I read the other day a very honest account from Saffia Minney, the founder of People Tree, of the difficulties she has had establishing the People Tree brand in the UK.
This is interesting, I had long had questions about People Tree, I couldnt believe they were making the amount of profit their profile suggested, and I suspected the deep pockets of Ms Minney and her banker husband were being explored with regularity.
Talking to people in Eco fashion over the last few years, I have heard many complaints about People Tree, and their percieved success, despite the fact that the quality wasnt considered particularly good by those who spoke to me. Having never properly examined any people tree produce myself, I cant comment on that.
I have however seen other firms go out of business over the last few years, shops and clothing producers. These were the people who had gone for it, stuck their necks out and taken the risks, but without any seriously big money or marketing nowse behind them.
I have watched with interest as Howies have apparently turned an economic corner, on their way to being a stable brand along side the likes of Fat Face, with high street shops in fashionable places. But Howies of course owe that in part to their relatively new owners Timberland. When I first came across Howies, I think they would have run a mile from Timberland, (maybe I’m wrong) but now they seem happy to be part of the American giant’s family.
All this is interesting and sobering for me, as I continue to explore establishing my own clothing business. It makes me glad I didnt rush into it, and even more so now as I seem to have found a business partner who has the same heart as me, and all the logistical arrangements already in place to make a great business. But if People Tree cant make the books balance yet in the UK (it took them eight years in Japan, still counting here) how long will it take us to do so?
And yet there is something right about it all, until we get to the point where cheap exploitative clothing is no longer the standard we measure everything else by, and we no longer think that good quality clothing made in proper conditions by fairly treated, well supported producers is ‘unaffordable’ then there is a lot of very worthwhile, even necessary work to do.
Hats off to Saffia Minney, hats off too to the people who tried to breakthrough, but didnt have the cash behind them to fall back on. You guys are heroes, and one day you will be shown to be right. You can be proud of what you have tried to do, and you will have something good to tell your grandchildren one day.
I do believe still that we should all consume less clothing by the way, and where possible make our own, buy second hand and so on, but I do recognise that new clothes do need to be made, and if we’re going to make them, it needs to be done properly, no more undercover slavery.
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