THE BLOG
05/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eco-Extrava-gay-ances

"They have enough to deal with
without bearing the humiliation of having to wear last season!"
~A classic Absolutely Fabulous moment, when Edina refuses to give her Vivienne Westwood clothes away to the homeless.

Next to the faded glory of black and white Hollywood 30s and 40s celluloid imagery, who is more associated with luxe than gay men and women? And why not? Many find employment in the industries that create the illusion-of-opulence, and they're often also the creative forces that invent and market the stuff as well (even those celluloid classics!) And because many (but certainly not all) gay men and women have disposable incomes, many partake in these goodies, too.

But to many -- gay and straight alike -- "sustainable luxury" is, however, a term that's as oxymoronic as the phrase "open secret" or "army intelligence." The word luxury implies the excesses and waste of the fashion industry, driving women of means to pay their personal shoppers to "jump" the waiting line to embrace that outrageously expensive "Bag du Jour" to dangle casually from their Social X-Ray elbows. (Truth be told, the extravagance of most label-laden handbags could float an average American household for a month or two.)

In an industry-wide turn-around, however, many high-end labels are trying to change their luxury goods businesses by "double air kissing" new environmental and labor standards. In a cultural shift, their customers who up until recently associated "green" with "granola" and "hippie" are now insisting that the bling and glamour they buy be made eco-sensitively and with a conscience, and in fact, recent marketing studies have shown that many posh and not-so-posh folks are now willing to pay more for goods labeled "green."

Even while our economy slips down the crapper, luxury brands are probing the zeitgeist for new reasons why you and I should buy their wares. And with more and more folks -- gay, straight or on the spectrum -- yearning for genuine eco-values like effectiveness, honesty, transparency, purity and even hipness, many brands are making attempts at being socially responsible.

In an industry that typically tosses away last year's rags for this year's rags, the new fashion paradigm now also takes responsibility for things previously left to the government -- improved working conditions and salaries, fair trade, "clean" diamonds rather than "blood" diamonds, etc. And although the luxury market is a bit late in adopting social responsibility standards, as taste-makers and innovators, their new approach could potentially have a bountiful impact. Additionally, because most are so profitable, high-end brands also have the cash to implement reduced energy consumption, green-up their means of production, buy carbon offsets, and redesign packaging to be more environmentally friendly.

Sure, some might call "sustainable luxury" just another trend or even the "greenwashing" of yet another industry. And if that turns out to be the case, it's up to us as consumers to hold their perfectly pedicured feet to the fire! Today's critical need for "cradle-to-cradle" sustainability at every level of society has grown beyond the too-easily dismissible "tree-hugger" imagery of just a few years ago. Furthermore, unlike many societal ills that primarily strike those that would be classified as "the disadvantaged," the environmental problems we need to address affect every global citizen, regardless of their social standing. Put differently, the effects of global warming make us all disadvantaged.

Like health care, sustainability isn't for some and not others - it's our right. Saving the environment is up there in the pantheon of social values that ended slavery, that gave women the right to vote, that ended the Vietnam War, that forged the Civil Rights movement, that gave women choice, and that are also beginning to recognize marriage equality for gay men and lesbians -- the same creative force that brought us luxury in the first place.