Is Sézane ethical & sustainable?

I’m going to tell you a little story first, BUT please know that it’s going to sound completely and utterly fancy pants BUT this story is not a flex. It’s just something that stuck with me for all these months.

In October (2019), I headed to the USA and I caught up with a few people I met online in New York. (See, told ya. First sentence in, I’m already mentioning New York!) One of the people I caught up with was Sabs (she runs a Instagram page called sustainablesabs she totally awesome please check her out!) and she had asked me what I had done so far. I mentioned I had walked around SoHo the day before and for some reason I mentioned checking out Sézane.

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I mean, it is a beautiful looking store front!

She asked me what made the brand ethical and sustainable, because she started to see a lot of ethical influencers promoting it online. I mumbled off some words about making classic styles, but I honestly didn’t know. I guess, I never really know anything! I like to pretend I’m smart sometimes!

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The truth was – I hadn’t looked into it. I mostly trust the people I follow online and when I saw them promoting it, I was like: oh cool. I trust you. I’m going to check Sézane out. Which is pretty much the adult version of accepting candy from strangers! I’m the first to admit, this is super gullible but I do try my best to follow people that I feel like I can trust, so maybe it isn’t so bad??

I’ve purchased a few pieces over the last couple of years from Sézane and really love them. So, I wanted to dig a little further and see if they were as sustainable or as ethical as they claim to be. If not to settle your own conscious, but mine.

From a quick cursory glance, there isn’t too much third party information about Sézane online and there was even less information regarding its ethicality and sustainability practices – so I reached out to them. After reading their mission statements, I had a few lingering questions as like most mission statements, it was little vague.

To my surprise, they responded and gave me a specific email to direct my curious mind to! And I received another response from Elleore and it wasn’t your standard run-of-the-mill response.

To me, this shows a couple of things: they are trying and; they are willing to be transparent.

I understand no business is perfect, nor should we expect perfection. But, I’m always happy to see brands being open: open to questions and being open with their responses.  So often brands ignore the questions because it’s easier to evade the truth than to lie. After all, if you say nothing, then did you really ever lie?

Is Sézane sustainable?

Firstly, let me make a little disclaimer. Everyone’s idea on “sustainability” is different. Some people may only consider secondhand items as sustainable. I fall on the spectrum of, brands can’t be perfect, we can’t be perfect, but there’s always room for improvement. So, yes, I do buy new and secondhand items. You know, balance right?

Now, that’s out of the way. Let’s get down to the facts.

By 2021, Sézane aims to have over 70% of their line made from eco-friendly materials. But what are eco-friendly materials you say?

Accordingly to Sézane these materials are:

– silk which is Oeko-Tex certified
– cotton which is organic
– viscose which is FSC certified
– recycled polyester
– leather which is vegetable tanned

I know the debate is still out on recycled polyester or recycled plastic, but personally, I’m not against it. It’s better to create a use for it than for it to let sit in landfill. But of course, some people choose to maintain completely plastic-free, some don’t. The choice is yours!

In the last 36 months, Sézane has worked hard to implement these changes meaning their collection is now:

– 71% of silk is Oeko-Tex certified
– 67% of cotton is organic
– 47% of viscose is FSC certified
– 31% of leather is vegetable tanned

They have also implemented a new line of denim which is organic certified and consumes two times less water than the traditional (manufacturing) washing methods.

A couple other things to note which I thought were interesting:

– 100% of shipping boxes are now made from recycled and/or FSC certified cardboard
– flexible opt-out packaging options are now in place (which has lead to a 50% reduction of packaging on their leather goods) and
– all of Sézane’s addresses are powered by renewable electricity

The further I looked into Sézane’s practices, the more I realised, heck, they are actually doing something. More than something, which is pretty great.

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I didn’t realise I needed this top. But. I need this top. Soz. Random thought there for you!

I did need a couple of clarifications, as there were sections of their mission statement which seemed a little vague. For one, they mentioned they had hired a team of “experts” to manage their sustainability program. Experts? You might ask? Experts is term used very loosely, so I was a little sceptical.

