– Posted by Sara
In my previous life as a banker, I spent my final year on the Goldman Sachs GS SUSTAIN team. GS SUSTAIN is a framework for identifying companies that are long-term leaders in their industry based on positioning, return on capital, and their environmental, social and governance performance. The GS SUSTAIN index has outperformed its global benchmark by 40% since its launch in 2007. My time working with this product ingrained in me the extent to which doing ‘good’ business makes the best business sense in a myriad of ways.
We have chosen to operate in the fashion industry, which is most polluting industry in the world after oil. It is our responsibility to ensure that not only do we minimise our impact on the planet, but that we become a force for good. We are a small business and we are not perfect, but we are committed to questioning ourselves and our suppliers, to find better ways to source and manufacture as we grow. Our objective is always to simplify our production as much as possible, concentrating our suppliers and eliminating as many moving parts as is practical.
(Sara Madderson visiting the Malhia Kent atelier in Paris)
Perhaps the most impactful decision a fashion brand or fashion consumer can make is to choose longevity over disposable fashion. Investment dressing has always been the way that I shop. Consequently, Madderson’s clothes are intended to stand the test of time by our choosing high quality materials and factories, and by designing with a timeless perspective.
At our price-point, we are fortunate that British manufacturing is not only a viable but a highly attractive option for us. In Autumn/Winter 2016, 90% of our production was carried out in the UK with the remaining 10% located in Portugal. Reducing the distance travelled by fabrics and finished goods between mills, factories and our warehouse not only makes environmental sense but it significantly reduces costs, opacity, lead-times and the potential for delays, losses and unforeseen problems.
We work with four independent factories, three in the UK and one in Portugal. All three UK factories are family owned and run. They are small teams of people who have worked together, in many cases, for decades. The owners of these factories see their workers as family members and feel a deep responsibility for their employees’ welfare. Each factory has its own area of speciality. Our Portuguese facility is a small, flexible atelier of highly skilled seamstresses who focus on our light wovens (mainly cottons and silks). Our production manager, Josephine, is in the London-based factories several times a week, overseeing and quality-controlling all output.
(Madderson appliqué being crafted by British artisans in Nottingham)
We source all our fabric from British and European mills. We gravitate towards well-established, family-owned suppliers such as Hainsworth, a British woollen mill founded in the 18th century, Vanners, a British jacquard weaver founded in the 17th century, and SS Pavese, an Italian button-maker established in 1956.
(Hainsworth mill in Farsley, Yorkshire has been producing woollen textiles since 1783)
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE
We hate leftovers. We estimate our fabric usage as accurately as possible and don’t buy excess unless it’s a fabric we use consistently. We hassle our suppliers to reduce their minimums. We re-use as much of our fabric as possible. We up-cycle beautiful archive fabrics by re-launching previous styles or dreaming up new styles in subsequent seasons. Remnants are also used to create toiles when we are developing new styles. All samples for which we have photography are sold online via our Sample Sale pages. Ditto for all unsold stock from previous seasons, which are sold on our Outlet pages. Samples that cannot be sold are donated to charities such as Mary’s Living & Giving shops (which support Save the Children). Nothing is binned.
(A selection of trims for future Madderson collections)
Our focus is also on ensuring that Madderson becomes a conduit for giving back to our communities. To this end, we have launched the first step in what we hope to be a long journey of giving, through our Books for Schools initiative. You can read about it here.
Our small, tightly-knit team is a group of kindred spirits (currently all women) whose passion and loyalty blows us away. Our team is free to choose their own working hours wherever possible, meaning that they can burn the midnight oil if they so desire, or take a long weekend to catch up with family. With Helen living in Hong Kong, and the rest of the team working virtually, we have mastered the art of flexi-working. It’s a world away from the corporate cultures that Helen and I are used to, and we couldn’t imagine going back. The team works together as a group of equals, with each individual critically involved in dreaming up new ideas and making them a reality.
(From left: Josephine Soughan, production manager, Hayley McMullan, customer services manager, Helen Hughes, co-founder, Caroline Taylor, print and graphic designer, Sara Madderson, founder and creative director)
The above is the tip of the iceberg. Our next steps are:
- To start working much more intensively with our suppliers to understand their processes and ensure that these processes are as anti-pollutant as possible.
- To source new suppliers at the forefront of environmentally sound manufacturing fabric development.
- To increase our transparency towards our customers, communicating the sustainability, limitations or question-marks of every component in every garment. We are working towards publishing this detail on the product pages of our website by the end of 2017.