We won Sustainable Retailer Of The Year! We are super excited to have won this award and get recognition for our sustainable initiatives this year.

Read on for the full Drapers interview with George Graham, chief executive and co-founder of Wolf & Badger, and Magdalene Barclay, Editor-in-chief of Wolf & Badger. 

Wolf & Badger is supporting small independent brands with its sustainable icons system.

George Graham, chief executive and co-founder of fashion platform Wolf & Badger and retailer, recalls his mum shopping ethically – buying organic food and sustainable clothing – decades before “going green” began to hit the mainstream. When he started Wolf & Badger with his elder brother, Henry, creative director and co-founder,  in 2010, making sure their new family business was as sustainable as possible was a top priority.

"I remember my mum saying when we launched the business how important sustainability was,” he tells Drapers. “She was way ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability, the environment and ethics. It’s something that we have always incorporated into the business, right from the start.”

Wolf & Badger is a multichannel retailer specialising in small, independent brands spanning fashion, beauty and homeware. As well as its ecommerce platform, which accounts for 90% of sales, it has two bricks-and-mortar stores – one at Coal Drops Yard in London’s King’s Cross, and one New York’s SoHo.

It stocks close to 1,000 brands from around the world, including Baukjen, Hayley Menzies and Meander Apparel. Brands have always been selected on the basis of their sustainable values, and the business has long been a proponent of slow fashion.

“The core of what we do has always been to connect customers with smaller, ethically produced brands from the UK and around the world, who have an artisanal approach or produce in limited runs,” Graham adds. “We aim to give these smaller brands a voice in the retail industry.”

Community spirit

Wolf & Badger drew praise from Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards judges for its “innovative and community-minded” approach, as well as its ability to influence the brands it stocks to become more sustainable.

In March 2020, Wolf & Badger launched an initiative to communicate the sustainability work of its brands in a clear, easy-to-understand way. It launched 15 customer-facing “sustainability guarantees”, which appear as icons on product pages and explain each label's eco-credentials. They include “green”, which means the brand has a net zero carbon footprint; “happy worker”, which means workers receive the living wage and no human trafficking is involved in production; and “artisan”, which means the product is entirely made either in the designer’s studio or by a collective of fewer than 10 people.

Brands choose the icons that apply via Wolf & Badger’s brand dashboard. There follows a conversation to review the choices with the brand, which must also submit supporting evidence. Currently around 60% of brands have sustainability icons. As part of the project, Wolf & Badger has also written extensive guidelines for its brands on how they can create and produce more sustainably.

“The idea is to make it equip our customer with knowledge and make it easy for them to shop according to their values,” explains Magdalene Barclay, editor in chief at Wolf & Badger. “It is not about a brand having all 15 icons – it is about highlighting certain attributes.

“It means customers are more informed about their purchasing decisions and can shop according to what matters to them, rather than just labelling products with a blanket ‘sustainable’ badge.”

Elena Lirosi is the founder of bags and accessories label Aevum, which has been stocked by the retailer for the past 12 months.

“Wolf & Badger is very focused on eco-credentials, which is part of the reason I wanted to work with them,” she tells Drapers. “The new icon initiative has been really helpful and makes sustainability much clearer for the end customer. Being stocked on Wolf & Badger has also helped me reach new markets, particularly the US.”

The initiative has also encouraged Wolf & Badger’s brands to focus on sustainability still further.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with brands about how they change their practices to qualify for another icon,” adds Barclay. “Many have started working with charities to be able to qualify for our ‘share the love’ icon, which means at least 1% of the brand’s sales go to a charity partner.”

Wolf & Badger is not standing still when it comes to sustainability. It is exploring how it could take the icons initiative further by working with outside organisations to further vet its brands and give them third-party certifications.

Wolf & Badger itself is currently applying for B-Corp certification, a rigorous assessment that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance.

It will launch recycled and recyclable packaging that can be used both in store and online later this year.

The retailer also offers to pay for employees to take an online short course in sustainable fashion at London university Central Saint Martins to ensure they have the most up-to-date knowledge.

Both Graham and Barclay believe that the pandemic will change how consumers shop for fashion, making sustainability even more of a driving factor in people’s purchasing decisions.

“When we started Wolf & Badger, sustainability was an interest area for some of our customers, but relatively few,” Graham says. “No one asked many questions or seemed to care very much. Now, it has become a real passionate point and consumers are not only asking about sustainable products, but in many cases, exclusively buying those products.

“The pandemic has forced people to take a step back and reflect on what’s important to them and to the planet. This time at home has made people much more aware of broader social issues and I believe it will drive conscious consumerism.”

Barclay adds: “Consumers will take action – trying to change the high street through their purchasing choices. The pandemic has had a massive impact on how people want to consume.”

Going forward, she argues that the fashion industry needs to take clear steps on specific issues, rather than paying lip service to the concept of sustainability.

“Fair wages are incredibly important. It was hugely disappointing to hear about retailers not paying for cancelled orders and the impact that would have on workers in countries such as Bangladesh. Labour needs to be a massive priority for the industry, as do issues such as waste consumption.”

A lifelong interest in sustainability has helped the Wolf & Badger team build a worthy winner of retailer of the year.