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Tamsin Lejeune

Progress has been made but there’s still work to do, Ethical Fashion Forum founder Tamsin Lejeune tells Ana Santi

Why did you set up the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF)? Because there was a need and a demand for it. I had launched a high-end, fair-trade womenswear label called Juste and built up a supply chain for it, but I had to make a choice between the label and pushing the ethical fashion agenda, so I chose the latter. The EFF was officially launched in 2006. The supply chain I built up is still going, with other ethical brands using it, and I’m planning to relaunch Juste soon now that EFF is at a stage where it is running itself as a collaborative movement. The EFF is a not-for-profit organisation, but we also have a consultancy arm.

What is the aim of the EFF? There are many barriers for businesses working towards an ethical agenda, so our goal is to achieve a sustainable future for fashion by radically improving standards across the industry. We also recently launched The Network, an online fashion community where designers, suppliers or students can join discussion groups.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the ethical fashion industry since setting up EFF? I’ve seen a big improvement in design quality of ethical collections, and the [ethical] industry has grown a lot, from individuals to larger retailers.

How is the recession impacting on the ethical fashion industry? The feedback is that ethical brands are faring well. For [womenswear trade show] Pure London to have set up a dedicated ethical area for its autumn 09 edition, which EFF supports, shows there is demand for ethical brands. It’s a really exciting partnership.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap at London Fashion Week in February. What do you think of the initiative?
[The action plan for more sustainable fashion] is excellent. The challenge now is how to make it sustainable. For it to succeed, it needs to be run, funded and resourced by an industry body, not the government. It would be great to get a consortium together, led by big brands such as Marks & Spencer.

Why do you think the ethical fashion industry has progressed slower than its food counterpart? The food industry has a simpler supply chain, so it’s easier to get fair-trade labelling and certification. But the same thing is feasible in fashion too. We just need to give consumers more clarity and that could come from having one ‘label’ for certification. It’s still some way off, but it’s being worked on.

What more needs to be done? We need more engagement from agents, merchants and suppliers, rather than just the brands and retailers. We also need a really
effective industry body representing the sector with a clear set of principles and a means towards achieving them. We need to build on what the Clothing Roadmap has done with a vision that everyone buys into.

Quickfire questions

What is your favourite shop? Junky Styling in Brick Lane, east London. It’s a real experience. You can take a piece of clothing to them and they’ll completely transform it.

What is your favourite era in fashion? The 2000s, with brands like People Tree [right]. It’s a really inspirational time, all about sustainability.

Who is your favourite designer? I love Louis de Gama and Roland Mouret.

What is your most cherished piece of clothing? A beautiful, embellished red waistcoat from Davina Hawthorne, who was one of our Innovation competition winners.

  • Tamsin Lejeune is the founder and strategic director of the Ethical Fashion Forum

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