Welcome to the second interview in our "ethical" fashion series. Today, we speak to Anna Robertson - the force behind YEVU.
I started YEVU with no long term plans. It was created quite organically out of a love of West African print and a vision to transform them for the Australian summer. The response in Sydney was pretty incredible and I realised there was a demand for it here, and its just grown since then. I think since that initial inception, its become much more than that - partnering with small businesses who have little income and working with mostly economically disadvantaged women has become the foundation for the enterprise. I am slowly trying to scale this side of it up, monitor, evaluate and grow in social impact.
2. You’ve branded YEVU as a socially responsible label. Why did you settle on the term ‘socially responsible’ and what does this mean as far as YEVU is concerned?
I don't feel particularly comfortable using the word 'ethical' at this stage. It gets thrown around a lot, and it can cover a lot or very little of a businesses practice. YEVU is not an eco label, there's plenty of ways in which we could be more ethical. But we're working in a challenging and constrained environment, and I'd prefer to focus our attention on areas that we can address, as small and incremental as they are. Operating a business with a social impact or prerogative, at least. That's the aim. Ensuring that we are generating income for each individual that is above the living wage of Ghana, employing mostly women and ensuring that our supply chain is fair and transparent are key priorities. Providing on the job training with designers will hopefully help to sustain this income in the non producing periods of YEVU's 'seasons'.
3. Much attention has been given to how difficult it is to manufacture clothing in an ethical way overseas. For example, Oxfam Australia suggests that in order to ensure that the clothes you are buying are ‘sweat shop free’, consumers should buy clothing which ‘carries the carries the Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) label’ applied to garments manufactured in Australia by people who receive regulated wage rates and conditions. What has been your experience in creating a socially responsible company that works with garment makers in Ghana. What are some of the successes and also challenges that you have faced?
I'm not super hung up on buying everything ethical - I don't look for an ECA label on what I'm buying. But I know what the ECA does, I know what the label means (and sometimes it can mean very very little). I'm an informed consumer and am aware of my choices, and would encourage others to be. Working with garment makers in Ghana for me is challenging on a personal level because I am not a designer, nor have I run a business before, so best practices are learnt on the job at times. Challenges specific to the ethics of the job though, well trying to regulate hours is almost impossible - our makers want to work all the time, and with constant power cuts affecting the entire country, sometimes night time is the only time we can work. Retaining employees is difficult at times because I'm not in the country frequently enough, but I do have a very trustworthy business partner on the ground there who can mitigate against some of these issues. And also assuming to know what's best for the people we work with can be a trap you fall into. You got to talk to people and learn from each other.
4. What has been your client base's response to the socially responsible aspect of YEVU? Do you believe this has been a selling point?
It's not the socially responsible aspect of the brand that sells it, I don't think. That's a secondary bonus. Its the product, at the end of the day that's important. The fact that everything is made in Ghana and all our imagery etc is very Ghana focused, that's a selling point because its so exotic and cool.
4. What’s next for YEVU?
We're currently showing our new range and with it, growth, challenges and new project aspects that will allow us to increase the reach we have in Ghana.
All photos from YEVU.
YEVU's Pop Up in Melbourne is open until 31 January.