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30 Oct

How Ethical are Haute Couture Brands?

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While Haute Couture has long been synonymous with dreamy, one-of-a-kind creations and an elite circle of exquisite craftsmanship, a deeper look reveals that the world of high fashion often falls short when it comes to more sustainable practices, and most brands score “It’s a Start” or below. This article is based on the brands’ ratings published between August 2022 and June 2023, and may not reflect claims the brands have made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.

What is Haute Couture?

Prestigious and unique in the fashion world, Haute Couture is unapologetically Parisian. Born in 19th century France, Haute Couture is often associated with elegant, elaborate, and exclusive gowns made from high quality and very often expensive fabrics. When thinking of Haute Couture, famous designer names might come to mind like Chanel, Givenchy or Dior. But you might also be wondering how sustainable these famous brands actually are.

First, let’s look at what Haute Couture means. The phrase has been misused and misunderstood for a long time, so let’s clear things up once and for all. “Couture” is French for “dressmaking”, and “Haute” means “high”. Haute Couture doesn’t just mean “high fashion” and luxurious: high fashion isn’t Haute Couture, and not all luxury houses are Haute Couture. In fact, there are precise rules for qualification.

Charles Frederick Worth, the father of Haute Couture, created the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in the 19th century, a union that still exists and chooses who gets to be qualified as Haute Couture. To qualify as a true Haute Couture house, the fashion houses must respect several rules: designs must be made-to-order for private clients; there must be more than one fitting; the house must use an “atelier”, and employ at least 15 full-time staff. In addition to this, the fashion houses must have 20 full-time technical workers in the work room, and present a collection of at least 50 original designs in January and July during Haute Couture weeks.

It’s only after meeting these precise criteria that brands can be admitted into this very elite circle. But Haute Couture certainly doesn’t guarantee fashion houses are more ethical and sustainable.

Is Haute Couture more sustainable?

The hidden costs of luxury fashion, which Haute Couture brands are part of, can be steep. We had a look at our comprehensive data on luxury brands, and the numbers are clear: only 11% of luxury brands score “Good” or “Great” overall. In fact, only two of the Haute Couture brands we have rated score “It’s a Start” or above. What’s more, most luxury brands are still doing very little for people, with 75% of these brands scoring “Not Good Enough” or below. 111 out of 174 (63%) large luxury brands in our database, including most of the brands listed below, were also flagged as not paying a living wage at any stage in the supply chain.

This being said, it’s important to acknowledge that Haute Couture brands operate on a very different scale from, say, fast fashion brands. They produce less but at higher price points. This distinction impacts the scope of sustainability issues faced. While Haute Couture brands’ higher price tags don’t make them inherently more ethical, their lower production volume may imply less waste and environmental pollution compared to their fast fashion counterparts. However, this doesn’t absolve them of responsibility. In fact, it places even greater emphasis on their obligation to care for the workers within their supply chains. While we recognise the differences between Haute Couture brands and the rest of the industry, we believe that all brands must be held accountable for their actions.

Consumers play a crucial role in doing just that. As individuals and citizens, we hold the power to drive change with our choices. By making informed decisions and supporting brands that prioritise human rights and sustainability, we can send a powerful message to the fashion industry.

Let’s take a look at the ratings for some of the most famous Haute Couture brands.

Haute Couture brands conscious consumers are better off avoiding

This list contains brands rated our bottom two scores of “Not Good Enough” and “We Avoid”. The conscious consumer should steer clear of supporting these harmful or opaque brands, which are either making no moves to change their production practices for the better or simply don’t publish enough (or any) information about their current practices. You have a right to know how the products you buy impact the issues you care about.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Founded by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in the 1920s, and revived by the late Karl Lagerfeld in the 1980s, Chanel is known for revolutionising women’s fashion by ditching the restrictive corsets and replacing them with more flattering, functional, and minimalistic silhouettes.

