Friday, 27 May 2016

Riding The Road To Smart Wearability

The trick to making an item of clothing sustainable is building it to last. If you don't feel the need to throw it away, you won't. If that item becomes as indispensable to you as, say, your mobile phone, then you'll be more inclined to look after it, and make it last.

That makes the new collaboration between Levi's and of all people Google so interesting. The two giants have been working on the concept of smart clothing–items that do more than keep you warm and dry. WIth their Project Jacquard, they might have hit the jackpot.

The first iteration of their team-up is the Commuter Trucker Jacket, a sturdy denim number that looks and wears just like a classic piece of Levi's clothing. But it's loaded with electronics, and the yarn it's made from is interwoven with conductive fibres. This means that it can connect with mobile devices, and allow the wearer to interact with them using swipe and tap gestures.

The target market for this prototype is urban cyclists. The sort of rider who doesn't like to go to the office in Lycra. Wearing the Commuter Trucker Jacket, you'll be able to skip songs, or reject an incoming phone call with a simple tap on the sleeve. It's a good idea, meaning that cyclists can concentrate on their ride more safely without needing to fiddle with their phones.

Most importantly, though, the jacket is designed to fit neatly into everyday use. It's waterproof (again, an important consideration for cyclists) with the exception of a detachable electronic tab that sets up the connection between the garment and your phone. If it gets dirty, take out the tag and sling the jacket in the washer. No muss, no fuss (although as someone that regularly leaves keys, change and pens in his pockets pre-wash you'd like to hope the tag is robust enough to survive the occasional accident).

Our View: There's no doubt that the Commuter Trucker Jacket is a desirable item, and here at The Pier we'll be interested to see what comes out of Project Jacquard over the next couple of years. The balance of price, utility and wearability is one to get right if smart clothing is to take off in the way that wearables have with the advent of Fitbits and the Apple Watch. I have to admit, though, this particular item is right up my street and I hope it becomes more than just a proof of concept.

 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Stemming The Spill Of Used Clothes

An art installation on a Seattle beachfront has got Americans thinking about the amount of clothing they send to landfill every year.



The installation, part of a promotion by thrift brand Savers, mixed up the two most polluting industries on the planet–fashion and oil–to create an eye-catching piece with a strong message. As hovering oil cans seem to pour out an unending stream of discarded clothing, the connections to toxic waste and pollution could not be clearer.

The sculpture is cleverly made, but couldn't be simpler in construction. It's just wood, chicken wire, old oil barrels... and 3,000 pounds of discarded clothing.

The numbers for American recycling of old clothes are pretty poor. Less than 15% of second-hand garments are recycled or reused. That means over ten million tons of textiles are sent to landfill every year in the US. That's a pretty shocking number, and one that's ripe for improvement.

Hence the installation on Seattle's Alki Beach, part of an initiative by Savers called Rethink Reuse. This aims to get Americans to consider their fashion footprint–and the things they can do to lessen it. Savers' CEO Ken Alterman laid out the intention:

"With the growing amount of clothing and textile waste ending up in landfills, we felt compelled to act. We want to help people better understand the environmental impact of their clothing waste and the steps they can take to reduce it."
The message of Rethink Reuse is straightforward: donate to Savers' non-profit partners, recycle or think of other uses for the clothes taking up wardrobe space. America is a country with a strong history of thrift and invention. It's time to recapture that spirit.




Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Livia Addresses The Elephant In The Room At Copenhagen

The recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit featured a keynote speech from Livia Firth that didn't pull any punches. She excoriated the fast fashion model, calling it "the elephant in the room" at any conference that wanted to talk about sustainable fashion. She called for a root-and-branch rethink of the industry, but warned
"...nothing will ever change while fast fashion and its current business model stays as it is."
Livia was deeply scornful of the big brands that dominate the fashion industry. It's through them that the fast fashion model has been allowed to thrive, after all. Handwringing over climate change and high-profile 'awareness' campaigns do nothing to effect meaningful reforms. In fact, Livia argues, the big names are perfectly happy with the fat profits that the current model rakes in. Worse, the lack of transparency in their supply chains disguises some unpleasant truths. Livia says:
"...they would like us to believe that all is well in the supply chain, especially with the garment workers. That is sadly not the case."
Her real anger comes from the lack of change in the industry post-Rana Plaza. For many, that event was the first clear evidence of an industry who would happily put workers lives at risk in the name of profit. For the big brands, it was simply an excuse to roll down the shutters and set up shop somewhere else...
"across the world to Cambodia, to Myanmar and to Ethiopia, exporting the same model without systemic change. That was not the agreement. That was not the intention. And that must not be the sum-total of our ambition."
Livia also turned her sights on the responsibilities of those companies, following the signing of the Bangladeshi Accord on Fire Safety. The agreement, it is becoming clear, is has not been kept by some.
"Nearly three years ago, some of the biggest brands in the world committed to improving working conditions by signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Three years on, and despite growing profits and market share, some of those brands have still not made their strategic supply factories safe.
"The sad fact is, this industry remains more comfortable picking low hanging fruit – by focusing on token 'green' initiatives – than on dealing with human exploitation in the supply chain."
Livia ended her address with a challenge and a promise. She announced a new initiative in partnership with The Lawyer's Circle that would lead to a road map for change. It's a challenge that impacts all of us, from producers to consumers.
"We will soon publish a study. A study that will set out the legal case for a living wage as a fundamental human right. A study that will explore the legal options for setting a global standard for a living wage.
For those in this industry – so many of you here – who are willing to be courageous I hope this study will give you the architecture for the change we dream of.
And for all of us – in civil society – it’s time for us to be active citizens and – active consumers. We can’t continue to demand change until we challenge the pace of thoughtless consumption which the fast fashion brands have dictated to us."
Our View: Livia is one of the most powerful voices in ethical fashion, and she has the funds and spirit to take the fight to the big players. Her speech at Copenhagen is exciting stuff, and issues a challenge that we could all take on. We can't forget the lessons of Rana Plaza. Here's a chance to show that those 1300 people did not die pointlessly.

Livia's full speech is available on the EcoAge website, and I've embedded the video below. Take ten minutes and get inspired.



Friday, 20 May 2016

Do It Clean

The uncomfortable truth about the clothing industry is that it's the second most polluting sector on the planet. Only oil is worse. That's a depressing thought, but we should view it as a challenge. What can we do to lower the cost and ease the load that every garment we make takes on the planet?

A Californian company called Nomadix thinks it has an answer. Already known for making beach towels from completely recycled materials, Nomadix is now setting its sights on one of the most ubiquitous items of clothing there is: the t-shirt.

The Clean Tee is a concept with a very simple notion, and some very serious science at its heart. Nomadix has teamed up with Spanish company Recover Textiles to produce the garment, using a clever blend of fibres. It's made by re-blending cotton from used clothing and textile waste to create new yarn. That's then combined with recycled poly from plastic bottles, turned into fabric, and sewn into a T-shirt.

So what are the benefits? Let's do some maths. In the course of its manufacture, the average cotton t-shirt will use 9.5 oz. of toxic waste, 2.5 oz. of pesticides and a horrifying 700-1000 gallons of water. That's 7-10 bathtubs full, for a single garment. By comparison, Nomadix's shirt uses no toxins or pesticides, and a mere 8 gallons of water. That's a 99% drop in use. Imagine that sort of saving ramped up to industrial scale, and the advantages that the Clean Tee offers become obvious.

Nomadix are not claiming that the Clean Tee is going to solve all the problems associated with the fashion industry overnight. In fact, they don't even have a viable product as yet. So far, the Clean Tee is running as a Kickstarter campaign, which can only supply a limited number of finished garments. What we're really looking at here is a proof of concept.

But if that concept is sound (and there's no reason to assume otherwise) then the processes behind the Clean Tee can be taken by bigger players and rescaled. It's known that many big clothing manufacturers are looking out for just these sorts of technologies to help lighten their environmental load, as they see the impact that climate change is having on their acquisition of raw material and the damage extreme weather events can have on their infrastructure.

