Wednesday 30 April 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Kustom Kit

Kustom Kit describe themselves as suppliers of "Corporate wear" "a fusion of modern tailoring, innovative fabrics and spirited colours". They provide companies with more formal shirts and blouses as well as producing the more usual t-shirts, hoodies, and polo shirts. There is also a sportswear collection. They are based in Derbyshire in the UK and their products are distributed by promotional wear companies all over Europe.

They are one of the two major divisions of Charterhouse Holdings plc a company involved in the clothing industry but apparently unrelated to the Charterhouse Group, a Private Equity group based in New York.

Kustom Kit display their "Ethical Statement" link on each page of their website. "Kustom Kit adopts a rigorous selection process for garment manufacturers ensuring only those that are totally committed to exceeding our high ethical standards become appointed suppliers. We recognise and honour our duty to protect the workforce used in the manufacture of Kustom Kit garments. Each appointed manufacturer must conform to the following terms as a minimum requirement."

The terms that follow as usual have the emphasis on complying with local law on issues such as minimum wage, working hours, child employment etc. There are elements such as "good working conditions must prevail", a bit subjective but, there you are, it's better than nothing suggesting "we are willing to get supplied by companies who have their employees work in squalor as long as they otherwise tick the local legal boxes".

So how is this enforced? As well as "local agents" inspecting the plants, "As a further safeguard, unannounced inspections are regularly made by Kustom Kit senior management." Now this is genuinely good (there are businesses that will operate a wishful thinking philosophy) - it would be a very insensitive (not to mention stupid) business man who could actually visit a plant that was being run as a sweatshop without wanting to do something about it after seeing such conditions first hand.

What is a shame is that there is no indication of where garments are manufactured.

The conciousness is apparently there on the environmental side too:

"Kustom Kit is also dedicated to protecting the environment and purposely seeks out suppliers who take positive action to minimise both waste and the impact of their manufacturing processes on the surrounding environment".

Readers may be able to provide some enlightenment on some of the issues raised in these ethical brand profiles - please leave a comment.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

"Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts"

The night before last I caught up with the first episode on BBC's iPlayer - last night at 9pm was the second of this reality TV program that takes 6 young fashionistas out of their cosy existences in the UK and plants them for 6 episodes covering 6 weeks into various clothes production plants in New Dehli, India.

We did not find out too much about the lives of the Indian workers and what they think of their lot but we did hear from owners and managers of the factories and the families in the homes in which they work.

The first factory produced clothes for M&S, Zara etc. It was bright, clean, HUGE - state of the art for India apparently. The workers were paid by the hour but clearly were expected to work hard (no chatting!) in a mind numbingly boring environment in which they were each one part of a production line for a garment. I was not clear how long the working day was but it was a lot longer than the 7 hours most of us enjoy in the UK.

The pay? About £1.20 per day. Now you may say, everything's cheaper in India. Well, some things are cheaper in India but our young participants found that buying a can of antiperspirant will cost that day's wages. Now I don't think I would quite class that factory as a sweatshop but clearly you can't afford to sweat....

(It was not actually antiperspirant - my invention - that was being bought but something equally basic to us in the West and very similar in cost).

The group then encountered another way to afford a can of antiperspirant - work in a small back street factory producing 'fashion' clothing. Here there is no production line; you produce a whole garment and get paid piece rate. At approximately 15p per garment you have to produce 8 to buy that anti-antiperspirant. Here the workers might normally turn in 18 hour days in order to make what they can at the piece work rate.

Of course these programmes were being filmed in establishments where permission had been given to film. Who know what lies beyond?

The trouble with programmes like this is that they play on the temper tantrums of the young participants to add some drama while the diligent work of the Indian's making these clothes for us largely goes unnoticed. But the point should get across to the young BBC3 audience.

I suppose I should not get uptight about what I describe as a "mind numbingly boring environment". It's what many of our western ancestors used to work in after the industrial revolution, after they moved away from working on the land. And the standard of living is probably better than our own industrial revolution ancestors too - they did not have antiperspirant either.

But what grates, and what we all should remember, is that our relatively lazy lifestyle and spare time to enjoy a service industry culture is based on the toil of the people who make our 'things' for us. Which is why we should give a little thanks in return next time we buy a t-shirt by being careful about what we choose.

Friday 25 April 2008

Pier 32 servers now powered by renewable energy!