Sadly, Chanel rates “Not Good Enough” for the environment, people, and animals. The brand uses few lower-impact materials, and doesn’t show evidence it is ensuring workers are paid a living wage. Plus it still uses leather, wool, exotic animal hair, and silk.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Also founded in the 20th century by Christian Dior, Dior (yes, Haute Couture houses are usually eponymous) also revolutionised womenswear in its own way. The designer is most well known for being the creator of the “New Look”, a modern silhouette at the time, which broke with traditions by emphasising women’s hips and busts.

Like Chanel, Dior is rated “Not Good Enough”. Although the brand has set a science based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both its direct operations and supply chain, there’s no evidence it is on track. In addition to this, Dior has taken insufficient steps to remediate its links to cotton sourced from Xinjiang, a region in China at risk of Uyghur forced labour.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Also owned by LVMH and founded in the mid 20th century by Hubert de Givenchy, the brand is known for dressing Audrey Hepburn in her most renowned movies, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where she wore the famous “little black dress”.

Givenchy’s rating is “Not Good Enough”. Because Dior and Givenchy are both owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, the brands have a very similar rating. Givenchy shows no evidence that it has taken any meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals. Givenchy has also taken insufficient steps to remediate its links to cotton sourced from Xinjiang, a region in China at risk of Uyghur forced labour.

See the rating.

Maison Margiela

Rated: We Avoid

Another French house, but founded by a Belgian designer this time. Martin Margiela, who resigned in the early 2000s, is known for his avant-garde and deconstructive designs, such as the Tabi boot, Margiela’s take on a traditional split-toe Japanese sock.

Maison Margiela is rated our lowest score of “We Avoid”. The brand does not publish sufficient relevant information about its environmental policies, plus there is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain or that it audits any of its supply chain.

See the rating.

Elie Saab

Rated: We Avoid

Founded in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982 by Lebanese designer Elie Saab, the eponymous brand is renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship and intricate embroidery. Elie Saab is celebrated for creating stunning red-carpet gowns and wedding dresses, making him a favourite of celebrities and brides worldwide.

Unfortunately, Elie Saab provides insufficient relevant information about how it reduces its impact on people, the planet, and animals, which is why it’s rated “We Avoid”.

See the rating.


Rated: We Avoid

GIAMBATTISTA VALLI, the brainchild of Italian fashion designer Giambattista Valli, has been setting the fashion world abuzz since its establishment in 2005. The brand is known for its romantic, dreamy designs, often featuring layers of tulle, floral embellishments, and elegant drapery.

Sadly, the brand rates “We Avoid” as it doesn’t provide enough relevant information about its practices. This is especially worrying for workers in GIAMBATTISTA VALLI’s supply chain as we couldn’t find evidence that the brand has a Code of Conduct, that it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain, or even audits its suppliers.

See the rating.

Rahul Mishra

Rated: Not Good Enough

Indian designer Rahul Mishra brings traditional craftsmanship to the forefront of haute couture. Founded in 2008, Rahul Mishra’s brand showcases hand embroidery and a deep commitment to empowering local artisans in India. The label claims it finds”its genesis in the ideas of sustainability that present fashion as a tool to create participation and empower the local craft community of India“.

Unfortunately, we rate Rahul Mishra “Not Good Enough”. While the brand manufactures its products by hand to reduce its climate impact, we found no evidence it uses lower-impact materials. Moreover, we couldn’t find evidence that the brand has implemented a Code of Conduct or pays its workers a living wage, which is key to empowering communities.

See the rating.


Rated: We Avoid

Schiaparelli, the historic French couture house founded by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1927, is synonymous with avant-garde and surrealistic fashion. The brand is famous for its whimsical and daring designs, often incorporating art, fantasy, and innovation elements.

Transparency is essential for keeping brands accountable and making more informed choices. Unfortunately, Schiaparelli provides insufficient information about the actions it’s taking to address its impacts on people, the planet, and animals. You have a right to know how the products you buy affect the issues you care about. “Not Good Enough”.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Created by Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren in 1993, Viktor&Rolf is known for its conceptual and boundary-pushing couture. The brand’s runway presentations are artistic performances featuring pieces with bold statements, dramatic silhouettes, and a touch of humour (including slogan dresses for its 2019 show).

