A moment with…ethical muse
ethical muse is one of the newest brands to hit Dubai promoting conscious consumerism and ethical awareness in a fashionable way. From the New Year it will be stocked in The One concept store in Dubai. We had the pleasure of “A moment with…” Christina Decker from ethical muse.
What was your inspiration for ethical muse?
Our inspiration for ethical muse evolved in late Spring 2011 from a conversation we had regarding Cathy’s existing philanthropic work in Ethiopia and Uganda and how we could tie that into our mutual interest for fashion and style. We both aspired to bring something more to the style-focused world, but when considering sourcing and designing products from emerging areas of the world, we wanted to offer more than just another “sympathy product”. With our similar goals of making a difference, we decided to create a social venture that would combine promoting conscious consumerism, supporting skill provision and encouraging sustainability of people in emerging countries. At the same time we also wanted to create a two-way “pay if forward”. To be able to give back in a way that would improve humanitarian efforts–basic things we take for granted such as sanitation, clean water, education and nutritious meals.
Ethical fashion is considered a contradiction by some, how important do you feel it is for someone to be responsible in their purchasing decisions whether it is in fashion or general consumerism?
Ethical fashion has so many facets. An ethical ethos in fashion is something that we are aspiring to foster and bring to the mainstream and high-end consumer. To us, it is more about the way in which the artisans are treated and supported (basic human rights) and how we source our materials. We believe the trend is more and more becoming one of socially responsible consumer choices. That means being informed and knowing who is making the product and consciously choosing to support them with your purchase. With ethical muse, the added bonus is a product with a high aesthetic appeal, one that the customer actually wants to buy and show off, and also the give-back on the other end to global social causes. Our goal is to be on the ground in the countries we source from a few times a year, making sure that what we are selling meets our standards of sustainability for the artisan and also to making sure the money we are donating from profits to various social causes is being channeled and utilized to meet our expectations and goals.
A city full of Ferrari’s and Fendi, do you think Dubai is a city ready to embrace conscious consumerism?
It is true that Dubai is very label conscious. And, it is a market full of consumers that want to purchase the hot new item that everyone they know as bought. In Western cultures there is more of a trend to covet unique items that will set you apart from everyone else and showcase your individuality. Since we aspire to become a global brand, our products and our “shop for good” mantra will be instantly well received in some countries, while in others it will prove more of a challenge initially since we not only have to educate those consumers on being responsible shoppers, but also convince them that having a unique product that gives back and supports the artisan that made it is actually more desirable and can hold just as much cache. It will be a process, but we feel Dubai is ready to embrace our way of thinking. We are thrilled to announce that our scarves, iPad sleeves and the Koko clutch will be available at THE One stores after the first of the year so we will be more easily able to reach Dubai consumers.
Kim Kardashian’s visit to the United Arab Emirates got enormous global press. From all the celebrities and personalities that were visiting the UAE during 2011, what made Kim Kardashian be the chosen celebrity to present the beautiful KoKo clutch to?
Kim Kardashian’s visit happened to coincide with the arrival of our first shipment of bags. We had the opportunity to meet her through connections at the hotel she was staying at. Since we knew how much she loves handbags we brought one along for her and her mother as gifts to welcome them to Dubai. It wasn’t a calculated choice for her to be among the first to receive a bag, it was just our excitement to share our first bags with someone who appreciates great statement pieces, and hoping that the story of our bag could influence how she views products coming out of a country like Ethiopia.
Given that ethical muse has some wonderful fashionable products amongst it’s range, what are your ethical fashion do’s and don’ts?
When it comes to ethical fashion do’s and don’ts, Cathy and I are evolving just like our consumers. It’s a matter of becoming conscious of what you are buying. We all have a choice in how we spend our money. The last thing we want to do is judge anyone for their choices. Instead, we ask that they simply become conscious and open to the idea that emerging countries have much to offer in terms of quality, handmade stylish products. Choosing to spend money on those products can show your commitment to supporting the artisans in forgotten areas of the world. Our biggest Dois to simply become aware of how the artisans that give life to the products you are purchasing are treated. When given the option, choose products that contribute directly to the sustainability of an artisan. Our top Don’t would be to not sacrifice quality for price. With the global shake-up, consumers today are very price focused, however they need to keep in mind how a retailer or fashion label is able to offer such a low price. Chances are they are compromising on the quality of the material they are using, or in how the workers that are making the products are provided for. The reason ethical fashion can be higher priced is not only due to the give back factor inherent in many of the products, but also because of the time and labor that goes into a handmade product or material. Our advice would be to buy better and buy less. Instead of purchasing a number of inexpensive items, choose one higher quality item that you not only love on the outside, but also makes you feel good on the inside because of what your purchase has helped contribute to.
What are your favourite ethical brands?
There are more and more ethical fashion labels coming on the market every day which is fantastic. Cathy and I are both fans of Lauren Bush Lauren’s FEED bags because of how she has been able to draw attention to the issue of world hunger with such a simple concept. Edun is another brand that has been around for a while but is just now starting to make more of an impact. While our business model is different from theirs, we admire how the label offers style along with substance and quality while supporting sustainability in Africa and striving to make a conscious consumer out of the higher end customer.
ethical muse supports some great projects, how do you choose who will benefit from the efforts of ethical muse?
Our list for social causes we want to support is long. Since we are a for profit business, we realized early on that we would have to earn cash flow before we could give back as much, and to as many causes as we aspired to. The more we make, the more we can give back to the causes that are closest to both of our hearts. With the exception of the Koko clutch (with a portion of the profits going to highlight World AIDS day and support Global Fund), our other initial launch product’s profits will go to support the Masooli Community School Project. This is a 5-year project that Cathy has been intimately involved with for the last 2 years. You can read more about it on our website, but initially each scarf and iPad sleeve sold will go to providing 20 nutritious school meals for the children at the school. As we grow as a company and earn more, that amount will be able to increase substantially. Initially, we have chosen to tackle the issue of proper nutrition in under-developed schools. It is proven that children not only learn easier when they have a meal in their stomach, but it will also encourage them to attend school if they know that may be the only meal they will be provided that day. The longer we can keep them coming to school the better the chance they will break the cycle and be able to provide for themselves, and one day sustain families of their own.
And finally,what are the goals of ethical muse?
Our list of goals is also extensive. We would like ethical muse to be recognized as a global leader, as a sustainable social enterprise and a respected style brand known for changing the way customers view products coming out of third world countries. We want to be able to channel the give back portion of our profits so that our customers can clearly see the tangible difference that they are making in the lives of others by not only knowing they are supporting the artisan when purchasing the product, but by seeing a trackable measure of where their money is going. We aspire to increase the amount we are able to donate back to our select social causes over the course of the next 18 months, and to align ourselves with other like-minded entities in an effort to form global partnerships.