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Balenciaga was founded in 1917 by the Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, and since then it has come a long way. Today, it is part of the multi-national Kering holding group; also it has grown to be one of the most popular luxury brands among young generations. Earlier this years it has announced that all its collections from now on would be fur-free, in a response of an initiative from Human Society International. From funding the World Food Programme by the UN, steps taken towards gender equality among its workers, and adopting sustainable methods in its collections; we take a trip through the sustainable journey on Balenciaga and analyze how sustainable it really is.
For its Spring Summer 2021 collection, Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia focused on creating more sustainable garments. In the show notes it was displayed that: “93.5 per cent of the plain materials in this collection are either certified sustainable or upcycled, while the show notes claim ‘100 per cent of the print bases have sustainable certifications.” Gvasalia later told in an interview that it was achieved quite easily.
Earlier in 2019, the brand collaborated with Farfetch to launch an eco-friendly collection, with the goal of bringing awareness to threatened species. The capsule collection featured womenswear, menswear and kids wear; and it did not feature leather, fur or down. Moreover, Balenciaga donated part of the proceeds to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization dedicated to the conservation of nature and the sustainable use of resources.
The brand started supporting the World Food Programme by the United Nations back in 2018, with the mission to draw attention to the recent spike in global hunger and to support efforts to end it by 2030. For this reason, Balenciaga launched a line of clothes and accessories, that continued in December of 2019. According to the brand, the collaboration provided funds to support the organization’s greatest needs, ultimately helping to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in vulnerable communities worldwide. The brand donates 20% of the earnings of each product to the WFP.
Cédric Charbit, the relatively newly appointed CEO of Balenciaga, has been at the front of the Spanish luxury house since November 2016; and according to him is taking the brands gender equality policies and sustainable efforts to the next level. Charbit claimed in an interview with Vogue that Balenciaga’s main initiatives include gender equality and no minimum salary.
Even though the parity under Balenciaga’s lines favor women, Charbit recognized that there is still a long way to go. “In 2019, 4% of our female employees had a similar experience level, skills and equivalent performance than their male counterparts yet they received a lower salary. It was a terrible discrepancy that we have already corrected. Ensuring total equality in wages is part of our commitment to employees. ” he claimed.
Balenciaga does not have an official animal testing policy on their website; and according to PETA the brand is not cruelty-free, since they test products and/or ingredients in animals. Moreover, Balenciaga’s parent company is Kering, which owns companies that use animal skin in their products. However, in their website, we could find “The Kering Animal Welfare Standards”. The Kering Animal Welfare Standards cover all the species around the world that are part of the Group’s supply chains. It includes detailed requirements for the treatment of cattle, calves, sheep and goats throughout their entire lives, as well as guidelines for abattoirs.
Aside from the sustainable efforts deployed in its collections, and in terms of employers equality and their efforts along with the World Food Programme, Balenciaga is part of the Kering group. A couple of months ago, The Business of Fashion revealed a Sustainability Index, which was not very promising for Kering, or fashion in general. We have made an analysis of it, which you can read here. The Index focused on six key issues: Transparency, Emissions, Water and Chemicals, Materials, Workers’ Rights and Waste. The scale was from 1 to 100 points. Overall, Kering was one of the highest rated brands, but made only 49 out of the 100 possible points.
Transparency is a big issue that Balenciaga still needs to tackle. Even though we know that the final production of its garments and accessories takes place in Italy, there is hardly to none information about the first stages of production; which is worrisome. Coincidentally, “Workers rights” was the lowest scored category of the Kering group in the Sustainability Index.
Much like animal welfare, Balenciaga’s website does not display any further information about its environmental practices; but since it is part of the Kering group it adheres to the same rules. Balenciaga has set targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from its operation and supply chain. The Kering group has also a policy that prevents deforestation of endangered forests, approved by CanopyStyle. CanopyStyle is an organization that works with the forest industry’s biggest customers and their suppliers to develop solutions and protect these endangered places.
There is no doubt, Balenciaga is going on the right direction. In the last years we have seen the brand abandoning fur in their products and accessories, which entails putting an end in a way to a kind of animal cruelty. Also, through their collaborations they have helped different and important causes to improve the quality of life of people around the world and the environment. In their last collections, they showcased recycled products, and upcycled fabrics. In terms of gender equality and their labour force, with the arrive of the young CEO Cédric Charbet, we can conclude there is improvement being made that contributes to parity and equality among their workers, and to better salaries for them.
All throughout our investigation, we wish we could’ve found more information directly from Balenciaga, instead of the whole Kering group, in order to see in detail the practices the brand is taking to commit to a more sustainable future. As we said, we cannot say we are unhappy with what we discovered, but we are definitely expecting more from this luxurious brand; which can in many ways lead the path in fashion to sustainability.
+ Words: Leila Salinas, Luxiders Magazine
Journalist | Berlin-based
Connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram (@leisalinas)