Hearing the recent announcement that Julien Labat has moved from Carven to Edun, we were interested in hearing more about this and ask Julien to discuss his move to EDUN. We also gained more understanding of his view on the future of ethical fashion in today’s market place as well as building a brand made partly in Africa.
EDUN, the brand founded by Ali Hewson and Bono, announces Julien Labat as their newly appointed Chief Executive Officer with effect from 1 May 2015. For the past five years, Julien has worked at Carven and has played a pivotal role in the successful growth of the brand (whose founder Madam Carmen de Tommaso who recently passed) and it was a respected high end brand with very wearable clothes with a certain taste level that makes Labat quite a suitable choice for the new direction Edun has taken in the past few years.
We are informed that as well as growing the Edun business, Labat has an overarching vision to grow its African infrastructure and community programs. Labat’s experience at Carven will carve out the next stages of Edun’s ethical stance and production as future stars of tomorrows slow-fashion landscape, that safeguard the people in the manufacturing of the Edun collections.
Labat took over from Janice Sullivan in capacity of CEO as she who has stepped down as the CEO of EDUN. Janice joined EDUN following LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s investment in 2009 and she leaves to pursue other business interests, including providing consultancy to LVMH. LVMH provides essential support, investment and infrastructure to help the business grow into a global fashion brand.
Julian will be responsible for all aspects of the business, including further developing EDUN’s global distribution in key international markets, managing production in Africa and overseeing the design and production team in New York. He will work closely with EDUN’s Creative Director, Danielle Sherman, who joined the brand in 2013.
EDUN which is featured in my 2011 released coffee table book Fashion Africa, was founded by Ali Hewson & Bono in 2005, and is an international fashion brand bringing about positive change through its trading relationship with Africa.
EDUN was founded with the aim of increasing trade and apparel manufacturing in Africa, and is currently sourcing 95% of its production in Africa. EDUN is sold worldwide through retail partners including Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Colette, Le Bon Marche, Galeries Lafayette, MyTheresa, Shopbop, Matches and will be available on Net-a-Porter from Fall 2015.
BUt lets delve deeper and find out more about where the label is right now with its work in Africa and what is sustainability and made in Africa plans are for the brand.
AFG) What inspired you to work for Edun?
Julian: EDUN was created 10 years ago on a very clear foundation: to source fashion production and encourage trade in Africa.
Beyond the style and aesthetic of the brand, this commitment is a key value which gives EDUN a real point of differentiation in our industry. I strongly believe that EDUN has the potential to become a pioneer in this field.
In addition to the vision of Danielle Sherman’s collection for the brand, the challenge to create a whole new business model is truly what inspired me.
AFG) How do you plan to execute a deeper made in Africa production side of the Edun business sourcing strategy?
Julian: Currently 95% of EDUN production is done in Africa, the extra 5% is the shoe production done in Italy; we produce in 3 different factories in Kenya and 2 in Madagascar.
Our goal is to grow our partnership with these companies as much as possible, understanding what can we do that will benefit their development in the long-term.
AFG) What was your perception of Africa before you started at Edun? And what is it now that you are on board, has it changed much?
Julian: A fascinating continent and an unlimited source of inspiration. Both appear to be even more true to me now.
AFG) Do you see a connection between Africa and Luxury?
Julian: Africa has a very old and incredibly rich textile and handcrafting history : the uniqueness and the exception of its work connects it of course to Luxury.
AFG) What do you see about the strengths and weaknesses of African production that Edun has encountered?
Julian: Day-to-day communication can be of course challenging due to infrastructure, distance and time difference, but we have over time, learnt to work together efficiently.
Our team travels to Africa for every new collection and has managed to create a close relationship with factory employees, where both parties bring unique assets to the creative process.
AFG) Are there any plans for more collaborations such as the Diesel X Edun denim collection?
Julian: We are always very happy to study possible collaborations with companies that share our vision. Working on different jewellery items with artists and artisans for our latest collection has been a real success for us. We definitely want to continue to explore all these possibilities.
AFG) Do you think fashion made in Africa must have an African aesthetic to be taken seriously by the international fashion market?
Julian: Absolutely not, and this is maybe where mentalities need to change. I do not think you would have asked me the same question if EDUN was producing in China or Eastern Europe.
AFG) What are your plans generally for Edun to focus on sustainability (any plans within more sustainable sourcing, circular economy, transparency in the supply chain, detoxing, more natural fibres or textile technology?)
Julian: Transparency is definitely a very important element that we want to express.
We want to allow our consumers to acknowledge our entire development process, from the origins of raw materials to the production context.
This has to be done with a designer language, without conflicting with the desirability that fashion always need to express.
AFG) What plans are there for working with grassroots producers, artisans, cooperatives, Fairtrade programs etc for future collections?
Julian: We are also exploring different cotton sourcing programs (including 100% made in Africa cotton for our future collections) but partnerships with our factories and the artisans remain our main priority. Our current partners in Africa are used to exclusively produce for local markets. Our challenge is to provide our skills and expertise for them to produce a high end and high quality clothing for international companies such as EDUN.
AFG) What would you say to upcoming brands and designers interested in sustainability, ethical fashion and African production? What would you advise?
Julian: A sustainable production process has an important impact on the margin and price structure. Therefore, in order to remain competitive and to have a clear positioning it has to be a long term commitment looking at global strategy.
But I think sustainability is a value that more and more people relate to, and this is why it needs to be a global change that all brands and designers should consider.
Thank you Julian for sharing these insights with us, we are excited to see how EDUN develops over the upcoming seasons.
For more on EDUN please see their website www.edun.com
Interviewer: Jacqueline Shaw with Julian Labat.