Craig MClean: What inspired you to found edun?
Ali hewson: When we founded Edun 12 years ago, we saw it as a great opportunity to promote trade in Africa via the fashion industry. At the time, a lot of companies were leaving Africa for cheaper production elsewhere. But we believed the African continent actually offered the consumer what they were really looking for: a new sense of luxury. Fast fashion opened up some big questions for customers, and sought to incorporate respect for those who make our clothes and respect for their environment into the “fabric” of our product. Great design was always integral to the vision for the brand, and the mission is now more concentrated than ever. We’re extremely connected to what is happening in Africa, in terms of creativity, artists/artisans, and innovation.
CM: How do you pay back your makers/artisans in ways that other fashion brands don’t?
AH: Edun is based on Trade not Aid. The mission at the core of the brand is a real commitment to establishing, nurturing, and building long-term and sustainable opportunities. These are the ways to help change lives effectively. Workers can rely on regular income and build their families’ lives. There is far more optimism around the potential of African production and sustainable fashion nowadays, which is very different than when we started in 2005. Still, this potential continues to grow, and we are only in the early stages. We know that Edun’s message is genuinely supported.
CM: What are the company’s founding principles?
AH: Edun’s mission has always been to source production and encourage trade in Africa by mixing our vision with African richness and positivity.
CM: What were your earliest achievements and your biggest challenges?
AH: We’re pioneers, and we want to show that this ethical model works, that it can become self-sustaining. But we want to do it in a clever way. We’ve collaborated with the same people for many years, delivering a very high standard of quality products. This is what we are really proud of. It has been tough, and I think it’s fair to say that we were a little naive about the challenges at the start. But we’re still in the game, focused on our mission and growing. This is a long-term commitment.
CM: You sold 49 percent of the company to LVMH in 2009. What did that partnership enable the company to do?
AH: They behaved like a big brother—somebody to lean on. At the same time, they’ve really trusted us to find our own way. They share and stand for our values, which is most important.
CM: Most of your collections are made in sub-Saharan Africa. Why that geographical focus?
AH: Eighty percent of Edun’s production is currently made in Africa and the remaining 20 percent is produced locally in the U.S. The collection’s sourcing is a mix of innovative eco solutions (organic, recycled, upcycled fabric) and some artisanal custom-made developments from Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is where the Edun story started. We’re committed to this geographic region and its endless opportunity.
CM: How have Edun’s ethical practices impacted the wider fashion industry and consumers?
AH: We believe that sustainable initiatives are extremely important for today’s luxury consumer and should become mandatory for all businesses. As a fashion brand, Edun is committed to leading the way and exploring all environmentally and socially responsible questions. We believe Edun offers real choice and true “meaningful” luxury to the consumer.
CM: What’s your favorite piece from your latest collection?
AH: Our new line of leather handbags. They are 100 percent sourced and made in Kenya and have a unique artisanal handle beautifully handmade from recycled polished metal in Kibera. The shape of this handle has become an Edun collection signature. These bags are already a best seller on our newly launched e-commerce platform.
CM: You first visited Africa in 1985, spending five weeks in famine-gripped Ethiopia with Bono. What changes have you seen in the continent in the three decades since?
AH: Back in 1985, people were starving but they weren’t defeated. They were defiant and their spirits were large! It was a real eye-opener for us, because their determination and resilience shone through. This energy is still there and is a real motor for us. It’s why Africa is rising so strongly. Today Africa is moving with the times—new technology now plays an important role all over the continent. For instance, we communicate on WhatsApp daily with artisans in Kenya, exchanging and placing orders. The speed of change and and their adaptability is astonishing.
CM: What's next for EDUN the company?
AH: Africa is now the fastest-growing continent. It has never felt so relevant for EDUN to pursue its journey, to explore unique opportunities, and to create a new role model for tomorrow. In other words, there is a lot to come in the upcoming seasons.
CM: What can you tell us about the next collection?
AH: We explored some new and exclusive partnerships in West Africa for the Resort 2018 collection. We're also continuing our collaborative partnerships with Ethical Fashions Initiatives and Bata. Stay tuned!
Parts of this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.