Friday 29 July 2011

Dee Time

Another London-centric post today, I'm afraid. The South Bank Centre is hosting a Vintage Festival this weekend, featuring all kinds of retro shenanigans and celebrating cool music, clothes and collectibles from the 20s to the 80s. There's a marketplace for all your shopping needs, wants and lust-haves on the Hungerford Bridge Carpark, with over 250 stalls.

But I'd like to point you at one in particular. Nancy Dee do vintage-styled design teamed with contemporary flair and impeccable ethical credentials. Their clothes are comfortable, affordable and look great. Obviously, second-hand wear is eco-friendly, but a lot of people don't like the idea of wearing pre-owned stuff. Nancy Dee get round that by producing beautifully styled retro gear that is made in a responsible way.

OK, time to declare an interest. Nancy Dee is run by two sisters, Seraphina and Tamsin. I used to work with Tamsin back in the day. She's radically shifted career direction and I'm pleased to see her new business venture doing so well. I'm happy to trumpet the good word about the brand. If you're in the area, pop down and say hello.

Nancy Dee can be found on Block 28 of the Vintage Village. If you can't make it to the South Bank, check out their web shop.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Fashion And The Forest

If you happen to be in the King's Cross area tomorrow, The Hub on York Way has an event you may find of interest. It's hosting an informal talk with rainforest activist Beatriz (Bia) Saldanha. Moderated by ethical living correspondant for The Observer Lucy Siegle, the talk will focus on Bia's 25 years living in the heart of the Amazon, and her work defending the forest.
The Rio de Janeiro native will be talking about the instability in the area, the threats to the ecosystem, and how her various campaigns and projects are tackling those problems. She has pioneered a new method of rubber production that supports the indigenous farmers and fights against deforestation. Her partnership with sneaker brand Veja has also had a positive effect. They buy direct from the rubber tappers, giving them higher revenue and nudging them away from widescale slash-and-burn techniques.
Bia has won a ton of awards for her groundbreaking work in the Amazon, and this promises to be an enlightening evening.
Tickets are free, but places are limited, so if you're interested you'd better get a move on. Further details from the Hub website here, or email

Monday 25 July 2011

Watching The Watchmen

It's all well and good to make the claim that your ethical clothing chain is supplied under carefully monitored conditions. But how can you, and more importantly your customers, be sure that those suppliers are doing everything they claim for the safety and well-being of their employees?

Rachel Wilshaw of Oxfam, writing in The Guardian, has highlighted the problems of unscrupulous suppliers gaming their ethical audits. We're not just talking double-entry book-keeping. There have been examples of underground factories, staffed by an entirely different (and significantly underpaid) workforce, or of underage workers hustled out of the back door as the auditors come in the front.

As more and more big companies insist on trumpeting their ethical credentials, the chances for corruption, or for a slapdash and lazy approach to compliance become greater. Auditors spend little time at the factories or farms, and an intimidated workforce is unlikely to speak out about unfair practices. Box-ticking and finger-wagging simply won't cut it. There needs to be a better way.

A smarter approach, surely, would be for companies to work more closely with both the management and workers in their supply chain. Investment in more transparent management systems. Encouraging workers to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. Offer the carrot of bigger contracts if a supplier can clearly demonstrate that they're working to code.

Could an approach like that work? Well, global market leaders like Nike and Gap seem to think so. Companies with an established history of ethical trade programmes have found that this grown-up approach delivers real and beneficial results for everyone up and down the supply chain. Yet another example of how a clear, straightforward and ethical standpoint doesn't just make sense morally. It's good for business, too.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Innovative Winners

Every year, the Ethical Fashion Forum holds it's InnovationUK Award, in which it recognises and celebrates a British designer or brand that has made outstanding progress in the ethical arena. As you can imagine, the quality of entrants is extremely high.

The winners this year have just been announced, and the list is eclectic and rich with talent. A.L.A.S., winner of the Pure Spirit Award, make sleep and lounge wear from 100% organic cotton, which is sourced, spun, woven and dyed in India, using a local fairly paid workforce. Accessories Award winner Caipora's jewellery, made from reclaimed Brazillian hard woods inlaid with precious metals, is cleanly contemporary and compassionately stylish. But all the winners have one thing in common. Their ethical credentials are impeccable and the clothes and accessories look fantastic.

The Innovation Award is a major step up for the winners, who now get the chance to exhibit at major eco-fashion shows in the autumn. Congratulations to A.L.A.S., Caipora and all the others. Mind you, I reckon all the shortlisted contenders are worth your attention, both as firm supporters of the ethical way, and for bringing a little bit of beauty into the world. Personally, I've got my eye on one of 959's recycled seatbelt bags, hint hint...

Monday 18 July 2011

M&S - a sustainable future with Plan A

The big push to get eco-friendly and Fairtrade goods out of the specialist market and onto the High Street had another nudge last week, as Marks and Spencer's CEO Mark Bolland outlined the chain's commitment to it's environmental approach.
Plan A, the umbrella term for M&S's green initiatives, has already been a big success, and it's an approach that M&S want to build on. Bolland says:
"...we see Plan A as more about engagement with the consumers, we want to make it a more emotional and tangible concept so that consumers really do buy into the whole sustainability issue.”
Plan A contributed £70million to M&S profits in 2010-11, nearly a third up on last year. Customers are buying more and more goods made from recycled, FSC-certified and Fairtrade materials. Over a million of them bought products that related in a direct charity donation, from ranges like the Fashion Target T-shirt for Breakthrough Breast cancer.
M&S has also confirmed that 25% of their cotton will be coming from sustainable sources by 2015, going up to 50% by 2020.
For a big hitter on the High Street to take ethical fashion and Fairtrade so seriously, and for their customers to embrace the end products so wholeheartedly, shows that big business is starting to see the benefits to a more sustainable, eco-friendly approach. And that has to be good news for all of us.