Let's put it like this: it's in everyone's interests for the Clean Tee to succeed. How important can a simple t-shirt be? Well, it might just be the first drop in a flood of innovation that could save the planet.

If you'd like to know more, or snag your own Clean Tee, head over to Nomadix's Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nomadix/the-most-sustainable-t-shirt-on-the-planet


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Get Ready For Wig Wednesday!

This time next week, don't be surprised if some of your work colleagues pitch up at the office in a colourful wig. There's a perfectly good reason for it.

May 25th is Wig Wednesday, an event that helps to support CLIC Sargent and the brilliant work they do for young people with cancer. It's a great idea, because it shows support over one of the most sensitive side effects of chemotherapy.

Facing cancer is tough enough, but sometimes it's the little things that cause the most distress. Hair loss is an unfortunate signifier that you're facing cancer, and brings its own set of challenges. Do you face the world bald and proud, headscarf it up, or wear a wig?

Well, next Wednesday people across the country will be getting wiggy with it, helping to raise awareness and funds for the vital work CLIC Sargent do to help kids and their families through the toughest of times. From their Homes From Home, hostels close to primary care centres that help ease the grind of long round trips to hospital, to work liaison services to get parents the paid leave they need, CLIC Sargent are there to make things just that little bit easier.

It's not too late to get involved! The CLIC Sargent site has a ton of resources including fundraising packs and ideas for events. You can even get a wig from them, if you're quick.

So why not indulge that inner fancy dress fiend, and wig out next Wednesday? I can guarantee you won't be on your own. And who knows, you might just stumble upon your new signature look...

For more details and to sign up, get on over to CLIC Sargent's Wig Wednesday page:

http://www.clicsargent.org.uk/content/wig-wednesday-0

 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Sparking Joy In My Sock Drawer

Over the weekend, I realised something had to be done. The situation was out of control. I'd let things slide, and now I had to fix the problem before it became unworkable.

It was time to sort out my sock drawer.

Long ago, I developed a strategy for socks which basically went: buy and wear black socks. It doesn't matter if the pair you wear don't match, because they're the same colour. The problem is, of course, that any plan only survives as far as first contact with reality. I ended up with an undifferentiated mass of socks that had worn differently. Some were on the verge of falling to bits, and the only way I'd know is when I pulled them on in the morning and my toe went through a hole. Clearly, the situation was unsustainable.

My wife, love of my life, fount of all wisdom, shoved a book called Spark Joy into my hands and told me to sort myself out.

Marie Kondo's Spark Joy has changed the lives of millions. By providing us with the simple steps we need to declutter and tidy our chaotic lives, she offers a little zen calm that can be applied to every aspect of our lives. Personally, I found the whole thing a little too neat-freaky, but I was prepared to take on Marie's lessons in sock folding if it meant I didn't have to fight through the tangle of old and new to find a pair I could wear for work.

I emptied out the drawer and set to work.

Like any job that you've been putting off for ages, the whole process was much easier and simpler than I'd led myself to believe. Within twenty minutes, I had a tidy sock drawer filled with serried ranks of neatly folded matched-up pairs. At a glance I could see what I had. I realised that I had more coloured socks than I thought, and that a nice pair of alpacas that I'd got for Christmas had worked their way to the bottom of the pile. The orphans, worn out and crusties went in the bin, but there were much fewer rejects than I'd thought. The end result may not be a tidy mind, but at least I can see what I have now, and can choose what to wear in an instant.

There's a lesson to be learnt here, of course. Most of us are guilty of buying clothes without considering whether we need them, and some of that is down to not being able to see what we have in the first place. Organising your clothes stash gives you the opportunity to find hidden gems you'd forgotten about, or make space for a couple of carefully-considered new purchases. It's a small step towards a more sustainable you. As for me, I found room in my sock drawer for a nice colourful three-pack of bamboo socks that look great and will last for a good long while.

Did the whole process Spark Joy? Well, maybe just a little...

If your sock drawer could use a little organisation, Marie Kondo's book is a great place to start. Check it out here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spark-Joy-Illustrated-Organizing-Tidying/dp/1607749726

Friday, 13 May 2016

A 12 Hour Day, A Four Hour Commute: The Hidden Consequence Of Fast Fashion

The work day is often long and tough, and the worst aspect of it can be the bit that isn't reflected in the pay packet: the journey to and from the office. You can see why the idea of "working from home" becomes so attractive as train fares spike and the roads jam to a halt.