Yes, this blog and our website are now presented to you from servers that are powered entirely from renewable energy sources. Our host, 1&1, is the first large web host who relies solely on renewable energy. They now utilise wind, water and solar power to keep their servers powered up in accordance with the Renewable Energy Certification System (RECS).

It's a small step, but an important one - computers use far more energy when they are powered up than you may imagine. After you read this and walk away from your computer remember to put it to 'sleep' or, better still, turn it off completely.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

A t-shirt is a t-shirt..... Am I right?

Well a t-shirt has a collar, two arm holes and no buttons so, insofar that this is true, the statement is correct.

But look a little deeper and you find that the variety is enormous:

Crew necks, V-necks, deep V-necks.....
Short sleeves, long sleeves, three quarter sleeves, no sleeves......
Loose fit, tight fit, lady fit.......
Light weight, medium weight, heavy weight, layered.....
Cotton, vintage cotton, organic cotton, bamboo, polyester, polyester / elastane etc etc

- and that's before we start considering the trivial details of colour!

So for promotional wear, should you be thinking beyond "t-shirt"? And if so what will the drivers be?

How often will the shirt be worn?

Some t-shirts will be worn once. We'll hate to suggest they are then discarded, but it happens. Here it normally makes sense that the t-shirt is an economy light weight cotton fabric. But if these t-shirts are to be worn again and again - the more built in quality in the fabric and the printing the better because after all they promote YOUR company or cause. A more resilient heavier weight might be a wise investment.

How warm is the climate?

Although there is normally a correlation between weight and ruggedness, some light weight fabrics are long lasting. So if it's going to be hot, perhaps a better investment is in fabric quality rather than weight.

And then there's humidity. Perhaps the wearers are to be engaged in sporting activities? This needs to be taken account of in making a choice and there are quick dry t-shirts now available made from fast wicking 100% textured polyester that will in some circumstances be a more comfortable alternative to cotton.

Do you want to fuss about size?

If distributing many t-shirts and you don't know who is to be turning up, then it's a good idea to invest in t-shirts that look good on many differently shaped people. Some styles need the right fit to look good, others are far more tolerant.

What exactly is being printed?

When it comes to printing, using plastisol or water based inks, cotton gives safe, predictable results. that said, any fabric making up a promotional wear t-shirt is likely to be suitable for most applications but it's good to take advice for unusual size, shape or colour designs.

What's in fashion?

The t-shirt manufacturer with the longer tighter style will tell you one thing, the one with the shorter looser cut another! But it's a t-shirt, and as long as the cut is right and fabric is quality, it will look good. Think about the range of people who will be wearing it; high fashion does not necessarily work when it comes to promotional wear.

What are your organisation's ethical policies?

Taking account of everything that precedes this question, have you also taken account of the stated ethical policies for purchasing of the organisation that you work for? They may not be communicated well or you may not think they mean it. But if some embarrassing publicity is going to be directed at your organisation because you've made the decision to purchase from a source that is at best obscure in its ethics then it may be you that carries the can.

And the wearer's ethics?

Now we are getting to the core of the business decision. The promotional wear is likely to carry two logos - yours and (unobtrusively to everyone except the person who wears it) that of the t-shirt maker. And quality wise, the recipient may have an adverse reaction to something they perceive to be a throwaway garment.

How about your ethics?

If the purchase decision is yours and you'd be be fussy about what you bought for yourself then why not apply the same principles in buying for your company? The arguments for buying ethically are strong and it need not cost materially more than other options. You'll probably be easily able to justify the cost differential to anyone who questions you!

And if you really want to impress?

Buy organic cotton for it's environmental ethics and its kindness to skin. Or bamboo, for its ethics and its feel of luxurious softness.

There you have it. A t-shirt is not a t-shirt. It's a statement about you and the extent to which you consider the people who wear it. If this all makes the decision too complicated then a quick discussion with our team here at Pier 32 will soon help you out!

Monday 14 April 2008

Starworld Organic collection ready to roll....

A few weeks ago we reported the news that Starworld, our supplier of ethically sourced t-shirts from Egypt, were about to introduce a whole new range of organic t-shirts and other promotional clothing.

Well, knowing that Africa is a place where things can move just that little bit slower at times, we were getting a little concerned that we would not be able to launch as and when we intended. And we were right, but only a couple of weeks later than originally expected we have the new Starworld catalogue in our hands and have updated our website to reflect that fact that we can now deliver these "fair price" organic t-shirts into our clients' hands.

