- Vivian Hendriksz |
Amsterdam - Do you ever wonder who made your shoes? Although every single consumer owns at least 5 pairs of shoes, not many care to ask where their shoes come from, or who made them. However, Andreas Fransson, founder of fair-trade footwear label Fair Frank, aims to change this by actively encouraging his customers to ask who made their shoes and offers complete traceability of his supply chain. Founded in spring 2017, the start-up footwear brand is looking to bridge the gap between consumer and maker by sharing their stories, while ensuring his products are made in a responsible way.
FashionUnited spoke with Fransson during one of Fair Frank's pop-up shops in Amsterdam in order to learn more about his vision for the brand, its philosophy and his hopes for the future.
Fair Frank aims to bring customer closer to the people who make their shoes
“I wanted to start my own company. I have been working in fashion and textile production for my whole adult life,” explained Fransson on why he created Fair Frank. “I previously worked for four years for H&M in their production offices in Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and I wanted to use my experience to do something that would have a direct impact in these countries. I was in Bangladesh when Rana Plaza happened and that was very dramatic.” After seeing first hand the effect the disconnection within the fashion supply chain had on its workers, Fransson was inspired to set-up his own brand. He aimed to develop a business which would facilitate the sustainable development of trade in and with developing countries. “Later in, when I was in Ethiopia, I saw first hand how everyone was trying to work for the textile and fashion industry, and it made me want to try and do my own thing in a new, responsible way.”
During his time in Ethiopia, he became acquainted with a number of leather tanneries and shoe factories, which inspired him to start researching the possibilities of setting up his own footwear label. Although he came from a manufacturing background, he knew he needed the right partners to help him succeed - which is where Hafde, a vertically integrated manufacturing hub came. “I stumbled across this factory which I develop a very close partnership with, who eventually became my sourcing hub for Fair Frank. It was so important to me to find a good partner in Ethiopia and it was Hussein Feyysa at Hafde who really helped me develop the brand, he really gave a lot of input,” said Fransson. However, he did not begin working on developing his own label until he was working in South Africa, helping make agricultural supply chains work for the poor. He eventually left his job in December 2016 to set up Fair Frank and officially launched his first shoe, a men's sneaker, in October 2017, at a pop-up store at Rosmarijnsteeg 10, Amsterdam.
“My mission is to inspire people to care about where their products are made”
Fair Frank held its second pop-up at Spaces, on the Vijzelstraat in the city and will be selling its shoes at Constyle, a store in Amstelpassage in Amsterdam Central Station, from 16 November to 31 December during the Christmas trading period. But why did Fransson decided to launch Fair Frank, an Ethiopian brand in Amsterdam, one may ask? “Amsterdam is the hub for sustainable fashion. A lot of fair trade companies are based here.” In addition, Fransson aims to increase Fair Frank’s exposure to its target market and felt that Amsterdam was a good place to establish his brand. The debut style from Fair Frank is the Milo sneaker - made from vegetable tanned leather, the sneaker is available in six colourways and retails for 139 euros. Fransson worked together with a design team from Italy to help him create his first collection. The leather used to make his shoes is tanned in the same factory they are produced, which is quite unique. “It is groundbreaking because the factory in Ethiopia is the first one in the country to produce and use vegetable tanned leather. I am very happy to have found them as my manufacturing partner because Hussein is a chemist himself, and was able to develop his own vegetable tanned leathers.”
Fransson is pleased with Fair Franks’s initial results, although he admits that it was not easy sailing when it came to setting up the brand. “The first few months were quite difficult, in terms of getting the productions numbers up and running and ensuring the shoes where the right quality level. But after a lot of hard work, we finally managed to get to a place where we wanted to be.” He spent most of September and October at the factory in Ethiopia overseeing the first production batch of the shoes, during which he met and spoke with a number of its workers. “I met a lot of the workers. I interviewed some of them, even though there was a language barrier, so customers could see first hand who made their shoes.” Each pair of Fair Frank shoes is signed by the worker who made them and shoppers are able to go to the brand’s website to learn more about them and read their stores in order to develop a link between maker and consumer. “Some of their stories are already online on our website and we plan to increase the number of stories.”
“I wanted to create a connection between the customer and the worker”
Approximately 40 people from the factory work in the shoe production division and the majority of them are women. Fransson is on first name basis with most of them, although due to worker turnover, keep tabs on all them can be a bit tricky. But this has not discouraged Fransson in the slightest, who is keen to share their life stories with his shoppers. “I wanted to inspire customers to be aware and actually care about where their products are made and by whom. The fashion industry disconnected from its supply chain and I want to change this,” added Fransson. He seeks to bridge the gap between the two by showing shoppers how the purchase of the shoes can have a direct, positive effect on the lives of the people who made them, outside of paying them a fair, monthly wage. Which is exactly why he set up a workers’ premium fund to make sure the workers benefit more from the production of Fair Frank shoes. For every pair of Fair Frank sold, 5 euros from the retail price go directly to a premium workers’ fund for the workers.
The overall aim of the fund is to improve the livelihoods of the workers, their families and the communities in which they live by distributing the fund among them. The fund will be distributed through bi-monthly meetings with workers at the factory, with the first one taking place in January 2018. 60 percent of the fund will be equally distributed to all workers below a gross monthly benchmark wage and the remaining 40 percent of the fund will be allocated to chosen development projects, selected by Fair Frank and Hafde, in the workers’ local communities, starting from March 2018. “Ethiopia is a particular sourcing market right now because I am paying a premium for these shoes in comparison to other markets,” noted Fransson. “I could easily source them from China, or Vietnam or Indonesia, and pay half the price, but the point of producing Fair Frank shoes in Ethiopia is to lift exporting from the country, to try to develop workers skills and help connect them with new customers in Europe. If that requires me having to pay a premium in the beginning then that is fine - at the end of the day, someone has to pay for it.”
“Traceability and transparency in the supply chain is very important”
Unlike many fashion brands, Fransson is a strong believer in being transparent when it comes to his supply chain and pricing - he is very open in sharing with his customers and others where and how his products are made. “I think that its just good business to be open about what you are doing and what you want to make out of your business,” said Fransson. “Traceability and transparency in the supply chain are very important to me.” However, he is also aware that it is easier to be transparent when you are a start-up and implement it as one of the brand’s main pillars. “I may have just started out and still have much further to go as a brand, but I want to make sure it is always clear to everyone where all my products are made and where all my components and input materials are coming from. People deserve to know and they should know it is coming from a good, reliable and ethical source.”
Shoppers who want to know more about Fair Frank, its workers and its products can visit Fairfrank.com, which features information on each stage of the production of its shoes, worker stories and an international online store, which launched earlier this week. In addition to Fair Frank’s Milo shoe, Fransson is working on developing two additional shoe models with Hafeda, a boot and brogue, which he hopes to launch sometime next spring. “But they require additional expertise from abroad to ensure they are up to the same standard as the sneaker.” At the same time, he plans on launching a new sneaker design as well as launch women’s sizes, “as the sneakers are quite unisex.” Fair Frank will also be available for sale at the Sissy Boy Christmas Market in Amsterdam on December 9 and the Museum Market on December 17.
Images: Fair Frank