How Ethical Is Savage X Fenty? All You Need to Know

How Ethical Is Savage X Fenty? All You Need to Know

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Dennis Kamprad

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Over the years, Rihanna has gone from a pop-singer from Barbados to an entrepreneur, influencer, and world-wide fashion icon. With revenue pouring in from touring, streaming, recording royalties, and make-up shares, she certainly gets high marks for her work ethic, but what about her business ethics? Her latest enterprise, Savage X Fenty, has taken the fashion world by storm, so we had to ask: How ethical is Savage X Fenty? 

Savage X Fenty does not share information about ethical company practices. Their monthly fashion subscription can be perceived as unethical to their consumers and they have an above average number of negative customer reviews on independent sites. On the plus side, their co-owner (TechStyle Fashion Group) has committed to ethical sourcing.

Once we scratched our way through this company’s surface, we were left scratching our heads, as some things just did not add up. Of course, the blame doesn’t fall squarely on Rihanna; after all, she has many partners in ethical crime–alleged crime, of course. Innocent until proven guilty…but we’ll let you be the judge.

Related: Your actions and choices dramatically affect the world around you. But did you know that there are simple, reliable techniques you can use to live more ethically in a way that is not only good for you but also for society at large? Check out the book Do The Right Thing: Living Ethically in an Unethical World (link to Amazon) to see how you can easily apply these in your daily life.

Who Is Savage X Fenty?

Robyn Rihanna Fenty: Founder, Owner, Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director

In 2019, Forbes named Rihanna the richest female musician on the planet–this came shortly after she announced the launch of her “affordable,” “size-inclusive” lingerie line. The pop-icon turned entrepreneur is reportedly sitting on a $600 fortune–putting her above other mononymous musicians, including BeyoncĂ© (worth $400 million) and even Madonna (worth $570 million).

Rihanna founded Savage X Fenty in 2018 alongside TechStyle Fashion Group as co-owners.

She is the face of the brand and, as the title Creative Director suggests, influences what the products look like (the company tagline is “Lingerie By Rihanna,” after all.) 

Recently, Women’s World Daily reported Rihanna has teamed up with Goldman Sachs to raise money and to expand SXF into activewear, stating that “hedge funds, private equity sponsors and the investment offices of wealthy families are being queried…[and]…the mega-star is asking for $100 million and complete control.” 

Whether this goes forward or not, it suggests that SXF has been successful enough with lingerie that Rihanna feels confident this move will pay off. It’s unclear exactly what SXF is worth or its market share, but estimates place it at around $1 billion.

The Remaining PitchBook Players

SXF overview sourced at PitchBook.com

Rihanna’s Fellow Executives and Board Members

  • Chief Merchandising and Design Officer – Christiane Pendarvis
  • Chief Marketing Officer – Natalie Guzman
  • Jay Brown (Representing Marcy Venture Partners)
  • Larry Marcus (Self)

Minority Holding Investors

  • TriplePoint Venture Growth – venture capital
  • ACME Capital – venture capital
  • Avenir Growth Capital – growth/expansion
  • Marcy Venture Partners – venture capital

Valuation & Funding Deals Completed

  • Angel (individual) – $20M, Startup 
  • Early Stage VC (Series A), completed 27-Aug-2019 – $50M Generating Revenue. 
  • Mezzanine, completed 07-Apr-2020 – $1.01M Generating Revenue.

The Corporate Co-Owners

TechStyle Fashion Group (formerly JustFab Inc.) is an online fashion retailer specializing in membership and subscription services. Their portfolio consists of SXF and four other direct-to-consumer brands, including Kimora Lee Simmons’ JustFab, Kate Hudson’s Fabletics, FabKids, and ShoeDazzle.

How Ethical Are They?

We Hear the Talk, but Where’s the Action?

We started our research at the SXF website, where flashy graphics about VIP Membership and images of scantily clad women filled our scroll down to the footer to find the “About Us” page link.

