Ethical Culture

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Susan Mitchell,

Fashion houses have an understandable horror of having their designs copied.

Not Ali Hewson, founder of Edun. In fact, you could say her mission statement is to have the concept behind her new fashion label replicated the world over.

Hewson's goal is to build a business that makes beautiful clothing in developing countries, giving sustainable employment and providing trade potential.

"We want people to rip us off," says Hewson of her business venture. "We are really trying to establish a business model with Edun.

"We want to prove that you can make a profit, while running a business in a responsible way."

Convention demands the inclusion of certain statistics.

Like 6 per cent - Africa's share of world trade in 1980.

And 2 per cent - Africa's percentage of world trade in 2002. And $70 billion - what an additional 1 per cent share of global trade would earn the continent each year.

Hewson believes that long-term preventative strategies represent the way forward for developing countries. She is well versed in the inequitable trading terms doled out to them, and reels off world trade statistics like a seasoned economist.

"Rich countries subsidise their own agricultural sectors by about $1 billion per day," she says.

"They dump their excess products in international markets at artificially low prices, and make it impossible for developing countries to compete.

"The US spends about $4 billion a year subsidising American cotton farmers.

"They then flood the market with it. It's unfair. It's a false economy, and just crushes African farmers."

As a mother of four, Hewson knows such macroeconomics are also relevant in everyday life. "I would prefer to know that the clothes I buy for my children weren't made by someone else's children," she says.

"I want to be able to buy clothes for me and for my family, knowing that no one was exploited en route, from concept to the finished product on the rails."

Sitting in a suite in Dublin's Clarence Hotel, the stylish 43-year-old is gearing up for the New York launch of Edun, which she dubs "more sensual than bling''.

With factories set to roll in Peru and Tunisia, and a third planned for Lesotho, the Edun range which is being created by American designer Rogan Gregory, will encompass everything from jeans to chiffon dresses.

"At the moment, many people in these countries can't get regular jobs, so that is our starting point," Hewson says. "People won't be paid below the minimum wag e, and we will be committed to helping local communities.

"We want to encourage as much employment as possible, so we're open to passing on information to anyone who wants it. And if people want to use our factories they are more than welcome.

"We are trying to do something. We are not going to get everything right. We're not 100 per cent organic. It's just not possible at the moment, as you can't dye jeans with natural dyes, for example. They just don't take.

"There are compromises you have to make - but the one thing we won't compromise on is how people are treated."

Despite being married to one of the most famous men on the planet, U2 lead singer Bono, Hewson usually shuns the limelight. Hello-style spreads are a no-go.

She is better known for her environmental campaigning and patronage of the Chernobyl Children's Project than for any celebrity high jinks.

Neither does Hewson fit the stereotype rock star wife mould. Moved by news images of the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, she spent five weeks working on a famine relief project in 1985.

While U2 were promoting their Joshua Tree album in 1987, and being hailed as the most successful band in the world, Hewson was studying social science at University College Dublin (UCD).

She gave birth to their first child, Jordan, two weeks before her finals. The couple have since had another three children: Eve, Elijah and John Abraham.

Hewson remains a patron of the Chernobyl Children's Project, which is headed by Adi Roche. "That is my corner," she says.

"I have seen children born with deformities and dying in orphanages. Children who have had their thyroid glands removed and will need to take medicine for the rest of their lives - if they can get it.

"I will never forget those images."

She presented an award-winning documentary on the devastating aftermath of the disaster. Hewson and Roche have been credited with ensuring that Ireland is the largest donor of aid to Belarus.

"I have a big commitment to the children, and also to Adi. She is an incredible woman. What I love about her is that she works so hard to ensure that as much money as possible ends up in Belarus,'' Hewson says.

Hewson's experience at Belarus increased her awareness of the dangers of the nuclear power plants closer to home, the Sellafield and Thorp reactors.

In 2002, she fronted a campaign for Greenpeace in which 1.5 million postcards featuring an anti-Sellafield message were sent from Irish households to the British prime minister, the Prince of Wales and the head of British Nuclear Fuels.

Hewson says that concerns over her children's welfare compelled her to act on Sellafield. "I started to wonder how safe it was for them to play on the beach, or to swim in the sea, or even to eat fish.

"They have promised they will stop processing waste there by 2012.We're hoping that they will stick to that."

Not surprisingly, Hewson is inundated by requests from charities seeking representation from a star with clout.

"There are so many great charities out there, but if you stretch yourself too far, you become ineffectual. You end up helping nobody, and just frustrate everyone.

"When I read about the work various charities are doing, I often think that I could do something to help, but you just have to hope that someone else will run with it," she says. Of course, Hewson is not the only person in her household with charitable and social aims, and she has been credited as having a huge influence on her husband's political outlook.

