EDUN’s Design Collective on Fostering Africa’s Future Through Fashion

PHOTOGRAPHERImages courtesy of Edun

 

Gone are the days of too glam to give a damn, as consumers are becoming increasingly mindful of the impact of the clothes they wear. While the past few seasons have seen an uptick in industry consciousness and inclusivity, EDUN has been carrying this torch – and an entire continent – for more than a decade. Founded in 2005 by U2 frontman, Bono, and wife Ali Hewson, EDUN (nude spelled backwards) was created to encourage fair-trade and fashion production in Africa. As empowering as the mission was, it was also an ambitious one, considering the dire lack of infrastructure and resources within the continent. In working with African suppliers, in comparison to the luxury standard, deliverability and quality proved to be recurring challenges for the label. Whereas many designers would sacrifice sustainability for profitability, EDUN has evolved admirably over time, nourishing its relationships with African artisans and fostering sustainable growth in a largely neglected market. Now, as part of the LVMH empire, EDUN is successfully harnessing its modern vision into the fast-growing continent. As the only African-based label owned by a multinational luxury conglomerate – in the company of Céline, Dior, Louis Vuitton etc. – EDUN is the leading force bridging the luxury and artisanal worlds.

The company’s ethos lies in building community from the inside out. After a rotation of various creative directors, EDUN has abandoned the traditional approach altogether, with a collective design team at the helm. While some fashion designers are as celebrated as the collections they design, EDUN wants their artisans and partnerships to take center stage. Their latest Resort collection embodies this tenet beautifully, transporting you through the coastal fishing towns of Ghana with its vibrant and graphic collection. The design team kept the signature aesthetic of feminine silhouettes and structured sportswear, featuring several exclusive collaborative materials. Madagascar knits, Rwandan embroidery and Ghanaian batiks are some of the many cultural traditions interwoven into the collection. From the standout pieces boasting the Ghanaian flag, to its pulsating campaigns from regional photographers, EDUN is championing the next generation of African talent, and bringing their stories to the masses.

The team treats its regional trips like a family reunion, nurturing each individual partnership with tender loving care. Rather than one-off collaborations with artisans, they’re building long-term solutions and sustainable growth in these communities. In the collective’s words, “we believe that this is what will change the face of sustainability into something more democratic in the future.” In short, they’re redefining the sustainability model of tomorrow. The EDUN team gathered collectively to respond to our interview – imaginably in a roundtable over heavily gingered juices – with the same thoughtful attentiveness embodied in the company ethos. Read how they’re making “Made in Africa” more than just a fashion statement.

COOLS: Each season, you’ve initiated new partnerships with co-ops and companies across Africa. Can you tell us about that involvement for Resort18?

EDUN: Resort 2018 continues many of our existing partnerships and initiatives. It is EDUN’s fourth season using BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) Certified denim, developing exclusive fabric with EFI (Ethical Fashion Initiative) in Burkina Faso, and partnering with the women’s embroidery co-op IBABA in Rwanda.

A recent trip to Africa also inspired new partnerships for Resort 2018: Handmade batik fabrics were created with Studio One Eighty Nine’s Ghana-based artisans, and through Mariama Fashion Production, woven strip cloths were created with Ivory Coast weavers using traditional techniques of the area.

COOLS: While previously headed by a creative director, EDUN now works as a design collective. Your creative team insists on remaining anonymous, amidst increased demand for corporate transparency. Why? Can you describe the advantages and challenges of this shift?

EDUN: EDUN’s focus is on its core mission, which is the brand’s point of difference as a designer label.

We want EDUN customers to pay attention to where and how their clothes are made, this is the top priority message for us. We want to give them the opportunity to learn about the artisans who make these clothes and the various partnerships that the brand is a part of.

Plus, fashion is a very collaborative industry, so it makes complete sense for us to work this way.
There is no hidden strategy; we want to be sure that the brand and mission come first.

COOLS: You draw inspiration from locally produced textiles and traditional techniques. This past season felt more directed to a cosmopolitan consumer. How is this changing?

EDUN: We always see EDUN’s consumer at a crossroads: someone who is bold with a singular style, careful of the environment, attentive to her social impact, and respectful of traditions.

At EDUN we aim to elevate the silhouettes with handcrafted details and ethically sourced and produced materials; we believe that this is what will change the face of sustainability into something more democratic in the future.

COOLS: At the moment, one of the biggest challenges for the African fashion industry is encouraging internal commerce. Do you see Edun as a brand not only made by, but worn by African women?

EDUN: Nothing excites us more than discovering an Instagram post of a customer walking the streets of Lagos in a full Edun look!

Africa is now the fastest growing continent and its population is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050. That being said, it has never felt more relevant for EDUN to pursue its journey, to explore unique opportunities, and to create a new role model for tomorrow. This includes sourcing and producing, but also distributing and promoting the brand throughout the African continent.

COOLS: What is the design process like working with local African artisans?

EDUN: Production in Africa is not easy. The challenges for establishing new collaborations often mean financial, logistical, political and heavy quality control investments. However once these partnerships are established, the richness of opportunity is endless. Africa is moving with the times and new technology now plays an important role all over the continent. The speed of change is astonishing, especially with local entrepreneurship!

COOLS: What does the launch of platforms like Oxosi do for the way African fashion is perceived, both on an accessibility and aesthetic scale?

EDUN: It is important to have as many versions of what African fashion can be and can offer to show its true diversity. Oxosi is an amazing platform for consumers to feel, discover and shop the full breadth of what African fashion is today, without the border.

COOLS: As one of the most globally recognized African-connected fashion brands in a Western market, what do you want to resonate most from the brand?

EDUN: We want to show that there is an alternative. We want to deliver real choices for what we believe to be true and meaningful luxury. We believe that sustainable initiatives are becoming increasingly important to today’s luxury consumer. As a fashion brand, EDUN is committed to leading the way and exploring all environmentally and socially responsible questions, building and focusing our efforts in Africa. The origin of our products, as well as the stories behind them, remains front and center.

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