Sofia Melograno founded her fashion company, Beru Kids, with her family's heritage of social justice and a deep sense of ethics at the forefront of her mind. Melograno wanted her business to create sustainable products and help raise the standard in an industry historically marred by abusive labor practices and environmental waste.
Drawing inspiration from her family of philanthropists and organizers, Melograno traveled to sub-Saharan Africa to study public health, poverty alleviation and development. Her experiences there invoked a deep dedication to social reform, which became a pillar of Beru Kids' mission. Now, her company works to create its products with zero waste, all while providing higher-than-minimum-wage jobs in downtown Los Angeles. Melograno explained to Business News Daily what sustainability and ethical business practices mean to her, and how she turned her advocacy for social justice into a profitable business.
Business News Daily: What does "being a sustainable business" mean to you?
Sofia Melograno: For me, being sustainable means that our business model is … focused on operating ethically and going well above and beyond the low standards of the fashion industry. It means not cutting corners for the sake of making money or at the expense of other people or the environment. I want to uphold high standards of ethics with Beru.
I believe sustainability is also defined as the way in which employees are treated and cared for. Every employee at both factories makes a living wage, and they're paid hourly, as opposed to "per garment," which is the industry standard. I've seen the result of per-garment sewing, and it's terrible. People aren't drinking water, so they don't have to take a break to use the restroom. Sewing machines often get stuck, and during the time the machines aren't working, those workers aren't getting paid, and workers will often work far beyond working hours to finish up extra pieces.
BND: When and why did you make the decision to go sustainable?
Melograno: Being sustainable was something that was built into our business model from day one. Not producing ethically or sustainably was never an option nor something I even considered. If I was going to create a line, I wanted to make sure that we weren't cutting corners for the sake of turning a profit. You can be sustainable, produce the right way and also make a profitable business.
BND: Have you noticed an economic benefit to going the sustainable route? Was it more expensive to do so at first? Is it more cost-effective now?
Melograno: I've noticed that we get a lot of attention for it, for sure, which definitely helps with exposure and sales. I actually find it interesting that we get so much attention for doing things in a way that doesn't contribute to our Earth's demise or take advantage of the people making the garments. Shouldn't that be the standard?
I think that there's a misconception that producing the way we do is more expensive and that you can't make money. The only thing that it does take is a bit more time and thoughtfulness.
BND: Where do you think the cost savings, if any, are in sustainable operations?
Melograno: Using deadstock, or surplus materials, has actually become very cost-effective for us. We don't have to order fabric with insane minimums, so we're never sitting on tons of inventory. Deadstock fabric has lower prices, so our margins can stay nice and high.
BND: What do you think are the most persuasive arguments for taking a business in a sustainable direction?
Melograno: For one, just from a moral standpoint, how could you not want to operate ethically and in a way that doesn't contribute to added waste? I'm always disappointed by the number of businesses I come across, often in the fashion industry, that choose to look the other direction. Oftentimes, not producing sustainably goes hand in hand with not paying employees a living wage or providing a healthy, safe working environment, especially when producing or working [overseas].
Sustainability in a business creates a demand from new customers who care about a company's social and environmental footprint. New customers mean increased revenue. Also, it's great, considering the news cycle is so focused on sustainability nowadays, so the media takes interest in brands like ours and helps up our exposure to new consumers.