The Interview: Diana Verde Nieto, Positive Luxury

Positive Luxury
Diana Verde-Nieto

The Positive Luxury Butterfly Mark of approval for ‘brands to trust’ is gaining real impetus in this time of increased sustainability and transparency being vital. It wasn’t always like this, and Diana Verde Nieto has been leading the charge for change since a time when only select people cared to listen.

But, next Tuesday, 25 February, sees the first ever Positive Luxury Awards in London, and it’s a sell-out – something that she’s very excited about. This week also saw Anya Hindmarch awarded with the Butterfly Mark as she launches her refreshed “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” campaign with “I’m a Plastic Bag”.

Here’s Verde Nieto’s take on how she’s got Positive Luxury to this stage and why the company’s new 2020 Predictions Report, ‘Decoding the Next Decade of Change’ is a must-read.

What’s your background prior to starting Positive Luxury?

I’m from Argentina, but this is my adopted home – I’ve been here for 23 years. I grew up under a dictatorship in Argentina so, when I came here, I wanted to study law because I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, but my dad didn’t let me. Also, when I came here, I found out the law is completely different from the law in Argentina, and my English wasn’t good enough! Fast forward, and I got really involved in environmental technology in about 1998. The more I got into that, the more I couldn’t see how the world could be without that. Then it became about sustainability and sustainable development, and I started my first business in 2002, to help companies to integrate the principles of sustainable development in business processes. People thought I was absolutely bonkers! They thought it was never going to take off, but my thinking was that this is the way the world is going to be. My first client for the new business, which I called Clownfish, was Siemens. We also did the first Tesco and Kath Kidston shopping bag collaboration. The bags were made out of recycled plastic bottles. We were a consultancy working with Tesco, and it was the beginning of raising awareness of plastic bags. The Kath Kidston bags sold out very quickly, and all the profits went to the Marie Curie charity. I still see people with the bags now, which is a nice feeling.

What was your next move?

I sold Clownfish in 2008, but I remained with the business two years before stepping down in 2010. Then, I was like, what am I going to do with my life?! My friend, mentor and co-founder of Positive Luxury, Karen Hanton, who founded a company called Toptable – a restaurant booking service which she sold to Open Table, is a real technology pioneer. We were both in the same position in terms of what we were going to do next. It was very clear that both of us had this passion towards sustainability. I had the knowledge on it, while she had the technology knowledge. That’s how Positive Luxury was born. At that time, in 2011, just after the crash, people were not talking about sustainability any more. It seemed something that people didn’t want to do, or there was no budget for it. I thought my job was not done and I needed to go back and try to finish what I started. So, Karen and I thought about working with the luxury industry, because it’s incredibly aspirational, and what goes on the catwalk is copied so quickly and spread on social media. We therefore designed the first interactive trust mark for the luxury industry, the Butterfly Mark, which enables consumers to really understand what investment brands are making in sustainability terms. When you click on our Butterfly Mark you can discover what tangible actions the brand makes regarding sustainability.

Positive Luxury
The Butterfly Mark

How is Positive Luxury funded?

It’s self-funded. My co-founder and I funded the business and now we are profitable. We charge our clients to be assessed. All certifications and accreditation programmes are exactly the same, whether they be Organic or Fairtrade – they all do exactly the same, it’s a common business model. You can’t buy the Butterfly Mark, you have to be assessed first. If you meet the standards you get the licence to use the Butterfly Mark on your product, website and on your communications. Then you have to be re-assessed every two years. Standards are updated every two years, mirroring legislation, which is now accelerating after being basic and dormant for many years. We have seen massive changes last year, in 2019, in terms of plastic bans, single-use plastic, no burning stock and so on. A lot of these legislations are coming from Europe, with France leading the way, but the UK will have to adopt them if it wants to trade with Europe.

Who does Positive Luxury work with?

We set up partnerships with fashion designers and other businesses such as hotels, beauty companies, premium drinks, watch brands and jewellery companies, and they use the Butterfly Mark on their websites. We work with Louis Vuitton, Temperley London, Thomas Pink, Needle & Thread, IWC, Lora Piana, Stephen Webster, YSL Beauty,111SKIN, Kiehl’s and lots of different brands. Last year we had about 23 million interactions with the Butterfly Mark.

Who is the latest to be awarded with the Butterfly Mark?

We are proud to welcome Anya Hindmarch into our community and award them with a Butterfly Mark. Anya Hindmarch has evolved her “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” campaign from more than a decade ago into a campaign, encouraging consumers to consider the lifespan of their purchases. This exemplifies our mission to educate consumers on the positive impacts fashion businesses can make.

Anya Hindmarch
Anya Hindmarch: “I’m a Plastic Bag”

Have you seen attitudes changing?

