Wednesday 31 December 2008

Why 2009 can be better!

Here we are in the dying hours of 2008, many people will be look back thinking that this was not a great year, how times were so much better earlier in the decade and how 2009 will simply be worse on all fronts.

But 2008 could also be looked at as being the great cleanser - the year that people behind the easy money got found out and the rest of us got educated about the fact that if there is a fast buck to be made then almost inevitably, in the long term, there is some cost. Unfortunately the cost has been borne by many people, not necessarily those who made the fast buck in the first place.

2009 will be a year in which those who believe in ethical ways of conducting life - and business - can come forward with confidence and make a stand against those who present the more enticing, exciting options. Of course many businesses need to innovative and take risks - and there the risk takers will get their way but the new ethic of risk taking should be that the risk taker sees the losses when it goes wrong and there is little or no 'collateral damage'. The age of banks taking risks in such a way that every one of us sees the after effect when the quest for the fast buck goes wrong must be behind us.

While Gordon Brown might not turn out to be the person who saves the world, in 2009 there will be the great new hope for the planet - in the shape of Barack Obama. His ethics and idealism seem to be just what we need - the issue is whether he will be strong enough to overcome the entrenched interests of those who got us into this mess. For those who might otherwise look forward to 2009 with nothing but pessimism, Obama presents the potential for a new ethical outlook from the top and exciting changes that could touch us all.

Things might be tough along the way but 2009 will be the year of the new clean slate, a year of opportunity for us all to bring the excesses under control and put in place firm foundations for future growth.

Monday 22 December 2008

A very merry Christmas!

We're about to print our last t-shirts for this year and we do so with the feeling of quiet contentment that goes with completing a job well done - and also a feeling of relief and exhilaration at being able to forget about it all for a few days spent with families and friends.

Fortunately the team here do not have far to go. No long drives across the width or height of the UK in order to be with those closest to us - we're able to pop out to the local and have a final drink together before saying our farewells and meeting up again in the new year.

At the pub we might chat about our achievements this year, not just in terms of our growth but also in terms of being able to do so on the back of continuing to promote the ethical and environmental causes in which we believe. We might chat about how the recession might affect the promotional clothing industry and the steps that we can take so that next year we do as well as this year. We might consider what new technologies might come along to help us meet these challenges.

On the other hand, in the quiet knowledge that we've been dealing with these all issues in the workplace, what we'll probably do is what we normally do when we get to the pub - talk complete and utter bo!!ocks about music, football and anything else that comes to mind except Strictly Come Dancing!

With that profound thought we pass our readers - whether customers past or future - or simply readers - our very best wishes that the festive season brings joy and happiness to you and your loved ones!

Monday 15 December 2008

The smartest young scientists wear Pier 32!!

It's too easy to think that Pier 32 is just about custom promotional t-shirts. But that's far from the full truth - we supply all sorts of promotional clothing, from outerwear to vests. You can also have us customise accessories such as tote bags and, in the case of children, bibs. Which is where another of our customers, the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development comes in.

The Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD) was founded at Birkbeck College, University of London, in 1998. It has grown steadily and is now internationally recognised as one of the leading centres of its kind. Its mission is to investigate relations between postnatal brain development and changes in perceptual, cognitive, and linguistic abilities from birth through childhood and late adulthood.

For adult volunteers, behavioural studies usually take up to 30 minutes and involve watching sequences of pictures or listening to sounds and making judgments about them. With such experiments the Centre study the response time and accuracy of participants to clarify the thought processes (such as attention or working memory) involved in the task.

Many studies at the Centre use EEG (electroencephalography). This is a safe and non-invasive method of studying brain electrical activity through a net of sensors placed on a participant's head. The sensors pick up tiny electrical signals that can then be processed to learn more about the pattern of brain activity during the experimental task, (for example judging the similarity of 2 pictures, or detecting previously unseen faces). This technique can be used to answer many different questions. How does the brain extract different bits of information about a face? What happens in the brain when you see a novel image? Do left and right hemispheres process different kinds of information?

The Centre also incorporates the Babylab - which is where our bibs come in! The Babylab studies how babies learn and develop, particularly during the first 2 years of life. Some of the areas investigated include how babies recognise faces, how they learn to pay attention to some things and not others, how they learn to understand what other people do and think, and how their language and understanding of the world develops.

Generally studies take the form of simple games in which babies are presented with various interesting things to look at and listen to. Like short video clips or cartoons on a computer screen or more interactive studies involving showing the babies different toys or objects. A researcher might play a game with a baby to understand more about how they think and learn different skills. In addition to studies where they simply observe babies behaviour they also use various methods for measuring brain activity including the EEG 'hairnet' of sensors and the following of eye movements.

As well as studying typical brain development in infancy, the Babylab is one of the only laboratories in Europe that studies brain functioning in very young children with autism and William’s Syndrome.

We have supplied T-Shirts & Bibs sized for babies of 3 - 24 months to the babylab - and on the front is printed the motto: "I'm a young scientist" - never too young to start!

The centre is continuously looking for adult volunteers between 18 and 35 years old to take part in behavioural studies as well as in studies on brain activity, and babies in their first two years. Visit their website to sign up.

Sadly most of us here at Pier 32 are far too old to have the Centre delve into our psyche...

Thursday 11 December 2008

The Great Gorilla Run 2008

During the early hours of 27 September a blanket of mist settled over London and the city was at peace. But not for long... as the sun's rays began to break through, hundreds of gorillas emerged from London's streets and a gorilla gathering started to form in the city. This was the 2008 Great Gorilla Run and it was set to be amazing.

By 10:30am over 732 dedicated Gorilla Organization supporters, dressed in their customised gorilla costumes had gathered at the start of the run in central London. This was the first time in history that this number of people dressed as gorillas had gathered in one place making the 2008 Great Gorilla Run a record breaking event! Wildlife conservationist and television presenter Bill Oddie was in great spirits and after an exciting build up, set the gorilla runners off along the 7km route.

As the gorillas spread through the streets of London thousands of onlookers gathered and TV crews from around the world captured the moment on film.

To date over £250,000 has been raised by gorilla runners for the endangered gorillas of central Africa - a fantastic achievement. Elizabeth Roberts, who raised over £4000 was this year's top fundraiser and as a big thank you for her efforts, adventure travel company Explore, who sponsored this year's Great Gorilla Run, has offered Elizabeth a once in a lifetime trip to see mountain gorillas in the wild in Uganda.