Bono has devoted a huge amount of time to Jubilee 2000, a campaign that lobbies western governments to cancel the debts of Third-World nations.

As other celebrity marriages fall by the wayside, the remarkable strength of Hewson's marriage is a talking point.

The two met at Mount Temple interdenominational school in north Dublin, and married when they were both 22 years old, with Adam Clayton as best man.

"I'm lucky I have an extraordinary friend that I've been married to for a long time, seems like [since] we were kids," Bono said in a recent interview.

"We have definitely been on the journey together," says Hewson. "But we have been influenced as much by outside factors as we have been by each other. We grew up in an era when images of people starving were on TV screens. That makes a real impression on you at any age.

"Bono and I share a passion for seeing trade replace aid and justice replace charity. Charity is about sticking your arm in a hole in the dam, when really the dam just needs to be rebuilt.

"Charities highlight the areas that governments often ignore - but governments need to do more. We should be trying to improve the quality of life for those in other countries."

Bono's tireless work for debt relief secured him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. What was the reaction to the news was like at home? "It's his third time.

"He's just normally much further down the list," she jokes. "Ah no, we're delighted. It's obviously a great honour."

Given the phenomenal success of U2, you don't need to be a sceptic to wonder how the Hewsons reconcile their huge personal wealth with their social conscience.

"I think many people who live in the west can ask themselves that question," Hewson says. "Two-thirds of the world live with less than a third of the wealth.

"It's not really a question of scale. We are talking about people living on less than $2 a day. Bono and I have always had a conscience about that, and our privilege has been our ability to highlight it.

"Of course there's a difficulty in equating the two, but you have to live your life. If Bono didn't have the financial resources, he wouldn't have been able to do half of what he has done."

Contrary to past media reports, one of which touted her for the presidency of this country, Hewson says she has never been approached to run for any type of political office.

"I was never approached. I'm interested in Irish politics, but I am not interested in working in politics," she says.

"Would that mean Bono would have to give up his day job? I'm not sure I'd get him to walk a few steps behind me.

"I have four kids, and it's very full-on.

"There are a lot of people out there who could do a better job than I could."

And Bono?

"I don't really know. He's a work in progress,'' Hewson says. "When I first met him at school, I never thought we'd be here, so God knows where we'll end up in 10 years' time.

"At the moment, he is looking after the day job. That's what gives him the platform to go and look after his other interests."

Unlike many celebrities, Hewson and Bono have largely kept their private lives well away from the tabloids. Famous for being talented, as opposed to famous for being famous, they don't have to rely on Big Brother to remind the public that they exist.

"I've always maintained that someone has to be able to go and buy the milk. I can do the ordinary stuff, and that has been a real positive for us," says Hewson.

"Celebrity marriages are hard enough, but when both people are in the limelight it can be difficult. I don't know how they do it.

"The press are good to us here. The press aren't always as kind in other countries.

"The children have been able to grow up in a normal way, which is great. If that changed, we'd have to think of some sort of alternative, as it's just not fair."

Hewson is a sincere and warm interviewee. She is happy to discuss her children and family life, but is determined that anything related to them remains off the record.

The long periods of separation from her husband can be difficult, she admits. "It can be really difficult to adjust to him being away. It can be difficult for him to readjust too.

"Bono always says that he feels like a bit of litter around the house, that I just want to tidy him away, when he comes back. But apart from practical adjustments like that, I usually find that we are much closer. You don't take each other for granted, like you do if you see each other every day. There is always something new to talk about."

She and the children are preparing to move to the US for two months while U2 tour America.

"It has become a bit of a military operation," she says. "I do sometimes become confused about who is due where and when. The kids are well-balanced, but if I thought for a minute that the children were suffering, I'd be worried and something would have to give.

"For me, the most important job I have is that of being a mother. That's the role I really don't want to fail at."

The Edun range is due to hit the shelves later this month. It will be stocked at Brown Thomas in Ireland, and at selected department stores around the world.

Hewson, Bono and Edun chief executive Richard Cervera are the main shareholders.

And as the clothing line enters the shops, Bono appears happy to let his wife take centre stage.

"I think she has sacrificed more than I have, so I'm trying to balance that now," he said in a recent interview. "It may be one of the biggest brands in the next few years, so watch out."

Whatever the reaction to of the brand, Hewson's goal is an altruistic one. "I don't want to end my life feeling I've only looked after myself, that everything I did was to protect myself.

But she is not relying on altruism to secure Edun's success. "We want these clothes to sell on their own merit, because they are beautiful and well-made. At the end of the day, people want to look well - but where you spend your money says a lot about you."

The revolution, she says, is all about how you shop.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 6, 2005 9:31 AM.

Sit Back and Relax? Bono's Wife Can't was the previous entry in this blog.

You, Too, Can Dress Like a Rock Star is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID