Conversations At Scarfes Bar: Diana Verde Nieto

By Charlotte Metcalf

3 months ago

Founder of Positive Luxury

Charlotte Metcalfe sits down with Diana Verde Nieto at Scarfes Bar.

Interview: Diana Verde Nieto, Founder Of Positive Luxury

Diana Verde Nieto

Image by Alexandra Dao

Diana Verde Nieto arrives exuding the same sparkling, smiling energy as when I first met her in 2011. Back then she was launching Positive Luxury from a small Shoreditch office, aiming to equip luxury brands with the necessary knowledge to embrace environmental and social topics. Positive Luxury acknowledged their efforts with the instantly recognisable Butterfly Mark of trust. Today, it’s under the leadership of Amy Nelson-Bennett, and though Diana is no longer at the helm, the culture and her ethos live on.

Diana grew up in her native Buenos Aires dreaming of being a human rights lawyer, but her father forbade her from taking on such a ‘dangerous’ profession in a then fascist country. Meanwhile, she fell in love with a Brit and followed him to London. She arrived one rainy November nearly 30 years ago, speaking hardly any English and without the money for a return ticket. 

‘The romance didn’t last, but I’ll always have London,’ she laughs. ‘From there, the only way was up.’ Diana is now one of the global luxury industry’s most pioneering, influential voices and a major force behind the sustainability movement. What’s more, she’s excited to have a new book, Reimagining Luxury, under her belt.

‘After 12 years running Positive Luxury, I wanted to take a pause to be and think,’ she says. ‘The one thing that we sustainability practitioners could have done much better was to talk about it in an aspirational and positive way. At first, we needed to wake people up but now we don’t need to keep gloom-mongering and shocking people. Climate change has a bigger advertising budget that the entire Mission Impossible franchise, and it needs to be spent promoting a positive vision of the future in which business success thrives on robust innovation and aligns seamlessly with societal wellbeing.’

She is adamant that the luxury industry must go much further. ‘In our ever-evolving and unpredictable world, luxury brands must confront inequality, prioritise sustainability and shift its mindset to regard people as citizens rather than mere consumers,’ she insists, pointing out that this principle extends to all companies. ‘People are seeking out brands that align with their values and they’ll vote with their feet, so boards and leadership teams are under scrutiny.’

Despite being one of the world’s most prominent sustainability champions, Diana believes it’s high time to stop banging on about sustainability and act. ‘Business has no choice but to innovate and transition to being net positive,’ she says, ‘and that way it’ll deliver positive social and environmental outcomes alongside economic growth.’

She radiates optimism as she talks about the racy pace at which brands are innovating. ‘It’s astonishing to watch because the next generation of Gen Z consumers are so open to embrace and explore the new,’ she says. ‘Gen Zs are 100 percent digital and sustainable, and see the world differently. They love pre-loved and vintage, are conscious of what they eat and aren’t afraid to challenge convention. 

‘Storytelling is also crucial to have a collective positive vision of the future,’ she adds. ‘Take Nike or Apple. They don’t push their trainers and phones, but instead tell us we can just do it and enable us to think differently. But we have frightened and paralysed people by insisting on a turnaround too massive for people to grasp what role to play, whereas effective system change is about little hacks people can manage one at a time.’ 

Diana cites Chantal Gaemperle – LVMH executive committee member and group director of human resources and synergies – who said, ‘Luxury is a dance with paradoxes.’  

‘Luxury’s a fine-tuned dance between modernity and heritage,’ says Diana, ‘like a complex, fine wine, [it is] really reimagining itself, embracing the modern via innovation.’

Diana is on a hectic schedule promoting her book and has what she refers to as a ‘portfolio career’. It comprises advising and sitting on numerous prestigious boards, including the British Beauty Council, the UN Conscious Fashion Network, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Sustainnovate. ‘Companies like Sustainnovate are so exciting because they’re unlocking the power of open, breakthrough innovation, helping companies recognise which small hacks can really drive change and efficiencies,’ she says. ‘Its CEO, Penny Brook – former CMO of Canada Goose – always reminds me that companies will change fast when they can envision growth.’

Diana’s own mission is to change our mindsets, by driving us to collaborate and take action. ‘I hate to give away the last line of my book,’ she laughs, ‘but if we stopped talking about sustainability and got on with doing it, the world would be very different.’

In Brief

Country cottage or penthouse?
You know the answer! 

Gardening or theatre?
Can I have both?  We just saw Dear England and Joseph Fiennes
was amazing.

Heels or flats?
Heels at parties, presentations or meetings, as I’m super-short.

Dog or cat?
An adorable (and playful) four-year-old working cocker spaniel called Rufus.

Country pub or Michelin star?
Pubs – luckily, my London local, The Pelican, is in the Michelin Guide. 

Couture or country casuals
I love vintage and mixing things.

Reimagining Luxury is out now (Kogan Page, £31.99).