Some lovely people recognise me as the pioneer of sustainable fashion, they even stop me to chat on the tube in Tokyo or London.
I started my journey 27 years ago in Japan where I created People Tree the world’s leading Fair Trade and sustainable brand, indeed, creating a fashion revolution.
I built supply chains from scratch to benefit cotton farmers with regular orders and paid them organic and fairtrade premiums before the standards existed and then I helped to build these standards, including those for Fair Trade manufacture, with World Fair Trade Organisation – for the making of clothes, foods and other products.
For me it has always been about creating beautiful and desirable products – after all in Japan there was very little awareness of environmental issues and worker exploitation over two decades ago – if it wasn’t well-designed and of good quality, it wasn’t going to sell. I think cutting my teeth in Japan and working closely in collaboration with my artisans and fair trade groups and customers and buyers helped me build a success business.
With a background in advertising, publishing and media, I couldn’t believe the resources used to sell stuff that doesn’t make people happy and healthy, In fact most of the time it does the opposite.
When in the early 1990s I read about the exploitation in sportswear and denim factories it made my blood boil. We were tacitly holding up this exploitative system by buying these products. I realised that poor people give up control and how power is used to further impoverish them.
In 1995 we opened our first shop in Tokyo, probably the first eco-concept store, with lots of experiential opportunities for customers, they could drink fair trade coffee, browse a library of eco books, hear lectures from local environmentalists and producers would visit from India, Bangladesh, Kenya and all over… we had a handloom at the front of the store, ran fashion shows, hunger banquets and jewellery making classes.
In 2000 I brought People Tree to London with the help of my former boss at Marketing Week. We started to build traction when Wayne Hemingway featured People Tree on Breakfast television, and Sienna Miller wore People Tree for a fashion feature with The Telegraph. But these were the very early days of ethical fashion.
I was delighted as the business grew. We had 800 stores selling People Tree. I would run press trips with opinion leaders, journalists, celebrities and designers like Emma Watson, Zandra Rhodes, Laura Bailey etc. to meet the farmers and artisans in the villages where we work. We were proving another way of doing business works at the same time we were building a new sector, ethical fashion, and setting a new agenda for the fashion industry and we were working closely with civil society grassroots organisations too, to understand the challenges faced by the people that make our fashion industry so profitable.
We brought their stories and showed how it could be done differently through TV documentaries and news programmes with many Japanese producers and in fashion and womens magazines internationally.
In 2013, ‘True Cost’ Director, Andrew Morgan approached me following the Rana Plaza building collapse. We started a long journey together with Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle and many other great friends in the sustainable fashion movement.
Re-designing a more sustainable fashion industry
The True Cost movie was watched by over 10 million people thanks to a lot of hard work, support and collaboration. There were dozens of red carpet screenings around the world, attended by fashion people from Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, and many other high profile luxury designers; it was shown in Fashion companies and Fashion colleges, and the public realised that the slow food approach had come to fashion.
Also, Fashion Revolution, with over 100 country offices has spread new thinking about fashion, and the workers behind it and our home – our planet. We have made a unique turning point. Transparency and ethics have become a lead product attribute, and in a crowded market people are asking about the people behind the product, about animal rights and the impact on the environment and checking the companies are really walking their talk.
I’m delighted that I can help Po-Zu develop an ethical shoe line in Sri Lanka. It’s great to learn about a new product area, however the sustainable materials are the same and so largely are the customers who frankly just want a pair of cool shoes to complete their ethical look. Hopefully with Po-Zu founder (pictured far left) Sven Segal’s incredible design eye we can create the ethical statement shoe – the most beautiful part of an outfit – whilst making feet, the foundation of well being, the happiest that they can be.
We have great plans for Po-Zu to make it THE go to ETHICAL FOOTWEAR brand. WE know how to do it. We hope you’ll want to be part of it and that you will join us on CrowdCube and become a shareholder.
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