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Sunday, 04 October 2009

'We need to sell the process through the product and not the product through the process'. This is the sentence I woke up with this morning after three dynamic days of interviewing at Ethical Fashion Show in Paris. Veja is a company that does this right from the start. François Morillion, one of the two founders, told me on Friday that they started Veja out of an obsession with sneakers. Their first collection was made fair-trade and from organic cotton, but they presented it at a regular trade fair. In a plain installation displaying the few sample models that they had, they simply talked about their sneakers. And sold them. Veja is now one of the more successful companies within the ethical fashion landscape and that's not because they help their organic farmers in the North of Brazil to get certification. Or because they fly their Parisian employees to Brazil to meet the shoemakers and the rubber tappers in the Amazon in person. 'It's because we love our product and we do everything to make it better'.

Yesterday night it became painfully clear that the vice versa approach really doesn't work. Satya Jyoti had organized an auction with the aim to use the benefits to build up a health center in the Indian village where they produce their clothing. I had already interviewed founder Kakoli and felt enticed by her passionate narrative on why she started the brand. Being a designer, she loves working with the girls and women who gain self-confidence through the weaving and embroidering of the garments. And it is this process of helping deprived women that is the basis of the Satya Jyoti Trust. For Kakoli, the clothes are the end product of this process and through selling them, she can help the women. That one third of the items for the auction were withdrawn during the first buying round, heartbreakingly showed that this process approach doesn't make people buy. On the contrary: I in the end only purchased telling myself I did it for the health center.

Two approaches, two ways of helping people creating a sustainable livelihood and two ways of labeling a fashion company: as a trust or a real brand. The difference in wearing the auction skirt and my Veja sneakers symbolizes what we can truly not deny anymore. That guilt doesn't wear as comfy as does a good pair of sneakers.

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