With Ninety Percent, Shafiq Hassan aims to use fashion to give to charity and improve the brand’s workers’ lives
London-based ethical clothing label Ninety Percent was founded on a principle of sharing 90% of profits between charitable causes and those who create the collection.
The womenswear brand was launched by Shafiq Hassan and Para Hamilton in February 2018 with an 80-piece collection. It is currently stocked in Selfridges as part of the retailer’s Better Cotton labelling scheme, and on Net-a-Porter.
The collection includes premium womenswear basics such as T-shirts, sweatshirts and jumpsuits, and wholesales from £6 for T-shirts to £80 for cashmere knitwear. It uses 100% organic cotton across the range, as well as Tencel made from renewable wood pulp, and is manufactured in factories in Turkey and Bangladesh. Each clothing item has a care label with a unique code, enabling customers to vote and support a cause of their choice.
Drapers speaks to Hassan about how the concept works in practice and what inspired him to break away from the traditional business model.
What was the inspiration behind the brand?
We were inspired to break the exploitative model that currently exists within the fashion industry and create a new way of thinking, sourcing and sharing profits.
We share 90% of our profits are shared between four causes – Children’s Hope, Big Life Foundation, WildAid and War Child UK – and the people who make our collection happen. Therefore, the more we sell, the more we can give back.
We don’t want to be part of mindless consumerism and are keen to expand our research into sustainability so we can have the least-negative impact on people and the environment in the clothing and textiles supply chain.
We believe that everyone involved has to be empowered, from people who run the business to people who make our items, our customers and then the resultant positive impact on social and environmental causes we support.
We want our products to be cherished and have a long life – to be handed down, recycled and upcycled.
Over ten years ago, we started to question how big businesses are run, how they control our lives and how the system was exploitative, without giving much back. We felt there was also a huge sense of disconnection between big businesses and its customers. We felt there had to be another way and the seeds of Ninety Percent were sown.
Practically speaking, how does the charitable profit-sharing work?
In normal businesses, profit is normally taken by shareholders in terms of dividends or distributed profit. At Ninety Percent, the shareholders take 10% of profits and donate the rest – 80% to the four charities we support, and 10% to the people who make our clothes.
Therefore, one can only share if the business makes a profit. In the event that the distributable profit is less than £1,000 per cause, we promise to donate money to ensure we reach a guaranteed minimum amount of £1,000.
How well is the business performing towards this goal?
We are still working towards achieving our goals. To achieve our target, we must run an efficient and a commercially successful business that is able to grow and make money. We were fortunately able to borrow and access funds to make the business happen. However, we do need to make the business successful and increase our turnover sooner rather than later, to be able to sustain the costs. It is not going to be easy, so we need as much support we can get.
What was your career history?
After finishing my masters in chemical engineering from Aston University, I worked for international development organisation BRAC, currently the world’s largest NGO. Then, instead of taking on a PhD in chemical engineering, I got sidetracked into getting involved in garment manufacturing. My only reason was to create jobs for women in Bangladesh, although I had no clue what this meant or what the involvement was. I worked in a sourcing company as a director based in London from 1987 to 1996, then set up Echo Sourcing with my partner, Para Hamilton in 1996.
How would you describe the ethos of Ninety Percent?
Timeless products that result in empowerment, with transparency and accountability.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role on a day-to-day basis?
Sample development, buying small quantities and understanding digital marketing.
Why was it important for you to create this new operating model?
Sustainability is the rock on which we sit. We look at sustainability as a full circle of 360-degree empowerment.
The #DressBetter mantra is at the heart of the business, inviting our audience to challenge poor working conditions in the fashion industry and engage with a forward-thinking alternative.
Transparency is also key: connecting customers to the complete supply chain and sharing of profits.
How do you keep yourself motivated and creative?
My motivation comes from inner beliefs, and not being afraid of failure. Being part of a team of people who also share and believe in the vision to make Ninety Percent happen, is a critical factor.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
The late and great [Body Shop founder] Anita Roddick, [designers] Katharine Hamnett, Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney, and [Selfridges creative director] Alannah Weston – because all of these women have been pioneers. They are leaders in this industry – pure and simple.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Create your own niche.
Where would you like to see the brand develop in the future?
I would still like to be hands on in certain aspects of the business, even if it has grown. I want to make our customers be the key evangelists of our product, and make Ninety Percent become a global movement where we could inspire other businesses to do things differently.
In five years’ time I would like to see increased sales in North America and Asia, and in ten to twenty years have hubs in the US, Asia and South America.
Favourite clothing brand
Issey Miyake, Reformation, Everlane, Know the Origin
Favourite place to shop
Selfridges and Net-a-Porter
Last fashion purchase
Knitted top, Issey Miyake
New York, May 2018
Last book you read
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Last film you watched
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
Green Shield Stamps – shop, in Exeter, 1973
Working in animal conservation in Kenya or Tanzania
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Working, spending time with family and reading