Rock star Bono's fashion wife on an 'Out of Africa' mission
Ali Hewson, co-founder of Edun, launches collections at Liberty.
Ali Hewson, the co-founder of the eco fashion label, Edun - a for profit business with a social agenda - is a woman on an ‘Out of Africa’ mission. She and her rock star husband, Bono, launched the men’s and womenswear brand five years ago with a remarkable agenda: trade for aid, the creation of jobs to alleviate poverty, to raise awareness of the possibilities in Africa, and to encourage the fashion community to do business there.
The acquisition of a 49% stake, by the luxury conglomerate, LVMH, in May last year, has brought Edun into a world-renowned fashion family, in a position to work for good and to achieve global awareness on a scale never-before envisaged. “It’s given us more muscle,” says Ali.
Edun’s latest collection, launched this week at the London department store, Liberty, demonstrated just how far-reaching the all-embracing mission has become and the breadth of the sustainable, community-based projects in Uganda, Tanzania, Tunisia and Kenya which have been initiated and which focus on the environment, health care and education.
The pre-fall collection on sale at Liberty, for example, includes a capsule range of T-shirts designed by the children of the Bidii School, in Nairobi, Kenya. The designs include giraffes, zebras, village life, rastas, dancers, flowers and market scenes and cost £45 each.
Ali visited the school in February and described for me the grim conditions. “The school is in Kibera, one of the worst slums in Nairobi, with over a million people living in less than one square mile. The teachers do not get paid, and there are 90 children, 35 of whom are orphans, in one classroom. We were introduced to the school by Cristina Cisilino, the founder of MADE (the unique, FairTrade jewellery collection made in Nairobi), who now has some of the Kibera people working for her. The proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts will go back to the school. It’s another way Edun can get involved; not just in manufacture, but in creativity that has a lasting impact. We’re planning to do more T-shirts with the children for next season.”
A second set of T-shirts represent the output from Edun’s Grow To Sew organic farming project, established last year, in Northern Uganda, in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society, and 800 farmers, displaced by civil war. “Here, Edun is involved in the most elementary way, starting with the growing of cotton. We guaranteed to buy the first year’s production, enough to make 70,000 T-shirts, and now we’re in year two, with 2,300 farmers, so we’ll be able to use some cotton for Edun T-shirts and then sell the rest. 100% of the proceeds go to the Conservation Cotton Initiative (CCI) Uganda CCI.”
To celebrate these projects, Edun has launched another T-shirt design competition with pupils from the Homeleigh School in East London, with entries currently on display in Liberty to be judged by the public. The winning T-shirt design will go on sale at Liberty in November.
“It’s taken five years to get where we are, but now we have a strong team, creative vision and each year we seek to grow more in Africa and make more in Africa.” Ali says. “There’s a lot of complications, a lot of corruption. But we are establishing the aesthetic of Edun and little by little we are getting there. This summer’s collection for example, has a lot of beading and leather details from Africa. When we started we were so naive; we thought we could do more. But we were on the road alone. Now, with LVMH, it has given us more muscle. We can see we will achieve our missions. To have everything made there would be a dream. It’s not impossible, it is just going to take time”.
In line with Edun’s objectives, the pre-fall collection proper, takes its inspiration from Africa and the effortless style it evokes of travellers on a journey through the Sahara Desert. In sand tones, in a mix of cotton, hemp, denim and linen, the collection is available from Liberty, from £44 - £635.
The recent appointment of the Paris-based, Irish designer, Sharon Wauchob, as Edun’s creative director, is intended to further broaden the brand’s fashion offering and to make more use of the African connection. Wauchob, who has made several visits to Africa, will show her first Edun collection at the forthcoming New York Fashion Week in September - coincidentally also the first time Edun has ever staged a catwalk show. Included on the runway will be some of the Bidii School T-shirts. Out of Africa indeed!
Edun t-shirts available at www.liberty.co.uk