But they do have a skilled team, diverse in sustainability and real world experience. In fact, they have a team dedicated to implement more sustainable and ethical practices.

When asked what type of real world experience they had, they said:

Our Social Compliance project officer is a former auditor, so she has a very good field experience and knows how to support our factories. Our Environment project officer has more of a consulting background, both on due diligence and Carbon accounting. Sustainability is a very complex topic and we don’t pretend to know everything – we also work with selected external experts, depending on our needs

With many larger brands, unsold stock or deadstock can be a huge issue. Often unsold stock are ripped and shredded, going into landfill, then say, homeless shelters or those who could benefit from the unsold stock. So, I was curious to know what Sézane did.

The products of our past collections are sold at a gentle price during the Archives, or in our Charity Boutique in Paris, whose proceeds go to our charitable program DEMAIN.

In short, they try their best creating smaller batches of clothing to avoid unsold stock. But once a season has past, apart of the stock moves to the Archives and the other to their Charity Boutique. The garments being sold are at a discounted price, with all proceeds going to Demain. (More on Demain below!)

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Is Sézane ethical?

 

Naturally, the next question of whether a brand is sustainable, is whether they are ethical. Before I head into the details about factory audits and liveable wages, let me write a little more about Demain.

I honestly, did’t know much about Demain. But, I was very curious to learn more. My prior knowledge of Demain was that it had raised 2-3 million euros, with the funds going to children in need around the world. Vague? Yes.

So, what is Demain exactly? A company within Sézane ? Or is it not-for-profit?

Their response:

Demain is not a social compliance program within the brand, but a philanthropic program: more precisely, it is an endowment fund independent from Sézane and thus a not-for-profit organization.

In short, Demain is a not-for-profit charity and not, a branch of Sézane.

I was honestly so pleased to read this. There wasn’t a lot of information about Demain on their website, so I had naturally assumed the worse – that Demain was just a sub-division of Sézane and it wasn’t all as charitable as it seems. BUT. Great news is Demain is a not-for-profit organisation. And so the funds, are actually going to children in need.

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If you are searching through the Sézane website, you might notice a few things. Each garment has some information about where it was made AND what is it made from.

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Yay for transparency!

Sézane’s garments are made in “Audited factories” – these audits are based off International standards, either the: SMETA, BSCI and WCA audit standards. The audits are carried out by third-party providers, to guarantee the best possible working conditions for their employees (including regulated working hours and meal breaks).

As quite a few of their garments are made in developing countries, I was curious if these working conditions also meant a their employees were paid a “liveable wage”.

Their response:

Among many points, the auditors check that employees are paid above the minimum wage, in compliance with the local law. An audit itself does not guarantee that a living wage is paid in a factory, but we make these calculations ourselves based on the data of the WageIndicator and are actively working on this point.”

A couple of things to note, they refer to their factory employees as employees (seriously, this is awesome. It honestly bothers me when brands don’t consider their factory workers as their employees), AND they admit, that while the audit ensures their employees are paid above minimum wage, the audit itself does not mean they are paid a living wage.

What is a living wage and how it differs from a minimum wage?

A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs“.

In essence, a living wage is suppose to correlate to a minimum wage – but this isn’t always the case. Often, people may work two or more minimum wage jobs, to make a living wage. So, while a minimum wage may be the standard, the aim should be a living wage.

Often brands will skim over this little detail. But Sézane admits this flaw in their auditing process, and are actively working to improve their employees wages.

 

Summary

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Okay, I know I could have totally come up with a better title than Summary and now this blog post totally feels like a school assignment. But seriously, what better way to summarise a blog post than with a title of summary. ANY WHO.

So, is Sézane ethical and sustainable?

In short, (and in my opinion) they genuinely seem to be, and are making real steps to creating an ethical and sustainable brand. But – the biggest takeaway? Is that they are willing to be transparent. And if a brand is willing to be transparent, then there is little to hide.