The global fashion industry is worth over £3.049 trillion. To put that number in perspective, that is more than the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the UK. If the profit of the fashion industry was a cake, it would be exceedingly large but unfairly cut. With around 60 million employed in the garment section of the industry, not everyone is getting as big a slice as they deserve. The big names in the fashion industry are gorging themselves, while the populace of third world countries are only left with the crumbs. In a world where we are starting to care not just what our clothes look like, but where they come from, Edun is appealing to fashion-conscious millennials.
The company was founded in 2005 by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono. The company’s mission was to create an ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly for-profit business model that could inspire new businesses to adopt new ethical practises. Edun’s business model is specifically designed not only to express the local talent and craftsmanship of the African continent but draws its inspiration for its pieces from the emerging power and richness of the spirit of Africa.
Ali Hewson and Bono have always felt a deep attachment to the continent and instead of giving direct aid, they endeavoured to build long-term sustainable growth opportunities by sourcing production in Africa and partnering with dynamic African artists. However, the road has not always been rosy; Edun has faced detrimental supply issues, causing many stores to drop the label.
Despite the looming debt that had been racked up, after some deliberations Hewson and Bono made the decision to inject £20 million into the sinking business. In 2009 they sold 49% of the company to the large luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy).
LVMH helped Edun recruit new innovative management, but in order to survive, the company had to compromise the brand’s mission by expanding the sourcing of production. Around 15% of production moved to an undisclosed location in China – causing concerns about wages and working conditions.
“With the emergence of a more conscious consumer, fashion companies must themselves become more conscious of their impact, whether social, political or environmental”
The seeming hypocrisy of this move raised many eyebrows, both in and out of the industry. Hewson blames the failings of Edun as a consequence of being overly focused on the mission of her company rather than the products. In a Wall Street Journal interview she stated, “we focused too much on the mission in the beginning. It’s the clothes, it’s the product. It’s a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost.”.
The employment of Danielle Sherman an Alexander Wang veteran, as creative director in 2013, provided a much-needed breath of creativity to the company and secured Edun’s status in the fashion industry.
While the motto of Edun remains ambitious, and perhaps slightly naive, in a capitalist world, it is refreshingly noble. The world of fashion is one of constant change and rejuvenation. To survive, one must adapt. With the emergence of a more conscious consumer, fashion companies must themselves become more conscious of their impact, whether social, political or environmental. The wilful ignorance of companies who claim they are unaware of where their clothes are made will no longer suffice. Edun’s business model, while at times misguided, is surely a step in the right direction.