Kalkidan Legesse is an entrepreneur and advocate for socially responsible and environmentally friendly businesses. She is the founder of Sancho’s, an ethical fashion and lifestyle store in Exeter, where she went to university and later achieved an MBA. She is currently developing a new app, Schwap, which will help businesses adapt to a circular model by allowing them to resell items.
Kalkidan talked to Human Rights in Fashion Centre about how businesses can contribute to a sustainable future, creating Sancho’s and the challenges that come with starting a sustainable business.
You would hear a lot: ‘I want to be sustainable. I want to be ethical. But where do I go? Where do I shop? Everything’s bad.’
Not everything is bad, there’s definitely a gradient of things that are more environmentally and socially conscious than others. It was clear that there needs to be more options for the average person to not have to do all that mental arithmetic around what does ethical mean.
Although fashion, the way it’s carried out is very exploitative of garment workers, if a garment worker is able to have autonomy and control and their rights fairly advocated for, it is a product that can help distribute value a bit more fairly.
Often, whatever you do, you’re compromising between the most ethical, sustainable process and perhaps the practical process that helps get you from A to B. I think it probably comes down to what your profit model is: how are you making money?
If you’re making money on the basis of exploitation then probably you could review your business model. The problem is so much of our industry, not just in fashion, relies on the inherent exploitation of some people, whether that’s workers within organizations or workers along the supply chain.
Any company whose USP (unique selling proposition) is low prices but requires human labour to produce, they are relying on an ability to cut somebody’s wage at some point. I think a lot of companies behave as though there’s an inevitable scenario where garment workers don’t have much choice so they’re going to take low pay. But, actually, they are actively designing an environment that is relying on the exploitation of women, largely, in order to serve up their USP.
Because we’re constantly aware that the best thing for us to do is to describe to our customers our choices and hope that they come along with us, we’re constantly advocating for our values. I think that’s one way in which businesses can be part of the change. By not only making those choices but also describing to customers what actually is a choice and hoping that that frames the customer demand and behavior.
I think there’s always going to be a conflict between an expectation that the change will be led by individual businesses, when actually individuals and individual businesses gain from making personally beneficial choices at the expense of the collective.
I think before I watched the collective response to the pandemic, I didn’t think it was possible. Now, my sense of both the need and the possibility of collective action is greater. The response to the pandemic has been very inept but it has been a collective response, it has been a collective behavior change, so I do think it’s possible.
A theme of my goals in life is to work towards a more just society and I want to make sure that the work I do takes us closer to a society that’s more equal and more equitable. Sancho’s is a beautiful fashion business that actually addresses the issues of justice within fashion.
In the immediate future for Sancho’s, I’d like it to be recognized as a solution or an option to every British household. I’d want everyone in the UK to know that if they wanted ethical clothing or lifestyle things, they can find it from us.