No, Pier 32 did not supply the Gorilla costumes! Pier32 supplied ethically produced t-shirts from our African supplier Starworld.

To see more pictures from the event, for more information and to sign up for the next Great Gorilla Run on 26 September 2009 visit Our congratulations go out to everyone who took part!

Monday 1 December 2008

Living Streets - reducing the impact of the car

We have just heard how another of our customers has been using our services to project themselves - not just in the UK but again in Europe.

The charity Living Streets campaigns for creating better streets and public spaces to be enjoyed by everyone on foot, with their needs prioritised over traffic. Living Streets also campaigns for more walking on everyday journeys, reducing congestion, pollution and our carbon footprint.

The charity runs various campaigns, a notable one being the Walk to School campaign funded by the Department for Transport and the BIG Lottery Fund. That campaign was recently joined by the Walking Works campaign, encouraging commuters to reduce the number of short car journeys they do (20% of journeys being less than a mile!) and walk to the station or all the way to work, with benefits for fitness and the environment.

While most of our customers order our personalised t-shirts or hoodies, Living Streets wanted customised rucksacks to be taken by a group of students from Darlington (with funding from Darlington Borough Council and Northern Film and Media) to visit the Walk21 conference on walking and public space in Barcelona. They presented their own ideas to delegates about their ideal walks to school, and grilled the experts at the conference. They are currently editing their experiences into a video.

The 5 day experience included travelling to Barcelona and back by sleeper train - quite an experience in itself and rather more beneficial to the environment than flying! As well as attending the conference, they engaged in a range of local activities.

This was all part of the Step Up Debate - a national discussion about what changes students would like to see made to encourage them to walk more of their school journeys.

Our ethical and environmental credentials at Pier 32 was an important part of Living Streets choosing us as a supplier of promotional products. We are pleased to have played our part in helping them achieve their aims.

As well as the Living Streets website at the Step Up campaign site is at At these sites you can not only find out rather more about the charity and its campaigning, but also about the students' experiences on the Barcelona trip.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Jerzees

Jerzees is a large promotional clothing brand with a higher profile in the USA than in the UK. It's American website is in fact curiously unhelpful to our quest for information on the brands ethical credentials. However Jerzees is one of the brands of the Russell Corporation (Russell itself being the other well known brand) and its European website
is much more helpful as well as being rather more attractive.

Unlike the Jerzees USA website, there is a page devoted to "Our Ethics". "Russell Europe believes worldwide ethical practices and principles are now more important than ever. We work to a strict code of practice to help ensure none of our manufacturing processes put the environment at risk. Equally vital is the welfare of the people who make our garments, wherever they are in the globe."

All the Jerzees garments are ├ľko-Tex certified (which means no harmful residual chemicals may be in place in the clothing after manufacture and that the environmental impact of the production process itself was minimal). They also say that they are "committed to having all our manufacturers WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production) accredited".

Now it's obvious that this means that Jerzees suppliers are not all currently WRAP accredited. I visited the WRAP website to see if that might shed some light. Unfortunately because Jerzees outsources its production and their site does not say where, and WRAP monitors the actual factories not brands, the WRAP organisation is not going to be able to help us.

The Russell Corporation itself was recently acquired by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which owns Fruit of the Loom. The link is to our separate blog article on Fruit of the Loom where we considered the status of Berkshire Hathaway as the owner of that brand. In that article I mentioned 'high minded ideals' so in that respect the intention of Jerzees to have all its suppliers WRAP certified is good and in keeping with its owner's ideals.

But we'd really like to have more concrete information on how much of Jerzees production is currently WRAP certified and how long it will be before it all is certified. And what is the status of its other suppliers - what standards are applied there?

As ever help on this sort of issue is appreciated from anyone who can shed light on the answers.

Friday 14 November 2008

Working with Habitat for Humanity

We've a large number of articles in this blog looking at the supply chain in getting t-shirts to us in the UK; it's time to look at the other side of that supply chain, at our customers, how our t-shirts help them and how they in turn help others.

While the clients we supply with clothing are mainly situated here in the UK, the work they do spans the globe. One such client is Habitat for Humanity, an international charity dedicated to the elimination of poverty housing and homelessness around the world. Founded in 1976, and now working in more than 90 countries, Habitat for Humanity have built, repaired or renovated over 300,000 houses in partnership with people in need of safe, decent homes. They run an international volunteering programme, Global Village, where individuals or groups can visit projects and actually work hand in hand with homepartner families to build safe, decent homes.

We got involved with Habitat for Humanity when they were let down by another firm of t-shirt printers. They were soon able to establish our ethical credentials (very important to a charity looking to relieve housing poverty, sometimes in locations where less ethical manufacturing practices may be commonplace) and we were able to supply them with the quality they needed and meet what had become a very tight deadline.

As a result, Habitat for Humanity were able to send their volunteers to a variety of locations where the wearing of the t-shirts by the volunteers helps spread the word about the charity and what they do.

Habitat for Humanity now carries out its work in more than 90 countries around the globe - including most locally two projects in the UK at Liverpool and Southwark. In the image we find our t-shirts being worn by volunteers helping with construction work in Cluj in Romania. The economic and social legacy of years of oppressive rule in a Soviet style economy has left many in Romania without decent shelter. They are forced to live in cold, damp crowded housing, often in high rise apartment blocks, but at the other extreme in older wooden homes that are literally rotting.

What the Habitat programme does is help needy families build their new homes and live in them at a cost that is affordable in the local economy. The homes you see being constructed use a wooden frame structure and sandwich-type walls made of modern thermo-insulating materials. Even though properly heated, living in these homes will use a fraction of the energy of the older drafty colder housing stock still endemic in Romania. The same environmental considerations that helped Habitat for Humanity choose Pier 32 to supply clothing are put into practice in the work they do across the globe.

For more information please visit

Thursday 6 November 2008

Forget the credit crunch, think eco-crunch

Good news! The Bank of England has just cut its base rate by 1.5% meaning that many of us will have a little more money to go around and we might just start to think that things are going to better in a year or so, also making us feel a little better about the here and now.

That rate cut shaves no less than one third off the base rate. Just like that (as Tommy Cooper might say). It seems so easy for it to happen that you might wonder what conjurer, what slight of hand, makes it happen now when something could and should have been done a while ago.

Isn't hindsight wonderful? Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a separate committee for the preservation of the planet that could sit down for a chat and decide that we all slice a third off the demands that we place on our environment? Today. Just like that.