Viktor&Rolf is rated “Not Good Enough”. While the brand uses some lower-impact materials, including recycled materials, there is no evidence it minimises textile waste when manufacturing its products. More importantly, the brand received a score of 0-10% in the 2022 Fashion Transparency Index, and we found no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain. Do better, Viktor&Rolf.

See the rating.


Rated: Not Good Enough

Founded in Rome in 1925, Fendi is an iconic Italian luxury brand. Fendi is celebrated for its craftsmanship and distinctive style: the brand’s double “F” logo is instantly recognisable.

Sadly, Fendi is rated “Not Good Enough”. The brand produces long-lasting products and uses a few lower-impact materials. But while it’s set a science based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both its direct operations and supply chain, there’s no evidence it is on track. What’s more, none of Fendi’s supply chain is certified by crucial labour standards that help ensure worker health and safety and other rights. We also couldn’t find evidence the brand pays its workers a living wage.

See the rating.

The Haute Couture brand making a start

The brand below is making a start in one or more areas, and has received our middling score of “It’s a Start”. We recommend purchasing them second hand from a platform like Vestiaire Collective, which authenticates pre-loved luxury goods and resells them for well below the market value.

Balenciaga (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Balenciaga is a luxury fashion house founded in 1919 by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga in San Sebastián. The Kering-owned brand has been making some efforts to reduce its environmental impact, setting targets to reduce its direct and indirect emissions, and implementing initiatives to reduce water use.

See the rating.

Shop Balenciaga Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

A “Good” Haute Couture brand


Rated: Good
RVDKBrand dress

RVDK, who is a guest Haute Couture member, offers a positive and responsible high fashion alternative. It creates high-quality, long-lasting products, and uses a high proportion of lower-impact materials including recycled materials and deadstock. Its use of preferred materials reduces its climate impact and limits the amount of chemicals and water used in production.

Sizes vary.

See the rating.

Shop RVDK.

“Good” and “Great” luxury brands to support

As we saw, most of the Haute Couture brands we’ve evaluated scored “It’s a Start” or below. For consumers seeking staple and unique pieces that are not just beautiful but also gentler on people, the planet, and animals, the following brands could be an alternative. While these “Good and “Great” luxury brands don’t fall under the category of Haute Couture, they are leading the way in luxury fashion, making substantial strides in improving conditions for people, the planet, and animals.

Stella McCartney

Rated: Good

A member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Stella McCartney has set some excellent environmental standards across the luxury fashion industry. Stella uses some lower-impact materials, including recycled polyester and organic cotton, and has a strategy in place to reduce waste across its entire supply chain. It has also adopted the ETI Code of Conduct that includes a living wage definition.

Find most items in sizes 34-52.

See the rating.

Shop Stella McCartney @ LVRSustainable.

Shop Stella McCartney Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Shop Stella McCartney.

Teatum Jones

Rated: Good

Teatum Jones designs bold, vibrant, and modern fashion created from human stories. Worn by the one and only Emma Watson, the brand set up its final stage of production in the UK, a medium-risk country for labour abuse, and it traces most of its supply chain, including all of the final and second stages of production. Teatum Jones also uses some lower-impact materials, including recycled leather and wool certified by the ZQ label.

Find items in sizes 8-14.

See the rating.

Shop Teatum Jones.

One Vintage

Rated: Good

One Vintage transforms antique textiles and relics to create contemporary and modern new pieces, preserving the rich beading and embroidery once hand crafted.

Sizes vary.

See the rating.

Shop One Vintage.

Edeline Lee

Rated: Good

Edeline Lee is a London based brand that features ready-to-wear collections that are structured, feminine, and for the future lady. Her pieces are designed with a soul, made with quality and meaning, made to fit well to lift the best out of you.

The items are available in sizes 6-12.

See the rating.

Shop Edeline Lee.

By Walid

Rated: Good

Luxury label By Walid embraces the artisanal skills of owner Walid al Damirji and a small team who hand-make garments in-house using antique materials.

Find most items in size Small.

See the rating.

Shop By Walid.

Shop By Walid @ Fartfetch.

Discover more top rated luxury brands

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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