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04 July 2017

Plan to Launch Your Ethical Fashion Label? Learn from Bono’s Mistakes

EDUN Sustainable Fashion Brand
Photo: EDUN Instagram

by Tamara Dumas

EDUN is perhaps the best-known and the highest-positioned ethical clothing brand - that comes with a hefty price tag. The EDUN – ‘Nude’ backwards – fashion shows attract celebrities including Rihanna, Colin Farrell, America Ferrera, Liam Neeson, Helena Christensen and, of course, Bono himself.

The global New York Brand has stockists in UK, USA, Canada and Europe and is known for its edgy, layered looks and the brand vision to promote trade in Africa by sourcing production throughout the continent. The brand enjoys wide coverage in media and is seemingly delivering on its vision – from repurposing the textile leftovers for the production of shoes to generous donations to  supports of great causes.

And if you, too, got inspired by the success of EDUN Fashion Label, consider a few important facts.

EDUN is founded by Bono

Edun label was created in 2005 by Bono and his spouse Ali Hewson, which by default gave the brand an ‘unfair’ advantage. Whether intentionally or not, any new Bono’s enterprise will attract media attention and spark the interest of the public.

Limitations of production is Africa

There is a great idea behind EDUN – to improve the financial situation in deprived families by teaching farmers the basics of agriculture. As the famous saying goes, if you teach someone how to catch a fish, you will provide them with food for the rest of their life. Hewson commented that they wanted "to show that you can make a for-profit business where everybody in the chain is treated well.”

What the entrepreneurs failed to foresee is the lack of skills among their African suppliers. As reported by WWD in 2011, Edun faced problems with the quality and delivery times of the goods that resulted in most of the stores to drop the brand.

The financial backing of Edun is out of reach of most mortals

Due to the complications with quality and delivery, EDUN lost €9.7 million in 2007 and did still worse in 2008, by the end of which it had some €8.7 million in debts. The couple put around $20 million of their own money into the brand before selling 49% to the LVMH – an international Fashion Conglomerate that, among others, owns or part-owns some of the most successful brands including Dior, Emilio Pucci, Kenzo, Fendi, Marc Jacobs and others – you get the idea.

Focusing on mission and not on the product

Ali Hewson at one point admitted that she and Bono had incorrectly focused on the mission rather than the product, which led to their failings. She also admitted that this led to a fall in quality, which was not expected from a fashion brand. It was mainly – or only – thanks to the expertise of LVMH that the management of EDUN was restructured. Following the LVMH's investment in the brand, EDUN also appointed a new creative director, Sharon Wauchob.

LVMH opens many doors

With LVMH on board, the exposure and luxury collaborations are somewhat easier. Soon after the investment, Ali Hewson and Bono appeared wearing EDUN in a Louis Vuitton campaign. In season 2010 EDUN brought back the focus to the runaway and the rest is history.

Delivering on the mission

By 2010, most of the company's fashion line manufacturing was in China, while simpler garments were still African-made. Soon after the LVMH investment, in 2011, only 37% of the collection was manufactured in Africa. The numbers have since increased and, according to EDUN, the company now produces 85% of its collection in Africa.

The Conservation Cotton Initiative Uganda (CCIU) also deserves a mention. It provides funding, training and enterprise support to cotton farmers to help build sustainable businesses in Northern Uganda.

Today, EDUN releases 4 collections annually and is enjoying the great coverage and builds upon the declared brand mission. While the mission statement resonates with many and reported figures for CCIU are inspiring, consider the following:

- EDUN does not communicate any information on its website concerning environmental practices or impacts.

- There is no information about how EDUN monitors its supply chain.

- Nor there are any published goals regarding how it is working to improve environmental and social conditions in its supply chain.

- It is unclear if the brand can trace its entire supply chain.

- The brand does not publicly disclose supplier names and addresses.

- The brand does not report annually on sustainability practices and progress.

- The brand does not communicate the social impact of its supply chain.

- The brand does not communicate the environmental impact of its supply chain.

- Edun does not communicate any information on its website concerning environmental practices or impacts.

- The brand does not share any goals regarding how it is working to improve environmental and social conditions in its supply chain.

While no tangible data is made available to the customer - unlike Kering Group who publish their regular reports, - Bono’s fashion label manages to enjoy positive publicity and blind trust from media and customers.

The last words of wisdom – unless your pockets are as deep as Bono’s, you have a lot of planning to do before setting us sustainable fashion brand with an inspiring mission statement. And while the public is prepared to turn a blind eye on the EDUN’s lack of transparency, chances are you wouldn’t be welcomed with the same love if you fail to produce regular reports while charging premium for the alleged sustainable and ethical practices.