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Ba&sh CEO Pierre-Arnaud Grenade: ‘We weren’t born sustainable, but we take it seriously’

By Julia Garel


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Business |Interview

Pierre-Arnaud Grenade, CEO of ba&sh / Showcase of the ba&sh brand. Credits: ba&sh.

French fashion brand Ba&sh is one of those names in the premium segment that is enjoying success despite inflationary pressures. Beyond its products, its desirability stems from a well-honed and constantly evolving CSR policy.

In 2022, while its sales increased by 22 percent, Ba&sh's carbon footprint decreased by 15 percent – data shared with pride by the brand, which parallels economic growth with a proportional reduction in environmental impact. But in practical terms, how do you limit this impact when you're an international company born in 2003 and producing over two million pieces a year? To find out, FashionUnited spoke to Pierre-Arnaud Grenade, CEO of Ba&sh.

Ba&sh at a glance:
  • Ba&sh launches 17 drops a year. Over the last year, the brand has reduced the number of models it launches.
  • By 2023, Ba&sh will have opened 11 points of sale in Asia, 10 in Europe, its first shop in Italy and several in North America.
  • The brand has 320 shops worldwide.
  • 300 million euros in sales by 2022.
  • Five people work internally at Ba&sh on CSR issues (as well as specific people in charge of this topic in certain departments, particularly production).
  • Founded in 2003, the brand saw the arrival of a new majority shareholder in 2022: the HLD fund.

This summer, Ba&sh announced plans to relocate 70 percent of its production to nearby import markets (Europe, North Africa and Turkey). When will this plan be implemented, and over what timescale?

Pierre-Arnaud Grenade: In fact, we've already started. We're currently at 50/50 between Asia and the Euromed zone. We've given ourselves two more years to reach 70 percent/30 percent. Generally speaking, we produce where we buy the materials: accessories in Italy, shoes in Portugal, cotton products in Portugal, jeans in Morocco or Turkey, coats in Central Europe, silk and viscose in China.

The environmental impact is twofold, because the energy mix is better in Europe than in China, and we have less transport. Another effect is that the time-to-market is shorter, so we can adapt better to demand because we have less latency and less transport time in our warehouses. However, we also have a flow of products from China to China [Ba&sh has 58 shops in China]. However, the flow is stronger from the warehouse to Europe and the US. China now accounts for around 15 percent of our sales. We are a global company, with 320 shops worldwide, 40 in the US and 120 in Europe (excluding France). We need to think globally.

How much does a CSR project like this cost?

We need to be supported by experts and specialist firms [editor's note: the brand recently joined Fret21, a support programme aimed at reducing the impact of companies' logistics activities and linked to the ecological transition agency, Ademe]. Switching from conventional to certified materials has come at a cost. I think that in the future it will cost less. Right now, we're still in a situation where a minority of certified materials are available. Tomorrow, there will be a majority of certified materials, more production and therefore a rebalancing of supply and demand. But, for the time being at least, this will be an additional cost.

For example, we've switched our polybags to 100 percent recycled plastic, which is a cost of around 20,000 euros extra. We're taking on these costs but, at the same time, we're trying to be clever about other aspects of expenditure to compensate. What is certain is that the consumer is not really prepared to pay more for a virtuous product, especially at the moment. So it's up to us to make the effort and find intelligent solutions so that we can offset the costs and ensure that, in the end, the company doesn't become unbalanced. If it's not virtuous, it's never sustainable.

How does Ba&sh measure the impact of its actions in terms of reducing CO2 emissions?

We have been calculating our carbon footprint since 2020. The methodology we have chosen is that of the GHG Protocol, which is an international assessment framework, a calculation method that covers the three scopes: the company's direct and indirect emissions. Secondly, we are quantifying our reduction plan. When we do more shipping, we are able to calculate the positive impact this has in terms of carbon impact. As a result, we are prioritising the actions that have the greatest impact in our CSR roadmap. But that's not all we do. Ultimately, carbon is a simplification of the measurement of impacts that are in fact much more complex. But it helps because it allows everyone to have a roadmap. We also track the proportion of certified materials. Today, 70 percent of our materials are certified, labelled or recycled. Next, we measure the breakdown of transport and the proportion of renewable energy used in our shops, and so on. We have a set of indicators that apply to each of the reduction measures that we have identified as having a real impact.