Alongside clothing from Okarma and Continental that now gives Pier 32 buyers the choice of 3 distinct ranges of organic clothing. If you are feeling too spoilt for choice to make your mind up, don't worry, get on the phone, we are here to help!

Friday 4 April 2008

Ethical Brand Profiles - Beechfield and Quadra

Beechfield are a specialist producer of headwear. A sister brand, Quadra, make all sorts of bag. So this article deals with both of them.

Curious territory this. Whereas most clothing brands are anxious to say something about themselves and the ethics of their sourcing on their websites, there is nothing on the Beechfield or Quadra sites to say anything about themselves or their trading connections. Both sites are just product catalogues, which is fine for most of their customers but makes things really awkward for writing something useful in this post!

Trawling the web I did find commentary that outlined how Beechfield respect and understand local laws on employment, human rights etc.

Beechfield also say that their suppliers undergo strict assessment of ethical policy and that they have a dedicated manufacturing base which indicates some level of permanence in the supply chain, which is good.

However, just to be cynical for a moment (and here I am making a general observation on the issue, not necessarily directed at Beechfield) when it comes to local laws you'd hardly expect anyone to brag about breaking them! But where local laws are not up to say UK standards, then what happens? What happens when local human rights are different to those we enjoy in the UK? It would always be good for companies to go that one step further so as to avoid giving the impression that just perhaps they may be out there choosing to get supplies from countries with the least regulation on working conditions.

I did my usual search on the web for adverse commentary on Beechfield or Quadra supply chains and could find none. Let's hope this is a good pointer. I could however find no comment anywhere on environmental policies. (Bad)

Any enlightenment is welcome - please leave a comment.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Animals and humans more important than the planet.....

That's the simplistic way of presenting the result of a survey carried out by the Coop in the UK that I've just caught up on. Published about a month ago and reported in the Guardian, it's clear that more are people are concerned about the here and now than something (climate change) that is probably seen as being off in the future.

On the back of a lot of television coverage of ethical farming issues it is perhaps not surprising to see animal ethics to be rated so highly but the significant thing for me was how ethical trade is seen as being more important than climate change by many people.

The figures in the Guardian article are presented in a less than clear way. Either "Only 4% rate climate change as their top ethical priority, compared with 21% who think animal welfare is the most important issue and 14% who rate fair trade as their key concern" or "Three main categories emerged from the survey as the key areas of concern: ethical trading (27%), animal welfare (25%) and environmental impact (22%)".

The message is strong though, and it's one that any company engaged in promotional activities should take on board. Right now, ethical trading (or fair trade) is out there as a big issue for a great number of consumers.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Mantis

Mantis barely have a website - but they do have a .pdf brochure of their promotional clothing lines with space age artwork (in a fifties rocketry kind of style!). While Fruit of the Loom go to Morroco to shoot their brochure, Mantis are looking to go somewhere quite different. Curious because Mantis make a big thing of their clothing being sourced from Africa - "Born in London, Made in Africa".

Mantis is one of four clothing brand lines from the umbrella trade name, Mantis World. Mantis is the promotional menswear and womenswear line, Humbugz is the childrenswear brand, Babybugz is for babies and finally there is TLC, a brand of organic promotional clothing.

"By working closely with our partner factories we are able to reduce our impact on the planet and its people". Mantis produce most of their clothing in Tanzania at 'affiliated' factories. It's not too clear what 'affiliated' means, but I suspect the factories are small and probably reliant on Mantis for custom, meaning close ties without ownership.

"We can't claim to be perfect, we know it's possible to be considerate to the world with planet-friendly production methods and fair wages" and they go on to describe their supply chain as "fair trade".

So far so good, but these are after all just words - however Mantis go onto describe how they have "approached some important organisations for their views and guidelines" and go onto mention the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, the Okeo Tex Organisation, Bio Inspecta, Ecocart International and bioRe Certified Organic Cotton.

It appears from Mantis's blurb that all of these organisations monitor Mantis's operations (or at the very least their suppliers) but I could not find Mantis listed as members on the websites of these organisations. This may or may not mean something. Mantis do however feature the Oeko Tex logo in their brochure so we can at least be sure that all their clothing meats these important environmental standards.

I searched for commentary on Mantis's operations in Tanzania but could not find anything. If you can help me, let me know ideally by adding a comment.