New York – Bono is now another type of frontman: U2’s lead singer – and most recognizable face – is charged with raising awareness and interest in the new fashion brand Edun.
The casual collection of jeans, T-shirts, chiffon dresses and shrunken blazers is Bono’s brainchild. He’s out there promoting it (most recently at a launch party at Manhattan’s flagship Saks Fifth Avenue) and he’s wearing it, showing off his Edun jeans paired with his signature wraparound sunglasses.
“I’m here to try to get the sound on the radio, if you know what I mean,” Bono says.
He joins scores of musicians with their own fashion labels, but, this being Bono, who is believed to be among the list of nominees for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his social activism, there is a mission larger than selling slim-cut denim pants with metallic stitching. The ultimate goal is to build a brand that produces desirable and wearable clothing while providing sustainable employment and stable commercial relationships in developing areas of the world.
Bono helps choose where the clothes will be made to make the most of local resources and talents in developing areas of the world while maintaining high standards for labor practices.
The one thing he’s not allowed to do – as per his wife and Edun partner Ali Hewson – is to make any style suggestions. “The only demand Ali made on me was that I didn’t get involved in the fashion!” he says with a laugh.
Instead the design duties are left up to Hewson and Rogan, who is already an established designer with his own line that emphasizes organic fabrics and ethical guidelines.
But although she’s stylishly dressed on this day in a black satin blouse, black boot-cut pants and studded platform sandals, Hewson says she’s really a fashion novice.
“God, I hope you don’t see a photo of me dropping the kids off at school! From a style point of view, I’m just discovering fashion. I was a tomboy as a kid,” Hewson says.
Since fashion isn’t their thing, Hewson explains that she and Bono decided to get into the apparel business as the result of Bono’s many trips to Africa. The Irish singer is an activist on debt relief and AIDS.
“Bono’s biggest impression of the Africans is that they don’t want charity, they want trade,” Hewson says. “They have pride, they’re very dignified people. They want to work. This company (Edun) is a business model that other people can follow.”
People in developing countries would benefit more, both financially and emotionally, by becoming part of the global economy, says Bono, instead of being written off with big aid checks.
Hewson also notes that consumers in the United States and Europe are becoming much more interested in where their clothes are coming from and under what conditions they were made. “I know I was starting to wonder, ‘Did other people’s children made the clothes for my children?'”
Inscribed in each pair of jeans is the statement “We carry the story of the people who make our clothes around with us.”
“This is the fashion equivalent of mothers looking at the back of a can to see what exactly she’s going to feed to her kids…. We’re answering a demand that’s just stirring,” adds Bono.
Rogan, whose full name is Rogan Gregory, also felt the pulse of this emerging “conscious consumerism.” He teamed up with Bono and Hewson after an introduction by U2’s stylist Sharon Blakenston.
“There’s been no shortage of ideas,” says Rogan, “which is almost a detriment. We can’t sell all those ideas, we have to just pick what we think will be the best ones and will make a long-lasting business.”
Unlike a traditional fashion house that starts with a designer’s sketch, Rogan says that Edun’s garments are designed after the capabilities of the factories in Lima, Peru, and Monastir, Tunisia, have been assessed. For the fall collection, production will extend to Lesotho, South Africa, and Tanzania in East Africa.
In Peru, for instance, Bono was impressed with the Inca tradition of using vegetable-based dyes to add color to their clothing. “The used natural dyes with names like gardenia and blue corn. Those colors were made with no chemicals and they happen to be the most striking colors,” he says.
But Bono, Hewson and Rogan all say they know the success of Edun is dependent on it being taken seriously as a serious fashion brand, which is why 10 percent of the materials and manufacturing is being done by true craftsmen in places such as Italy and France.
Edun also has teamed with retailer Saks to give it nationwide and online distribution and fashion credibility.
The name Edun, a play on the Garden of Eden and “nude” (Edun is nude spelled backward), is intended to imply innocence, sensuality and a return to nature, Rogan explains. The company’s logo and the graphics on some of the spring garments are inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, which was in many ways a response to the industrial revolution.
Each pair of jeans features a poem. “I think you should always have a poem in your pocket,” says Bono, pointing to his by German writer Rainer Maria Rilke.