated that using Korean star power helps luxury brands grow their profits, noting that using Blackpink’s Rose as the face of Tiffany & Co’s ‘HardWear’ collection doubled their sales for the line. At the same time, Jennie is regularly referred to as a “human Chanel” or embodiment of the brand.
Protecting their favourite groups’ reputations and status is paramount for these fans, including companies who use their images as part of their campaigns.
In the era of the climate crisis, fans (who also represent the lucrative Gen-Z and Gen-A markets luxury brands are desperate to cultivate) want brands to set higher sustainability targets and standards for climate action.
Giving Luxury Fashion A “Failing” Grade
For this campaign, Kpop4Planet teamed up with environmental NGO Action Speaks Louder to assess the climate commitments from Chanel, Celine, Dior and Saint Laurent.
Chanel is privately owned, while conglomerate LVMH and Saint Laurent own Celine and Dior is owned by Kering. Due to a lack of brand-specific data, all analysis was done at the parent company level.
In a “report card,” each brand was ranked against six indicators on their publicly available information regarding their current emissions, climate targets and transparency.
The indicators include whether the brands report on GHG emissions across the entirety of their operations, including Scope 1, 2 and 3, whether they publish an emissions reduction target for their supply chains by 2030 if they publish a 100% renewable energy target for their supply chains by 2030, demonstrate action towards decarbonisation in the supply chain, report on their consumption of biomass and provide financial support for their supplier to decarbonise.
All four brands ‘failed’ regarding their climate commitments, with Kering (Saint Laurent) scoring the highest with a ‘D,’ LVMH (Celine and Dior) scoring an ‘E’, and Chanel coming in last with an ‘F.’
Chanel performed the worst of all the brands as their target for reducing emissions is equivalent to only 10%, and they do not commit to using renewable energy in their supply chains.
Only Kering (Saint Laurent) has pledged to use renewable energy in their supply chains by 2030, something necessary to cut luxury fashion’s carbon emissions – the vast majority of which come from supply chains.
And while all four brands have publicly committed to lowering their carbon emissions, analysis showed the four saw increases in emissions from 2020 to 2021. Chanel’s emissions increased by a whopping 67%, Kering (Saint Laurent) increased by 12%, and LVMH (Celine and Dior) increased by 34%.
In fact, in 2021, the fashion companies behind the four brands emitted roughly 9.3 million tonnes of CO2 – that’s more than half the emissions made by the entirety of Cambodia, a stunning comparison as the country is an apparel hub with a population of 16.9 million people and a textile GDP in the billions.
The campaign calls on brands to commit to 100% clean, renewable energy (solar and wind) in their supply chains by 2030, set an absolute emissions reduction target of 43-48% by 2030 and provide full transparency in their supply chains.
Luxury fashion houses have the power, social capital and assets to make meaningful climate commitments.
For change to occur in the world of luxury fashion, it will have to start from the top, with the owners and operators of luxury fashion conglomerates being some of the world’s wealthiest people.
The reclusive billionaire brothers who own Chanel are an excellent example. According to Forbes, the net worth of Alain and Gerard Wertheimer is estimated at around $31.6 billion each, with analysis by Oxfam determining they are each responsible for emitting 14,000 tonnes of CO2 through their investments alone.
It is crucial to pressure luxury brands to become more transparent in their operations – too many labels decline to disclose their data on energy consumption, supplier lists or information on production volumes.
With no transparency, holding the luxury fashion industry accountable is not possible.
“The luxury fashion sector has polluting policies that are sometimes dangerous for the environment – that has to change,” said Kawthar, the organiser of Blackpink France Fanbase, who asked to be identified by her first name only. “We must do what we can to create a better world for our future generations by not repeating past mistakes and taking care of the planet.”
KPOP4PLANET is a global climate activist platform launched in March 2021 by K-pop fans. It is composed of fandoms across the world, including in South Korea and Indonesia.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Energy Tracker Asia.