Ask the uniniated about Edun and they will simply say that it is a fashion line created by rock star Bono. Employees at Edun will tell you something completely different. From top to bottom Edun is a unique fashion line. You won’t find sweatshops behind closed doors. There won’t be fur from all types of exotic endangered species. The company, brand and fashion line all represent all that is altruistic in fashion. Their aim is to bring trade to developing countries in the form of their clothing manufacturing and other businesses. On the Edun website co-founder Ali Hewson is quoted as saying, “Africa has lost six percent of the world’s trade since the Seventies, if they could earn one percent of that Africa would earn $70 billion a year. They currently receive only 22 billion a year in aid.”
So goes the mantra behind the house of Edun: shifting the focus away from aid and more towards trade. The folks at Edun spoke to Papierdoll and gave an eye opening view at running a company that balances social responsibility with profits.
There are indeed several public and private companies that work for the greater good. For many of these companies altruistic works come as byproduct of profit. For Edun it is the other way around. While most companies are formed to enrich shareholders and owners, Edun was created with the sole purpose of aiding the disadvantaged masses around the world via employment and community building. Edun operates factories in Asia, Africa and South America. Each factory is scrutinized to ensure that the working conditions are fair, the wages allow employees to maintain a decent standard of living and the contractors are well versed in workplace safety.
Unscrupulous clothing manufacturers that produce for well-known designers play a shell game moving sweatshops from one location to another in hopes of avoiding local law enforcement. Edun sets up a factory or contracts with a factory and practices community building. With that in mind Edun has coined the term sustainable employment. Bridget Russo of Edun describes sustainable employment as “[being] committed to our factory’s long term and are willing to work with them to build their capabilities and grow their business. As long as they are able to produce our garments to our quality and work standards we will not drop them for another facility with cheaper labor.”
Starting Edun was harder than one can imagine. While the doors for celebrity backers and designers are easier to open for a venture of this magnitude, there were some obstacles in creating a socially responsible fashion house. Actually turning a profit while not using very low cost labor posed as one of the single greatest challenges. A major portion of expenses for any designer exists in the form of the workforce they use. Getting manufacturers to adhere to the strict standards demanded by the owners was another significant challenge. In regards to creating the brand and getting manufacturers to buy into the idea Russo remarks, “I suppose that may be incentive for some, but our partners really bought into our brand because of our trade vs aid messaging and the desire to make a positive impact on the world.”
The difficulties in starting and maintaining the brand worked both ways when it came to design and manufacturing. While manufacturing was an issue, designing was also a challenge. Designer Rogan Gregory had to think creatively in putting designs together that could actually work in the factories. Russo points out that that obstacle alone proved most challening, she states,”The design team at times has to work into the capabilities of factories and in many ways works in reverse. unlike most brands who design a collection and have a wide variety of choices as to where to make it and what materials they can use. It’s just part of our process.”
A process that is beginning to change the world in design and commerce. Companies are taking notice of Edun’s ability to turn a profit while maintaining a high level of social responbsibility. It bodes well for fashion and those in need.
For more on Edun visit the website at www.edun.ie.