Thursday, 30 June 2016

Brexit And Fashion

In the last of our post-Brexit articles, we'll take a quick look at what the UK's move away from the European Union could mean for the world of fashion.

To a certain extent, a lot of the points I've already made this week apply equally to the fashion world. Britain's tanking markets and currency are a sign of instability that multinational companies are not happy to see. I've already heard of big brands notifying their UK employees that their positions are under review. The weakened pound also makes British based companies less able to source the materials they need from abroad. For the big fashion brands this could mean anything from fabrics and fittings to finished garments.

Meanwhile, smaller companies, which make up a large swathe of the ethical market who depend on EU trade, are going to find life more difficult. Reports are already coming in of cancelled orders and contracts from European buyers unhappy with the new landscape. How soon will we start to see companies go under as their order books empty? It can only be a matter of time. From Harris Tweed to innovative 3D-printed jewellery projects, the future for British ethical fashion just got a lot more uncertain.

Major fashion names have been united in early, loud denunciations of Brexit. Style icon and possible android Karl Lagerfeld called the vote "a moment of madness". Adrian Joffe, head of Comme De Garçons was even more forthright:

"It’s not the modern world. The modern world is about being together and working together. I’m devastated. I want freedom of people, freedom of movement. For me, it’s anti-creative thinking.”

There are arguments that a move away from globalisation, triggered by a shrinking of associations like the European Union, might not be such a bad thing. After all, it's the ability to sell clothes cheaply across a vast single market that has given the fashion industry the excuse to behave so badly. From exploitation of third-world workers to endemic pollution, everything that ethical fashion kicks against is down to the fast fashion model brought into being by free trade and relaxed environmental legislation.

But burning everything down is not the answer either. Millions of jobs and billions of pounds depend on the industry, and for ethical fashion in particular the inability to trade with a global or even continental market is a disaster.

 

Our View: these are worrying, uncertain times for everyone, and I apologise if I've painted a bleak picture of the future this week. The fact is, though, that there is little reasoned argument based on proper, attributable figures that point to brighter days ahead. Instead, economists across the spectrum predict a gloomy forecast.

As I said earlier in the week, though, no-one knows for sure what's going to happen over the next couple of years. Or months. Or days, frankly. Things are moving that quickly.


I hope that in time I'll be able to look back on these posts and laugh at how out of touch and laughably pessimistic I was about the whole situation.

I really do.

See you next week.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Brexit And Charities

In the second of this week's post-Brexit pieces, we look at how UK charities are faced with an even more uncertain future.

The last couple of years have been, shall we say, complicated for the Third Sector. Deep drops in donations, a difficult relationship with government and a couple of high-profile scandals have left charities exposed and struggling. In Brexitland, things are unlikely to improve.

Financially, the Sector is likely to take a big hit. The steep fall in both UK markets and the value of the pound have a couple of harsh effects. Firstly, many charities that do work abroad buy a lot of foreign currency to be able to purchase supplies and pay support staff on the ground. That has suddenly become more expensive.

Meanwhile, grant funding from charitable foundations to worthy causes will also drop off. The tanking UK market means that the investment assets that these foundations rely on to do business are suddenly worth a lot less than they were this time last week. £5billion less, in fact. The political uncertainty in the country at the moment is not one in which the markets feel comfortable doing business. If things continue as they are, charities that depend on grants over the next financial year could find themselves looking at a lot of red lines in the account book.

And this is before we mention the uncomfortable question of funding from the EU itself. A potential £200million shortfall from EU programs is likely to vanish, with no enthusiasm from the UK government to replace it. When the minister in charge of the sector, Rob Wilson, calls grant funding for charities "unsustainable", you know you're in trouble.

That relationship between charities and government is uncertain to improve in this new environment. David Cameron's Big Society seems a long time ago now, and there's likely to be a hardening in attitude from a more right-wing administration (which seems a given, given the front-runner for new Prime Minister). Charities, as ever expected to do more with less and forced to pick up the shortfall from collapsing and underfunded public services, will find themselves caught between a rockier rock and a harder place.

