Bonjour, Sézane. Say ‘salut‘ to my little magnifying glass, as I look behind your glossy French style and see if your clothes really are sustainable… Yes, it’s time for another deep-dive, and this time I’m looking at Sézane, the cult French brand that says all the right things, produces high quality, gorgeous clothing, and frequently finds its way into my wishlist because of that.
(Full disclosure: I would love more than anything to say Sézane is sustainable and deck myself head-to-toe in their Parisian-inspired pieces, but that’s just not how I do things. I’d rather dig up all the dirt, and tell you how it is.
So far, I’ve ruined a few brands for myself: ARKET, Matt & Nat, and Monsoon all fell short of what I look for. Everlane made the cut, although I recently read that they have been caught union-busting, which is a bad sign.)
So, here’s to hoping I won’t ruin Sézane for everyone in this guide (!) It’s time to see how they measure up against my sustainable fashion principles…
What makes a fashion brand sustainable?
When it comes to sustainable fashion, I look for four principles:
- Social sustainability: having clear knowledge of who makes their clothes, and treating people ethically, with respect and fair pay.
- Environmental sustainability: using natural and regenerated materials, and reducing energy and water use, as well as avoiding harmful chemicals.
- Slowing down production: reducing the amount of clothing the brand produces each year.
- Circular practices: inviting customers to return garments, which go back into production within the brand, rather than to landfill.
You’ll notice that I have expanded this slightly from previous deep-dives, to now include circular fashion. I think this is really important aspect to look for: circularity in fashion can really reduce the impact of the creation of new clothes, through to shifting the responsibility of waste away from customers and back to brands.
1. Is Sézane an ethical fashion brand?
When it comes to business ethics, I want to know how well Sézane looks after its people. That includes people working in third-party factories. Here’s what Sézane’s Sustainability Manager had to say:
Who makes Sézane’s clothes?
“Our ateliers are carefully selected for their know-how and their good environmental and social standards. Two-thirds of our items are made in Europe. Our leather goods are made in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, while our suits, our coats, and some of our blouses are manufactured in Eastern Europe. The remaining third is produced at various sites around the world, which are selected in accordance with the raw materials, production capacity, and expertise of the respective suppliers. Our silk, for instance is made in China.
“All our ateliers are audited by independent experts to ensure that they meet the requirements of the various standards we have chosen (BSCI, SEDEX, WCA, ICS or SA 8000). We do not only audit our own suppliers; we also visit their potential subcontractors who work on our collections.”
At first glance, this appears to be quite a thorough answer. Sézane does indeed have factories in Europe, as well as India and China, and all of these factories are independently audited. For a rose-tinted peek at these factories, you can visit five of them through videos on their website.
Even better, when looking at Sézane’s Social & Environemental Report [sic] all factories are compliant with Code of Ethics, if not better:
But what exactly are Sézane’s Code of Ethics? Who knows. The document is not available to the public, the Sustainability Manager confirmed with me. I’ve no idea why, but it does make me question if these are very basic, in order to make sure all factories meet or perform better than what’s asked of them.
The blurry reporting continues, too. Despite all my research, I can’t find a full supplier list for Sézane, nor a supplier map. Apparently this is to avoid counterfeiting, but I don’t think their polished atelier page is a sufficient alternative.
And there are inconsistencies: the Clothilde blouse that I’m wearing in these photos (which I bought myself) says ‘Made in Portugal’ on the label, while the above answer says blouses are made in Eastern Europe.
All of this smoke-and-mirror style reporting leads me to believe that Sézane hopes to look like a small, carefully-curated boutique brand, when in fact they have numerous factories around the world, producing lots of different garments, and each with differing policies on fair labour, fair pay, and fair treatment. And that’s ok, but they could be more transparent about it.
It’s also worth noting that Sézane does great things in the way of social sustainability through their philanthropic program called Demain.
2. Is Sézane a sustainable fashion brand?
Next up: how does Sézane treat the planet? I’m looking for natural and regenerated materials, as well as attempts to reduce energy and water use or waste, and the avoidance of harmful chemicals.
What sustainable materials does Sézane use?