Ba&sh store. Credits: Ba&sh.

When relocating production to nearby imports, how did you select the factories?

We carried out a social audit on all our Tier 1 suppliers [editor's note: factory manufacturing] to verify that the working conditions of the teams complied with our standards and criteria. In 2024, we will audit 100 percent of our Tier 2 suppliers [editor's note: dyeing and tanning, as well as weaving and knitting]. And we'll be going even further with the environmental aspects of all our Tier 1 suppliers.

In addition to this, we have general purchasing conditions in which it is specified that even before the audit the supplier must respect a certain number of rules. The non-use of certain chemical materials, for example, or the banning of certain regions for certain materials. For example: no cotton from the Uyghur region. We include a number of red flags in our general terms and conditions of purchase. They change every year. We are very humble. We're not saying that our specifications are perfect, but they're at least as good as our knowledge of things to avoid at all costs. We really rely on our suppliers. It's a real collective effort. Textiles is not a highly automated business. You have to convince your teams on a day-to-day basis to change their behaviour. There are a lot of people involved, whether it's the farmer, the factory or the shop. That's why we started with social audits: because I think we can demand that our teams make a real effort for the environment as long as they are treated well.

In terms of transparency for the end consumer, how do you communicate this data?

In light of the Agec law [editor’s note: A French law passed in 2020 that aims to tackle the destruction of unsold goods without attempting a circular alternative], we had already anticipated this. For some parts, we trace up to Tier 1, but we still don't have full traceability. The target for 2024 is to have 100 percent of references traced at least as far as Tier 3 [editor's note: the spinning mill]. Today, in shops, product labels have a QR code that you can scan to see the stages in the manufacture of the product.

Today's consumers are prepared to accept that we're not perfect, but that we're working hard on it.

Pierre-Arnaud Grenade, CEO of Ba&sh.

We also publish a CSR report in which we clearly state where we are and where we want to go, in complete transparency. I think we have to be very humble. Today's consumers are prepared to accept that we're not perfect, but that we're working hard on it. So we're transparent about it.

Our carbon footprint has fallen by 15 percent with, at the same time, growth between 2022 and 2021 of 22 percent (11,000 fewer tonnes of CO2). On an item-by-item basis, this means that a Ba&sh product will emit 29 percent less CO2 in 2022 than in 2021.

You recently announced a 38 percent reduction in your CO2 emissions by 2025 via transport. What challenges have you had to overcome?

On the subject of transport, it's been about rethinking our timetable. We had to rethink our entire product chain, development, design, production, etc. to be able to favour sea transport as much as possible. That was the first challenge, rethinking the whole process. So we got our suppliers heavily involved in meeting the deadlines and completely restructuring the timetable.

Another challenge is how to communicate this in a simple way, but without being simplistic, at the risk of being accused of greenwashing. You have to be didactic if you want to communicate in a serious and yet not boring way. There's a balance to be struck.

We weren't born sustainable, but we take this extremely seriously. I think we're one of the most serious and hard-working brands on the subject. We have five people in-house working on CSR. That's a lot of investment. We're doing it because we believe in it, because our teams believe in it and also because we think it's the future. We're proud of our results, but at the same time we know there's still a lot of work to do. It's not over yet.

What are the next CSR projects?

By the end of 2023: 75 percent of materials certified. 100 percent by the end of 2025, zero virgin plastic packaging by the end of 2023. And in terms of targets for the end-of-life of items, we've set ourselves a target of 5 percent of second-hand e-commerce sales. We regularly open second-hand pop-up stores. All defective products, i.e. products that cannot be re-sold, and the very small stocks that we have left - less than 1 percent after two years on the shelves, so we're talking about a few thousand items - we give to a recycling network. And we're going to continue upcycling.

Where does the brand stand in terms of its retail estate?

We've opened around 20 shops over 2023. We're going to continue into 2024. There are 25 stores planned. We're no longer opening in France because we feel we have a complete network, but we're continuing to open in Europe: in Italy, in Germany, in the Scandinavian countries. We're opening in China, then in November in Singapore and at the beginning of 2024 in Taiwan. We also opened a lot of things in Korea. A few weeks ago, we opened in Boston and Vancouver.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

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