The more difficult question to quantify (one which David Ainsworth teases out in this piece for Civil Society) is how charities face a public that suddenly seem to view refugees, the disabled and the underprivileged with suspicion or downright dislike. The Third Sector has always been one that works on an inclusive view of the world. We are all brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves. Does the UK still share those views? Right now, it's hard to see it. Perhaps the job of the Third Sector is about to shift, and its job will become one where it has to persuade the British public to step away from a blinkered, xenophobic view of the world outside its shrinking borders.

 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Brexit And The Environment

Good grief. I go away for a week, and look what happens.

The U.K. Is facing a major constitutional crisis following its decision to leave the European Union. Immediate chaos aside, there's massive uncertainty as to what that exit could mean for us. Over the next couple of posts, I want to tease out some of the new challenges faced by charities, the environment and fashion in this confusing new landscape.

First things first: no-one knows what's going to happen. Most of what's been talked about up to now is conjecture or at best informed guesswork. However, for the most part the outlook seems to be taking on a particular tone. A pretty sombre one.

Environmentalists are particularly worried, and with good cause. Regulations designed to safeguard our wildlife and natural habitats are largely enforced through legislation from Europe: more than 70%, in fact. If these go in the dustbin post-Brexit, then any protection given to our environment could very quickly be re-written. The Tory government's enthusiasm for fracking, for example, could be reindulged with added enthusiasm under a new regime–one less concerned over pesky concerns over the breeding grounds of the natterjack toad. Or indeed, earthquakes and flammable drinking water.

Another concern is the current ban on the dangerous chemicals in weed-killers that are proven to have a dstabilising effect on the bee population. Legislation for that comes through Europe, and without it it would be much simpler for agri-giants like Monsanto to lobby for restrictions to be lifted in the UK. The potentially catastrophic effect that a crash in bee numbers could have on crop propagation is almost too horrific to contemplate.

Environmental lobbyists and activists are universally concerned about the chilling effect that a switch-off of EU legislation could have on our progress on green issues. Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Many of the laws that make our drinking and bathing water safe, our air cleaner, our fishing industry more sustainable and our climate safer now hang by a thread… There is a very real fear that Cameron's successor will come from the school that supports a bonfire of anti-pollution protections.”

Meanwhile, Friends Of The Earth CEO Craig Bennett urged forcefulness in making sure that important environmental issues are not sidelined in the coming months:

“The referendum may be over but many of the difficult debates are only just beginning. The environment must be at the heart of our negotiations with Europe and how we create a positive future for our country. We cannot let the UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’. “

“The environment was rarely mentioned during the referendum but it must now move up the political agenda. With urgent issues like climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world already impacting this generation, not just the next, we don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations.”

Could there be an upside to all this? Many farmers and fishermen voted to leave citing excessive red tape, favouritism to other EU partners in UK waters and quotas that led to fish being dumped and crops left to rot. But those same farmers are beneficiaries to EU funding, and quotas offer protection to dwindling fish stocks. It should also be noted that the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, which is there to protect member's interests, had as one of its members one Nigel Farage–who attended one out 42 meetings. Perhaps if he'd done his job then UK fishermen might be in a better place.

Our View: these are worrying times, of course, not helped by the general air of uncertainty. Some commentators are urging us to see the bright side–a new dawn of freedom as Britain carves its own path in the world. That sounds great, but there's little evidence of that blue sky on the horizon quite yet.

 

Friday, 17 June 2016

WOVNS: rethreading textiles

A problem for small-run clothing producers and home enthusiasts has always been access to high-quality materials. It's easy for the big brands to order up hundreds of yards of printed fabric for their new collections. But if you only want fifty, or ten, or even just one for a soft furnishing project? Forget it, ain't gonna happen.

The Jacquard Loom was one of the great motors of the Industrial Revolution. Invented in 1801 by Joseph Marie Jacquard, it could create reams of fabric, taking instructions from punch-cards as to which coloured thread went where in a given design. If you recognise the notion it's because from this simple idea, Charles Babbage and other innovators would create the foundations of the modern computer.

