Ethical fashion champion Safia Minney talks to Drapers about what more retailers should be doing, the impact of the Modern Slavery Act and the importance of a fair supply chain.
Safia Minney has been a vocal and prominent champion of sustainable fashion since she founded ethical womenswear label People Tree in 1998. A fair trade expert, she is also the managing director of sustainable footwear brand Po Zu and has written several books on sustainable fashion, including Slave to Fashion.
What has changed since you first became involved with ethical fashion?
When I first started working with the Fairtrade Foundation, we were really pioneering an environmentally friendly and socially impactful supply chain, looking at how to maximise livelihoods. If you look at ethical fashion today, it’s evolved hugely. There’s been a big movement of awareness, helped by things like The True Cost documentary. Ecommerce has allowed more ethical fashion brands to get out there, and the great work of the Ethical Fashion Forum has helped build sustainable supply chains.
What does Po Zu do to work sustainably?
All of the product is made in Portugal and all of the factories used are unionised. We use materials such as natural latex, which is solvent free, and the shoe uppers are made from cork or Piñatex, which is a sustainable textile made from pineapple leaf fibres. We use organic cotton and chrome-free leather [tanned without using chromium or heavy metals].
Retailers are beginning to understand that fashion’s business model needs to be reorganised
What impact has the Modern Slavery Act had on ethical fashion?
There’s been a huge amount of work starting to build more transparency in supply chains in the developing world and a large part of that is because of the Modern Slavery Act. Retailers are now obliged to file reports on what they’re doing to eradicate slavery. It means there is a legal framework to hold boards and chief executives to account. It is an amazing opportunity to create a central repository where consumers and campaigners can analyse the information, and choose where to spend their money.
Why is creating ethical supply chains so important?
We know supply chains are complicated. But if retailers can invest in segmented customer databases to maximise profits, I can see no reason why they can’t do the same to find out how people are being treated at different points in their supply chains. Affordable technology is changing things for garment workers: with a cheap smartphone it is now possible for a worker to take a photograph of unsafe working conditions and send it to a trade union, thereby preventing another horrible accident like the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.
How do you see the fashion industry changing?
Retailers are beginning to understand that fashion’s business model needs to be reorganised and throw-away fashion will become a thing of the past. We clearly cannot go on consuming resources at the rate we are and there is a lot of work happening around the circular economy, whether that’s higher end products being rented in the future. Many large fashion brands have taken up the challenge of phasing out toxic materials and high street retailers are beginning to clean up supply chains, but there’s still a long way to go.
The next steps to an ethical fashion industry