With Rihanna as one of the biggest influencers around today, we were expecting to click this link and be presented a list of sustainable suppliers; perhaps a partnership with a fair-trade organization; or at the very least, a charity to which a portion of the profits was being donated.

Alas, we found nothing of the sort. 

The entire page consists of 4 statements, all with themes of confidence, inclusivity, fearlessness, and expressing yourself. However, Fenty Beauty had already demonstrated Rihanna’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity, evident by the unprecedented 40 different foundation shades they offer. So we expected nothing less from SXF; unphased, we continued.

There was a section on the home page with the headline “In the Press” that displayed pics captioned with top fashion magazine names. But these didn’t link to any articles or press releases; instead, each links to the same SXF survey/style-quiz asking, “Which Savage X are you?” This was discouraging; we made a note of it, then pushed forward.

We contacted the company under the guise of a potential customer saying specifically the About page didn’t help, and we were seeking more information. They sent a response thanking us for being a valued VIP member and referred us to the About section of the website… 

This lost them points in business ethics for customer-disconnect. But we also got our first clue: If we needed additional support, a Fabletics domain was provided for customer service. 

After receiving this, we went back to the website; only this time, we found the copyright link for SXF instead. Clicking this redirected us to the TechStyle Fashion Group. (Now we were getting somewhere.)

Following the Fashion Rabbit

The TechStyle Fashion Group’s website appeared to stand upon an ethical platform. It had things we were hoping to find, anyway. 

Their mission includes “enhancing the lives” of customers and everyone involved in creating their products. They speak about their social responsibility and commitment to giving back to the community; they’ve built libraries in Africa, planted gardens at schools, and hosted charities to help collect dresses for The Cinderella Project.

They also have a commitment to ensure ethical sourcing, wherein they conduct random, regular audits of their vendors for compliance with their Ethical Sourcing Code. We couldn’t find the official literature, but TechStyle’s website states the code was created to conform to industry standards and local labor laws, as well as the ILO Core Conventions, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act.

But Something Still Didn’t Seem Right…

TechStyle considers itself a “brand-building platform.” In other words, they offer an opportunity for brands to grow their customer base. This “opportunity” is offered in the form of using their subscription-based service as your platform.

Indeed, the VIP Membership program we had seen plastered all over the SXF homepage was created by TechStyle. It was announced that in 2018 the VIP program had reached 5 million active members and a $750 million annual revenue. They claim that the program helps build more meaningful relationships with their global customer base, which benefits both the businesses and the consumers. 

The program’s benefits have driven customer satisfaction across our brands to levels previously unattainable in fashion, while also enabling unprecedented business efficiencies,” says the co-CEO and co-Founder Adam Goldenberg. 

This is all offered as “proprietary FashionOS technology” along with an array of “expert services.” But all that means is ‘people are running websites with publicly-undisclosed business-model algorithms and strategies.’ We decided to see just how satisfied these 5 million members are and what, exactly, “unprecedented business efficiencies” meant.

The Customer Is Always Right

Twenty-one percent of reviews on TrustPilot rated their experience with SXF as average (7%), low (4%), or bad (10%). Many of these customers had trouble with delayed, late, or missing orders. And a concerning number of grievances were attributed to the company’s VIP membership–specifically the $49.95 monthly fee, which was being charged to their credit cards without many of them knowing.

As it turns out, Vox contributors experienced this first-hand issue back in the summer of 2019 and reported on it then. 

At that time, the site had less than 1,300 reviews (there are over ten times that today); still, about 25% of the reviews were less than stellar. And while the company’s transparency report tells us that they respond to 100% of the negative reviews, the fact that such complaints are occurring at the same frequency still, today, shows they aren’t really trying to make improvements

The Future of Shopping?