When we started out it was very tough. Now the media is waking up to the fact that this is important and there is a reason for sustainability. In terms of the global context, it’s about restoring and preserving our planet from a bio diversity perspective – animals and plants. The only way to do this is if we, collaboratively, as business leaders, can put our minds together and really look at the impact of our businesses and how we can manage those reductions of carbon emissions. I don’t know if it will eradicate climate change, because I think we are a little bit too late for that, but we can slow it down. It’s a real threat for everybody. Last year Antarctica had the highest temperature on record for the last 100 years, which was 18°C. That’s hot. This is very real, and that’s why businesses have to take action. We can’t wait for government to take action. Consumers are pushing for it. The young crowd are much more interested in this than they’ve ever been before, and legislation is coming along as a result of this consumer demand.

Have you seen much progress in the last three years?

There’s been some small progress, but for my impatient nature it’s too slow. There’s been a lot of lip service – everybody is jumping on the bandwagon of sustainability, and I have seen this before. There’s peaks and there’s troughs. John Elkington actually launched the first ever ethical consumer guide in the 1980’s. I was speaking to him recently and he said we are in a peak, but then we are going to be in a decline. So, we fall in and out of this agenda. What I would like to see is no falling out, and actually falling through. Everybody suddenly embracing sustainability overnight is a bit of bullshit really. It has to be holistic, not one collection or one piece of jewellery or one watch. It’s not enough. We don’t have time. It’s not a marketing campaign, we’ve got 10 years to reduce the impact of climate change and businesses are responsible for carbon emissions. So, it’s unfair to ask consumers to end up with the short stick with sustainable consumption, we need sustainable production – and not just lip service to it.

What would be your advice to consumers?

Shop mindfully, think about what you’re going to buy and if it’s going to last. Maybe go for more expensive things that you know you’re going to keep and you’re not going to throw away. You’re not going to throw away a Louis Vuitton bag for instance, and if you are going to let it go, then you are going to re-sell it. Buy stuff that has meaning, and that can be passed on. Buy things that have quality and go for brands that provide a service. If, when you buy a coat and the lining starts to come apart, does that brand offer a re-lining service? If the coat is amazing, it will last you 10 years or more and getting it re-lined will cost less than buying a new coat. Think about the speed in which we buy. Cosmetics is another one that drives me crazy. How many lipsticks do you need? Buy what you need, finish it, and then buy more, don’t have such an accumulation of products. How do you dispose? Think about it.

What’s your view on returns and on packaging?

Consumers need to be mindful. Returns are one of my pet hates regarding online purchases, because you don’t need to buy 10 things to keep one and return nine! It’s consumer awareness, but also the responsibility of brands to really look at who are the serial returners, and do something about it. Packaging needs to be reduced and truly biodegradable and compostable. Otherwise you have chemical residues in the actual packaging when it’s buried, and that will end up being in the soil. Then the soil will absorb that in to the water tables and the water tables are used for irrigation, and then it effects what we eat. So, we need to be very mindful of what we do, because at the end of the day most of our impact goes back in to our food. For example, the plastic that we throw away is eaten by the fish, and we eat the fish.

What are the Positive Luxury Awards you have coming up?

This is the first time we’ve put on an awards, and they are going to be held on 25 February in London. The awards are a recognition of the brands and the individuals that have led the way on sustainability and who have great initiatives. There are 10 categories, which include brand of the year, best in terms of circular economy, community investment and a lifetime achievement award, which will be given to an individual who has dedicated their life to really advancing this agenda. We are totally sold out and at capacity with 170 people coming, which is very exciting. Among the guests will be people coming from Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, IWC, Bamford and lots of other companies.

What is your latest Predictions Report about and why is it a must-read?

Our Predictions Reports are annual, and the first one was published in 2015. This year’s report is focused on biodiversity. In 2019, it became clearer than ever before that we need collective action to reverse the impact of climate change and protect our world. In light of that, our 2020 Predictions Report, ‘Decoding the Next Decade of Change,’ is focused on nature. Over the last decade, Asia has been positioning itself as a key player in the fight against climate change. We review some of the legislative changes that have taken place in China during the last few years, and demonstrate how Japanese giant Rakuten is trying to make sustainable consumption the norm.

Concerns about climate change and the impact of our actions are directly impacting the way we do business. Investment funds are motivated by consumers’ sustainable values, while circular business models and the sharing economy are more relevant than ever before. Our hyper-connected and fast-paced society is seeking to slow down and reconnect with nature. Anyone who has an interest in sustainability will find this report useful, including business leaders who need to make savvy decisions about improving their own operations and culture.

What are your goals going forward?

We want to take Positive Luxury more international, so global expansion of the Positive Luxury brand. We started our operation in France last year and we want to properly be in the US by the end of this year. Then we want to go in to Asia, by the end of 2021. We are already established as the go-to place for luxury lifestyle brands in terms of their accreditation. We are the partner of choice as a seal of approval, but we want to really take the leadership on a global scale.