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B Corps could be the next fashion industry A-list – WWD



Although B Corps has not carried the hallmark of the brands for a long time, interest in the designation is increasing as sustainability becomes one of the elements of fashion.

And certification, which measures a company’s social and environmental performance, has barely been affected by COVID-19 – ethical fashion, it seems, may be more coveted than it is. never been.

“As a result of the pandemic, we have seen unprecedented growth,” said Anthea Kelsick, co-CEO of B Lab, a non-profit organization that certifies companies deemed deserving, speaking globally about growth across all. sectors. “We saw a 60% increase in certifications from 2018 to 2019, and we expect this to be even more significant in 2020.”

Fashion, though still only a small portion of the 3,522 B Corps certified in 74 countries – with just 150 businesses in the community – is increasingly contributing to growth. More and more, brands are looking to join leaders such as Patagonia, Allbirds, Athleta and Another Tomorrow in club B Corp. As of March, B Lab said that “around 1,000” companies in the fashion industry have committed to using its B impact assessment, a key part of the certification process.

“Certification carries a hallmark in many industries, and I think for industries that traditionally have disproportionately negative impacts on society, whether on people or on the environment, I think it has even increased the cachet, ”Kelsick said. “As for the fashion industry, which creates culture and also has some of these outsized impacts based on things like supply chain or manufacturing … where companies can come up with certification B Corp, which tells people that, yeah, it’s a responsible company when it comes to how it treats people and the environment, it’s absolutely disproportionate in value.

To become a Certified B Corp, companies must achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment, a rigorous tool that B Lab uses to assess and score business impact in five key areas: governance, workers, community, environment and customers. It takes 80 points out of 200 possible to pass, and the results of the impact report must be published publicly as part of a commitment to transparency. (The rankings so far have created a sense of healthy competition in what has become a race to the top.) The final arm of B Corp’s demands trifecta is legal liability, which means either structuring the business into as a charitable corporation (an alternative to an S Corp or C Corp) to create a positive impact on stakeholders in the company’s mission, or otherwise integrate stakeholder considerations into the governance structure, depending on this which is available where the company is incorporated. Companies must recertify every three years to maintain their B Corp status, and continuous improvements, which B Lab advises on, are essential to improve scores over time.

Critics say B Corp certification is one of many sustainability initiatives and that the designation purposely sought – although certified by a third party – lacks bite without government oversight and little accountability beyond what is due to shareholders.

But changing times make it more public and less passable, and most companies do not submit to a B Corp level engagement for the sake of greenwashing.

Sustainability, whether sought by B Corp certification or not, is now fashion’s biggest mandate.

“The sustainability game is rising for all businesses,” said Federica Levato, partner at Bain & Co. and co-author of the consulting firm’s annual luxury survey. “All companies need to take a stand on this important topic and not only play a role in lowering the level of unsustainability in fashion, but also be truly activists and stand up for something sustainable. B Corps are now in the spotlight because they are the epitome of sustainability… they have become and are becoming trendy phenomena.

Another Tomorrow, a sustainable luxury line that has gained traction since launching in January 2020, is part of the B Corp in the crowd.

For a former CFO like founder Vanessa Barboni Hallik, stepping into the fashion fray at a time when the industry is struggling for relevance in the face of many challenges, including squeezing margins, building the brand around sustainability also had to make commercial sense. From the start, she created Another Tomorrow as a legal services company so that its internal ethics and external commitments align with what its shareholders expected with regard to environmental, social and governance factors.

“It was really important for me to have this architecture for accountability, and that’s really how I think about B Corp and other things that we do internally as well, because I just saw first main how it goes wrong in the absence of this. ”Hallik said. “It’s not enough to say you’re going to do x, y or z, it’s actually adopting these binding frameworks.”

For Another Tomorrow, which focuses on creating ‘desirable and functional’ products with an emphasis on style and quality that contributes to longevity, B Corp has been only one piece of its sustainability puzzle, transparency and the guarantee of a living wage being the other essential pieces to play. The brand has also partnered with Internet of Things company Evrythng to help them authenticate their product for resale to ensure circularity is part of their efforts as well. And in June, he signed Brother Vellies founder Aurora James’ 15 percent pledge to empower herself to be anti-racist and bring more people of color into her supply chain. It’s a model designed for both purpose and profit, and what the B Corps is just starting to gain outside attention for.

“I think B Corp still feels like this is a pretty early discussion within the industry, but I’m glad to see there’s a lot more energy around this. And with the way food and CPG has really led in terms of sustainable sourcing, we’re starting to see Fortune 500 companies in the food and CPG industry really embracing B Corp as well. [Danone is one of them]. And I think that’s really going to start the conversation, ”Hallik said. “In terms of sustainability as a whole, there is certainly a different understanding today than there was even a year ago that it is not optional. If we care about a positive, shared and fair view of the planet, that’s not nice to have. These are existential things for the industry. “

The hope, she added, is “that B Corp becomes a kind of toolbox and a framework for the industry to evolve faster than it could otherwise.”

Among the 200 questions asked by impact assessment B, for example: “What percentage of energy (in relation to the company’s income) was saved last year for your company installations?” and “What percentage of management is from under-represented populations?” it also seeks to assess things like the share of a company’s product line that includes sustainable fibers. It aims to make companies know their operations intimately and help them understand which metrics need work most in their sustainability journey.

For Patagonia, which became B Corp in 2012 before there was any buzz about it in fashion, participation in the collective of certified companies, according to Cara Chacon, vice president of the company responsible for social responsibility. and environmental, has kept the brand in check in terms of progress towards its mission: “We are in business to save our planet.”

“To prove to us that we are doing a good job, or to show us where we are not doing a good job, that is what helps us. But it’s also a third-party certification that shows the world that we’re not just a bunch of people talking, we’re actually walking, ”she said. “On a more granular level, for our team in particular, it helps us understand where we need to go next. This helps us in our annual strategic planning and long-term planning, by setting goals. “

As a B Corps, fashion companies are part of a collective movement towards more sustainability and responsibility that Chacon says is growing. And he who knows profit alone will not win.

“It’s old thinking to think that in order to make a profit, you have to outsource environmental and social responsibility,” she says. “You can actually become more profitable by showing, and promoting the talk, that you care about people and want to make products that make sense, that don’t exploit human beings and don’t damage our resources. natural. “

The truth of the notion has also been proven by Athleta. Fashion doesn’t have to be a battle of sustainability versus style or profit versus planet.

“As one of fashion’s greatest B Corps, we are an example that it’s possible to balance people, planet and profit with scale,” said Mary Beth Laughton, president and CEO of Athleta. “We take this responsibility very seriously.”

Realizing a few years ago that many of its missions to focus on sustainability and empowering women in both its upstream and downstream activities are what B Corp’s certifications seek, Athleta has sued the title, and Laughton said it was a godsend that goes beyond the mark. .

“The recognition was good for me, but it was also humbling because we knew we could – and had to – do more,” said Laughton. “Our B Corp certification has helped us continue to learn and improve our efforts to build a well-rounded business. We do this by showing it end to end – from our product development, to what we do at headquarters and in our retail stores to our distribution centers, and what we market.

In the future of fashion, men, the planet and profit will have to be on a level playing field for brands that hope to hold on to, whether it’s a B Corp that gets them there or not.

“I would love to see the B Corp movement become the apparel industry A list. I think this is moving slowly and I see other signs of hope coming from other types of initiatives, like Fairtrade certification and the use of preferred materials, more sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester ” , said Chacon. “I see B Corp as a beacon of hope, but I also see so many others that are related to B Corp that everything shows me that the new A-list for fashion has these significant certifications.”

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