Wednesday 31 August 2011

A Beady Eye On Sustainable Jewellery

A couple of good friends of mine have recently returned from a month-long trip to the States (not jealous, not jealous at all). Amongst the gifts they brought back was a fetching, multicoloured bead necklace. It looked African in origin, which turned out to be the case, although it had come from a Colorado-based non-profit called BeadForLife.

The organisation drafts its membership from women in Uganda, and strives to turn them into independent entrepreneurs. The beads they produce are made from recycled paper, bound in glue to create jewellery of outstanding colour and craftsmanship. BeadForLife has helped hundreds of women out of poverty, and enabled them to begin to work and earn for themselves.

Cleverly, the main way the company sells the necklaces, bracelets and ear-rings that come out of Uganda is through Bead Parties. Think the Tupperwear or Anne Summers bashes of the past. Same target audience, same revenue stream, same clever way of snagging disposable income and making sure it's put to good use.

BeadForLife is starting to appear in Europe, and is big in France now. I see little sign of any Bead Parties in the UK, but I'm prepared to be corrected. In fact, I'd be delighted if someone would! BeadForLife is a sterling example of the way fashion and jewellery are helping communities in impoverished countries to make a better life for themselves.


Read more at the international website: BeadForLife

Friday 26 August 2011

Function Over Form

A couple of silly season items to ease us all into this damp Bank Holiday weekend.

The Ecologist features a new take on the problem of clean air in London, as we begin the inexorable count towards the 2012 Olympics. Students at the London College of Fashion have devised a dress that actually purifies the air. Made out of a new fabric that works in the same way as the catalytic converter in your car, it actually breaks down pollutants as it comes into contact with them. It's of course in the very early stages of development, and the launch is designed to spark debate as mach as showcase the garment. A whole new take on smart clothes.

Read more about Catalytic Clothing over at The Ecologist.

Meanwhile, designer Linda Loudermilk has come up with the world's first compostable bikini. Made of plant starch and designed as disposable wear for guests, the idea makes a kind of sense. When buried, the bikini will completely break down in three months. Unfortunately, the swimwear looks like a pair of bin-liners tied up with fishing wire, and I have to say that I can't imagine anyone actively choosing to wear them.

For pix and a bit more commentary on Linda Loudermilk and her clothing, won't you please step over to Ecouterre?

That's me for this week, with a slightly soggy View From The Pier. Have a great Bank Holiday, everyone!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Innovation, American Style

You might remember that last month I celebrated the Ethical Fashion Forum's Innovation UK Awards, showcasing the best in forward thinking British ethical fashion.

There's more good news, as the EFF have branched out this year, and have just announced the winners of their Innovation US Awards. Ranging from Afia's smart updating of traditional Ghanain deigns for the American market, to Carrie Parry's effortlessly classic designs made from impeccably sourced materials, the winners of this new award all show outstanding initiative in helping the communities behind the clothing, as well as creating fashion that is stylish and wearable in it's own right.

I'm especially drawn to Soham Dave's insistance on hand-crafted and biodegradable materials. This is teamed with their support of the local artisans that make the clothes, turning them from a workforce into empowered entrepreneurs. This connection between the craftspeople and the final customer is a vital part of the sustainable process, and it's great to see companies like Soham Dave take that link so seriously.

All the Innovation US winners will be showcased at the Nolcha Fashion Week in New York in September.

Read more about the award and all the winners on the Innovation US page.

Monday 22 August 2011

True Colours, Shining Through

Commercially produced cotton gets short shrift amongst the green community, and understandably so. The use of pesticides on the crops and heavy chemicals in the dyes all contribute to a deeply unfriendly attitude to Ma Earth.

Of course, there are alternatives, and they come from a surprising source. Brazil is at the forefront of the green revolution in flex-fuel cars, and that spirit of innovation extends to the reappearance of naturally coloured cotton.

No, it doesn't just come in white. There are varieties of cotton on black, blue, green and red, as well as the more likely tan and cream end of the spectrum. The shorter fibre length of these varieties make them robust and hardy, but no good for commercial milling. That's not a problem for smaller, more agile companies like Natural Cotton Color.

Produced on small farms under solid Fairtrade conditions, the range supports local agriculture, and the work of skilled artisans in some of the poorest areas of the country.

The clothes have an easy, relaxed cut that look good and are designed to stay that way. Companies like Natural Cotton Color are bringing a dose of Latin American sunshine into a part of the clothing industry that could use a little livening up.

Read more on their site:
Natural Cotton Color

Friday 19 August 2011

News You Can Use

It's been a busy week here at the Pier, with the launch of a new range and our first foray into the world of Kart racing.

We're happy to announce the arrival of Boxercraft spiritwear to our catalogue. Also known as loungewear or leisurewear, if you think in terms of Glee-style American preppyness you're heading in the right direction. Available as pants or boxers, these garms are just the thing for goofing around the dorm after football practice. Comfortable and relaxed, these are perfect to give a little teen spirit to a sports group or university. A bit of US flair, from a company with righteous fair-trade and labour credentials.