That's what the planet needs but even if it could happen the harm already caused would not be quickly undone. And let's face it, now that Tommy Cooper is no longer with us, there's little chance of a conjurer achieving the cut. And as for the global committee that is the human race, as we focus on the credit crunch we are liable to forget the eco-crunch and issues such as sustainability, fair trade and global warming.

So if a magic emission cut is not possible what is going to become of us and our planet?

In the latest Living Planet Report, the WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network say "the world is heading for an ecological credit crunch as human demands on the world's natural capital reach nearly a third more than earth can sustain." There's that magic third I was referring to above.

"We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically – seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences," said Jonathan Loh of the Zoological Society of London. And WWF International Director-General James Leape said “If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.”

The report was issued on 29 October. For more statements and highlights from the report see the WWF news archive - here's a direct link to the report.

Friday 31 October 2008

Even Walmart's doing it!

Corporate Social Responsibility ("CSR") is one of the buzz terms of the new wider consensus on the need to act ethically in business. Over at the Ethical Corporation blog I detect some concern about the effect that the recession will have on corporate behaviour. Will corners be cut and blind eyes turned when it comes to keeping up standards?

Well not at WalMart apparently. Through the EC blog I found this article at the Financial Times where it seems Walmart's intentions are to push its supplier's harder on their CSR standards. I particularly liked the quote from Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive, told a meeting of more than 1,000 suppliers in Beijing, many no doubt in the clothing industry.

"Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional. A company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labour, that dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honour its contracts - will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products."

I trust that Mr Scott had checked out that WalMart's tax position was squeaky clean before lecturing his suppliers!

Anyway, it's a good message and heartening to hear it put forcibly in China by what may be Chinese industry's biggest customer.

Friday 24 October 2008

Fair Trade Cotton demand soaring

With all the news about commodity prices taking off and then some, notably oil, declining, I wondered what might be happening in the cotton markets. Thanks to the internet such information is close to hand.

It would appear that cotton about 35% more expensive now than it was 18 months ago but, surprisingly, costs no more than it did at this time in 2003, its previous peak.

My source is Looking at other products I like, over 5 years aribica coffee has increased in price to 250% of it's October 2003 value, bananas 250%, salmon 170% and sugar 240%.

And we see these upward price movements reflected in our shopping bills, although with the producer inevitably getting precious little of what we actually pay, the prices that we see have not moved that greatly. And yes, clothing prices in the High Street have been coming down reflecting the relative stability in the price of cotton.

What made me look at these numbers? It was a little report that I picked up in Images, the trade journal for our promotional clothing industry. According to Images, reports that "the worldwide demand for fair trade cotton has doubled over the past 12 months".

Despite the obvious growth in the fair trade market, this statistic surprised me so I checked out the original report on the fairtrade site. Indeed, it's true - "Fairtrade cotton farmers have... seen demand for their produce more than double in just one year. During 2007, the sales of items made out of Fairtrade certified cotton, ranging from cotton wool to jeans and towels, surpassed 14 million individual items"

And that's just cotton carrying the Fairtrade label, as opposed to carrying other equally worthy certifications such as WRAP (which clothing supplied by our main supplier Starworld carries).

With all this increase in demand, why have our prices have been relatively stable, always a help in times like these? My conclusion is that more and more suppliers are signing up to the fair trade ethos (a good thing) so that supply is to some extent keeping up with demand. And if the prices have been fair in the past, why should they rise anyway?

In the world of commodities today fairness is not exactly an economic concept which is at the forefront of the mind of a commodity trader short selling, but in the fair trade markets where suppliers (like Starworld) buy locally, and then deal directly with buyers (like us), things are perhaps a little different.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Get Ethical!

The Christmas shopping season is upon us - it seems it was already there in some shops a couple of months ago - but it is around now when most people start thinking about arrangements for Christmas. I know that my shopping will start on or about 22nd December - but then I am a man!

Pier 32 is a member of Ethical Junction, the UK's premier directory of ethical suppliers. In a new collaboration with Get Ethical,, the long established online originally started in 2001 by The Big Issue as an impartial portal to the world of online ethical merchandise, all suppliers on Get Ethical are now members of Ethical Junction who help monitor the credentials of the suppliers. So why not start you Christmas shopping experience by exploring what is on offer here?

We don't sell on the site because it's geared up to supplying off the shelf products. But as a fast reliable route to a one off Christmas present it's going to be difficult to beat.

Friday 17 October 2008

A time for courage in marketing.....

Times are tough, we are talking ourselves into a recession. As we will hear often, it will be survival of the fittest. But what makes you fit to survive?

The latest Bellwether survey (just published by the IPA, the Institute of Practioners in Advertising) makes for depressing reading - "in Q3 annual marketing budgets were revised down to the greatest extent ever recorded in the survey’s nine year history". Moray MacLennan, IPA President, said “I doubt these gloomy results will come as a surprise to anyone. In light of current headlines the biggest surprise may well be that 12% of companies’ budgets were revised upwards"

People will go on buying, after all the GDP will probably only fall a percent or two before we claw back again. But that percent or two will shake out some under-performers and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that a major contribution to failure is a lack of courage in maintaining marketing spend. In fact, when competition to get a new customer increases, can it make more sense to increase marketing spend?

So returning to the 12% spending more, what evidence is there to suggest that increasing their marketing budget is a good thing? I've done a bit of digging:

The Smeal College of Business conducted a survey in 2005 called "Turning Adversity Into Advantage: Does Proactive Marketing During a Recession Pay Off?" The survey interviewed more than 150 senior marketing executives from a variety of industries about the effect of the last US recession in 2003. It found "firms entering a recession with a pre-established strategic emphasis on marketing; an entrepreneurial culture; and a sufficient reserve of under-utilized workers, cash, and spare production capacity are best positioned to approach recessions as opportunities to strengthen their competitive advantage". Dr. Gary Lilien, one of the authors of the study is interviewed at the BNET Intercom blog. It seems that spending more will not work for everyone but if the existing culture is to value marketing, the nerve is there and you have the capital to give you the confidence to do it, then the outcome from the last recession suggests that increased marketing in a recession substantially strengthens the relative competitive position when coming out of it.

A well written piece by Millward Brown entitled "Marketing During Recession: To spend or not to spend" highlights anecdotal and survey evidence that cutting back on marketing is often a bad idea. He highlights an IPA analysis that suggests that "While companies that cut marketing spend enjoyed superior Return on Capital Employed during the recession, they achieved inferior results after the recession ended. During the recovery, the “spenders” achieved significantly higher return on capital employed and gained an additional 1.3 percentage points of market share." What's going on? Well, among other factors, cutting costs almost inevitably increases profitability in the short term, but if you keep marketing the brand during the recession then the relative profile of your brand increases. You can gain a brand advantage and then when there is more money available more of it is spent in your direction.

