I worked on… launching an ethical fashion label

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Name: Helena Farstad, ACMA, CGMA

Organisation: Multemyr (www.multemyr.com)

Role: Founder

Industry: Fashion retail

CIMA qualified: 2006

Start date: 2013

End date: Ongoing

Location: London

I started my career in 2003 as a graduate trainee in the finance function of Uniqema, a division of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in north-east England. My academic background was actually in hospitality and tourism, so I chose to take the CIMA qualification because it would give me more of a business focus. When Uniqema was acquired by rival firm Croda I moved to ICI’s headquarters in London.

I worked there as a transition manager, outsourcing finance back-office operations to centres of excellence worldwide. This involved a lot of travel and taught me a great deal about how people deal with change and how crucial it is to plan projects carefully to ensure that they meet their objectives. My CIMA training was particularly handy at this point. What I was dealing with was not purely finance – I really had to know each business.

As the project approached completion in 2008, ICI was acquired by AkzoNobel. The new management team didn’t want an outsourced finance department and was planning to decentralise it all again. It felt wrong to unravel everything that I’d been working on for more than two years, so I left for Lloyds TSB.

I started there as a finance business partner – just as the financial crisis was starting in earnest. The bank took over HBOS in early 2009, which proved a great opportunity for me to apply my experience of change management. The cultural transformations required were huge and it struck me just how vulnerable we are as employees when external factors and profit-focused objectives dictate corporate behaviour.

By the summer of 2010 I felt the urge to align my personal values with my professional life, so I left to establish a consultancy focusing on the themes of environmental, social and economic sustainability. In 2013 I decided that I needed to find an additional way of engaging people with sustainability issues, so I set up my own womenswear label: Multemyr. I believe that real change can happen only when people get emotionally involved with it. The clothing industry causes vast ecological damage and, as our relationship with clothes is often an emotional one, taking a new approach here made sense to me. Having spent years seeking clothes that satisfied both my wardrobe needs and my desire to know that they had been made using sustainable processes, I decided it was time to create my own.

I believe that sustainability demands a new business model – one under which profit and shareholder value are not how an enterprise’s performance is judged. Instead, the key performance indicators are transparency and co-operation. Customers want to be better informed about what they wear, so they ask where the fabric is sourced and who made the final product, for instance. My firm is one of the very few to offer them this kind of information.

The Multemyr collection is suitable for wear inside and outside work. The range comprises classically designed, responsibly sourced garments made by fairly paid seamstresses in east London. Our skilled production team ensures that the finished products are of the highest quality. All profits are reinvested in projects that minimise waste, consume responsibly, produce locally and pay fairly. Our commitment to transparency even extends to our retail mark-up – we put it right in front of the customer on the price tag.

I am also a co-founder of the Wise Creative (thewisecreative.tumblr.com), a group of independent labels dedicated to UK manufacturing. Its ethos is that small brands are stronger together and can transform how British-made goods are perceived. The organisation’s main focus has been to give its members and trade associates a low-risk route to market – one of the biggest challenges for businesses such as mine. 

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