I read the 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, another co-founder of the Edun 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 some pressure on the company to prove itself a success 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 tell you how challenging it is to set up and stay on course, competing in a very tough marketplace filled with ‘cheaper, easier alternatives’ for want of a better term. So when an ethical flag-bearer hits the spotlight, we’re all rooting for it to break ground and set an example for the rest of us.
Edun is definitely one of those flag-bearers in my view , so I was thrilled that it’s taken one big step forward 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 experience).
And Edun hasn’t stopped there. In her interview, Hewson announced that as part of the collaboration, Edun had teamed up with nine African creatives under the banner ‘Studio Africa‘: a group of writers, artists, photographers, journalists, Tanzanian model Flaviana Matata, and award-winning 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 hip and happenin’ (she says, betraying her age) African culture platform, OkayAfrica.
The selected creatives have modelled the Diesel + Edun collection (very well, I think). I’m not sure how this partnership will pan out, but I hope there’s more in store for us for the nine, and hopefully other young and talented individuals.
It would be great to look back in a few years and see Studio Africa as a thriving, successful platform that’s achieved the goal of launching creative talent. Bringing in OkayAfrica seems like the right thing to do, as they are already well-versed in the field of upcoming African talent.
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 learning the rigours and standards of the international market.
Having experienced first hand ourselves 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’s been for Edun, and her words resonate with me. 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 big deal that Edun has decided to stay the course – despite the difficulties – alongside the growing number of ethical companies like Sapellé that are committed to trading sustainably with Africa. We definitely need big players like Edun and Diesle on our side. Edun is already trading with 8,500 farmers and wants to increase that to 10,000. Those numbers alone, if sustained and improved upon year on year, could have huge and lasting benefits that could change the landscape of the African apparel and textile industry for good.
I can only hope that Diesel’s engagement with Ugandan farmers and Edun’s continued commitment to grow its dealings around Africa will encourage others to take producers on the continent seriously, leading to more opportunities for farmers, manufacturers and clothing labels there.
And so to Edun, Ugandan cotton farmers, manufacturers all over Africa and the young and hip Studio Africa – Salut! Lead on. We follow.
Photographs: Helena Christensen, Edun + Diesel