People Tree: Ethical Alliances
If you haven’t already heard of them, then you’re late to the party. People Tree are pioneers of the “Fashion meets Fair Trade” takeover we are currently experiencing. They work tirelessly to ensure their clothes use ecologically sound methods of production.
Most of their cotton is certified organic and fair trade, all their clothes are dyed using safe and natural dyes, their products are sourced locally and they choose natural and recycled products over toxic, synthetic and non-biodegradable materials.
It started in Tokyo 20 years ago by Safia Minney, when she realised there was a market in Japan for eco-friendly goods. Her company ethos, vision and bullish determination have kept them up and running where other ethical fashion brands have crashed and burned. Granted, the worldwide financial downturn and natural disasters have consistently conspired against them and company profits for the past years have been below standard for a fashion brand, but they refuse to throw in the towel.
“…in a world where quick production turnarounds, constant innovation and thin margins are key elements of the business model, handmade clothes from rural Africa or India, which typically cost 30 percent more to make than high street clothing, are a tough sell…” - Safia Minney
In 2009 the UK branch of People Tree made a record loss of £375,000, 2011 is the first year that they expect to make a profit. This is after being in the UK for 10 years. People Tree Japan first broke even and made profit in 2001, which was also its 10th year. So maybe year 10 will be profitable for the UK division too.
People Tree are not quitters and in their quest to remain as the ethically minded company they set out to be, to conquer the market and become a household brand, they have worked tirelessly through floods, earthquakes and financial crises to keep their brand going. They stick to their ethos of promoting natural and organic farming, avoiding polluting substances, protecting water supplies, using biodegradable substances where possible and to recycle where possible. Easier said than done in our current economy, but thanks to Minney’s hardwork it is paying off and recent years have seen the company’s profile grow. They have formed partnerships with top designers such as Richard Nicholl, Bora Aksu and Thakoon, which have resulted in them subsequently being sold through Topshop, ASOS, Selfridges and John Lewis.
For SS11, they had elfin star of Harry Potter, Emma Watson, cast a spell and help produce a youth inspired collection. Emma took a very hands on approach with the whole design process and even took time out to visit the slums of Bangladesh where the fair trade community that are benefitting from her collection are building sustainable livelihoods. These people who buy few consumer goods, eat locally produced food and use hand production methods to earn their living, have some of the smallest carbon footprints in the world.
Watson’s aim when agreeing to participate and collaborate with People Tree was to show that you can be ethical as well as fashionable, which some people still do not realise. Gone are the days of scratchy hessian kaftans being the only option. Watson is one of many celebrities lending her status to the ever growing ethical fashion movement and helping to bring it to the mainstream.
The most recent People Tree collaboration has been with fashion designer Orla Kiely. The SS12 collection, which Orla brings her signature prints and style to, is the second collaboration between the two. The collection has a distinct 1950’s retro style to it, with stylish knits, prom dresses, trench coats and bags all reminiscent of the era. Fairly produced, in India and Nepal it features everything you would expect from Orla Kiely with no negotiation on style, feel or design. The only difference between this collection and any of Orla’s other collections is the environmental aspect of it, the feeling of doing a good deed you’ll get from buying and wearing it. Pieces from the collection are currently on the website, the full collection will be launched in February 2012.
“Within the fashion industry it is important to know our products come from a sustainable and socially responsible source. What People Tree are doing has clearly highlighted this issue and are leading the way for all designers to be responsible for where and how their products are made.” - Orla Kiely