Founded in Japan in 1991, People Tree has grown to become a leader in sustainable fashion, with fair trade producers, garment workers and farmers at the heart of the stylish brand. Here, People Tree’s managing director, Melanie Traub, discusses ethical production, sustainability and the label’s revolutionary traceable T-shirt.
What is the inspiration behind People Tree?
Safia Minney started the business in Japan, 26 years ago, in response to the fast fashion culture. The idea behind the business is to support the producers in being paid a living wage and working in good conditions with organic and ethically sourced raw materials to produce beautiful garments.
At People Tree we will continue to lead the way in ethical and sustainable sourcing, while designing beautiful fashionable clothes
What is the significance of the traceable T-shirt?
People Tree goes to a lot of trouble to make sure that every process in the production of a T-shirt is done to the highest standards and can be traced from farmer to finished goods. Unlike many other retailers, our supply chain is fully certified through Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). People Tree was the world’s first clothing company to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation. We wanted to share this with our customers.
What challenges have you faced in pursuing ethical production?
Many of our producers are small and in economically challenged areas of the Third World, and therefore do not have access to modern technology, so we still work with hand skills and paper patterns. We have had to find alternatives to man-made fabrics, that give a fashionable look without harming the planet.
In maintaining your ethical and sustainable standards, does function have to supersede form?
Not at all, we just have to work harder to achieve the best of both.
Many of your collections are made using traditional handcraft methods. What do you feel this brings to the collection?
Our collection is truly unique and offers products and looks that are different because we are able to create products by hand. For example, our knitwear has a handmade look but with a great feel and excellent quality. This look could not be fully replicated in a factory.
How involved are you in the process of sourcing your ethical and sustainable fabrics?
As our cotton is certified by GOTS, we as a company require full traceability, so we know where the raw cotton was grown and by which farmer, which mill weaves it, what dyes are used – all the way to the finished fabric.
What steps do you feel the fashion industry could take to become more ethical?
Anything that improves the responsibility of the fashion business to follow ethical practices must be a good thing.
How can fashion consumers become more ethical?
Consumers need to ask more questions about where their garments are made. If the clothes are very cheap, consumers need to question if the producer was properly paid, and if the pieces are made from man-made materials, you need to consider what the impact on the environment was. A better-informed consumer will become more ethically aware.
What kind of work does the People Tree’s charitable foundation do?
One of the most recent examples is the support given to Bombolulu, our jewellery producer based in Kenya. In 2017 there were, once again, terrible floods there, which caused damage to the workrooms. All the computers were lost as they were on the floor when the floods hit, and the foundation paid for the computers to be replaced.
What’s next for People Tree?
At People Tree we will continue to lead the way in ethical and sustainable sourcing while designing beautiful, fashionable clothes. It’s at the core of our brand and is what we love to do and offer our customers.