Backed by multibillion-dollar fashion conglomerate LVMH, Rihanna has redefined modern beauty. With her widely popular Savage X Fenty products she has toppled Victoria’s Secret as the world’s premium lingerie and loungewear brand. But does the pop star’s celebrated clothing line have secrets of its own?
Hidden truths and not-so-ethical fashion
“Imported.” Ask where a Savage X Fenty product comes from and this is what its country of origin label will tell you. Contacted to explain one Savage X Fenty customer service officer gave the following reply. “I know SXF items are not made in the US,” they stated. “Only assembled and processed.” Another provided a different view. “I do not know,” they said. “I am very sorry.”
Where are Savage X Fenty products made?
Dr Patsy Perry is a senior fashion lecturer at The University of Manchester. While she did not wish to comment on Savage X Fenty’s ethical practices, she was willing to help make sense of modern clothing labels. “The ‘made in’ label,” she shared, “refers to the last process of manufacture, so legally that’s what you put on the label. It is literally where the garment is sewn together.”
“It can be more complicated,” she continued, “which may be why the country of origin isn’t on there. So you don’t actually have an idea of the huge journey that your clothing has made from points of origin. You are not going to know where the fibres were grown, where the fabric was made. All you would know is where it was sewn together.”
Taking this into account, one guess is that Savage X Fenty materials are made in countries known for inexpensive fabric production. And the poor labor conditions, sometimes indistinguishable from slavery, that make low costs possible. Dr. Patsy Perry, however, cautions against jumping to hasty conclusions based on labels.
“You could say maybe Bangladesh,” she said, “so you could think Rana Plaza and the horrors. But then there’s also the greenest knitwear factory in the world in Bangladesh. So it’s difficult to kind of get a feel for whether it’s been made with good conditions or bad conditions just from the ‘made in’ label”.
We save, the planet pays the cost
There are other causes for concern. Despite the glamorous Savage X Fenty image and extravagant multimedia events, the brand’s items themselves are fast fashion. They are made from plastic blends. While these fabrics make clothes cheap and easy to make, they are some of the absolute worst materials when it comes to environmental impact.
Take for example Savage X Fenty’s popular Romantic Corded Lace Front-Closure Bralette. The lacing of this bra is made from 93% Polyamide. 7% is Elastane. What is more, the product’s lining is 100% Polyester.
The brand’s eye-catching Savage X Smoking Jacket is another example. This bestselling men’s item is made from 96% Polyester. 4% is Elastane fabric.
Savage X Fenty uses environmentally harmful fabrics
Why are these synthetic fabrics so bad? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, they are refined from non-renewable fossil fuels. Synthetic fabrics and blends break and age poorly. What is more, they are not readily biodegradable. This means that when we do eventually throw them away, they spend decades if not hundreds of years as landfill.
If they do not leak into other areas of the environment first. Plastics such as these often end up polluting oceans, lakes and waterways. According to one recent study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than a third of the microplastics polluting our oceans are synthetic fibres. This is a far cry from Rihanna’s public stance on climate change.
What is Rihanna’s stance on climate change?
“I think climate change is a real issue,” Rihanna told The Root in 2019. “It’s evident. It’s obvious. We are seeing the changes that are happening around the world.”
In 2007 Rihanna performed at Tokyo charity concert Live Earth. She also supports a number of initiatives that combat the negative impacts of climate change. One example is The Clara Foundation. Founded in 2012, the charity funds education initiatives and emergency response efforts to climate change-related natural disasters in the Caribbean.
What is Savage X Fenty’s environmental impact?
Rihanna’s cultural influence, musical achievements, championing of body positivity, and charitable work cannot be understated. Here, however, she can do better. Savage X Fenty is not a climate-conscious fashion brand. Nor is it accountable to customers when it comes to the working conditions of those who make its products.
Rihanna poses for a Savage X Fenty promotional image
What does this mean for climate conscious consumers?
There is some phenomenal leadership beginning to emerge in the fashion sector. Conscious fashion brands such as Gucci pay garment workers a living wage and operates under a carbon-neutral business model. Yet as Rihanna and other celebrities who use their famous name to promote clothing, such as Kylie Jenner, cling to the wasteful ways of the past. Despite offering superficial support when it comes to the climate issue, they choose short-term gain over long-term sustainability.
As with all entrepreneurs, Rihanna must be held responsible for running her business sustainably. She must not turn a blind eye to the exploitation of those working at the lowest ends of her supply chain. If a global fashion brand is acting unethically, it is up to us to voice our concerns. Celebrity-led businesses are no exception.
How can we secure a sustainable future?
“Every time we buy new clothing,” author Elizabeth Cline writes in her 2019 book The Conscious Closet, “it is a vote for the world we want to see.” The first step towards making these decisions is being given the right information. We have the right to know where and under what conditions the clothes we buy are being made. This can mean the difference between harming our planet and a sustainable future. It can be the difference between whether we enslave and exploit others or pay them a living wage.
With the fashion industry accounting for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, many of us are beginning to wake up to the future impact of our fashion choices. We have to leave fast fashion behind. What we want are clothes that enrich our lives. Something ethical and made to last.
We do not want clothes that exploit others or harm the planet. A sustainable future does not have to sacrifice a sense of style. Through buying less and buying better we can protect, conserve and even restore the world in which we live.
Is Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty clothing line ethical? No
Is Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty clothing line ethical? No. Rihanna’s clothing line relies on unsustainable fabrics. What is more, there is a lack of transparency when it comes to where Savage X Fenty materials are made. This casts doubt over whether all those involved in making Savage X Fenty’s clothing are working in fair conditions. Or paid a living wage.
It’s not all bad news. There are a number of ways Savage X Fenty can become a more eco-friendly and honest brand. Firstly, it can provide a list of fabric suppliers. It can also take greater care to ensure suppliers are assembling items sourced from ethical locations and made under optimal working conditions.
Certification from an independent body such as Fairtrade International is also an advisable step forward. This would let us know Savage X Fenty is a business that places people and the planet first. What is more, new collections can introduce and champion more sustainable fabrics.
Rhianna is an inspiration to us all. She is a leader and cultural hero. Under her influence, Savage X Fenty has already made a very positive impact. Especially with its work in the field of body positivity. The adoption of a more climate conscious business model can ensure it continues to send an amazing message.
This article was co-written by Elizabeth Davis.