Clothes Fashion

Is Edun Still Ethical?

Fashion EDUN Spring 2014

By Arwa Lodhi

The Edun SS14 show, held September 8th, boasted a star studded front row, featuring former supermodels Christy Turlington and Helena Christensen, as well as artist Jeff Koons, Trudie Styler, Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Keidis and his much younger model girlfriend, and of course, the founders of the company, pop star Bono and his wife Ali Hewson.

The couple set up the company in 2005 as an ethical fashion brand focused on bringing Fair Trade and economic growth to Africa and other developing countries. A 49% stake was bought by LVMH  in 2009, and since then, Edun’s ethical credentials have been in question.

Initially, the brand was dedicated to giving African farmers a chance to earn a living by fairly trading their cotton, as well as from employing their sewing, beading and embroidering skills. However, after the company started losing money, LVMH suggested manufacturing be moved to China, and since then, the once-noble mission that inspired the brand has waned. Hewson admitted she had ‘been naive’ about how to run a fashion business, and stated that she had to move her factories from Africa to China because orders were not being completed on time; work on the clothing was inconsistent, and overall quality was poor.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: A model walks the runway at the Edun fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 at Skylight Modern on September 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images)

‘We focused too much on the mission in the beginning,’ she said in an interview. ‘It’s the clothes, it’s the product. It’s a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost.’

Today, Edun describes itself as ‘a global fashion brand based in New York’ with a ‘mission to source production and encourage trade in Africa’. Edun’s CEO, Janice Sullivan, said in a statement that the company was still ‘committed to doing business in Africa’ and had recently begun a new enterprise to support 3,000 cotton farmers in Uganda.

Whilst this may initially sound noble, it’s also vague. Let’s remember that cotton is one of the most water-draining and pesticide absorbing crops around. Not only that, Edun doesn’t state that it’s supporting organic cotton farmers – in which case, it’s very likely that the brand is promoting GMOs, as most cotton seeds used today are genetically modified. This seems especially dodgy when we consider that Hewson’s husband, Bono, has partnered with Bill Gates, one of Monsanto’s biggest shareholders, on the One charity. Could it be that ‘doing business in Africa’ includes promoting the use of GMO cotton to help boost Gate’s Monsanto dividends?


Edun’s press statements say the brand “is building long-term, sustainable growth opportunities by supporting manufacturers, community-based initiatives and partnering with African artists and artisans.” The same rhetoric is repeated on websites that sell the brand. And yet there is no evidence of this whatsoever on Edun’s own website – no links to any of these ‘community-based initiatives’ or evidence of their partnerships with ‘African artists and artisans.’

This is not to say such projects don’t exist. But if they do, and since Edun was born as an ‘ethical’ fashion brand – and is featured as a ‘brand to trust’ on sites like Positive Luxury –  would it not make sense to publicise those more? Furthermore, if EDUN truly wanted to help Ugandans, they could support the growth of more sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics, as designer Bobby Kolade has done with Bark Cloth, which is grown and harvested 100% naturally in Uganda, for example.

Finally, Edun may also make more of a profit and have more success in supporting enterprises in African nations if it reduced its expenditure on populating front rows with stars and spending money on huge fashion week productions and instead invested in educating Africans to produce better standards of clothing, faster.

Just a thought.

Images: Brian Ach/Getty Images

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