And here's some commentary on a report by media and communications group Carat: "the main point ... .. is that maintaining a marketing presence during economic downturns pays big dividends when better times return".

The message being repeated is that bold but wise spending on marketing becomes an investment in market share, that pulls in custom now but comes into its own when we emerge from recession. Much of the expenditure of the companies that showed post recession gains must have been on confidently marketing their brands. A longer term strategy winning out over the temptation to go short term cost cutting.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Pick your cotton carefully!

It's good to see a conference being organised to highlight issues in the supply of cotton for clothing. We've already featured the use of child labour in Kazakhstan in this blog - follow the 'cotton industry' label below for more articles - and this conference seeks to pick up this issue and others such as the use of pesticide and fair trade.

To present the issues, speakers will include representatives from Pesticide Action Network UK, Action Aid, Traidcraft and the International Fair Trade Association.

The conference is at Southampton Solent University on Saturday 25 October - click here for a .pdf with full details or view the Southampton Fair Trade Group website.

Aside from the discussions, there will be a Cotton fair displaying organic fairly traded garments and displays illustrating the history of the cotton industry and working displays of spinning and hand-loom weaving.

Monday 29 September 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Continental

Continental, alongside Starworld, are the names behind the two promotional clothing ranges who supply direct to Pier 32. Almost all the other brands that we have been reviewing in our Ethical Brand Profiles are supplied to us through an intermediary distributor. Starworld's ethical credentials have been the subject of many articles in this blog; Continental have featured too - but we have not yet completed a Brand Profile - so with no further ado.....

Continental go about presenting their products in a modern, polished manner. Instantly from the home page of their website there is a green environmental message coming across is all the branding. We have already featured in this blog their EarthPositive range featuring their Climate Neutral clothing collection, their role in campaigning against the exploitation of child labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, the positive aspects of using organic cotton in conversion, and the eco-friendly luxury of the bamboo t-shirt.

This paints the background of a company with high eco-friendly standards. They are a private company and their UK based founders feature prominently in the various initiatives which they have followed. While their Climate Neutral clothing range directly using natural energy in its production, the rest of the company's activities are certified as Carbon Neutral by an independent monitor as a result of carbon offsetting.

Independent monitoring of their environmental claims is very evident with Oeko-Tex certification, their main line of organic t-shirts are certified organic by Skal and carry the organisation's EKO symbol and last but by no means least, their Earth Positive range is certified organic by the Soil Association.

What you get in terms of environmental impact very much depends on which brand line you go for. To concentrate on their mainstream range, "Continental Collection", and moving away from their Skal certified organic range that is part of that collection, what you get here is a t-shirt made from organic cotton in conversion. Follow the link for more information.

So there is the environment looking good. What about ethical, free trade issues? Here things are not quite so clear from the website. The supply chain of the EarthPositive range is stated to be Fair Wear foundation accredited. The same applies to the Eco Apparel range within the unbranded "Private Label" service. What about the rest? Our conclusion is that Continental have messed up their presentation

The Fair Wear Foundation website lists all its members and there you will find details of Continental. The message confirms our own long standing understanding that Continental products are manufactured in a factory in Turkey and that factory is monitored by the Fair Wear Foundation. With Continental's concern for the environment and their campaigning on child labour issue, it would have been most surprising to have discovered a chink in their ethical armour.

Know any different? Let us know!

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Starworld WRAP it up

Although we offer a huge range of options, the majority of the t-shirts that we print are supplied by Starworld who manufacture the shirts in Egypt. We like Starworld because of the price and the high ethical standards under which they operate. They don't just boast about standards using flowery language, they back up their position with independent certification from a range of sources.

The Oeko-Tex 100 certification means that a whole range of harmful chemicals are not used in the production process. The quality management systems are certified to the ISO 9001 standard. The organic t-shirts are certified organic by Skal to the Global Organic Textiles Standard and carry the organisation's EKO symbol.

Now Starworld are certified by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production). WRAP is a not for profit organisation based in the USA with an office in Hong Kong dedicated to promoting humane, ethical, and lawful conditions and practices in manufacturing facilities all over the world.

The organisation achieves this in two ways. First, the Certification Program certifies individual factories for compliance with WRAP's principles and procedures concerning, fair pay, workers' dignity, safe and secure conditions, and environmental impact. The Apparel Certification Program has operated since 2000; programs for other industries will be added in the future. Second, various training programs educate workers, factory managers, government inspectors, and others about issues related to global supply chains and their workers.

The WRAP website sets out here what gives their certification integrity. The certificate, which covers all the areas of the Starworld Ethical Policy Statement, and goes further, means that Starworld can be relied on to actually be following the high standards they set themselves - "Our compliance with the WRAP standards is just the beginning is just the beginning of our commitment to our employees and the environment. We have developed a wide range of initiatives that greatly reduce our impact on the planet and contribute positively to the well-being of our workers and the local community"

We'd like to highlight the vertical integration of Starworld. The whole production process is carried out by Starworld and its employees. Pier32 buys direct and that means our customers get the best value while the new WRAP certification means that we have ever growing confidence about the ethics of our supply chain.

Monday 1 September 2008

Ethical brand profile - Regatta

Regatta supplies clothing for the "great outdoors" - going beyond t-shirts, through weather protection clothing for those occasionally active outdoors, to high performance clothing for "high-energy activities". And it supplies these in ranges for men, women and children. There's also a specific corporate clothing website

Right on the homepage of its main website is the prominent image link to their ethical trading policy, available for viewing as a .pdf. Regatta is part of a bigger group that includes popular brands for British mail order or High Street shoppers such as Hawkshead and Craghoppers. The ethical trading policy covers all their brands.

Most of the clothing is supplied from Asia (although it's not clear where) and there's a focus on 'the worker' in what is presented. "We feel very strongly that workers in factories are treated fairly and are better off through working with us than they were before."

Moving into the detail, it's a little confusing as to what's going on. There's a Policy section which sets out that Regatta require visual inspections of factories and conduct interviews with managers and workers. Then there's an audit section which says "In addition to our own Ethical Trading policy, we also use a recognised third party organisation that carries out strict ethical inspections." So there's a suggestion of a 2 tier approach - regatta monitoring and 3rd party monitoring - but it's not quite clear that this is indeed the case. It may be that the audit of the policy is in the hands of third parties only.

