"This Stuff" is a twice weekly newsletter that examines how fashion and style impact the world. You can find all of the past stories here.
This week, Chloé became the first B-Corp brand in luxury. If that sentence went right over your head and into another stratosphere, don’t worry. In the world of ethics and sustainability, certifications are so vague and all over the place that it’s easy to just ignore them. So, if you don’t know, a B-Corp is simply this: a for-profit company that has met a specific set of standards around social and environmental performance all while still turning a profit (and keeping the shareholders happy). There are about 200 fashion brands that have this status and none of them – until now – are considered high fashion. The idea behind the certification is basically that nonprofits and governments can’t be the only ones fighting for the betterment of the earth, corporations need an incentive to do so as well.
According to Business of Fashion, Chloé achieved the status by accelerating “its adoption of materials with a lower environmental impact, partnered with more Fair Trade certified suppliers, and made commitments to promoting women’s equality.” These are all great things that every brand could and should be doing, though many of them don’t. What is particularly interesting about Chloé is that in making this move, the brand is showing a level of transparency that luxury has consistently pushed against. Historically, brands like Gucci, Chanel, Balenciaga, and more claim that all of their practices, including manufacturing, are proprietary and therefore undisclosed. In some ways, this is for good reason. The counterfeiting market is massive and keeping design secrets, well, a secret is one way to combat stolen designs. On the flip side, a lack of transparency can leave room for all sorts of bad behavior. In 2020, top luxury companies Kering and LVMH had some of the lowest transparency ratings among assessed brands according to non-profit KnowTheChain. This means the risk for human rights violations in the supply chain was even higher than several fast fashion brands. (For what it’s worth, Chloé is owned by Richmonte.)
So how will the B-corp certification impact luxury in the long run? For starters, it requires maintenance and reassessment to keep the certification. As far as human rights are concerned, B-corp requires companies to have a “human rights policy that is overseen by the Board of Directors and includes either an explicit commitment to key human rights covenants (including the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and ILO Principles).” Still, as The Fashion Law points out, there is nothing legally binding about the promises being made, and if Chloé (or any brand with the certification) were to fall back on its commitments, no one would be held responsible. This is why the way we frame this huge step in luxury is important. Commitments to the people and the planet should not be an above and beyond practice for a company. Brands SHOULD adhere to human rights and environmental guidelines, but most of them aren’t willing to risk what comes with transparency.
In a statement, Chloé CEO Riccardo Bellini said he hopes the move will “inspire many others to join.” If this commitment proves viable from a financial perspective, perhaps that will cause a ripple effect with other luxury brands to follow suit.