When Ali Hewson and her husband, Bono, founded socially conscious clothing brand Edun in 2005, they set out to create a business that would generate trade opportunities in developing regions, particularly Africa.
Hewson is the first to admit that early on, the label’s mission sometimes overpowered the product itself. But with the backing of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which took a 49 percent stake in the label this year, the couple is looking to correct that.
“We were so keen on our mission that we made compromises that maybe we shouldn’t have made with respect to our customer and the fact that they should have great clothes,” said Hewson, sitting in the loft in New York’s TriBeCa district that serves as the company’s showroom. “Without great clothes, we don’t have a business, so it’s important to get that end right.”
With LVMH’s backing and new Edun chief executive officer Janice Sullivan, who joined the brand in September, Hewson is spearheading an expansion. It’s not a full relaunch, but more like a discreet overhaul of the collection, which initially lacked the infrastructure to make a meaningful impact.
The changes are visible with Edun’s first pre-fall collection, which is being previewed in the showroom, and, within it, a capsule collection dedicated to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the global soccer extravaganza in South Africa from June 11 to July 11. These will serve as platforms for the company’s next big move — hiring a creative director to take Edun to the next level.
“We believe Edun will be a force over time,” Mark Weber, ceo of LVMH Inc. (U.S.) and chairman and ceo of Donna Karan International, said in an interview in Paris earlier this week, adding the new designer will be hired in time for the spring 2011 fashion season.
Edun will “most probably” have a runway show to unveil that collection, likely in New York, he added. “I believe the business will grow very rapidly once the entire team is in place,” he said.
Asked if LVMH’s stable of in-house names — which includes Marc Jacobs, Fendi’s Karl Lagerfeld and Celine’s Phoebe Philo — might one day act as guest designers for Edun, he replied: “I wouldn’t rule it out over time, but that’s not in the cards.”
According to Weber, LVMH’s role in the partnership includes providing financial resources, technical know-how and expertise on creating a sustainable business model and managing such day-to-day operations as sourcing and production planning.
Weber said Bono and Hewson’s convictions have had an energizing effect on the LVMH organization, which already boasts an environmental charter, but no brand platform for sustainable products. “He’s the real deal,” Weber said of Bono. “He’s one of the world’s great sellers and he’s always selling ethical values, always.
“The advantage of Edun is that the founders are serious; they are people that care. They have invested their own money to try to make the world a better place,” he continued. “Bringing that vision to life is our responsibility.”
LVMH’s support has been instrumental in the recent adjustments.
“We have focused a lot on the mission, and in a way we have compromised a lot on design, and what is great with LVMH coming onboard is that we can really now expand in many ways — get our focus on design, because without design we don’t have a mission, and without the clothes being amazing and desirable, we don’t have a business,” Hewson said. “We’ve now got an opportunity to really stretch into areas where the capabilities are, and bring that knowledge, from the mission point of view, back into Africa and help them expand their capabilities.”
Sullivan, the Liz Claiborne veteran who previously ran the Calvin Klein Jeans business at Warnaco Group Inc., has focused on improving the brand infrastructure and building a team with new talent in areas such as design, production and manufacturing, sales and finance.
Hewson and Sullivan wouldn’t disclose details on the search for a creative director, or disclose names of designers they have approached. Hewson said the designer will be named “within a season” and will be someone who can “grow with the brand.”
According to sources, Alexander Wang and Sharon Wauchob are among high-profile talents to have been approached by Edun in recent months.
“The design piece is one of the most important pieces, with somebody who can bring a distinctive design point of view, somebody who has the creativity to pull together the ethos of Edun and express it through the clothing and the brand identity,” Sullivan said.
Hewson said she was eager to create a pre-fall collection now, and a capsule collection timed with the World Cup, for a May delivery.
“We have had a search out for the right creative director and want to make the right choice on that, but didn’t want to lose momentum,” she said.
“There is the symbolism of the world coming to Africa,” Hewson said. “It’s a huge thing for Africa to have this responsibility, and to be given this level of respect in sport and be trusted with the World Cup. We wanted to be a part of this moment in African history. They start to see themselves back on the world stage, which is so important.”
Hewson pointed out that in the Eighties, Africa accounted for 6 percent of world trade, a number that has shrunk to 2 percent in recent years. The continent has suffered severely from poverty, famine, wars and widespread HIV and AIDS.
“Part of lifting people out of poverty is trade, which is why we’re there, in a very small way,” she said. “It is so important to them to rebuild their world trade, so hopefully, after the football comes, so will the world trade.”
The World Cup capsule collection is inspired by notions about the continent, from dusty, desert hues, to washes that give the pieces a worn-in, traveled look, using all natural, organic fibers. The plan is to have some proceeds of the capsule collection benefit Africa, though details are still to be determined.
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