And the age of the computer could mean revolution in the field of textile production. A new Kickstarter project called WOVNS will soon allow anyone to order custom designed Jacquard-weave fabric in any quantity they choose. Even a single yard of fabric will soon become affordable.

The thing with woven textiles is that they are labour-intensive and complex to produce. Loading of thread and yarn-spinning are high-overhead jobs, needing time and expertise. All of this comes at a cost.

The WOVNS platform aims to change all that. Working closely with textile manufacturers, the WOVNS team has figured out a workflow that enables any digital design to be dropped onto the work-line and woven to order. It means that even prototyping becomes accessible to the home user. Want to run off a yard or two of that new design to see how it works as a bag, throw or scarf? It's easy, and of course once you're ready to take over the world with your new design you can scale up accordingly. With a wide selection of coloured and quality textiles on which to weave your design, the possibilities become almost endless. And of course, the low-waste, print-to-order model is eminently sustainable.

This kind of innovation has major potential, allowing smaller manufacturers access to high-quality fabrics in quantities that simply would have been uneconomical to produce using conventional methods. It also gives manufacturers access to a whole new range of customers, and even the domestic market. WOVNS is also supporting the design community with a curated range, The WOVNS Collection. Artists who make it onto the list can see their ideas writ large on bags, clutches and cushions, and they recieve royalties on every yard printed.

Our View: we like to think that Jacquard would be pleased with the invention on offer here. His intention with the loom that bears his name was to free textile workers from drudgery. WOVNS is giving a new generation the chance to see their dreams laid out in fabric.

 

For more on WOVNS, to support the project and to sign up to the platform, visit the Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wovns/wovns-a-platform-for-on-demand-production-of-woven

 

 

In a small piece of administrative news, Ian has granted me a little leave, so I'll be leaving my writing hut at the end of The Pier and heading up to the wifi-free joys of the Lake District. Jamming my thumb hard on the reset button.

See you in a week.

 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

It's National Bike Week!

As the producer of a cycling documentary, and one of the millions who choose to use pedal power for their local journeys, I'm very happy to promote National Bike Week on The View today.

We're all agreed, I hope, that cycling is one of the healthiest ways to get around–totally sustainable, relatively carbon-free (short of using bikes to transport bikes to the bike shop, there's always going to be some manner of hit in that regard) and very good for you.

You may not realise, though, just how popular riding a bike has become in the UK. A new survey commissioned by Pier32 pals CyclingUK, the nation's biggest cycling charity, reveal that over 20% of respondents had used a bike in the last week. People are as likely to call cycling their top activity as football or going to the gym.

The theme for this year's event is 'Ride To Work'. This is an activity I can endorse wholeheartedly–although I have to catch a train to my day job in London, the trip to the station is undertaken on my trusty, battered Ridgeback. It's as quick as the bus, and parking is free. I've been heartened by the increase in cycling infrastructure in my home town of Reading–from a posh new secure cycle park at the station to an award-winning bike and pedestrian bridge over the Thames at Caversham.

For an increasing number of commuters in the capital, a bike is the obvious choice. And with the rise of proper, segregated bike lanes on some of the major routes, there's a big spike in riders choosing to ditch their cars and ride to work. Indeed, some figures suggest that bikes could outnumber cars at peak times in as little as five years.

The fact that cycling isn't just healthy and cheap but a useful activity shouldn't be ignored. Cycling UK Chief Executive Paul Tuohy said of the survey:

“To see that cycling is as popular as playing football is a real sign of the rise and rise of cycling in the UK. Of course you can’t ‘football to work’ – but what is striking from these figures is that while so many people are riding bikes for fun and for exercise, many people have not yet added cycling into their commuting plans. That is where Bike Week comes in. Cycling can really easily become a part of your working week. From buddy rides to bike breakfasts, Bike Week brings together a host of simple ideas to help make cycle commuting an accessible and attractive proposition.