The audit is carried out by a "recognised leader in its field" but Regatta aren't telling us who! But we should not nit pic because Regatta do go rather further than many and the ethical code that is presented is as good as most.

One area where these ethical codes can break down (as highlighted in recent television coverage of Primark) is where some work on the clothing being produced is being carried out in sweatshop conditions outside the confines of the factory being audited. The possibilities of abuses in sub contracting further down the supply chain is something which does not feature in policies which centre on auditing factories. We think that it would be better if the full supply chain for a particular garment was audited - however the nature of what Regatta sell probably means that the whole manufacturing process occurs in one place.

Unlike some bigger companies such as Adidas, Regatta do not publish the results of the audit process. Again it may seem like nit picking for what appears to be a fairly well sorted company, but it's through comment on this sort of thing that standards get pushed even further forward.

Switching to environmental issues, the Regatta brochures highlight the wide range of performance fabrics used in their clothing - 'Polartec', 'Isotex' and 'Isolite' being examples. Curiously there seems to be no specific mention of the impact of production on the environment, which is disappointing.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Back in action....

Yes, there's not been a blog article for a while! It's not that things slow down in the summer months, if anything with the profusion of outdoor events it gets busier, but we have been getting in our own holidays and making significant changes to the web site as well. But things are settling down now and we intend to be blogging again on a regular basis.

So what are the changes on the website? They are aimed at making life easier for our customers through amendments to the site that make it simpler to use and by providing more information in a cleaner, clearer way....

  • There's a new cleaner home page design; we've reduced the number of navigation links and this makes it easier for customers to head off in the right direction
  • We've introduced the Quick Quote facility which allows customers to answer a minimum of questions about what they want, and send us an artwork sample, so we can get back to them with a clear t-shirt printing quote within a working day
  • We'd provided new pages setting out information such as what exactly we need in the way of artwork and segmented lots of information that previously used to be on a single page
  • We've set up a new section to deal with the Earth Positive range of climate neutral t-shirts
  • We've reduced the clutter from our banner to give you a more soothing fluffy blue sky experience (just like the blog has always been!).
  • And, finally, you navigate from page to page using our new extended menu system that, yes, works not only in Internet Explorer but also in Firefox and far more obscure browsers
The plan for the blog is now to complete our Brand Profiles before concentrating on bringing you more general articles and news. With talk of recession and the seemingly interminable credit crunch, it's the businesses that invest in promoting themselves that will be the ones that will ride out the storm - and we will be here as ever helping them to cut costs while not sacrificing their ethics.

Friday 13 June 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Outer Banks

After the frustrations of trying to nail down Maddins (see previous post), Outer Banks proved to be equally frustrating at first but I got there in the end - see their website here.

The first thing that hits you is the preppy feel provided by the photo of the polo shirts - then the straplines "The finest fabrics paired with exquisite craftsmanship" "Impeccable Attention to Detail".

And this up market image is emphasised by the fact that they do polos and casual shirts but do not do t-shirts! Or do they? This picture is the nearest they get - the "Double Mercerized Pima Short Sleeve Mock Tee". Come on guys, it's a t-shirt!

Anyway, more importantly will buying this top end promotional clothing brand be a sound ethical choice? Unfortunately, and curiously, the website says little or nothing. There is no organic option but there is a range of 'Eco-Fiber' products "
An innovative cotton/bamboo blend – bamboo naturally adds softness, breathability and inhibits the growth of bacteria."

There is an answer to our quest for information however and it's there at the foot of the website... "© 2007 Hanesbrands Inc." Yes, Outer Banks is a Hanesbrands company which means that at this point I refer you to my previous Ethical Brand Profile on Hanes.

If you are able to provide any further information on Outer Banks (or indeed Hanesbrands) as regards their ethical stance then please let us know.

Ethical Brand Profile - Maddins

Maddins is a range of school clothing that we can print and is available though our principle wholesaler for us to print custom logos and designs etc. The strange issue is that I can find no trace of them on the web. And I am not the only one looking....


Watch this space!

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Result

Result Clothing are a promotional clothing brand founded in 1994 based in Colchester, Essex, UK. A visit to their website reveals that they have a 'Retail' arm that sells advanced outdoor clothing made from advanced esoteric materials under the "Result Performance" brand.

Many of the clothing lines are also available through promotional clothing outlets. The purchase of clothing that enables the user to yomp up Snowdon in winter is not the focus of all promotional clothing buyers so the range includes more down to earth items such as fleeces, body warmers and workwear.

The company has a short statement on "Employment Policy" and "Child Labour" on the trade section of its site. "RESULT requires that all authorised garments baring [sic] its name are manufactured under conditions which adhere to strict standards on working hours and good working conditions including factory temperature." and "RESULT does not permit the use of child labour in any part of their manufacturing process." There is a short statement on equal opportunities.

Curiously the Retail section of the site features similar but different statements. On environmental issues the trade section of the site says "RESULT also encourages the use of azo-free dyed fabric where possible" whereas the Retail section says "RESULT Performance prohibits the use of fabrics containing banned amines from certain Azo dyes." While it would be good for all garments to be AZO free, on the Pier32 site you will see many marked as AZO free.

In common with other brands, we'd like to see more specific information on the ethical and environmental issues surrounding their clothing on their site. Where is the clothing made? If there are more detailed policies behind the scenes, how are they monitored?

Because of the brand name and relatively small size, Result makes it difficult to trace any commentary on their activities on the web. If you know more please let us know be sending an email or leaving a comment.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - AWDis hoodies

AWDis, "All We Do is Hoodies" or "Just Hoods by AWDis" all are trade names attached to a new company that we have just begun doing business with. And, yes, all they do is hoodies!

Their website, with an attractive brochure that makes the most of the street culture associated with hoodies (while portraying wearers in a positive light) is A rich variety of colours are available.

One thing that they have not had time to get around to on their website is their ethics. With no mention at all of fair trade, let alone eco-language, we contacted them to find out more. we were pleased with the response. A set of written Business Partner Guidelines cover the expected points - to summarise: "JUST HOODS BY AWDIS's goal is to create and encourage creation of model operations that provide good jobs at fair wages and also improve conditions in their communities"

On the environment "JUST HOODS BY AWDIS will seek business partners who demonstrate a commitment to progressive environmental practices and to preserving the earth's resources". "Products supplied must conform to all European Union environmental legislation".