But we have it lucky compared to the garment workers of Cambodia. They often have to endure multi-hour journeys to and from their factories in overcrowded and unsafely driven lorries and minibuses. Some women face a two-hour trip each way, with a gruelling twelve-hour shift on top. The maths don't seem to add up–there's no time for family, little time for sleep. But for these workers there is no other choice.

Vice's Poppy McPherson profiles the commuter's journey in an article for Broadly that hammers home just how stark those choices are. It's uncomfortable reading, and highlights the plight of the garment worker as clearly as anything else I've read this year.

It certainly puts our grumbles about the 7:05 to Paddington into perspective. The workers, mostly women, don't get enough to eat and the drivers are reckless to the point of being dangerous–in fact, there are frequent crashes. More than 7,000 workers were injured and 130 killed in 2015 in accidents on the commute run. Sick, dizzy and bounced around on the back of an open-topped truck, the women are also unprotected from the wild extremes of Cambodian weather. The sticky, oppressive heat of April, the brutal downpours of monsoon season–they have to endure it all.

Little wonder, then, that some women choose not to face the journey at all, and stay in dormitories at the factory instead. One worker called Jeang puts it best, saying:

"I have elderly parents but I'd better stay alive and send money to them rather than take a risk."

It seems appalling that these women can face up to four hours a day on the trucks on top of a brutal working regime, but the factory owners claim that their responsibilities have been fulfilled. After all, they pay their workers a travel allowance–how they choose to spend it is up to them. This ignores the fact that the buses often cost significantly more than the payment covers, and choices of transport are limited.

For the women who work in Cambodian garment factories, life is a long grind. Work in the factories is easily found, but is often the only option in a shifting economy for those with little education and plenty of family responsibilities. We talk about their hard life as if it starts and ends at the factory gates. The reality is even more shocking.

I recommend reading and sharing Poppy's post, which shows us a hidden consequence of fast fashion that should encourage us all to do better by the women who make our clothes.

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/the-hellish-commute-of-the-women-who-make-your-clothes


 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

An Ethical Foundation To Your Wardrobe: Mighty Good Undies!

Pants. We all need them. We all wear them. They're the bedrock of any outfit.

And yet, for the most part, we don't think about them. Once they wear out, we bin them and buy a new pack in M&S. Job done. Which is a worry of course, as pants are as much a part of fashion as any other garment, and equally a factor of the ethical and environmental challenges fashion faces. So it's in our best interests to look at our pants drawer and think... could we do better?

That is a question asked by new start-up Mighty Good Undies, who are into the last week of a fundraising campaign through StartSomeGood. The founders, Hannah Parris and Elena Antoniou, wanted to put the same focus and attention that is placed on the more glamourous items in our wardrobe and apply them to an everyday clothing staple.

Mighty Good Undies are starting with a core range of styles, (men’s trunks, women’s boy leg and the women’s granny (full) briefs) all of which are made from organic, fairtrade cotton. They are designed to be soft, comfortable and long-lasting. And looking good, of course. Well, you never know, right?

The ethical impact of Mighty Good Undies is just as important as the looks, though. Hannah’s first-hand experience with ethical fashion design and supply-chains in India led her to an internationally recognised supplier of organic and Fairtrade produced cotton, Chetna Organics and its production partner, Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills. Teaming up with Chetna meant the Mighty Good crew could get their cotton at a good price, and be sure that the supply chain it came from paid its workers fairly.

There's a bigger vision at play with Mighty Good Undies, though. They're after change at the mainstream level, demonstrating to the mass market that comfortable and ethical underwear can be affordable. Currently we produce 24.5 million tonnes of cotton. About 0.5 tonnes of that total is ethically produced. That has to change. It's a big job, and you may as well start doing it in a good pair of pants.

