Applying an ethical approach at Bobby Universe

It’s something of a stretch to call an accessories producer ‘sustainable’, but Emma Rosenhain, founder of Australian handbag brand Bobby Universe is incorporating strong ethics into every facet of her business.
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1. Manufacturing ground rules

Emma Rosenhain was keen to get the foundations laid right from the start. ‘There’s a tendency to always talk about product quality as the number one thing, but for me, the ethics of our production was profoundly important – particularly while establishing our manufacturing base in China,’ she says. With an artisanal labour force handcrafting her products offshore, Rosenhain chose a factory approved by SMETA to guarantee the workers’ safety, health and human rights. Factory managers are trained in labour standards and ethics, building standards are maintained, and the artisans are paid appropriately and work regular hours.

2. Sourcing the right materials

While the use of leather is something of a lightning rod in the post-vegan age, Rosenhain maintains that the leather used, which is strictly a byproduct of India’s meat industry, has the least impact on the environment. She doesn’t believe any clothing or accessory producer can legitimately call itself sustainable, but maintains that ‘the fashion industry can do a lot better in terms of environmental ethics by using non-polluting manufacturing processes and natural materials.’ She adds, ‘Natural materials break down faster than synthetics, so that’s one of our key pillars that will never change.’ Her next materials to explore? Cactus and pineapple leathers.

3. Social responsibility

Having suffered from mental health issues, Rosenhain is conscious of fashion and social media’s duality. As she has grown her brand into a six-figure business, she’s used its increasing clout to create ‘Be You’ video campaigns on her website, where inspirational women – such as dancer and choreographer Sophie Apollonia – share personal stories on the subject of mental wellbeing. The business is a supporter of Beyond Blue, an Australian mental health charity, donating 2% of their profits to it. ‘In fashion, I think there’s a responsibility to be doing more than just going after sales,’ says Rosenhain. ‘For me, that means shining a light on mental health.’

Take note: sustainability terms to know

Carbon Disclosure Rating

A numerical score (out of 100) that indicates the level of reporting of a company’s climate-change initiatives.

CDR (Corporate Digital Responsibility)

Using digital technologies to promote ethical and sustainable business practices including data capture, decision-making, impact assessment and refinement of tech.


Also known as Greentech, this refers to tech products or services that improve the businesses’ operational performance while reducing costs, waste, energy use and negative environmental impact.

Collaborative Consumption

A system where consumers share access to products or services by a peer-to-peer model, rather than individual ownership.

Community Investment

Businesses invest in strategic long-term community projects with charities and local organisations, rather than providing one-off donations.

Differential Pricing

This refers to the charging of different prices for the same product to different customers – typically linked to financial situation or disabilities.

Green Procurement

A strategy of buying products with a reduced environmental impact in direct comparison to similar products.


Rebuilding, repairing, or restoring a product to meet the same consumer standards as new products.

Supply Chain Transparency

Requirement of companies to know what’s happening throughout the supply chain and to communicate this knowledge both internally and externally.


Using one company’s waste or byproduct as an input or raw material in the manufacture of something else. This process is also known as ‘byproduct synergy’.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 35, June/July 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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