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Etiko : 10 Years of Stirring for Fairtrade

Posted by Nick Savaidis on

One of the frustrating things about running a small business is the limited time you have to reflect.

Every day is largely taken up dealing with phone calls, endless emails, putting together new orders, chasing up orders that should have arrived weeks before, managing cash flow, trying to decide what to put out via social media on that particular day …etc., etc. Who’s got time to reflect?

Heck, even finding the time to sit down and write this blog has been a challenge.

Team Etiko circa 2008 (L-R) Cat, Adam, Dani, Nick.

I know that 10 years of operation for a small business is a milestone (especially since most don’t get past 5 years) so I thought I’d make a concerted effort to put pen to paper.

I was actually going to right this blog last month but unfortunately I was having to deal with interviews from various media outlets wanting to talk to me about a major Australian retailer selling polo shirts for $2.

In one of those reports I was quoted saying that I was “flabbergasted”.

From what I could recall the words I used were a lot more colourful than that! I wasn’t ‘flabbergasted’ because the polo shirts were selling for $2 ….no, I was ‘flabbergasted’ because after all these years of reports regarding worker abuse, of factories collapsing or burning down, of workers being underpaid or denial of their basic labour rights …major retailers were still focussing on selling cheap fashion without taking responsibility for how that cheap fashion makes it to the market place

Cathy Nilbett - First Employee

During the ten years that Etiko has been operating there hasn’t been one year without a report of child/sweatshop or even slave labour in the fashion industry. Sure some years have been worse than others (2013, the year of the Rana Plaza tragedy as well as a few other disasters comes to mind as being a particularly bad one).

Call me naïve …by now I had hoped that things would have changed, hence my ‘flabbergastion’.

Sure, there is certainly a much greater awareness of the issues that we’ve been tackling. The media have helped in that process. But exploitation of those working in the supply chains of most fashion brands still hasn’t gone away. I guess there is no holding back on corporate greed or our own desire for a bargain.

10 years ago hardly anyone had heard of the expression “fair trade” …now it's so widespread it's even a topic in the Australian school curriculum.

I’d like to think that Etiko has some part of that growth in awareness. We were one the very first fairtrade brands in this country (and certainly the first non-food company to gain fairtrade accreditation). Over the years we’ve attended and displayed our gear at numerous sustainability, fair trade and animal rights events Australia wide. My staff and I have given an endless list of talks to schools, universities and at community events. Etiko is even featured in case studies on social enterprise and sustainability in design in secondary school and tertiary textbooks!

Of course we’ve won numerous awards for our work …culminating in receiving the highest score for ethical production in the Australian Fashion Reports 2013-2015. This achievement really helped raised the awareness of fairtrade fashion in this country.

If you are interested in reading about my journey into fairtrade you can read about it in an article which appeared in Peppermint magazine.

Someone looking at our business might think we’ve achieved a lot during the past 10 years but I know we can achieve a lot, lot more.

Entirely self-funded, we’re what you call a bootstrapped business. We’ve always been under resourced and while we have a list of achievements and a wall of awards, we’ve never had the funding to invest in substantially growing the business.

We see this changing in 2016.

At the end of last year we received an Impact Investment Readiness Fund grant from NAB. Our goal now is to find impact investors to help fund Etiko’s next level of growth. We hope to do this by April/May this year (if this is something you or your superannuation fund might be interested in then please send us an email).

Team Etiko circa 2015 (L-R) Lauren, Nick, Clive, Liz, Zoey, Matt.

At the moment, Etiko is seen by many as an "activist" brand, catering to early adopters of ecologically sustainable and social justice products. We’re always pushing boundaries, maximising our social impact and trying to keep our environmental impact to a minimum.

For the sake of our fairtrade producer partners, the people who work within our supply chains…and for the sake of our own sanity we really need to scale up our business we now want to significantly scale up …we need to take Etiko into the mainstream …both locally and internationally

We want Fairtrade fashion and sporting goods to become mainstream, not just in Australia but worldwide. Looking forward to the next 10 years. Hope you can continue to join us on our journey.