Thursday 23 September 2010

The price of cotton

Something as mundane as the price of cotton rarely hits the news, but in the last week or so it has. The warning issued by retailers such as Primark and Next about soaring cotton prices has certainly hit the headlines. Next suggest that the price of cotton clothing will be 8% higher at the start of 2011 - part of this increase accounted for by the planned 2.5% increase in VAT. Since the price of clothing at Next is proportionately more than at Primark while the cotton content is broadly similar we could easily find a rather bigger percentage increase on the shelves of the country's favourite super low cost retailer.

The increase in the price of cotton may lead to your typical teenager buying fewer t-shirts next year. That's a price to be paid. But when it comes down to it not a great price.

How do we measure the price increase? Well 45% over the last year according to Next, but if you go back 15 years there has not been one! 15 years ago cotton prices were at the $1 per pound which sparked these headlines. While living standards and prices have forged ahead in western countries the price we have paid for cotton has fallen year on year and it is only the disasters that have befallen the cotton harvests that have caused prices to return to these previous levels.

So what is the real price of cotton?

In Pakistan and China floods have caused chaos, in the former in particular displacing the populations of whole towns and villages in affected areas.

But even before the floods these people, as cotton farmers and pickers elsewhere, lived in considerable poverty. It's not easy to highlight particular exploitation in these countries but elsewhere we have highlighted the scandal of the government sponsored forced labour of the children of Uzbekistan in its cotton fields.

At Pier 32 our Fairtrade options mean that you can have confidence that a fair price is being paid to the farmer. By buying organic cotton you will be buying from a different market - here supplies may not be affected as much and prices although starting at a higher level may stay more stable. Our Starworld range produced in Egypt is unlikely to be immune to the price increases but you can be certain that in 2011 it will still allow us to offer the great value clothing that we do now.

Monday 20 September 2010

London Fashion Week's getting ethical!

There's no doubt of the importance of London Fashion Week. With the headlines being grabbed elsewhere by Lady Gaga clad in fresh filets, and at the fashion show itself by the stark naked models trooping down the runway for the the Designer Charlie Le Mindu's handbag and hat extravaganza, it may have escaped attention that on Friday there was a whole show given over to sustainable fashions.

That such a show is a first is going to be a surprise to many but in fact ethical fashions have only previously been at the fringes of the event or indeed have had their own separate exhibitions at other times of the year. But this event was organised by the British Fashion Council as part of London Fashion Week proper and featured fashions by luminaries such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood and other lesser known labels such as Junky Styling, Henrietta Ludgate, Christopher Raeburn and People Tree.

Behind it was The Princes' Charities Foundation and a programme called START set up "to promote and celebrate sustainable living". But also the British Fashion Council have an initiative called Estethica with 37 designers now signed up and adhering to at least one of the three Estethica principles of fair-trade and ethical practices, organic sourcing or use of recycled materials. All are selected for their ethical credentials and design excellence.

There are those who decry fashion and argue that sustainable fashion is a contradiction in terms. Such individuals will be thinking of the throwaway end of the market for the reality of most medium to high end fashion is quality fabrics which mean that if owners choose to keep their clothing then it will be around and wearable for many years to come. Indeed the new 'Vintage' movement exemplified in the mainstream by the recent and first Vintage at Goodwood festival points to a new value being placed on quality labels and eclectic or classic styling from all eras.

Of course quality fabrics do not necessarily mean that the clothing has been ethically and sustainably produced - but a throwaway tag is a perfect excuse to sidestep ethical considerations and the prices one sees attached to some clothing makes one wonder how the clothing can be produced without some major exploitation of people or the environment along the way.

Our promotional clothing range includes garments that may not be the cheapest, but come close. However they do have a level of independent certification that means that you can buy ethically with confidence at a great value price. We'll concede that you're not likely to see them at London Fashion Week but look a little deeper into our catalogue and you will find some great stylish clothing, and of course ethical too!