“Nearly half of all working people in the UK live within five miles of their employment, but only 800,000 cycle in for their commute on a daily basis. We want to swell that number by half-a-million during Bike Week – and encourage them to keep cycling after that.”
 

Athlete and Olympic silver medal winner Colin Jackson has been beating the drum for Bike Week, making the point that it's remarkably easy to bring a cycle into your daily life. He says:

 

“Cycling is such a great way to build in exercise to our busy lives – if you can cycle to and from work then there’s less need to find time to head out to the gym or go for a run.

“With the chance to ride through quieter streets, alongside canals and off-road, you can get a real sense of freedom and more progress in the saddle than you do stuck in a traffic jam or on a bus or train. Cycling can really easily become a part of your daily commute and Bike Week is the best opportunity to start!"

Our View: of course, there's a lot of inflammatory coverage in the press about a so-called "war" between cyclists and drivers. This is a load of old hooey, frankly. We're all just trying to get around. Cycling UK is using National Bike Week in a great way, making it clear that jumping on a bike is a fun and easy way to get around with real, proven health benefits. What else can we say? Get on your bike!

For more details on National Bike Week, head to CyclingUk's dedicated news and events page: http://www.cyclinguk.org/news/20160510-bike-week

 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Rob's Been At Docfest

I still feel a bit battered and dazed after my big weekend away. Where was I? Ibiza, raving it up at the super clubs? At the Euros, perhaps, lobbing chairs and chasing Russians?

Try Sheffield. I've been at Dofest, the biggest documentary film festival on the planet, along with over three thousand delegates, film-makers and producers. It's six days of sheer bliss for the movie fan who likes a dose of reality.

I wear many hats creatively speaking (that doesn't mean I wear them at a jaunty angle or on my shoulder... Oh, you get the idea). You know me as a writer, but I also cartoon, podcast and indulge in short film-making. With my partner-in-crime Dominic Wade I have put my name to a heaping handful of documentaries over the last ten years or so.

Our latest magnum opus, Steel Is Real... But Carbon Is Quicker is a film about the grass-roots of British cycling. Team GB has a raft of stars and famous names heading to Rio this summer to grab gold on the track and road–legends like Mark Cavendish, Lizzy Armistead and of course Bradley Wiggins. But there's a culture of cycling that got them to the big time, of people out in all weathers, slogging up hills or in velodromes for the sheer love of the sport.

Steel Is Real aims to celebrate these people, and the pioneers that gave Great Britain a place on the list of strong cycling nations. It might seem as if we came from nowhere. We want to show that simply isn't true, and how it takes a community to make a champion.

So we've been running around, catching some movies and chatting to anyone that would talk to us about Steel Is Real - a highly appropriate title for the Steel City. It's been a fun but hectic time. Highlights? Watching Michael Moore's latest in a premiere with the man himself, after a downpour nearly killed the projection equipment (it was a great weekend for staying indoors). An audience with National Treasure Joanna Lumley. An evening vogueing with a New York crew at The Academy. We packed a lot in. Which means it's early nights, lots of water and salads for me for a while now...

What has all of this to do with ethical fashion or charities? Well, nothing. But as part of the promotional push to raise awareness of our film, we reached out to our sponsors, Pier32, for a little help. They provided us with some rather nifty t-shirts using Gildan stock in a lovely soft organic cotton:

http://www.pier32.co.uk/product/gd001-softstyle-tee/.

We couldn't be happier. Look good, don't they?

Not pictured: hangover.
 

Would you like to know more about Steel Is Real But Carbon Is Quicker? Then pop over to our Facebook Page where there's pics and updates of our time in Sheffield. It'll be the first place for news about the film as we move into the post-production stage. Do please Like the page as well: it makes a big difference and gives us the ability to shout about the film to more people.

Yes, this has been an unapologetic plug of a post. Back to normal business tomorrow.

