Louis Vuitton has given its classic monogram a sustainability-focused makeover for its new sneaker.
The logo, affixed to the shoe in enlarged type, has been changed to look like a recycling symbol, with the “L” and “V” losing their straight lines and ending in arrows. The sneaker, which will be launched in September, is made from 90% recycled materials, according to the brand.
It’s not uncommon to see big fashion brands looking to redouble their efforts to operate more sustainably these days. But adapting something as iconic and central to a major luxury brand’s identity as its logo is a big deal, and Louis Vuitton isn’t the only brand experimenting with such moves for certain products: Prada has rocks his signature triangle with an arrow, reminiscent of a recycling sign, while Valentino has also added arrowheads to the ring around his “V”.
In some ways, these moves are emblematic of the central tension in fashion’s strained relationship with sustainability, intertwining conspicuous consumption and signaling virtue. But they also demonstrate a real shift in the way luxury’s most powerful players think about what drives brand value and resonates with consumers.
Until recently, many big luxury brands were reluctant to talk about sustainability. Human rights abuses, chemical pollution and the burning of excess inventory do not sit well with the unblemished and opulent aura they sought to cultivate, while luxury consumers viewed products as recycled or d occasion as undesirable.
That brands are willing to alter their house symbols to advertise their efforts around these issues signals a profound shift in what they think consumers want and how they conceive of luxury. Essentially, this is savvy marketing that could nonetheless help promote consumer behaviors and less sustainable products.
“The brand is meant to send a signal of authenticity,” said Milton Pedraza, founder and chief executive of consultancy firm Luxury Institute. “Bigger, older brands think they need to do something to look more modern and therefore more sustainable.”
The very public move also increases pressure on brands to actually deliver on their promises to act more sustainably, inviting scrutiny from regulators and consumers alike.
“To play with something as iconic as the Louis Vuitton logo is a powerful move,” said Erin Allweiss, co-founder of communications firm No. 29, which represents brands whose businesses are focused on impact. It’s also “incredibly risky.”
In the United States and Europe, advertising watchdogs are cracking down on greenwashing, launching investigations into a number of fashion brands over the past year. Consumers have also been empowered through social media to publicly hold brands to account. Brands that raise the profile of their marketing around sustainability must be prepared to back up their claims with concrete action.
Louis Vuitton’s new logo was created by the late designer Virgil Abloh and first appeared in a series of upcycled clothes and accessories featured in the brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 menswear collection. The modified LV emblem was intended to “imbue the old with new value,” according to the collection’s exhibit notes.
It is being rolled out as Louis Vuitton steps up its sustainability efforts in line with commitments made by parent company LVMH last year. Prada’s arrowhead logo first appeared in 2019 to signal its ambition to phase out all virgin nylon from its collections. Valentino’s modified logo accompanied the launch of sneakers featuring recycled and bio-based materials.
Admittedly, these new logos have only adorned a handful of products so far. And for many, leveraging one of fashion’s most effective marketing tools to try to sell sustainability will seem at stark odds with the reduction in consumption and the overhaul of the business model needed to truly limit the negative impact of industry.
“At the end of the day, it’s capitalism… billions [are] spent on getting people to buy these products,” Allweiss said. “I don’t think anyone who is really into sustainability wears giant recycling signs on their clothes.”
For more BoF durability coverage, Register now for our new weekly sustainability briefing by Sarah Kent.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who together hold a minority stake in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholder documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.