The membership model of online business has been increasingly present as online shopping has become more of the norm. Unfortunately, tactics in advertising have also grown–increasingly sneaky

This was highlighted in 2014 when JustFab (a TechStyle company) was sued for misleading advertising, with district attorneys arguing that the company’s discount and promotional deals were not “clearly and conspicuously” labeled as to inform customers that a $39.95 monthly subscription was required to access them. The case was ultimately settled to the tune of $1.8 million, but JustFab continues to receive criticism for the continued practice. 

But it appears as though this subscription-approach to sales has been effective–in the fashion world, anyway. Considering that practicing brands can afford a $1.8 million settlement and not be phased into changing their behavior, these business models must contribute significantly to the multibillion-dollar industry.

It sounds to us like these “unprecedented business efficiencies” translates into “extremely profitable, less-than-ethical tactics that give businesses direct access to consumers’ wallets via legal-loophole.”

In a 2016 feature about AdoreMe lingerie, Bloomberg actually said that secretive membership fees are “the future of shopping.” Perhaps now we’ll start to heed this warning before it’s too late. 

Why We’re Questioning Their Ethics

The Contradiction and Hypocrisy

Membership shopping alongside inclusivity is oxy-moronic. Once you start separating the VIP elite from the rest of the herd, you’ve created a group that is, by definition, exclusive. 

Besides that, it’s unethical to call your merchandise “affordable” and then tack on a monthly fee to make the statement true. 

It’s also hard to see how requiring paid subscriptions to access exclusive discounts and items is ethical when it’s coupled with a bunch of confusing rules and fine-print clauses that ultimately demand VIPs to make a purchase every month to ‘maintain’ their membership status and benefits and punishes them if they don’t. 

Can you imagine having to maintain an active account with every retailer you buy from in exchange for not paying a higher price point? Or to know that you’re being made to pay more as punishment for not paying a membership fee?

Our heads are spinning…

The Musical Money Masquerade

We want to preface this by saying we understand that capitalism has many parts, and there are a variety of ways to pursue owning a business. And, in all fairness, we haven’t personally asked Rihanna why she’s made the business decisions she has.

With that being said, we won’t get into more detail than we already have; still, one could go deeper into each investor’s finances and affiliate to see for themselves just how (un)ethical some of their business practices are. (Spoiler alert: subscription-based services are just the beginning.) 

But a potential ethical imbalance of this mathematical word problem exists just by looking at it:

If Rihanna is worth so much, why doesn’t she just invest her own money? Thanks to her multi-tiered career, she has done well to sustain herself and her bank account. She shouldn’t need outside funding; why go the funding route? 

And the need for hundreds of millions in funding to launch a company that charges its customers to be members? (Are we missing something here?)

And why not give to charity? It isn’t a requirement of good ethics, but it is certainly worth several bonus points. Yet the richest female musician in the world doesn’t have this side gig contributing to anything other than its shareholders? We’re just saying…

The Connection to Youth-Corruption

For decades, pop-music has been used as a medium to sexualize children (girls, in particular). We’ve seen it through the generations: going back to Madonna in the ’80s and continuing with Britany Spears, Christina Aguilera, BeyoncĂ©, Ariana Grande, Halsey (the list is long)–and it only got worse as the years progressed.

Rihanna had inked her spot on that list early on in her career (some argue this has a direct correlation with her seemingly effortless rise to the top); and a UK columnist of the Daily Mail called out “the goddess of child erotica” on her game, stating that “when it comes to levels of degradation in the name of her art, there are few depths that Rihanna has not been prepared to plunge.” 

Parents of tweens and young teens now have to deal with the fact that their children are now being offered a link to the lingerie retailer when searching for her music or reading up on the latest gossip.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that Rihanna is a successful entrepreneur who understands how to make money. Savage X Fenty preaches inclusivity–a nice ideal that can be ethically acted upon; however, the company’s membership program sales-approach suggests inclusivity is just a gambit to exclude no one from the chance to get duped. Thanks, but we’d rather not be under that umbrella, eh?

Stay impactful,



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