I read an Ali Hewson interview in The Observer today, with a lot of encouragement and optimism. Hewson is the co-founder of fair trade fashion label, Edun and also married to music star, Bono, the co-founder of the label.
Edun has enjoyed a fair amount of publicity since its launch in 2005, helped in no small measure by the popularity of its founders. But being in the spotlight from Day 1 must also put some pressure on the company as it grows from a start up to a fully matured fashion label. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the industry who’s been following the progress of Edun, specifically to see where its sustainability and fair trade journey takes it.
Most players in the ethical or fair trade fashion game will admit how challenging it is to set up and stay on course, competing in a very tough marketplace. So when a flag-bearer hits the spotlight, we’re all rooting for it to break ground and set examples for the movement.
Edun is definitely one of those flag-bearers , so I was thrilled that it had taken one more step in its journey and collaborated with Diesel to produce a denim line made from fair trade cotton grown in Uganda. Getting onto the Diesel platform must represent a significant step up in volumes for Edun, which of course means the whole supply chain will benefit and grow (in size and maturity).
And Edun hasn’t stopped there. In her interview, Hewson said that as part of the collaboration, Edun had teamed up with nine African creatives under the banner ‘Studio Africa‘: writers, artists, photographers, journalists, Tanzanian model Flaviana Matata, and menswear designer Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud, together forming, a “virtual loudspeaker for a new generation of creative talents” who are “redefining the future on their own terms.” The initiative is being curated by African culture platform, OkayAfrica.
The young and hip group have modelled the Diesel + Edun collection. I’m not sure how else this partnership will pan out, but I hope there’s more in store, for the nine and hopefully for other young and talented individuals. It would be great in a few years to look back on Studio Africa and see it as a thriving, successful platform.
Back to the Observer interview, I was also hugely encouraged by the very realistic but committed approach Edun is taking to its sustainable trading activities with Africa’s cotton and manufacturing industries. This is an industry very much in its infancy and still getting to grips with the rigours and standards of the international market.
Having experienced first hand and heard numerous experiences from our partners across Africa, I know that it’s a challenge to stay true to a commitment to trade and manufacture there.
Hewson herself acknowledges how tough it has been for Edun. She says, “Our mission is to drive trade, but we have got to walk before we run. So far we are in Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Uganda and Madagascar. And there’s talk of a new factory in Ethiopia. I’d love to go to Senegal and Mali, but it has to make business sense. We’re pioneers and we want to show that this model works, that it can become self-sustaining, but we want to do it in a clever way.”
It’s a very big deal that Edun has decided to stay the course alongside the growing number of lower-profile companies like Sapellé committed to trading sustainably with Africa. Edun is already trading with 8,500 farmers and wants to increase that to 10,000. Those numbers alone, if sustained and improved upon, season to season could have huge and lasting benefits.
I can only hope that Diesel’s (albeit indirect) engagement with Ugandan farmers and Edun’s continued commitment to grow its operations will encourage others to take producers on the continent seriously, and lead to more opportunities.
So here’s to Edun, Ugandan cotton farmers, manufacturers all over Africa and the young and hip Studio Africa.
Photographs: Helena Christensen, Edun + Diesel