Fashion brand Edun, founded in 2005 by Ali Hewson and Bono, recently appointed Julien Labat as its new CEO.
Positive Luxury sat down with the man himself to talk ethical fashion, consumption and brand identity.
You’ve recently joined Edun from Carven – what prompted the move?
I found the same energy, enthusiasm and modern vision meeting with the board of Edun directors than meeting with Henri Sebaoun, the president of Carven, six years ago before he relaunched Carven.
Of course the positioning, the history and the style are completely different, but both brands are creating their own path in the industry. Carven has been a first contemporary brand with a designer feeling and heritage, while Edun starts African production for a high-end global brand.
What is your vision as you take the brand forward?
The first step for me was to understand the brand mission before to define my vision. Edun has been created 10 years ago on a very clear foundation: to source fashion production and encourage trade in Africa.
Beyond the style and aesthetic of the brand, this commitment is the key value that we want to express through the brand identity. I strongly believe that Edun has the potential to become a model in this field.
Edun is already seen as a pioneer in ethical fashion. How are you planning to advance that story?
Currently 95% of Edun production is done in Africa, and the extra 5% is the shoe production which is completed in Italy. We produce in three different factories in Kenya and two in Madagascar.
Our goal is to grow our partnership with these companies as much as possible, understanding what can we do that will benefit their development in the long-term. For instance, our current partners in Kenya used to exclusively produce for local markets.
Our challenge is to provide our skills and expertise for them to produce a high end and high quality clothing for international companies.
The words ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are often used as marketing tools, rather than being asserted as essential elements of business. Do you see this attitude changing?
These two words have been used a lot recently in our industry, but consumers want to understand and be able to see what really stands behind each brand concept.
This is a positive evolution, as we need to challenge ourselves and be more transparent in our action.
This is too much of a crucial issue for big companies nowadays to be used simply as a marketing tool. Especially as they know that it can be a dangerous tool, if they don’t use it correctly, and don’t have the full control of the supply chain.
How do you think sustainability and design can influence each other?
In our case, the influence is positively present and translated into all of our products. Our team travels to Africa almost every three months and for every new collection and has managed to create a close relationship with factory employees, where both parties bring unique assets to the creative process.
Moreover Africa has a very old and incredibly rich textile and handcrafting history. The uniqueness and the exception of its work is an amazing source of inspiration for our design team.
Edun has a rich partnership with African artisans and artists. What are your goals for furthering those partnerships?
We continue studying any possible collaboration with companies, artists and artisans that share our vision. Working on different jewelry capsule collection with artisans for our latest collection has been a real success for us.
We definitely want to continue pursuing all these possibilities. Again, our main goal is to grow our partnerships with artisans on the long term. We want them to be able to develop their infrastructures.
How do you think the fashion industry can influence consumer demand for sustainable and ethical production?
Through the product. I believe the right product will always remain driven by one word: desirability. We should never forget that part, even with sustainable and ethical production.
Then of course, this is the producer’s responsibility to provide products that meet these additional components, allowing informed consumers to learn more about the whole development process from the origins of raw materials to the production context.
The film The True Cost recently created a huge amount of buzz for its uncompromising look at clothing manufacture. Why does now seem the right time for this conversation?
I think people start to understand that we are facing a global over-consumption issue. In order to buy better, customers need to access the right information to be able to differentiate each product.
I think this is the reason why transparency is an essential element that we need to express. And in our case it has to be done in a designer language, without conflicting with the desirability of the brand.
When you take a step back from Edun and look across the entire fashion industry, where do you see the greatest opportunities for progress in manufacturing?
Africa is actually a key opportunity for this industry. ‘Africa Can Compete’ are some great studies conducted by Tyler Biggs, Margaret Miller, Caroline Otto and Gerald Tyler.
They show you how this continent – with its old manufacture history – is evolving and working on its own assets in order to remain competitive. I think this is a great line to keep in mind: Africa can compete.