Rogan Gregory might not be the household name you associate with rock stars, but when Bono from U2 and his wife, Ali Hewson were planning on setting up their socially conscious and now-famous Edun clothing line, Gregory was the man they went after.
Tall, bearded and passionate about denim, the New York-based designer could easily pass off as a rock musician himself. However in the fashion world, Gregory is not only known for his avant-garde Rogan collection, but also for the waves he made with Loomstate, his edgy brand of t-shirts and jeans made entirely from organic cotton. It’s this championing of eco-ethical production that got Rogan a coveted place in Wallpaper’s EcoEdit.
‘Bono and Ali caught wind of what we’d been doing at Loomstate and wanted to do some kind of collaboration,’ Gregory recalls, adding that he had never met either of them before. ‘My partner Scott called me one day and asks, can you meet with Bono tomorrow? I’m like, Bono who? Next day he shows up to our studio and we really hit it off.’
Edun was launched in 2005 after two years of solid planning with a commendable agenda: to bring trade instead of aid to the developing world. Focusing in particular on Africa, the team personally inspected and approved factories all over that could operate soundly. To put the idea of producing garments out of Africa in perspective, Gregory put it clearly, ‘They’re not known for their technology in Africa. They have a lot of cotton, they have silk and wool but they’re more of a raw material resource rather than a finished product resource. We’re building capabilities there, trying to source people who already have some experience and elevating what they have.’
While Edun has production sites in Tunisia, Peru and India which have established facilities to consistently meet its demands, its commitment to Africa is certainly not a fleeting one. ‘I could go to China tomorrow and have some samples in a month which are all perfect. That’s the reality, but we haven’t chosen that path, we’ve chosen a much more complicated sourcing base.’ His tone is realistic, yet optimistic: ‘We are pushing though, wherever we go, to create sustainability. To be loyal to the factories we’re in and to help them to get to a point where they’re benefiting as we are.’
Tackling the problems of Africa is no mean feat though, and Gregory modestly states that after two years, things are still very much an uphill climb. ‘There’s a lot of bureaucracy in Africa and it’s not easy making a collection that’s organic or making it in Africa. There’re a lot of variables that we threw in there in the beginning so it’s not easy, but there’s definitely progress being made. We’re making a larger percentage in Africa than we were before and have sourced many factories that actually have amazing capabilities.’
‘It’s a lot more of the basics and simple stuff that we’re making there at the moment. Not to say that you can’t do more there,’ he adds firmly, ‘But you’re not going to get the best quality. If you’re going to be in a fancy department store next to some fancy brands that are made in Italy, then quality has to be good; the materials and the craftsmanship.’
And fancy it is. Stocked in the crème de la crème of department stores around the world, Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford and Barneys included, Edun possesses a tongue in cheek humour and the refined design aesthetics of a proper fashion collection, in spite of its politics. The sculpted vented blazers, gauzy dresses and slouchy cardigans that litter the line exude that indescribable nonchalant cool that any of us would want to add to our wardrobe. Gregory emphasises, ‘We’ve created a real fashion line. It’s not a just jeans and t-shirts thing. We don’t want to be prohibited and want to be able to design whatever we want and that’s why we just can’t make all that we want in Africa.’ And when we examined the jersey dresses trimmed with lace and ribbon for women and alpaca wool sweaters with thumbholes on sleeves and zipper details for men from its sophisticated Autumn 2007 collection, even we were impressed that they showed no trace of being made under extremely unique circumstances.
‘Bono and Ali hate when I say that they are my muses to the brand, they don’t like to think of themselves as fashionable people. They give me the autonomy to do what I like,’ Gregory says, enthusing that the couple are both informed about the apparel industry and opinionated enough to do what’s right. ‘Bono is really socially conscious and aware of the plight of people on this planet, but he is also realist. He understands sustainability and that there’s a way to make things work. You have to understand how things work to get it down.’
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