Their products are sourced from a factory in Pakistan. Their cotton "is sourced from ethical cotton suppliers in Pakistan local to the factory". More tangibly, the factory is WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production) certified - see website - a monitoring organisation based in the USA. Here it is the factory that is monitored and has obtained certification rather than the company but WRAP (a US based entity) have a thorough approach to their certification and their activities give us some considerable comfort that AWDis - a one product, one factory company - is doing what it can to respond positively to the pressures now on even the smallest clothing companies to ensure that its supplies of hoodies are ethically sourced.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Starworld

Starworld is a very popular choice for the customers of Pier 32 and we have associations with the brand for over 7 years now so we know the quality of the finished t-shirts and other products well and supply it with confidence to our customers. Because we deal direct with the manufacturer, we are able to offer prices which are extremely competitive.

Starworld produces its t-shirts and other clothing in Egypt, an African country with a great tradition in cotton production and one of the more Western facing African nations.

We publish the ethical statement of Starworld on our site - it's a lot more specific than some of the vaguer statements issued by other manufacturers (who may say that they respect the labour laws of the producer countries and then don't go on to tell you where they are or that they permit 16 hour working days....). The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt publish a summary of Egyptian labour law and it's easy to see how it fits in with the Starworld statement. Indeed it's quite close in many aspects to European labour law.

We like the fact that Starworld are not very good at glossy websites and brochures. It is very evident that money is spent on other things!

We also like that Starworld t-shirts are produced within the Oeko-Tex 100 standard - which means that production is carried out in such a way that the final product is free of any toxic substances.

Starworld now go further with its new range of organic t-shirts that we recently discussed. This gives our customers a cost effective organic option

Digging for dirt found a recent debate at York University on whether it was possible at all to find a supplier that could provide t-shirts in an ethical way and at an appropriate price. It seems that the University Student Union did not have to change its ethical merchandising policy (which was being actively discussed) because Starworld met their stringent cost criteria.

So there we have why Starworld remains our mainstream option for those who want a cost effective organic choice. Know anything different? Please let us know......

Wednesday 7 May 2008

What is fair trade? Or Fair Trade? Or Fairtrade?

An interesting read is a new article published at the website asking how aware the public might be about "what Fair Trade is"?

It's a good article which certainly raises the conciousness that the Fairtrade Foundation label means that the cotton in clothing may be Fairtrade certified but at present the manufacturing will not be, because right now there is no objective means of deciding what exactly Fair Trade is in a manufacturing context. It's all rather subjective.....

The article consistently capitalises Fair Trade - giving it the feel of something that is definite, defined, but I think the reason for this capitalisation in the article is because it's applied to Fair Trade in the context of IFAT - the global network of Fair Trade Organizations. Just as the Fairtrade Foundation certifies PRODUCTS for the UK market, IFAT certifies businesses (such as Divine Chocolate) and organisations (such as Oxfam UK).

The message in the article is that Fair Trade can apply and be certified in respect of the purchase of raw and close-to-raw materials but not after there has been any degree of manufacturing. So neither IFAT or the Fairtrade Foundation certify manufactured clothing. Fair Trade clothing does not exist. Let's talk about fair trade.

Yes we, and many companies like Pier 32, continue talk about fair trade because it is a concept that people can relate to - a phrase for us that means we care who we buy from and we'd like you to too. Whether it's Starworld in Egypt because of our close ties, Continental for their organic products, Wombat for their Fairtrade certified cotton, Adidas for its extensive and transparent monitoring programme, Gildan for its Fair Labor Association accreditation; all we can do is try and be as upfront as possible in sharing what we know. This information is largely shared in this blog - it can help you decide by your own fair trade standards what fair trade is and what you should buy.

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.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Finden+Hales

It's tempting just to say "See Skinnifit" because the Finden+Hales website gives broadly identical ethical policy information as Skinnifit and with good reason because these brands have shared ownership -Henbury Limited.

So what's the difference? It's branding - "At Finden+Hales we understand the importance of co-ordinated teamwear and the Finden+Hales collection ensures that each garment can be matched with any other garment in the range"

For a company the size of Henbury and its ethical policies it's difficult to find much good information on the internet. For the record, there are places to go to carry out searches where commentary on ethical practices in trade can be found. Finden+Hales , Skinnifit or Henbury did not feature at all at the following sites:

Clean Clothes - "aim at improving working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry worldwide"

Ethical Corporation - "Not an oxymoron" - much wider than the clothing industry

Global March - "a movement to mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of all children"

Trade Justice Movement -
"a fast growing group of organisations including trade unions, aid agencies, environment and human rights campaigns, fairtrade organisations, faith and consumer groups"

I'll be developing this list elsewhere.

As for Finden+Hales and Henbury generally it's difficult to make any ethical criticism right now. They do not make any environmental claims; let's hope that they stick with their ethical policies in practice as well as in theory. Any more information welcome.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Skinnifit

Skinnifit are a Bristol based company established in 1999 to supply the promotional clothing and corporate marketplace. Their aim to "design and manufacture modern and highly wearable clothing, keeping an eye on style and fashion and a tight grip on quality".

They provide a summary of 'our methods' on their website that includes a summary of their ethical policies as follows:

"All of our factories (must) operate in full compliance of their country relating to all applicable laws, rules and regulations - including labour, worker health, safety and the environment.

All workers must be treated with respect and dignity and must not be subject to physical, verbal, sexual or psychological harassment in connection with their employment

All suppliers and factories must adhere to the all applicable labour laws including those related to hiring, wages, hours worked, overtime and working conditions

Workers must be free to join and organise any unions or associations of their own choosing. Where local laws limit the right of freedom of association, employers shall not obstruct alternative and legal means of free association.

There will be no use of forced labour."

I would have liked to have seen more up front rather than in a request to email for greater detail. There's no harm normally in being upfront on specifics. There's little or nothing I could find on environmental issues. Nothing on where their clothing products are sourced.

A quick search revealed potential Bangladesh suppliers (for example China Palace but no adverse reporting of abuses connected with the Skinnifit brand.

It was interesting to look at the websites of some of these Bangladeshi entities. The 'buying agent' Trendzgroup may or may not help supply Skinnifit with clothing sourced from a variety of factories. They boast of Bangladesh: "Cheapest labor cost allows the lowest manufacturing cost in the world." while at the same time have a section on the website dealing with workplace concerns "Our goal is to exceed requirements of local legislation and reach the global standards, and thereby support clients’ images and sourcing principles. We believe work place environment is the most important factor to get the best performance from the employees." Maybe the message is getting home that there are many Western companies who have to now think about the conditions of the supply chain they buy into.