 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Volunteer's Week

You hear a lot in the press and from that Facebook mate of yours (you know the one) about the way charities are stuffed full of overpaid, underworking execs. We could mention how in our opinion, the Third Sector could use a few more high-flying CEOs to push their working practices into the 21st century. But that's something for another column. Like this one. 
Instead, let's talk about the true mainstay of the charity sector: the volunteer. It's National Volunteer's Week from the 1st to the 12th of June and the purpose is clear. To celebrate the hard work done by the millions of people who chose to give up time, effort and creativity in the service of a greater purpose.
You may have noticed that the 12 days of the event equal more than a week. Well, you could also argue that the work that volunteers put into their chosen cause equals much more than the time they spend. Volunteer's Week has been running since 1984 and for many the event has already expanded beyond the arbitrary seven-day boundary.
This year, though, the 12th also coincides with The Patron's Lunch, a celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s lifetime of service to more than 600 charities and organisations to which she acts as a Patron, on the occasion of her 90th birthday. Seems crazy not to make the most of it, right?
The Volunteer's Week website is filling up with inspiring blogs from people across the country, recounting their stories of how they got involved and the projects in which they participate. From Abbie's tale of putting a little glam into a Cancer Research shop to Ashish's adventures in a schoolroom in the Himalayas, the lesson to learn is that volunteering doesn't have to be humdrum. For some, it's the first step to a new career, or even just a chance to meet people that you wouldn't normally.
This week is a great time to show our appreciation for the hard work and dedication of a big chunk of the British population, who give without expectation of reward. They help because they can.
And isn't that what charity is all about?

For more, visit the Volunteer's Week website:
http://volunteersweek.org

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Make Room In Your Wardrobe

A fascinating article in the Guardian recently took a peek into journalist Chitra Ramaswamy's wardrobe, and came to some interesting conclusions.

Recent studies undertaken by Marks and Spencer in association with Oxfam found that we're really good at buying clothes, but not so great at wearing them. In fact, there are an awful lot of items in British wardrobes that are purchased, then never worn at all. 44%, in fact. That's pretty un-nerving, if the nation's wardrobes are as overstuffed as mine.

Andrew Soar, campaign manager for the M&S/Oxfam joint venture Shwopping aims to get those clothes back into circulation. For one thing, there's a lot of money tucked away doing nothing. He estimates that we have £2.7bn worth of garments hanging dormant. The simple conclusion? All of us could do with a bit of an audit.

So where do you start? Chitra lays out the simple steps to releasing space in her wardrobe:
In an attempt to “release the power” of my threads, I begin by counting clothes, which is surprisingly fun. I have 164 items – more than I expected. On average, each wardrobe in the UK contains 152 items, of which 57 are never worn or haven’t been worn in the past year. I more or less stopped buying clothes three years ago when I had a baby and took voluntary redundancy. Since then, my clothes have come from charity shops – with the odd Uniqlo splurge. I soon discover that there is something particularly sad about an unworn item of clothing originating from a charity shop. Twice as rejected, twice as pointless.
We're all guilty to some extent of falling in and quickly out of love with a garment. The trick is to realise that the affair is over and it's time to move on. You could find some items are worth more than you think–Soar estimated Chitra's rejected items having a resale value of over £600. There's no need to fire up your EBay app, either. If you donate M&S clothes to Oxfam, you'll get money-off vouchers for new items in store as part of the Shwopping initiative.

A twice-yearly edit of the items in your wardrobe can make all the difference, and stop you feeling as if you're drowning in clothes. A good rule of thumb: if you haven't worn it in a year, you probably won't ever again. Set it free, and let someone else love it.

All of this gives me an excuse to post a video, and air out my prog rock tendencies, for which I make no apologies. Use it as a soundtrack for your own wardrobe exploration. You know what you like.



Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Making It Socially with Simon James Cathcart

Ethical fashion would not be the growing phenomenon it is, I think, had a couple of factors not come into play within a short period. The first, of course, is social media. The ability to talk to a wide audience, to share news and ideas with like-minded people across the globe has been a huge boon for the cause, opening up closed and opaque systems and letting us see the truth behind the fashion industry spin.

