The Global Luxury Industry, With Insights From John Bartlett

We sat down with fashion designer and educator John Bartlett, recently-appointed Director of Fashion Programs for Executive and Professional Studies at The New School, to discuss challenges in the global luxury market. 

“I think the luxury market is an interesting place because, on one hand, it’s very much steeped in tradition and heritage, with the most successful companies being centuries-old,” explains Bartlett. At the same time, there is an emerging new type of customer, who Bartlett loves, who demands transparency and authenticity.

“The challenge is how do we take the foundations of luxury management and approach them through the lens of all of these new and very pressing social issues like sustainability, supply chain, human rights, new materials, and animal agriculture?” 

According to Barlett, that is the trick.

The importance of next-gen materials

“So I’ve found in the last few years, I’ve really started to geek out on these new materials, materials that are neither animal or petroleum-based,” says Bartlett. “I think it’s just going to take a while for them to be scalable.”

To Bartlett, sustainability is more exciting than any design coming down the runway. 

“Customers want to know more than ever about what it is that they’re buying,” says Bartlett. “And I think that the approach is progress, not perfection. Any company that is in the marketplace now is thinking not only about their bottom line but also their carbon footprint.”

Social relevance

“I think fashion is a snapshot of sociology. There’s so much we can learn about a culture, a subculture, a social movement, through clothing and accessories,” says Bartlett, who studied sociology at Harvard.

“I love the idea that clothing can be imbued with this sort of social relevance or history. I think fashion has this wonderful opportunity and responsibility to move the needle with regard to social justice. That’s what’s been exciting over the last few years. You look at the campaigns in magazines, you look at the runways, you look at magazines like Vogue: they’re putting so much more diversity [out there]. There’s much more body positivity. There’s people of all gender spectrums, all types of bodies. There’s a huge movement in celebrating people with disabilities,” says Bartlett.

“Fashion doesn’t need to be exclusive. It can be much more inclusive and still be very successful.” 

Bartlett is a self-proclaimed big fan of Ben Barry, Dean and Associate Professor of Equity and Inclusion at the School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design, and his work in adaptable fashion and the different ways fashion and society can break down barriers between different worlds.

“I’m very inspired by his work. That was one of the things that really drew me to applying to this job with Parsons. Sort of deconstructing all of these social constructs which have kept fashion at a certain place,” said Bartlett.

Students, many of them coming out of Parsons, are redefining what luxury really can be – by infusing it with social value, breaking down gender norms, and more, according to Bartlett.

C-Suite issues

According to Bartlett, the same type of equality and diversity are “still not there” at the C-suite level. 

“I think there are a lot of people in the industry working hard to create those opportunities and be more transparent, but the challenge is in the C-suite,” says Bartlett, who adds that it’s “getting there” and that the industry is much more well-versed about social justice issues in general.

In the past, everybody was selling to big department stores and that was really the only way to create a business. Other types of business models, such as the world of e-commerce, just didn’t exist. 

Now, there are many ways to reach customers, with Bartlett himself creating a line of accessories and individual pop-ups to better suit his own needs as a designer with his own brand. 

Can dogs save the people? (and other great causes)

Bartlett’s podcast, Dog Save the People, seems to think so. Bartlett firmly believes that dogs can transform lives. That’s why, when the pandemic hit, he decided to start a podcast for people whose lives have been transformed by dogs. 

He also works and consults with Unshattered, through which a line of his accessories are manufactured by a group of women in addiction recovery. Unshattered has helped many women to create a sense of skill and purpose, maintain sobriety, and prevent relapse.

Bartlett also has a nonprofit, the Tiny Tim Rescue Fund, named after his three-legged pit bull. When Tiny Tim died, Bartlett began volunteering at the city shelter in East Harlem, where he met rescue workers pulling dogs from the euthanasia list. This inspired the Tiny Tim Rescue Fund, which sells his products, with profits going to the fund.

“So now I have this line of accessories, the Tiny Tim Collection that has a camouflage pattern featuring my three-legged dog. And I’ve made these bags with Unshattered and so I’d like to call it from Recovery to Rescue.”

Ready to explore the global luxury industry with John Bartlett? The EMiLUX program brings customized personalized on-site visits to the world’s leading luxury companies, with expert speakers to skyrocket your knowledge and give you the tools to succeed.