 

With less than a week to go on their crowdfunding campaign, there's still time to show your support for Mighty Good Undies and pick up some early bird bargains. For more info and to snag a pair (or two), head over to https://www.startsomegood.com/mightygood

Monday, 9 May 2016

From Waste To Want: How Reflow Is Rewriting Our Attitude To Waste Plastic

Waste plastic. One of the environmental bĂȘte noires of the age. From the supermarket bag fluttering in a tree to the great reef of plastic floating in the Pacific, we use and discard so much of the stuff that it's gently piling up around our ears. It would seem to be a hopeless situation.

But if you look at the stockpiles of plastic waste as an opportunity rather than a problem, then things start to look a little different. By shredding and turning it into usable fibre, plastic waste becomes a commodity. Something with value.

We reported last week on Emma Watson's headline-making ensemble for the Met Ball, which was made by Calvin Klein from three different sorts of recycled plastic. Now Dutch social enterprise Reflow are aiming to take those innovations and apply them, with a bit of a twist, to the mass market.

Reflow aim to create durable filaments from PET waste that can be used in 3D printing–a field that has thousands of applications. Forward thinking fashionistas are already using the technology to produce complex designs for shoes, bags and jewellery that would be far too expensive to breathe by normal manufacturing methods.

There's an ethical element to the idea as well. Working with charities in Tanzania, Reflow plan to empower the lowliest workers in the supply chain–plastic pickers.

At the moment, the pickers are paid less than a pound a day for their labours. But by making the waste they collect into a desirable commodity, Reflow hope to roll the a chunk of the profits made from the manufacture of their filament back into the community. They will pay a fair wage for the materials the pickers supply. This will have the side-benefit of lifting them out of the poverty trap, and able to make a living for themselves.

Reflow's filament process is a significant step change from processes we've seen up to now, able to manufacture high volume at low cost. This is a very definite win-win for everyone. Who'd have thought that the plastic bag, one of the environmental villains of the modern age, could be seen as a useful, ethical way to help some of the poorest workers on the planet to make a dignified living?

For more, check out Reflow's website: http://reflowfilament.com/.

Friday, 6 May 2016

More Bad News On Fire Safety From H&M

Two weeks ago, we reported on H&M's broken promises to clean up their act. We showed how as the multinational was piggybacking on Fashion Revolution Week, news was emerging on how some of their factories were yet to comply with the safety needs of the Bangladeshi Accord. In short, while they were trumpeting their sustainability credentials, many of their workplaces are no safer than before Rana Plaza.

H&M's annual shareholder meeting took place yesterday in Sweden. As expected, activists hit the streets to give their opinion on the high street giant. Worldwide demonstrations took place outside H&M stores, and protester's anger was fuelled by new reports that paint an even bleaker picture of the brand's ignored responsibilities to their workforce.

Figures from a further 22 factories have been released which, alongside the numbers from the 32 H&M suppliers already questioned, show that over 60% of the Swedish giant's Bangladeshi suppliers are yet to come up to code with fire-rated exits–the lack of which have caused hundreds of deaths and injuries since Rana Plaza, over three years ago.

These dreadful numbers have largely come to light through H&M's own commitment to transparency. In fact, the International Labour Rights Forum has commended H&M for its open policy in releasing their progress on fire safety in their factories. But this painfully slow pace of essential renovation, over three years since one of fast fashion's darkest hours, is nothing to brag about.

Organiser of the protest outside H&M's Times Square flagship store, Amy DuFault, is quoted in Ecouterre giving a damning indictment of the brand's ethical standards. She says:

"H&M is about to open its 4,000th store in New Delhi later this month. Obviously their sights are set on growth rather than the safety of their workers. Yet when it comes to their responsibilities under the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, movement is seemingly at a snail’s pace. So I have a hard time with H&M ever calling themselves sustainable or conscious in any way when they can’t protect the very people making their clothing. Doesn’t that seem like the most basic part of sustainability? Provide a safe workplace where people don’t get killed or maimed?”

The anger and frustration is clear and palpable. It's increasingly obvious that, while on the one hand H&M are becoming more transparent and open, that very transparency is revealing a company that says one thing and does another. Or, when it comes to making their factories safe places to work, does very little.