Friday 15 July 2011

Keeping An Eye On The Big Society

With all the hoopla, furore and general whoop-te-doo surrounding the Murdochs, Sky and a newspaper industry that's looking more like a badly run spy network everyday, it's important to keep your eyes open for the other news announcements. The ones that get sneaked out while everyone's looking somewhere else. Even if they're not bad news, you have to wonder why the story has to come out at that moment.

The latest example of this has been David Cameron's renewal of the Big Society pledge. This is the coalition's attempt to bring public services up to speed by allowing volunteer, charity and business interests to compete for their provision. Competition is, after all, a good thing, leading to more choice and value for money.

Well, yes and no. I agree wholeheartedly that the volunteer and charity sector is vital to the well-being of the country. I'm completely behind the notion that communities should help each other out, that local knowledge trumps diktats from a remote central office. And I also believe that we can see when there is a need for community action, and are able to quickly unite to solve problems. We Brits are also a charitable bunch - look at what we do every year for Comic Relief, for urgent DEC fundraising efforts in places like the Sudan. Frankly, we already get The Big Society.

The thing is, I'm not sure that Cameron and the coalition government do. Savage cuts to council funding have already started to bite the very groups on which this new strategy is supposed to depend. Across the country, these groups are scaling back services or are forced to close just at the point when they are being asked to take on a more frontline role.

And that's the thing that worries me most. Charities and volunteer groups should enhance and complement, not replace existing local services. When councils decide to displace, for example, trained professional librarians with a squad of volunteers, there's clearly no understanding that it's a complex and labour-intensive job. It's not simply shelf-stacking, and you can't pick it up in an afternoon. Worse, what is supposed to happen in deprived areas where people simply can't afford the time to help out?

I'm not alone in thinking this either. Oxfam's trading director David McCullough has already spoken out on the issue after the charity was approached by other councils for advice on using volunteers. He says:

"A vibrant, engaged community starts from an investment in infrastructure and skills, which can then be supplemented with a willing volunteer base. Cutting jobs for trained staff and hoping to fill the space with volunteers will not deliver a stable, long-term solution."

I think that while there is nothing wrong in principle with The Big Society idea, there are big problems in the way it's being implemented and managed. And I also can't help but agree with critics who suspect at a time when local councils are having to cut budgets by 27% over four years, placing responsibility on local residents is just cover for cutting council services. When the budgets for the groups who are supposed to take up the slack are being cut as well, you have to wonder who's in charge, and what they think they're playing at.

Thursday 14 July 2011

A Walk In The Park for Ian and Ali

We're a charitable bunch at Pier 32, and believe in showing our support for the right causes. Even if it does mean a little more effort than usual.

One of our customers, the young person's charity Envision, is holding a sponsored walk event this Saturday 16th July, and our Business Development Director Ian will be taking part. The route is a gentle 20 mile stroll from Hampton Court Bridge to Battersea Park. Ian is bringing along Pier 32 mascot and future head of the company Ali, who will no doubt be helping his dad over the finish line. As Ian is also the Pier 32 Voice Of Twitter, expect lots of updates on the state of his blisters.

You can support Envision, and help Ian and Ali on their way at their JustGiving page. And please do keep an eye on Pier 32's new charities section, highlighting events and news from our charitable customers.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

The Ethical Directory

You can find Pier32 listed on more and more worthwhile ecolistings sites these days. The latest, we are happy and proud to announce, is The Ethical Directory, part of The Offset Warehouse.

They are the the first UK online retailer to bring together all the elements needed to create ethical clothing and interiors. Bringing together a wide range of eco-friendly and fairtrade fabrics, haberdashery, garments and resources, The Offset Warehouse are dedicated to making it easy to be responsible and fashionable.

Of course, that's always been the motivating factor for Pier 32, so it's great to be recognised and promoted by an initiative that shares so many of our core values. You can find our page of the Directory here. While you're at it, why not see what else The Offset Warehouse have to offer?

Thursday 7 July 2011

Vivienne Westwood Goes Ethical

Vivienne Westwood, doyenne of high fashion, has recently launched a collection of bags and accessories as part of the Ethical Fashion Programme. This initiative has helped over 7000 women in Nairobi, Kenya to start to make a life for themselves. The income they get allows them to send their kids to school and helps to pay medical bills. This is a great project, helping to raise the standard of living in one of the world's poorest countries. Needless to say, the bags are also made from recycled materials to high specifications. 

We shouldn't be surprised at Vivienne's involvement in this kind of work. She's something of a green pioneer, urging people to buy fewer clothes, but to choose well when they do. That's an attitude that we at Pier32 heartily endorse. Our clothes are ethically produced and made to last. We're not making any plans to start rolling out Westwood-style crinolines and bustiers yet, but who knows what the future could bring? 

Friday 1 July 2011

Pier 32 On Greenfinder

Shopping is tough. It can be hard work to find a safe way through the maze of suppliers and e-tailers, and tougher still if you want to take an ethical path.

Greenfinder can help guide you through that maze to find the right service for your needs. Like a green version of the Yellow Pages, they have listings for just about any eco-friendly product your little heart could desire. Whether you're looking for organic baby shampoo, fairtrade footwear or a way to make your garden that little bit greener, Greenfinder has got you covered.

We're pleased as punch to announce that Pier 32 are now listed in Greenfinder's Eco Office And Green Business Service listings. We're delighted to be in the directory, and we happen to think we're in very good company.