Balenciaga outlines gender equality and sustainability efforts
Cristóbal Balenciaga probably never heard about the idea of brand engagement in its home town of Getaria. Nor about social diversity and sustainability, two concepts that would become the building blocks of his brand’s evolution. Speaking at Vogue Fashion Festival last week, Cédric Charbit, CEO of Balenciaga since November 2016, analysed these concepts in the context of the brand’s radical spirit. What does the future look like for the heritage luxury firm owned by Kering?
“Balenciaga has been in the Lyst ranking for three years,” said the executive, proud of the label’s representation in the ranking of the most popular brands in the world. Demna Gvasalia has been behind the resurgence, taking the Spanish house to new heights after joining as creative director in October 2015. When news of his appointment first broke, Isabelle Guichot, former chief executive officer, said the maison needed “somebody that has a vision, someone capable of reshuffling the cards”. Gvasalia proved up to the challenge.
“The best advice I have ever received was from Demna Gvasalia. He said: let's be fearless,” shared Cédric Charbit about the designer, who left his streetwear brand Vetements in September after feeling he had “accomplished his mission”. But he continues to break new ground at Balenciaga, something that is celebrated by its CEO, citing the reinterpretation of the maison’s logo in a nod to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign for Gvasalia’s second menswear show, the partnership with World Food Programme and the Fall Winter 2019 campaign featuring ‘real couples’. “Since the maison has incredible visibility, Demna Gvasalia wants to use all possible platforms to convey messages,” said Cédric Charbit, adding that Kering’s involvement “is not something neutral, it allows us to engage”.
In the context of Kering, the force behind the Fashion Pact, talking about sustainability is inevitable. “The group is very active in the sustainable development department. We are encouraged to do things differently, it’s not mandatory but that makes the challenge more exciting,” said Cédric Charbit. He acknowledges the crucial role François-Henri Pinault, president and CEO of the group, is playing to promote a plethora of sustainability projects. This philosophy is also felt in the runway shows.
“The last Balenciaga show was its most sustainable yet,” said Charbit. “All 6,500 sq mts of blue velvet were recycled, as well as all 2,500 sq mts of carpet. The lighting used was given to a company for three years. We did everything we could to keep the footprint as low as possible,” he explains, adding that the casting was selected to reflect a diverse group of people. “The average age was 28 years old. Some of the models had other jobs, such as cleaners and street vendors.”
Sustainability, gender equality, equal pay and the right to disconnect
“In recent years we have almost doubled the number of Balenciaga employees in the world to about 2,200 workers,” Cédric Charbit announced as he outlined the company’s priorities. “Our main initiatives include gender equality, the right to disconnect from work and no minimum salary,” he explained. “In the fashion industry we are fortunate to have parity in favour of the female gender, highly reflected in Balenciaga. We have 70% women and 30% men, there is almost an imbalance, but we are doing very well. My executive committee is made up of 80% women and 20% men. It’s important to keep in mind the issue of equality between men and women in teams. Especially in management positions, positions of responsibility,” he said.
“I don’t mean to pretend Balenciaga is the perfect brand, but it’s important to talk about the initiatives we work on,” he continued, underlining the need to “be humble and try not take false steps.” Does Balenciaga still have a long way to go? Of course, said the CEO. “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. ”
After all, his arrival in Balenciaga three years ago was a bit of that, said the French executive. “I am a young CEO. At first, the appointment was gratifying. The pressure of responsibility came quickly and then I saw an opportunity to change the history of the brand and move forward in terms of sustainability, linking our commitments to the times we live in,” he concluded.
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