Skinnifit does not make a song and dance about its green credentials or ethics and nothing can be found to directly criticise it, although like many of its competitors it is perhaps small enough to operate below the radar of the international fair trade monitoring organisations.

As ever, any further information is welcome and the best route is to leave a comment.

Monday 17 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Fruit of the Loom (& Screen Stars)

Fruit of the Loom is an example of a 'vertically integrated' company - it manufactures its own cloth and uses it to create a range of garments that are well known to the general public - most people in the UK will at some time have worn Fruit of the Loom promotional clothing - especially their t-shirts.

Fruit of the Loom also make and supply promotional t-shirts under the brand name 'Screen Stars' - so this article also covers that brand.

Fruit of the Loom is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation which itself is controlled by Warren Buffett, the richest person in the world but also one of the world's greatest philanthopists, teaming up with Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to donate mountains of cash to global health and development. With this background you may expect strong ethics as regards trading with the developing world but also you'd also expect Fruit of the Loom management largely to be able to get on with managing the company without interference from above.

There is a fair amount of "buzz" about Fruit of the Loom being an anti-union company. There's an article on the Clean Clothes website focussing on closures in the USA and Ireland and conditions in Morocco for its workers. That dates back to 2001 but provides some historical context. It's close to a time when Fruit of the Loom went through administration leading to acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway and restructuring.

Looking through the Fruit of the Loom website it's actually difficult to find anything at all dealing with ethics and the supply chain. In its latest 'green' e-catalogue online brochure there is a hint of things being better now than in 2001. The company talks of a new "state of the art facility" in Morocco. "We've worked closely with the Moroccan government to ensure that the factory benefits the local people as much as our customers. You can rely on us for.... .... ethical responsibility."

I took a look at Berkshire Hathaways "Code of Business Conduct and Ethics". The word "union" does not feature and there is nothing regarding global considerations. A rather stuffy document but it does have high minded ideals even if it all seems a little remote from a worker in Africa. However I was able to dig up on the website of International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation the Contractor Code of Conduct to be signed by any contractor that includes the requirement that Contractors must not engage in "unfair labor, wage or benefits practice or practices violative of the laws or regulations of the country of manufacture or assembly of products or involving unsanitary, unhealthy and/or unsafe labor conditions, the employment of child, forced, indentured, involuntary, prison or uncompensated labor, the use of corporal punishment, discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religious beliefs, or similar employment activities or conditions".

I certainly got the impression that this is not a company where executives are running around trying to put on a glossy ethical facade - but also the difficulty that I have had finding anything other than a commentary on anti-union stance seems to point to a company that treats its employees and trading partners reasonably well.

If you can help me out on ethical issues and Fruit of the Loom then please leave a comment.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Hanes

Hanes is a line of promotional clothing produced by HanesBrands, a clothing company headquartered in North Carolina USA which employs 50,000 people internationally.
Hanesbrands owns several other well known brands including Champion (its second largest brand) and Playtex.

So as clothing companies go, Hanes is one of the biggest. How does it stack up on ethics and the environment? Let's take a look at the "Our Values" section of the Hanes website.

Hanesbrands' Vision is "to be a world-class consumer goods company with a distinctive competence in operating a low-cost global supply chain." The last bit here is potentially a bit worrying, if the vision driver is low cost then where does this take you?

Looking further, Hanesbrands' Core Values include "integrity/Ethical Standards" which is more encouraging. They have a Global Business Practices, an employee code of conduct that has been their guiding practice since the 1990s and a set of Global Standards for Suppliers, a supplier code of conduct, has been in place for a similar period, "years longer than similar codes".

Right at the top of the employee code of conduct is the message from the Executive Chairman "These Global Business Standards were developed to provide you with information and resources to make informed business decisions and act on them with integrity. These standards are also a declaration to our customers, business partners and stockholders that we are committed to conducting business as we always have – by doing the right thing. In your career, you may be faced with a situation that does not appear to support our business values or you’re not sure if it is the right course of action." It then goes onto list contact points where to go for advice, outside the individual's direct chain of command.

An interesting statement aimed at empowering the individual employee. I like it although it's difficult to tell how this sort of thing works in practice.

Moving away from employees, how does the
"low-cost global supply chain" work?

In the recent article on B&C we highlighted operations in Bangladesh. The National Labor Committee in the US have been to Bangladesh and their report here from 2006 was not good reading for Hanes. The reaction of Hanes and Wal-Mart (also cited) was to terminate supplies. On the face of it, good, but then some (United Students Against Sweatshops)
say "instead of staying to correct the situation, Hanes abandoned the factory, leaving workers without jobs".

You may think damned if you do take supplies from developing countries, damned if you don't. And with the wide range of interests of people willing to criticise, you are of course right.

That article actually focuses on Hanes' operations in the Dominican Republic - "abusive and unsafe working conditions" - something that is confronted head on and prominently on the Hanesbrands website (a link on the main Values page) and by an independent report.

Hanes have not abandoned their operations but recognised 'managerial issues' and 'overtime pay practices' and other issues that needed addressing and it is to be welcomes that they appear to have addressed them, including the retrospective payment of overtime.

What's the big difference between the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh? In the former the workers are employed by Hanes, in the latter by the sub-contractor.

Ethical Corporation
writes "while brand pullouts from specific factories such as those by Wal-Mart and Hanesbrands may jolt Bangladeshi employers into putting their houses in order, they still are not seen as the most effective way of dealing with a sticky situation, especially when the decision could leave many impoverished".

I am not sure. Closure may seem harsh and simply an easy way to appease some critics, but we do not know what messages were coming from the current owners; in the long run if a consistent approach is taken those in Bangladesh or other places who profit from unethical labour practices will have to changes their ways.

But some engagement with (including where appropriate inspection of) suppliers is important.

That thought takes me back to Hanesbrands' Global Standards for Suppliers, an interesting read. Asides from what you would expect to see in terms of ethical business practices there is some quite refreshing content (such as "Gifts, favors and entertainment are not needed in order
to conduct business with Hanesbrands,") and an ethical "Mirror Test".

The Global Standards say....

"Failure to observe and abide by these Global Standards for Suppliers may result in Hanesbrands ceasing to do business with such supplier. As evidence of their concurrence, suppliers will enter into a written commitment to comply with these Standards and sign the attached Acknowledgement Card."