With social media comes the idea of community. A shared set of interests will always have us gathering in groups. From there we can see the short step it takes to using the influence that many people can have when they work together in new and interesting ways. In the 19th century, with the advent of cheap publishing, we ended up with the union movement. That great push for change still resonates today, and indeed social media has had a hand in bringing unionisation to previously closed shops in the Third World.

In the 21st century, crowdfunding has become a way to get products and services onto a global stage in a way that could never have been imagined even forty years previously. If you have a good idea and the potential to get it to market, it’s easier than ever to get the funding you need by effectively selling the product in advance. Obviously there can be downsides to this approach, and it’s a rare Kickstarter customer that hasn’t been burned with a late or non-existent product. That’s part of the risk, but the rewards benefit everyone.

Which brings us to Simon James Cathcart, who has taken the best of both social media and crowdfunding to bring his sharp spin on contemporary men’s clothing to light. Simon uses his enthusiastic band of followers to help dictate the path of his seasonal collections, with the understanding that they will then pledge to get them to market. He uses a good old-fashioned forum on his website to help build that sense of community and interest in the clothes. Users chat, share ideas and enthusiastically get involved.

In some ways, what Simon does works in the same way as bands and artists like Marillion or Amanda Palmer, embracing a core audience with the understanding that they will cheerfully invest in any new project. It’s a concept called The Long Tail, and if you have or can develop a fan base it works brilliantly.

It helps, of course, that Simon has already made a name for himself with his sharply-tailored modern takes on classic men’s apparel. He’s taken a smart approach to building on the momentum, striding off in a direction that other creative types in the fashion field could do well to emulate. After all, why give a chunk of your profits to Kickstarter when you can do it all yourself? For more, and to perhaps express an interest in Simon James Cathcart’s A/W 2016 collection, hit up

http://www.simonjamescathcart.com

Friday, 3 June 2016

How We Talk Ourselves Out Of Supporting Ethical Behaviour

Readers, if you're a regular visitor to this blog, you are the right sort of people. You care about the environment, about worker expoitation, about how to make the world a better place. You have a good soul.

Which, if you believe a new piece of research from the US, makes you more irritating. Respondents to a survey were asked to assess a limited amount of information about a pair of jeans before deciding whether to buy them. They were given a choice of two out of four factors: price, colour, style, and whether child labour was involved. Those who chose not to know whether the jeans were ethically produced were then asked to think about the people who would.

The result: the respondents who weren't bothered about the ethical factor thought that the people who did were "unattractive, boring and odd." Charming.

However, as Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian points out, this is more about sour grapes than social attitudes. Or rather, something called social comparison theory. We all know we should care about ethical issues. If we choose not to, for whatever reason, we make ourselves feel better by belittling the people that do care. They may be more virtuous, but they dress funny and smell a bit, so nurr.

The theory is reinforced by another part of the study, which allowed people to donate to an ethical charity at no cost before taking the survey. These participants instantly felt better about themselves, and felt no need to put down their more ethical shopping partners. Having been given a chance to act nobly, they felt less threatened and didn't lash out.

There's a deeper and more worrying issue at the heart of the research. Doctor Rebecca Reczek breaks down the core problem:

In a similar study—using backpacks instead of jeans and replacing child labor with unsustainable manufacturing—we asked participants how interested they’d be in signing a pledge to be more sustainable. We found that subjects who put down ethical people were less likely to want to sign the pledge. That act of denigration undermined their commitment and their ethical values. Because they saw themselves calling people who took the time to research the sustainability information “odd,” “boring,” or “not fashionable,” they said to themselves, “I guess I don’t care much about sustainability,” and then they weren’t as interested in the pledge.

There's a lot to unpack here. We know we should care about ethical issues, but it's tough so we choose not to find out more and at the same time sneer at people that do–all to shore up our own sense of inadequacy at not caring. It's a tricky cycle to break, and I don't have any easy answers. All I can suggest is that you read The View regularly. That way, you can be informed, entertained and feel good about yourself.

 

I recommend a look at Doctor Reczek's research. There's an interview with her over at the Harvard Business Review that's well worth a coffee-break read.