Inspirational Woman Of The Day: Ali Hewson


The woman behind Edun, the African fair trade fashion label, talks business, Bono and the Irish presidency

You’ve just launched the new capsule collection from your clothes label Edun, this time in collaboration with Diesel, at Paris fashion week. How did it go?

We held a great party, with various young artists and musicians from Africa, and Solange Knowles agreed to play a few numbers. It’s a small collection, so we had an event rather than a show. For this collection we’ve brought together a range of young African creative talents – designers, photographers, musicians – from across the continent, under the heading Studio Africa. I really feel that what Africa is going to do creatively in the next 20 years is going to blow our minds. We just wanted to harness some of that energy.

Edun was founded by Bono and yourself in 2005 as a for-profit fashion brand to promote fair trade in Africa. Has it been a steep learning curve?

It has. The fashion business is tough. The calendar is relentless. We have a mission, as you say, but our priority as a fashion label is to deliver the most beautiful clothes we can on time. Until now it’s been hard to reach the volume we want, but with Diesel on board, we can expand.

How big do you want Edun to grow?

Well, for example, we currently have 8,500 farmers in northern Uganda supplying our cotton, and we’re aiming to have 10,000 next season. Our mission is to drive trade, but we have got to walk before we run. So far we are in Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Uganda and Madagascar. And there’s talk of a new factory in Ethiopia. I’d love to go to Senegal and Mali, but it has to make business sense. We’re pioneers and we want to show that this model works, that it can become self-sustaining, but we want to do it in a clever way. Hence the collaborations, the limited-edition pieces. It has been tough, and I think it’s fair to say that we were a little naive about the challenges at the start. We’re not making money yet, but we’ve survived a recession. We’re still in the game and growing. It’s a long-term commitment.

Bono is so associated with Africa as a cause, and he also happens to be your husband. Does that ever make for a tricky working relationship?

No, not at all. As you may have noticed, Bono tends to work on the macro level. One of the reasons we originally wanted to do Edun was to see how all these big policies worked on the ground. So, really, we feed off each other. He’s like a sounding board for us. It’s amazing to have his input and his influence, and he’s great at staying out of the day-to-day stuff. Plus, he has so much else going on. But, no, we don’t fight about anything to do with the running of Edun – we’re on the same page on that one at least!

What’s life like when he and U2 gear up for an album and a tour, as they’re doing now?

Well, in a way I think life actually gets easier for him when he’s just working with U2. He can completely focus on the music, which he does 100%. He gets to immerse himself in a day job that he loves. He gets to hang out with the lads. It’s all good.

And they’re in the studio now?

They’re well down the road on the new album and it sounds good. That’s all I’m saying.

You studied politics at university, didn’t you?

Yes, I got that from my dad.

Jordan, your oldest daughter, seems to be following in your footsteps.

Yes, she graduated from Columbia University with a degree in politics and French, and she’s working with a poverty action group at the moment.

Your second daughter, Eve, is an actress. [She starred in Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place in 2011 alongside Sean Penn and Frances McDormand.] How do you feel about her career choice?

Oh, I just reckoned that by the law of averages we’d have to lose one to the entertainment industry. I suppose, if I was honest, it’s not where you want your kids to go, because it’s such a precarious place. And it can be kind of lonely too. So you worry about them. But I’m sure if you’d asked Bono’s parents what they thought about his career choice back in the day, they would have said the same thing. But she has a certain charisma and she is passionate. And, you know, I’ve seen that before.

Can I clear up a lingering rumour? Is it true that you were approached in 2008 to stand for the Irish presidency?

No! That was one of those press stories in Ireland that came out of nowhere. It must have been a really slow day for news. I mean, I’d have to learn Irish. [Laughs] And Bono would have to walk behind me.

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