Supporting sustainability with fashion: discover YEVU clothing

While trawling through the racks at our local clothing stores, or online, our decisions about our purchases usually concern the fit, cut, size, colour and maybe the environmental considerations of the label; but, rarely do we wonder whether our splurges could be supporting local industry and small businesses. Well, not only can we make environmentally sound decisions about the things we wear, but we can also select clothing created by labels that are socially responsible. Anna Robertson’s clothing company, YEVU, is exactly that. We spoke to her about her vibrant lines, and how her business is generating economic and creative opportunities in Ghana, West Africa. Here’s what she told us…

First, tell us a little about YEVU; where did it all begin and who’s behind the clothing?

YEVU began in Ghana in late 2012, when I was working in the capital, Accra, in an international development role. The West African textiles and prints are wild and amazing – so different to anything I’d ever seen. I realised that there was a market potential in Australia because we are so far away and isolated and under-exposed to these textiles. But the real impetus came from the desire to partner with small female-led enterprises. Women make up the majority of the informal sector, and earning sustainable income, and having access to finance is marred with challenges. I saw that there was a way to create a viable, high-quality product while empowering those we work with.

YEVU Clothing has a focus on social responsibility and ethical production. Can you tell us a little about this, and why it’s so important to you as a brand?

The difference between what we do and what a lot of other ethical labels do, is that we haven’t partnered with an ethical production facility, we have created one from the ground up in Ghana. The team that we employ there has worked with us since inception, with a few exceptions, and we have grown together, in a way, and have seen the effects of having a sustainable and fair income, a safe and resourced place of work, a place to sleep and people to assist young mums, and the empowerment that comes with being trained by highly skilled designers. The human side to the business is what’s important to us, and although we have a long way to go, we can be accountable for every single aspect of the business and that integrity is what’s most important to us.

Yevu Clothing

Your designs are so colourful and fun, does having your workshop in Ghana provide the inspiration for your designs? What else inspires your wares?

Our workshop is a feast for the eyes, a lot of colour and chaos and music. It is a great place to work on the design side of things and flesh out any technical problems we’re having. That’s why having designers in the workshop for stints during production is really helpful; that’s not something I can partake in too much. A lot of our inspiration comes from a blend of what I see on the streets of Accra and Sydney collectively. The marketplace in Accra is mental; all our prints come from there, so that is a pretty inspirational place too.

Through your clothing, you’re helping to address urban poverty. How does this work?

Around 80% of people employed in Ghana are working in the informal sector; these are the street vendors, the market sellers, the hustlers. The majority of these people are women and the majority of those have migrated to Accra for opportunities to make money and send back to their families in rural parts of the country. They live day to day, have no access to health care and education and many live below the poverty line. That’s the current situation across most of the developing world, and, in my experience, I feel like this massive sector of people is largely ignored by the government and aid. Although we are a tiny drop in the ocean, we work with these people, ensure that we pay above the living wage so they are actually able to save (many have recently opened bank accounts), have access to sustainable full-time employment, and have some social security.

What are you most proud of, in terms of what YEVU has achieved so far?

Moving our production to quarterly ranges, which means full-time employment for our team in Ghana – this meant that we handed over the reigns to our production managers there, and I spent quite a bit of time working with them and training them last year to prepare for this. It’s going so well so far.

Yevu Clothing

What are the biggest challenges that face YEVU?

Scaling, employing more people and generating the profit to do so. At this stage, we sell online and through our event pop-ups, and this is going to need to change if we want to scale, grow and develop.

What’s your top advice for those who want to start a clothing label or a socially conscious company?

Make a great product, first and foremost. If you want to create a sustainable social enterprise, customers won’t buy into the ethos unless they love the product. Its a double win for them when they realise that there is integrity behind the brand. And also know the place that you are producing incredibly well – live there, get to know the people you’re working with really well.

What’s coming up for YEVU in 2017?

A new range coming out in Feb; it’s pretty great. We’ll be opening a store in Sydney in Feb for a couple weeks to launch that and then we’ll be online.

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WRITTEN BY:
Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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