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An Interview with Shafiq Hassan of Ninety Percent


Today, it is almost impossible for any brand to claim that they are 100% sustainable, with the carbon impacts of transportation, and the realities of economies of scale, fashion’s journey towards sustainability is a slow and steady process. With Ninety Percent however, they are as close as can possibly be to that goal. 
Ninety Percent’s name stems from their unique business model, which donates ninety percent of all profits to sustainable charities, chosen by their own customers. Not only do they aim to produce with a minimal environmental impact, they are also changing perceptions about ethical production in Bangladesh. By providing ethical working conditions, promoting innovative organic materials, and supporting sustainable charities - Ninety Percent becomes the ideal business model for fashion’s green future. 

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? What inspired you to start NINETY Percent? 
I am in immigrant to the UK from Bangladesh. I arrived in 1971, and grew up in Exeter.  I took Industrial Chemistry at The City University and Chemical Engineering at Aston University. By sheer chance, I got into the garment business in the late ’80’s. This was when I met my partner Para Hamilton, supplying products from Bangladesh to high street chains. Para has had a phenomenal influence on me, especially when it comes to caring for the planet, organic produce, looking at disenfranchised people, among many other topics.
Para and I formed Echo Sourcing in1996. With our partners in Bangladesh, we started our textile mill and garment facility, Echotex, in 2009.  We established Echotex on the principals of Planet, People, and Product, and is currently the largest LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum Certified unit in Bangladesh , employing over 10,000 people.

The idea for Ninety Percent came about over ten years ago. We questioned how big businesses ran, how they controlled our lives, and how the system was exploitative without giving much back. There was also a huge sense of disconnect between big businesses and its customers that we couldn’t do much about.  We felt that there had to be another way, and that’s how the seeds of Ninety Percent were sown.

NINETY Percent is a revolutionary business model that shares 90% of its distributed profits between a number of different causes including WildAid and Big Life Foundation. How do you maintain this fantastic business model? 
It is less complex than it sounds.  In any business, when it makes a profit, the profit is normally taken by the shareholders in terms of dividends or distributed profit. With Ninety Percent, we the shareholders only take 10% of profits and donate the rest. 80% via the four causes we support and 10% to the people who make our clothes. 
To do this we must run an efficient and commercially successful business that is able to grow and make money. We are fortunate enough that we are able to borrow and access funds to make the business happen. However, we do need to make it successful and increase our turnover sooner rather than later, in order to sustain the costs. It is not going to be easy, and we need as much support we can get from the local and international media!



How important is sustainability to the ethos of Ninety percent? 
It is the rock on which we sit. We look at sustainability as a full circle of 360 degree empowerment, and there are several aspects to it.  
We believe that everyone involved has to be empowered; from the people who run the business, the people who make our items, our customers, and finally to the positive impact on social and environmental causes we support.  Secondly, we make responsible choices as to where we produce, who makes our clothes, and the way our supply chain works. We partner with companies who have sustainable processes ingrained in their operations.  There is a lot of attention paid to the design and material choices for our products.  We are focused on using organic cotton for all our cotton products; and we use a lot of Tencel as the key component of our fibres. Both of which, we trust to be better options as compared to what is currently available. Most of our jersey products are GOTS and Oekotex certified. Our design and development team are passionate about creating timeless product to a high standard. We want our products to be cherished and have a long life that can be handed down, recycled and up-cycled. 
Most importantly, we have given our customers the power to choose where most of our profits shall go — that is our non negotiable and irrevocable mandate. We want to form a deep bond with our customers and create a movement for change.

Congratulations on launching at Selfridges! What is it like working with such a big retailer? Does this change your supply chain? 
We are extremely fortunate that we are with a world-class store like Selfridges. Our team have worked amazingly hard to make this happen. It proves that with Ben Matthews at the creative helm, that we have delivered products that are of a high standard and put us up there with the best in our category. We hope this shall create a positive influence as to who we are, spread the word further, and enable more people to buy. This does not change our supply chain, rather, it reinforces that we must carry on with the foundations that are in place and become stronger. We are delighted to also be part of Selfridges 'Buying Better' scheme. Our organic cotton styles, which make up majority of the collection, will be labelled “Better Cotton” in-store and online. We applaud the work Selfridges is doing,across all sectors in their store to enable customers to make an informed choice.


NINETY PERCENT has been at the forefront of sustainable and ethical manufacturing since its launch this year. Moving forward, in what other ways are you planning to minimise your environmental impact? 
Our journey is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. We learn things everyday, and we know that we can always do better and push the boundaries. The key part of this evolution is to change the culture of how we do things and what responsibility we take, both individually and collectively. It is an exciting time as so many amazing innovations are happening on sustainable product development that we can tap. We need to continuously think about how to reduce waste, replace one-time-use materials and find ways so they can be reused and recycled. 
We are currently experimenting with how to reduce waste fabric production from cutting garments on the factory floor, and how these could be recycled into new high quality yarn. We are doing a lot of work to minimise the use of water in fabric production, and this relates to our carbon footprint. We need to also seriously care about who makes our product,  which is also a significant part of our sustainability circle.
With a large percentage of Ninety Percent manufactured at our facility Echotex, we know we are improving lives through free meals, and paid paternity/maternity leave. We encourage female leadership and provide a creche for those who have no other means of childcare support. We do consider ourselves as a positive model for change for garment workers in Bangladesh. 

Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species?
As mentioned above, the reduction of waste is paramount and we need to start thinking more about a circular economy. It is all about changing the culture on waste and over consumption.  Reducing our carbon footprint is all about a reduction in all aspects of the processes and waste that we create. The fashion industry and fashion media has a massive role in taking responsibility for what it does to this planet, especially as we only have one planet. 


Interview By Hannah Tan-Gillies

Portraits by Curtis Gibson