Nic Ricketts, of sustainable fashion start-up Multemyr, says that even when your goal is to overturn business as usual, you still have to take things one step at a time.
Helena Farstad – my CEO – says, ‘I want to change the way the fashion business operates and create a sustainable and ethical industry.’ I say, ‘Hang on a minute, we’re nothing but a barnacle on this whale. We have to earn respect before we can get a place at the table.’
Helena says, ‘But look what’s happening out there, it’s a crime on a global scale.’ And I say, ‘Hold up, we can’t boil the ocean.’
‘But what about the factory workers, the pollution, the child labour, the climate costs?’ she asks. And I say, ‘one step at a time.’
As an old advertising man at heart, never have I felt more constrained and conservative in my advice, but I know it’s the only way we can make the changes she wants to see. We have to earn our right-to-play.
The market is getting better informed – daily – about sustainable fashion. Every other morning I find an article online or in the press that not just informs my job, but gives me a leverage point to make our brand stronger.
Getting the big guns in fashion engaged is our aim. We call it the ‘Multemyr effect’. But, we know we have to be successful before they will listen and that is our driving ambition.
Job one was to create a womenswear brand that would make all the right decisions on sustainability, source its materials ethically, pay its seamstresses fairly and engage a supply chain that reflects those objectives too. This we have achieved.
Next job? To design a collection that women actually want to wear, that is exclusively different, high quality and fashionable. This we have also done.
The third job was to make a profit, and after one year of trading our projections tell us that this will become a reality in mid-2015.
That’s the time we’ll be able to say: that against all odds we’ve done it, we’ve created a label from scratch, that’s profitable and truly sustainable. That’s when we can get on the radar of the big chains and say: if we can do it then so can you. That’s when the Multemyr effect will have the right-to-play in those brands’ boardrooms
Starting from a low base, and with a marketing budget on the bikini scale, makes you think how you can do more with less. This pretty much encapsulates our raison d’etre, and it’s something we try to communicate without spooking our customers.
We know they’re interested in sustainability but that’s not how we sell the brand. There are plenty of places out there where you can buy a branded organic cotton T-shirt that will shout your support for that cause. Our customers want the clothes to speak for themselves. They’re mostly professional working women who don’t want to be seen as cranky but at the same time want to do their bit. We call it ‘the quiet revolution’. Buyers of our clothes love the fact that they’re armoured up for their workplace, but also that the label is discreet about its sustainable credentials.
Look for our values though and they’re all there just below the surface. Natural fabrics and low-impact dyes, local and fairly paid seamstresses, low carbon footprint transportation all combine to produce garments that are as ethically made as we can make them. This is sustainability you can wear, not something you want to shout about.
And that’s really the point I make at every board meeting. If we can get just one garment on every rail to be produced the Multemyr way, then we will surely have achieved our goal and proven our concept. It will be up to the consumer’s appetite to ask for more.
And Helena says, ‘I want change now.’ And I say, ‘We’re getting there, we just need to be patient.’
Nic Ricketts is a marketing consultant specialising in ethical brands. He is Marketing Director of Multemyr, the sustainable womenswear label, and Chief Marketing Officer at ZymPay, the world’s first ethical money transfer business.