Ali and Bono risk millions on ethical clothes line

It’s been quite a Fashion Week in New York for Ali Hewson, the co-creator, with her U2 rocker hubby Bono, of the Edun ethical, organic fashion line created to benefit the continent of Africa (though primarily made in China; we’ll get to that in a minute).

Ali and Edun were the toast of New York last weekend, starting on Friday night at an Edun party in the Meatpacking District that attracted the cream of the city’s fashion and social elite, including the mighty Vogue editor Anna Wintour.  Also showing support for Edun were actors Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano, who’ll star in 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark' on Broadway this fall – the show features music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge.

On Saturday at Edun’s runway show, front row notables included Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi, Gwen Stefani’s husband Gavin Rossdale and a cute little scenester in training, 4-year-old Kingston Rossdale.

The top designer for Edun is Irishwoman Sharon Wauchob, and the fashion world was impressed with what she strutted down the runway.

“The clothes exuded an earthy kind of natural feel,” said the Associated Press, while Women’s Wear Daily noted that Edun featured “a lineup of laid-back pieces with a fluid, layered ease.”

"I think it was an opportunity to do something on the ground and to see how business worked on the continent of Africa, and Bono was working in a very macro way, and we wanted to do something on the ground in a micro way," Ali said.

Though Edun’s pants and shirts and dresses were made on the African continent when the brand was founded by Bono and Ali five years ago, that strategy didn’t prove to work from a business or quality point of view, so now, 70% of Edun’s offerings are produced in China.  The Wall Street Journal first reported this fact last week.

"We focused too much on the mission in the beginning. It's the clothes, it's the product. It's a fashion company. That needs to be first and foremost," Hewson said. "The aesthetic we always knew would be important...but we didn't realize how difficult it was going to be to achieve quality."

The Journal reported that Bono and Ali sunk $20 million of their own funds into Edun to keep it going, before the luxury house LVMH (Louis Vuitton, etc.) purchased a 49% stake in the company last year for $7.8 million.  LVMH recruited a new team for Edun, and a new strategy that led to the production shift away from Africa.

Now, 15% of Edun’s product line is produced on the continent, including some of its t-shirts and simple denim jeans.  The remaining 15% comes from Peru, but Ali and Bono say they’re determined to shift the manufacturing focus back to Africa (where all the clothing and jewelry materials are sourced from) when the time is right.

Some of the headlines concerning the move from Africa to China have been less than flattering, but Edun assures that all of its Chinese operations are definitely not of the sweatshop variety.

“Edun requires all our factories to be audited by a third party on an annual basis to ensure they follow our code of conduct,” says the brand’s chief executive Janice Sullivan.