Luxury bags the sustainable packaging deal

Challenged by growing digitalization in sales and environmental issues, luxury packaging is experiencing deep changes. A shift that enables the use of sustainable materials and relocating production closer to the end client.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita03 février 2021

With ecommerce booming, packaging has become first in line of the client’s experience. Its role is ever more strategic. It can’t simply settle for elegance. It also needs to be strong, eco-friendly and local, according to Johann Ramière, founder and director of Esprit du Luxe: “This crisis has shaken brands to the core. From now on, all of my clients request sustainable packages, and this was not the case before. Today, demand has surpassed offer, yet factories are regrouping to answer this growing demand. Packaging has to be deeply rethought, in terms of material, design, as well as production. With the coronavirus crisis, everybody realized that it was essential to work with European companies, considering packages could sometimes travel back and forth between Europe and China several times before getting to the end client. That is no longer acceptable.”

The Italian house Gucci is currently leading an experiment with eco-friendly packages. (Gucci)

Limiting materials

We still are in an exploratory phase and no one has found the ideal solution yet

Nicolas Le Moigne, designer leading the luxury masters’ at l’ECAL

The sustainability concern impacts first and foremost materials used to create cases. Aiming at abolishing plastic, and using cardboard or recycled paper instead, as well as PCR (post-Consumer Recycled)-based glass, Johann Ramière adds: “It is very hard to find 100%-recycled paper, therefore we can sometimes choose potato peel-based paper. This can seem crazy, but the result is clearly in line with luxury requirements. We are wrong to believe a sustainable package can’t be beautiful. That’s not true anymore.”

An opinion pondered by the designer Nicolas Le Moigne, leading the luxury masters at l’ECAL: “We still are in an exploratory phase and no one has found the ideal solution yet. What’s true, however, is that brands want to move on from packaging exuberance. The role of designers is expanding as they also intervene when it comes to choosing materials and strategic aspects of the object and its opening ritual. A sustainable package means first using fewer materials to better recycle them. We will therefore avoid combining metal to wood and leather, for example. Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is beneficial in many ways, as it is easily recyclable and polyvalent.”

A successful design for sustainable packaging? Many dreamt of it, Ruinart did it. (DR)

Fewer chemical products

Examples of environmental-friendly packaging have multiplied over the past few months within the luxury industry. The Ruinart house was on the map when it opted for a 100%-recyclable package for its bottles, only made of natural wood fibers sourced from sustainably managed European forests. Its main goal? to offer a totally disruptive design, while limiting the packaging’s environmental impacts, which represent more than 30% of the Maison’s carbon emissions.

This crisis has shaken brands to the core. From now on, all of my clients request sustainable packages, and this was not the case before

Johann Ramière, founder and director of Esprit du Luxe

A success according to Nicolas Le Moigne:” Honestly, aesthetics meets expectations. The bottle’s display as well. This approach should inspire many others.” The Italian brand Gucci just launched a similar experience with its eco-friendly gift-boxes. They are produced by using paper and cardboard sourced from sustainable forests. The bags’ handles are tied to avoid using glue, the hangers are made of polystyrene and the ribbons are made out of organic cotton. Last but not least, the color chosen is green, of course. Further to reminding their sustainable approach, this color allows a drastic reduction of inks used. Imagining a sustainable package is also thinking about the elimination of chemicals generally used in graphic productions.

Online sales booming forces brands to rethink their packaging. (Unsplash)

The e-commerce effect

Another major evolution is the booming of online sales since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. An evolution in buying behaviors that has obvious consequences on packaging according to Nicolas Le Moigne: “Online trade implies new questions for brands. They must now imagine packages that are as beautiful as they are strong. As transporting a product can also damage it, you need to aim at strength to avoid any disappointment of the end client.” While of course not forgetting the overall visual and sensorial dimension. Questions that have become central over the past few months within the luxury industry. But for eco-friendly luxury packaging to become common, the main challenge will have to be lifted: the access to high quality recycled materials. Johann Ramière is confident: “Even if recycled cardboard for example, costs 30% more than plastic, the industry will get there, clients’ demand will force sustainable solutions to be found.”

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