The document includes a tear off reply slip to certify "I hereby acknowledge receipt of Hanesbrands’ Global Standards for Suppliers, and certify that our company is, and will continue to be, in compliance with the provisions of the Global Standards for Suppliers."

I assume the Bangladeshi factory owners had looked in the mirror, admired their well cut suits, and then returned the reply slip! Hanesbrands' written standards point to their heart being in the right place but perhaps they need to be a bit more proactive in getting out there into the field and seeing first hand what is going on.

There is only limited time for each of these brand profile summaries - I welcome any further feedback on this or others.

Monday 10 March 2008

What's in a name?

The eagle eyed will have noticed that this section of the Pier 32 site has been renamed "News & Views".


Well, that's what it is. It may be a blog too, but 'blog' is not quite as precise and for customers visiting the site they now know a little more what to expect.

There's a scurrilous rumour circulating here that it was simply that I wanted to stop Gerry asking me, "Scott, what's a blog?"

Thursday 6 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - B&C

B&C are a name well known in the European promotional clothing industry if not a household name. They are part of the Cotton Group - based in Belgium. They generate a turnover of 72 million euros and 52 million items were sold by them in 2006.

The Cotton Group employ about 100 staff in Europe - all production being outsourced but have a branch in Dhaka in Bangladesh to take their representatives closer to many of their suppliers.

B&C's website has a strong fashion concious feel - it's big, expensive and glossy. It's products are projected as being of a higher quality than some alternatives.

B&C is a member of the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative). With big brands (including Aldi, Esprit, ZARA, C&A and Etam) and 109 participants in total this is another example of companies banding together to gain an ethical accreditation to get "Synergy effects, reduction of multiple auditing thereby reducing costs".) BCSI set out that their code of conduct complies with social and ecological standards under the rules of the International Labour Organisation, United Nations convention and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Every B&C supplier gives a written undertaking to comply with the code of conduct issued by the BSCI. BSCI then undertake company audits of its members' suppliers carried out by BSCI-approved independent international inspection companies and put remedial actions in place where needed.

B&C say that they "initiated positive actions in Bangladesh following the collapse of the Spectrum factory" (For more on this and other factory tradegies in Bangladesh see the Clean Clothes Campaign website. Details of the follow up are here. The site suggests that BSCI "code implementation programmes completely failed to identify the many violations, including safety risks, at Spectrum").

The Clean Clothes Campaign is not encouraged. "In the CCC's view, the BSCI represents an incomplete, minimalist model for compliance with labour standards. It relies on weak auditing, is not accountable to the public, and does not involve key stakeholders. It is significantly weaker than other monitoring and verification initiatives active in the garment sector today. " (See here for their review of the BSCI).

There is a press release dealing with this on the BSCI website. "Although the control of the construction of a factory building goes beyond the responsibilities of buyers and also the contents of social audits, BSCI members have increased their efforts to improve the situation”, "Moreover, some BSCI members are contributing to a local fund which has the aim to provide support to the Spectrum collapse’s victims and their families." "An effective change is urgently needed because if Bangladesh is not able to provide a better level of social compliance, buyers might consider changing to other sourcing markets."

Some B&C garments were made at Spectrum - according to the website, "those who have not committed to the compensation trust fund include: Carrefour (France), Cotton Group (Belgium), New Yorker, Steilmann, Kirsten Mode, and Bluhmod (Germany)".

On the environmental front B&C do not just rely on BSCI. They are Oeko-Tex 100 Standard certified, for T-shirts, Polo Shirts, Shirts and Sweatshirts. (It is to be noted that Oeko-Tex 100 is an independent certification and well regarded).

So what are we to make of this outsourcing of ethics? It seems to make economic sense but if the members make the rules? Clearly it's a lot cheaper than doing it yourself (as might Adidas) or going the truly independent Fair Trade route (as Okarma) but does it provide more than an ethical veneer?

As for any of these Ethical Brand Profiles, more information on this subject is welcome including anything that sets out positive effects of the BSCI's response to Spectrum or other criticisms.

Thursday 28 February 2008

A voice from the Philippines

It's one of the countries that in my mind I need to be watchful of - when I see a Made in the Philippines tag I start wondering about the conditions in which the clothing might be made.

It's up to responsible brands to ensure that sourcing from countries such as the Philippines treats the people there fairly.

Today I found a blog from a student in Manila - in this post SPIRITUALITY PAGE: Children in poverty Kebelle provides an insight into a world far from the UK, (a world far from his own in Manila even). A comment maker focussed on Kebelle's thought - "What they need is not actually charity but empowerment. They need respect. They need their dignity untouched."

That is why fair trade is important and why I view that we in the West spending a little extra to buy responsibly is at least as good as, and perhaps in the long term far better than, putting the same money into a charity can.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Wombat

With a name like Wombat you'd expect this company to be at the niche end of the market - you may also expect them to be Australian but in fact they are based on Deeside, Cheshire, here in the UK.

Wombat products are available through Pier 32's promotional clothing directory - you can search on the Wombat brand to see what is available.

13 of their product lines are made from Fairtrade certified cotton, to if you are interested in the extra assurance that the Fairtrade Foundation certification can bring (it being probably the best known accreditation in the UK market) then Wombat would be a good choice. They sell a number of lines but those certified are:

Noosa Vest
Narrows Hoodie
Hervey Hoodie
Pinjarra Top
Maheno Top
Tambo Tee
Beech Hoodie
Airlie Top
Tumby Vest
Wallaroo Top
Birabee Vest
Tissaca Tee and
Kuwary Top

There are a range of products made from regularly sourced cotton. Here we look to Wombat's ethical policy to find out what is going on. It asks its suppliers to adhere to its own code of conduct and reserves "the right to run audits and spot checks by themselves, or by external parties, on suppliers’ premises without prior their knowledge to verify that they are behaving in an appropriate manner".

Wombat is not a big company (they were only established in 2004) so perhaps we have to be realistic about how far they can go in carrying out audits (and there is no mention on their site of any having actually happened) but to the extent that cotton is supplied by Fairtrade suppliers there will be some clear assurance to be gained.

Wombat also have a variety of good environmental practices in place here in the UK. As well as recycling Wombat is "working towards all suppliers complying with the requirements of the Azo dye directive and Nickel directives "

You can see their ethical policy here.

As always Pier 32 looks forward to receiving any further information that can help our assessment of any of the suppliers of the products we sell.