FC Meets Tamsin Lejeune, CEO of The Ethical Fashion Forum & Mysource
Paul Markevicius discusses sustainability across sourcing and production parameters with Tamsin Lejeune along with her new B2B online platform Mysource…
Welcome to Mysource, a B2B connectivity platform for the global fashion industry with a forward thinking agenda. Tamsin Lejeune, the architect behind Mysource and founder of The Ethical Fashion Forum is a pragmatist with clear-sighted goals. Her modest ambition? To change the world of fashion. Nothing wrong with thinking big. Big brands can engage more seriously and the shifts in attitude and behavior are more systemic rather than epoch-yawningly incremental.
With this premise in mind, Tamsin Lejeune, and her A-list cohorts and a highly experienced tag-team, will likely change the world of fashion as we know it, Jim. As the tag line says, Mysource encourages us to ‘Do Fashion Better.’ It has game-changer written all over it. And about to get a scaling fillip from some prescient crowd funding on October 26th.
Placing yourself in the middle of the fashion world as the go-to reference platform is a bold move. Ultimately, whether there’s a sustainable ethos harnessing the ideas within Mysource, or it’s just a really cool idea whose time has come, the market ultimately will decide.
Tamsin is undeniably winsome with a highly focused pragmatism woven into her demeanor. Though she could, she is not about to lecture on the travails of a planet being stripped of its natural resources. It’s more like a welcoming conversation with a potential ideas collaborator. Clearly unfazed with board level presentations, certain questions will reward you with one of her 3-part piths. As a CEO going to the crowd funding market to raise equity investment it’s about getting to the point without unnecessary flimflam.
“We always focus on profitability and success on three levels: financially, to maximize benefit for people, and to minimize impact on the environment.”
Aside from the desire to create the linked-in equivalent for the fashion industry with connectivity based on business needs, not just user skills, this is an attempt to create a level playing field for sustainability, augmented by a different business model and with arguably unique benefits. “The advantages of sustainability, though perhaps not initially, are that it can provide a powerful customer loyalty. There’s also an influence from the messaging derived from sustainable brands - inspiring stories that attracts media attention and ambassadors. People like Amber Valletta, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Lilly Cole, Cara Delevingne, Emma Watson, People Tree.” The front-runners of the momentum are putting their values where there mouth is. The crowd funding will demonstrate hopefully that the money will follow too.
Tamsin can reference seriously high profile and politically minded celebs that will include Kate Middleton and Angelina Jolie, and talk in terms of “real impact stories from entrepreneurs and how the best creative minds have developed a distinctive signature.” But it’s not an automatic shoe-in for fashion, just because we ‘get’ the ethos message, there has to be a value proposition – like appealing, cost-competitive design for example. Tamsin revealed that a certain well known London fashion college several years back were tasked with the job of integrating sustainability with fashion and came back with the response that “we don’t do that, it restricts creativity.” Freedom to choose a design aesthetic and sourcing options are not the sort of thing you should try to mandate, clearly. It’s about informed choices with sustainability having its profile raised as part of the value proposition. I was duly informed during our chat about the Women-in-Progress (now known as Global Mamas) international volunteer initiative to help women in Africa grow their micro-businesses. “The batik handwork, regarded as ethnic and not aligned with fashion, was taken on board by Topshop – a tiny intervention but it makes a huge difference.”
Where and why sustainability is working, Tamsin will tell you is “because of incredibly dedicated people working behind the scenes to influence the interventions. H&M has it built into their KPIs.” At this level, it hasn’t just snuck up on the balance sheet; it’s been integrated into the mission statement consciously by the business. Most of which of course, is in direct contradiction with the business model of fast fashion. You don’t however suddenly become whiter than white, Marks & Sustainability Plc. without going through a lot of graduated changes, to realize that off-white perhaps is as good as it’s going to get for your business at a certain time. And importantly, those shifts are made without compromising the viability of the business as a going concern. Can’t change anything by going out of the game.
Regulation and the more stringent application of rules and standards governing production are desirable, but the reality is alarmingly resistant to anything but a pinprick of change. As Tamsin says, “there’s no point in putting forward an argument that has no answer.” And just to make it clear, “the UN Global Impact collaboration, is all voluntary.”
In actual fact there can be real penalties for pursuing the sustainability option. You pay more for the certification process. Typically it costs more and takes longer to source sustainably for something that is not actively recognized by buyers or consumers within their purchasing decision. And it potentially marginalizes the ability to succeed as a business, for trying to do the right thing.’ Well, no-one asked you to is one response. Like no-one asked George (Asda) to sponsor Graduate Fashion Week, but if they didn’t it would have died, and along with it, one of the solitary links connecting new talent into one of the most commercial global industries. So, we are not always doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Bite me. We are human and we have history. And change of this sort is of the paradigm shifting variety, not getting people to suddenly stop what their business model is telling them by shouting in neon.
Why a fashion platform such as Mysource? Unsurprisingly, according to Tamsin, there are three reasons to scale. “We deliver the best service when we match the best partners, and it saves hundreds of hours. We need a way to automate that. And we need to go big to engage with everybody and create a level playing field.” There’s a technology build required with clever algorithms to match, record and give weighting rewards for use against ethical criteria, incorporating peer reviews. Hence the £400k crowd-funding target to build a B2B online platform, for everyone from start ups to global concerns. Users are encouraged and rewarded for best practice via higher search rankings and profile.
Arguably they have earned the right to go big, with the success of The Ethical Fashion Forum, set up by Tamsin Lejeune an online intelligence and networking forum, reaching a network of 200,000 in 133 countries, since it was set up ten years ago. If I have to chuck my sustainable hat into the ring, I would love to see this platform work, for all the right value proposition reasons. It’s your industry, you decide.
Interview by Paul Markevicius