Wolf & Badger, now the first ever UK online store to be B-Corp certified, has experienced a rapid rise to success by building a community around sustainability. Alden Wicker steps inside the cult favorite to learn more.
Usually, the Soho neighborhood in New York City is teeming with tourists from countries like Japan and Brazil, who weave in and out of the dozens of multilevel flagship stores by the world’s largest brands. Since the pandemic, it’s been quiet on Broadway, but take a turn off the main thoroughfare and you’ll discover an entire ecosystem of local and independent stores and designers who are still selling fresh fashion and homewares that you can’t find anywhere else.
In late May, when one of these smaller stores put a B Corp sign in its window, it didn’t go unnoticed. “A few people came in—typically locals from Soho—and asked about it,” says Samantha Emson. Emson is the Global Head of PR & Events for Wolf & Badger, a UK-based, multi-channel retailer that sells fashion, beauty, and home products exclusively from independent designers. “They’re like, ‘Now you’re B Corp? That’s so cool.’ And they want to share that information with others as well.”
Emson was showing me around Wolf & Badger’s New York store, which shuttered for only a few months last year before reopening with a tasty selection of brightly-colored notebooks and pens where the non-toxic beauty products used to be, a nimble pivot for a year of introspection and germophobia. Downstairs, the bar made of upcycled gym floors had its liquor bottles behind lock and key. The joyous events they used to throw in support of up-and-coming designers haven’t come back yet.
But Emson’s mood was giddy. The B Corp certification, which took 14 months of meticulous documentation of their sustainability efforts to get, coincided neatly with New York’s springtime reopening. “Since the weather picked up a few weeks ago, it’s been great,” she says.
B Corp status is awarded by the non-profit B Lab, and has become a handy heuristic to help consumers identify which brands care about more than just profits. To qualify, a business must earn at least 80 points out of 200 related to how it impacts workers, customers, community, and the environment. (Usually, the only stakeholders whose needs are considered are the shareholders.) Although Wolf & Badger is the first UK retailer to become certified, it does join a half-dozen neighboring Soho brand stores who have the certification, including Patagonia, Allbirds, Eileen Fisher, Veja, and Athleta.
It seems customers are responding positively to Wolf & Badger’s focus on unique, ethically made products. Website traffic is up by over 200% since December, and the brand has also been driving a lot of traffic to the store through Instagram product ads. Once people see the interesting products and read about the designers behind them, and realize there’s a whole store full of the stuff—silk pajamas, astrological jewelry, and cut crystal decanter and glasses, to name a few—they come in to browse. This store only carries a fraction of Wolf & Badger’s over 1,000 designers. The London flagship in King’s Cross has 12,000 square feet and three levels of items to discover—a veritable wonderland of ethical design.
Founded in 2010 by brothers George and Henry Graham, Wolf & Badger has always prioritized designers that produce ethically. “We just started with 20 designers that were local, we knew them personally. And we knew their line of like production. It would literally be them making it and doing custom orders,” says Emson, who has been with the retailer for nine years. “That was something no one else was doing at that time.”
“We just started with 20 designers that were local, we knew them personally. And we knew their line of like production. It was something no one else was doing at the time.’”
Last year in March, the team formalized its mission by launching a Sustainability Guarantees Index. The program attributes icons such as “Non-Toxic Dyes” and “Happy Workers” to brands who have achieved certain minimum standards of conscious production. The goal is not just to market their sustainability to potential customers, but also to nudge designers to take an even closer look at their material choices and supply chain. Emson revealed that some designers who aren’t quite up to par have been slotted for further scrutiny, and may face expulsion if they can’t prove their ethics.
But Wolf & Badger would rather offer carrots than brandish sticks. “It’s a framing process for us and for our designers to make sure that they’re ticking as many boxes and following as many of the icons as possible. So it’s an educational process,” Emson says. Wolf & Badger sends out education newsletters every week to its designers on how they can improve and garner more icons.
Not long after launching the Index, Wolf & Badger was named Draper’s Sustainable Retailer of the Year. Next step is to ensure that all of its packaging is recyclable and made of recycled materials.
I hadn’t come intending to shop, but being surrounded by so much great design changed my mind. With it dumping rain outside, I was tempted by a hooded floral raincoat by RainSisters. Instead, I ended up buying a canvas bound notebook and three metal pens by the Swiss brand Caran d’Ache that have a heft and satisfying click an engineer could love.
I have to admit that until I found these pens, I had been planning on restocking on plastic one at Staples. Crisis averted.
All images courtesy of Wolf & Badger.
Words by Alden Wicker. Follow Alden on Twitter.