21st July 2017
Fashion is big business, and with such big business comes a litany of environmental, social and ethical issues. The industry itself is often seen as being cut throat, with profit margins so tight, that sweatshop labour may be employed when it comes to the production of clothes. There are sceptics out there who claim that changing the behaviour of fashion companies is not possible because doing so isn’t profitable, but this argument is a lot less compelling than it once was.
Indeed, a 2016 report by Ashoka and the C&A Foundation found that financial uncertainty is a key factor in why the fashion industry is not edging towards being a more values-driven business. Many companies simply believe that pouring cash into the research and creation of sustainable clothing alternatives is too costly and risky. What’s more, there are some who believe that there is no guarantee that the demand for “ethical goods” will continue to grow. Frankly, it seems that many fashion companies would rather not take the risk.
All in all, it makes for some depressing reading, however all is not without hope. There are several social enterprise clothing companies operating with the aim of creating wonderful, sustainable clothing and accessories, whilst also changing the lives of people and the world.
Hamilton Perkins Collection is one such brand. Based in Norfolk, Virginia, the company has gone from strength to strength in the American marketplace. Hamilton, the company’s CEO and namesake, created the business out of a simple necessity: the need for affordable designer bags that look great and make a difference to the world. To that end he and his team figured out how best to create sustainable fashion with excellent looks that is created by people in fair working conditions. The result was a line of bags made in collaboration with a fabric company called Thread, and together both companies are committed to sourcing the raw materials that make up HPC’s line of products.
Its bags and shirts are made from recycled plastic bottles, and the lining of the bags are made using recycled billboard vinyl that was destined for landfill. The results not only save water but also help the environment too. What’s more, the company is a registered B Corp, meaning it must measure and track its social impact and submit to third party review in order to ensure accuracy and accountability. Coming under such scrutiny means that its products must be top class, that its employees working conditions must be good, and all workers are paid a fair wage.
Hamilton and I had a lovely chat over Skype to discuss the genesis HPC, the difference between social enterprise in Britain and America, the company’s status as a B Corp, the importance of social enterprise and so much more.
I hope you enjoy our conversation.