Retail in Asia

In People

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Etiko, a leading ethical fashion brand from Australia

Nick with Gillian Triggs. Australian Human Rights Awards (2016) (1)

Retail in Asia is partnering with WBR Asia Insights in opening up a week of high-level content sessions at eTail Asia & Australia Virtual Event (September 7-11, 10am SGT) to all retailers and brands.

Sign up for free to get access to fireside chats and panels discussing the impact of COVID-19 on retail, changing customer shopping behavior, and how to prepare for the “new normal.”

Being Australia a retail market that has gained a lot of traction in the past years, and a country of origin of several brands, and in particular digital native brands, sustainable brands, active wear brands, Retail in Asia has started monitoring its evolution and used eTail Asia & Australia as a chance to interact with players in the market.

Among the speakers that will be joining the panels, Retail in Asia had the opportunity to interview Nick Savaidis from Etiko, an Australian ethical brand.

SEE ALSO : Adidas reported positive revenue growth in Greater China

RiA: What is the story behind your brand?

Nick: Etiko was created from the distinct desire to do good. From a young age, I learned that fashion comes with rife with injustice. I had watched my mother sewing garments for Melbourne fashion houses in our home and underpaid.

Later, I started reading reports about child labour and I wanted to buy clothing and shoes that did not support such injustice. I wanted ethically made items, and I could not find them.

Realising there was an opportunity in the market for a genuinely ethical streetwear and footwear brand, I created Etiko (the brand name is from the Greek word for “ethical”).

Etiko was the first ethically focused fashion brand in Australia and the first Fairtrade certified clothing label in the southern hemisphere.

RiA: In which way is your brand ethical?

Nick: We notice a lot of fashion brands are now making ‘ethical’ claims. For us it is not enough to focus on preventing child labour or new slavery. That should be a given.

For us its also making sure that workers and farmers receive fair compensation for their labour or products. Our Fairtrade certification means that the farmers from whom we source 100% of our cotton get paid a fair price. It also means that the workers in our supply chain receive a living wage, not a minimum wage, for their labour.

In a country like Bangladesh, the difference can be nearly 200%. The staff also receives a Fairtrade premium, on top of their wages. As a community, they decide how best to spend that premium. In the past, the premium was used to establish a childcare centre and a food co-op.

Additionally, our Fairtrade employees also have access to medical insurance, which can save and improve the lives for them and their families.

Source: Etiko

RiA: While talking about sustainable and ethical brands, people often get confused, is it possible to draw a line and explain the difference?

Nick: It is possible to have a vegan brand that does not use certified organic textiles. It is possible to have a brand that uses certified organic textiles that do not pay their garment workers a living wage.

It is possible to have a brand that pays their workers a living wage but does not create vegan products or use organic textiles.

Finding a brand that is both environmentally responsible (sustainable) and socially accountable (ethical) is much harder.

At Etiko, we believe every product should be created with minimal environmental impact and maximum social justice, and the final impact of the product after its lifecycle should also be considered.

It is simply not good enough to do one without the other. Our planet and the people who inhabit it deserve better.

RiA: How would define your commitment to consumers?

Nick: Our goal has always been to help our customers shop their values. We attract like-minded customers who expect a product to be ethical in all senses of the word, and we look out for each other.

Our mutual interests have helped us fund the work of numerous animal rights groups through our Thongs for Good program, where we donate a percentage of our profits from the sale of our rubber thongs.

Together we have also launched our take-back footwear recycling program. This scheme allows customers to return their old footwear for recycling into outdoor furniture and matting. This level of accountability is important to us, and our customers.

RiA: Who is your customer profile?

Nick: Our customers are predominately 20-30 year-old females. However, because our clothing and footwear styles are everyday streetwear, and our customers are ethically motivated, this means our clientele is very diverse.

We have many grandparents who shop with us for themselves, their children or grandchildren. Our customers come from all over the world. We have wholesale customers in Iceland and Mauritius, for example, and about 30% of our web traffic is derived from North America.

Etiko Fairtrade
Source: Etiko

RiA: How do you use digital to convey your message?

Nick: Etiko brand has never had significant marketing or PR budgets. Building our brand has been a slow process of seeking out like-mind folk and building a relationship with them based on mutual trust and respect. Because of this, the digital world has been hugely important.

To provide more than just products, we also write blogs about topics that are important to us and contribute to charities that we know will resonate with our customers. By showing more of who we are and what we believe in on a digital platform, our message has built a mini-community of conscious consumers.

Every month our newsletter travels into the homes of more than 20,000 people and our social media has a following of over 50,000.

Etiko wear no evil
Source: Etiko

RiA: What are the challenges?

Nick: Initially, our main obstacle was educating the public about the environmental impact of fashion and the exploitation of workers. We needed to educate them so they could understand why our products were important and worth purchasing. We also had problems getting our products stocked in shops because owners did not think their customers would care about ethics, or it might raise questions about the other brands they sold.

Over time, the need to educate the public has become easier in some ways, because more people understand the underbelly of the fashion industry. Documentaries like

The True Cost, or ABC’s War on Waste, as well as the real-life Rana Plaza tragedy, have helped expose the industry. However, it has also contributed to a mirky marketplace. Wanting to capitalise on customer’s growing desire for ethical consumption, many other brands have adopted greenwashing strategies and language that confuse buyers. We have to fight against that.

RiA: What do you expect to learn at eTail Asia & Australia?

Nick: Our greatest success comes from the online space, and because brick-and-mortar retail is having its own challenges, we want to know how we can take our brand more into the mainstream using the digital marketplace.

I am particularly interested in seeing what the potential for the brand is in Asia, and how we can service it.

RiA: What will be your contribution to the event?

Nick: I want to focus on circular economy in fashion and what it means to our community.

Last year, Etiko started taking back our footwear for recycling, and this year, we will begin taking back our clothing. Within Australia, our clothing will be recycled, and any items that cannot be recycled will be transformed into new thread.

I also want to highlight the need for circularity beyond the end game. We need to consider the start and the end of the products. How is the environment impacted at the products place of origin, and how are workers and farmers affected socially?

SEE ALSO : Adidas reported positive revenue growth in Greater China

Ultimately, I believe the future of fashion… and all business, needs to be ‘regenerative’. It cannot just be sustainable or ethical or even circular. It needs to go beyond all of those things. We need to start giving back to our planet. We only have one. We need to look after it.

Find out more about the event,  click here