If given the choice would you invest in clothing that is of a quality that r could last a lifetime, is of timeless design, uses environmentally sustainable materials and supports industry in the developing world? Would you consciously make that choice over buying the latest trend that is mass produced, environmentally and socially inefficient and will probably last less than a year? The issue is, as a majority have we become such a wasteful consumer society that we fail to recognise the impact our continual buying has on its need for materials and energy? The choice is yours to make! In 2005, New York clothing designer Rogan Gregory co-founded EDUN, along with U2’s Bono and his wife Ali Hewson, to create a fashion label that is a marriage of social activism and aesthetic innovation – to make that consumer choice a reality. Rogan shares the aim of EDUN to bring the issue of sustainable employment to the world of catwalks and high fashion, to create conscious consumerism with an aesthetic that matches its philosophy.
EDUN grew out of a desire to shift the focus away from aid in the developing world, particularly Africa, to trade. It is an attempt to help deliver the fishing rod rather than the fish.” EDUN’s founders are painfully aware that Africa has lost six percent of world trade since the seventies. If they could regain one percent of that, they would earn $70 billion a year. That’s where EDUN comes in. Utilising locally- run factories in Africa, South America, Portugal and India to produce their collection, EDUN provides training in specific production and manufacturing techniques. By developing the capabilities, knowledge and skill set of these factories, not only is EDUN competitive, it also allows an increase in each factory’s volume of work and long-term sustainable employment of its people. This results in the ability of these developing countries to invest in health, water, roads and education and to grow sufficiently to reduce their dependency on assistance and debt relief, with the ultimate goal of establishing a self-sufficient economy.
Growing up with an artist and academic father and an environmentalist mother, Rogan has always been passionate about efficiency and mindful of not being wasteful. “I think the notion of trying to be energy-efficient and using sustainable resources is just in me.” We are not extremists but very reasonable people. I think this is the key to the future because there is such a divide between the extremes and there has to be some compromise.” Rogan does not propose a utopian society where everything is perfect. He admits that is not possible. However he believes that on this Earth we do not have a choice but to try to conserve and tred more lightly, leaving a shallower footprint. He encourages us to enjoy life but minimise our impact along the journey.
Having always been involved in the design industry in some shape or form, Rogan has an aptitude for commerce. “Clothing works very well for me because I can be creative and drive change simultaneously. An artist like my dad doesn’t necessarily want to create art that sells. In clothing, designs constantly change to ensure sales and that is not compromising integrity, whereas in art it’s a different story. I think music is a similar thing and I think that’s why it works for Bono. He can mix the two and they can work together,” Rogan states of the man who sings from his heart and shares the spotlight with other people hoping to bring world leaders to their senses.
Rogan’s connection with U2’s stylist led to his introduction to Ali and Bono who were also interested in doing something that was conscientious consumerism. “Bono is a philanthropist and is constantly championing causes that make sense to him but in the past they have been aid not trade.” The cheap labour garment industry originated in England and travelled around the world through the USA, Mexico, China and now India, Africa is seen as the next inevitable destination. It all comes down to infrastructure and skills. A sense of realism grounds Rogan to recognise that things won’t change overnight. With time, persistence and making sure that everyone in the chain is getting reasonably compensated for the work they are doing, change will result. “A fair wage is relative wherever you are living,” and when EDUN sets up a factory it does its best to evaluate the local economy, through a third- party assessment, to make sure it is achieving its goal. “It’s a great idea giving people in Africa jobs but unless the clothes are something people want to wear and buy, none of it matters.”
Rogan personally has a number of clothing lines including self-titled Rogan that has a cult-like following on and his latest venture lifestyle surf tre brand Loomstate, that uses 100% an organic cotton. “Loomstate denim is good for the earth and the environment and is not only about making you look good, but feel good at the same time.” Rogan declares that organic is a viable option and is not much more expensive, adding only about 5% to the price of a finished garment. Inspired by the likes of American outdoors company Patagonia, who prefer to use synthetic fabrics, but if they use cotton it is organic. “Some big companies put a percentage of organic in the mix which is great but Patagonia take it very seriously. They are real environmentalists who are progressive thinkers and understand that we don’t have a choice”.
While Loomstate’s focus is on organic cotton, EDUN is more about the sustainable manufacturing process that gives back to the people of the developing world. “Wherever we can use organic we will. Wherever we can use an African source we will. We are by no means perfect and in many cases the fashion dictates.” Rogan clearly acknowledges that any wash done on a fabric is a waste of energy and is harmful to the environment. Fundamentally everything should be unwashed and unbleached cotton. “It’s obvious that we will not all buy root coloured clothing so it’s about a balance.” In terms of an environmentally-efficient manufacturing process EDUN certainly is ensures its energy use is efficient, by-products are disposed of appropriately and its water is conserved. The future of EDUN might pursue the ground routes from grower to sower philosophy, “That would be the build a respect in the fashion industry. With Bono’s reach I feel it is absolutely possible.”
When asked why he cares Rogan reflects on his life of loving trees, the ocean and the natural world. “I want my kids to be able to see it the way I see it and simply stated it is my belief that if we look after the world, it is possible to keep it intact.” Rogan dreams of being remembered as someone who had a different idea and model for the future, an idea that is based on the triple bottom line of profitability, social responsibility and environmental consciousness. He strives to make that business model successful so that others will want to replicate it and contribute to building industry in the developing world. Being copied is a surprising goal in the commercial world but Rogan’s world is obviously not purely about commerce. Rogan’s determination is paved by the words “Don’t kick the darkness make your light shine brighter” which encourages us all to keep shining as brightly as we can.
Next time retail therapy surges within, remember that shopping is politics in a way. You can close down giant corporations just by not purchasing from them. Think about whether you want to buy clothes that have been made by exploiting other people. “If in a retail environment we can get people to express their beliefs about how others need to be treated, we can do something amazing that has never been done before”. This is reinforced by EDUN’s philosophy – about respect for the people who make the product, respect for the place where it is made, respect for the materials used and respect for the consumer. If we were all to subscribe to this ideal we can keep our own Eden right here on Earth.