“We use the following sustainable materials:
- Organic cotton
- Recycled materials
- RWS certified wool
- FSC certified viscose
- EcoVero viscose
- Vegetable tanned leather/Chrome-free leather
“We strive to get the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification for our fabrics as much as possible, in addition to other complementary certifications. We do not consider BCI cotton as sustainable, as this certification allows GMOs and does not enable to really trace cotton fibres. More than 70% of the materials of our Spring-Summer collection are sustainable and we aim to reach at least 80% by 2021.”
I’m really delighted by this answer – Sézane are employing a huge range of materials that are more sustainable than the conventional alternative, and they’re doing it as standard. On top of this, they’re striving to use independently certified materials, ensuring the sustainability of these fabrics.
(I also love the shade thrown at BCI [Better Cotton Initiative], which has really lax polices around brands ‘upping’ their organic cotton use in order to use the BCI label. Looking at you, ASOS Responsible Edit…)
This response also tallies with their Behind The Label/Sustainability Program portion of their website, meaning you can trust exactly what is reported there, as well as the descriptions for each garment.
For a personal example, my blouse here is made from 100% organic cotton, which is also great because it means textile recycling is a lot easier when it comes to the end of its life.
How is Sézane reducing its own impact?
When it comes to Sézane reducing its impact, it’s currently working on a few initiatives:
- To avoid packaging waste, Sézane provides flexible opt-out packaging options
- All of Sézane’s addresses are powered by renewable electricity
- By 2021, Sézane aims to switch the power supply of their digital services to at least 50% renewable energy
These are all steps, albeit small ones. They also say nothing about the impact of their third-party factories, or highlight any systems that may reduce waste, such as closed-loop water systems, even though they recently launched a sustainable denim collection. And there’s no mention of logistics, and whether garments are air-freighted or shipped. More can be done!
3. Is Sézane a slow fashion brand?
How many seasons does Sézane produce per year?
“Four times a year, we create a large collection with the essentials of the season, completed every month by a small capsule.”
I like this answer – it clearly sets a precedent for a continued rate of production that fits the traditional four seasons that fashion serves. It also explains why so many pieces sell out so quickly, and Sézane uses waiting lists to manage demand.
4. Is Sézane a circular fashion brand?
Does Sézane have any circular practices in place?
“We use as much recycled materials as possible in our collection, such as recycled polyester, polyamide, wool and cotton. 65% of the polyester we use for our Spring Summer 20 collection is recycled. Almost one-third of our styles are also mono-material, thus easily recyclable.
“Moreover, our recycling program, ‘La Grande Collecte’, allows our customers to recycle their old pieces (whether from Sézane or another brand). The program can take place at your addresses and remotely using our prepaid shipping labels. We have thus been able to recycle more than 12,000 garments and shoes since the start of the initiative.”
Well done Sézane. This answer takes three crucial circular practices into account:
- Employing recycled and regenerated materials in new collections
- Creating garments made from just one material, enabling easy fabric-recycling at the end of life
- Taking back customer waste for recycling
This is potentially the best example of circularity I’ve seen out of all my brand deep-dives, although there’s still plenty of work to be done.
In an ideal world, customer waste would be used in new collections, but I can see how that’s currently very difficult to achieve.
1. Sézane cares about its people, but is not totally transparent in how it achieves this. I’d love to see a supplier map or supplier list on their site, and to read over their Code of Ethics, before giving them my full support.
2. Sézane is a sustainable fashion brand in its use of materials, and strives for independent certification where possible. That said, they could be doing more to reduce the impact of their supply chain.
3. Compared to many high street brands, Sézane is a slow fashion brand, producing four collections per year. Plain and simple, Sézane sticks to a traditional, four seasons per year model.
4. Sézane is working on becoming a circular fashion brand. Sézane has implemented three great elements around circularity: regenerated material use, mono-material pieces, and a customer recycling programme, which is a great start.
Update 10/10/2022: I was recently made aware of Sézane’s scandal in Mexico, where the creative team made an elderly Zapotec woman dance while wearing Sézane’s clothes. This display demonstrates both cultural insensitivity and exploitation (the woman did not get paid). I wanted to include this story within my review of Sézane so you can make an informed decision over whether you want to support the brand or not.