Read more about Boxercraft, or buy the clothes from the Pier 32 store:

Boxercraft Profile

Boxercraft Spiritwear at Pier 32.


Meanwhile, Pier 32 Racing began the season with a storming display from our driver, James Emmerson, at the Kimbolton International Arena last weekend. The Pier 32 support team, including Gerry, the Voice of Pier 32, and Alistair, Mascot and Future Head Of The Company, were there to cheer James on, and enjoy a great day of racing action.

Check out the pics at the Pier 32 Racing site.


Of course, if you were signed up to the Pier 32 newsletter, you'd know all this already! You can subscribe in a flash on the homepage:

Subscribe to the Pier 32 Newsletter.


Looks like we have a sunny weekend ahead, thank goodness. If you're a twitcher heading off to the Birdfair on Rutland Water today, keep an eye open for the Wildlife Trust T-shirts - from Pier 32, of course! But whatever you're up to, have a great time. See you on Monday!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Some Fashion Rules To Live By

It's an uncomfortable truth amongst the ethical fashion crowd that the most Eco-friendly clothing is second-hand. Why buy new when you can retask something with a history and a look all its own? It's recycling in its purest form, and it's a job that many of our mums and grandmas would recognise as something of a necessity.

Over on the Oxfam fashion blog, writer and stylist Amisha Ghadiali has set out her rules for responsible shopping, which include tips and pointers for maaaaaybe cutting back a bit on the new gear and raiding the dress-up box or the racks of second hand shops instead for a new look.

However, she's also on the ball when it comes to the moment when you simply have to buy new. In short, look out for small UK and Eco-friendly designers, always buy fair-trade and ask questions about where your clothes are coming from.

That's an approach that we at Pier32 endorse strongly. Doing a bit of research and having fun with your wardrobe are key parts of the ethical aesthetic, and Amisha shows how easy it is to be both green and glam. The whole list is well worth your time.

Amisha Ghadiali's 12 Top Tips To Dress By (Oxfam Fashion)

Amisha's blog, Elegance Rebellion, has more top tips for all you caring fashionistas.

Monday 15 August 2011

The Shoe Hunt: I Believe We Have A Winner

At last, Ian, our splendidly informed Marketing Director has taken pity on me (or he wants to nudge the blog away from my interminable yawping about men's trainers) and pointed me at a friend of Pier 32, Ethletic.

These trainers are just what I was looking for: in other words, an ethical replacement for Converses. The styling is spot on, and the colourways are classic with a twist (liking the orange a lot, I have to say). More importantly, their green credentials are impeccable. In fact, their new season range are the first shoes in the world to be granted the Fairtrade label, under new composite rules for cotton products. The shoes in the range are certified vegan - never seen the urge to eat a trainer myself, but hey.*

The rubber in the soles are Forest Stewardship Council certified, and the shoes are constructed by a Fairtrade project in Pakistan which pays a 15% premium to workers and their families for every pair made. These guys walk it like they talk it.

Interestingly, Ethlethic are also hooked into the Sole Creator website, which allows you to customise your kicks. You can get a one-of a kind pair of comfy bumpers at a price that works out well for your wallet and Ma Earth. Sounds like a win-win to me.

The Fair Corporation, home of Ethletic, also make a range of FSC/Fairtrade certified rubber goods, including sportsballs and wellies. And any company that produce compostable balloons has to be worth a look. Speaking as someone that knows all about the production and utilisation of hot air, that is...

*Ethletic's shoes are made using animal-free materials. This is a good thing. Pier 32 in no way endorses the inclusion of footwear in a healthy balanced diet.

Friday 12 August 2011

Track Shoes

My quest for the best in ethical footwear has taken a surprisingly technological turn. Jojo, a Belgian shoe brand, will plant one tree or provide a person with a years drinking water for every pair sold. But they also allow you to track your contribution well after the purchase of your fancy new pair of kicks.

Under their Choose: Act: Check tagline, you can log onto the Jojo site and see the progress being made by the charitable foundations with which they've partnered. In the future, man behind the brand Matthieu Vaxelaire wants to go even further, allowing the customer to use codes on the shoes to see how their tree or well is doing via GPS. It's a great way to involve your customer base in the ethos behind the business, putting accountability right at the front of the branding.

In fact, these guys are pleasingly open about everything that they do, and the Jojo blog is filled with behind-the-scenes goodies. The shoes, designed to look like a bandaged foot, have a breezy European charm to them. No good for a wedding, but perfect for a weekend chillout with a beer.


What a delightful idea. See you all next week.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Start Your Engines!

Bet you didn't know that Pier 32 sponsor a racing team. It's part of our ongoing involvement with the local community in our base of North-East Surrey. It might not be Formula One... yet... but single-make kart racing has more than enough thrills and spills to entertain even the most discerning of petrolheads.
We're supporting James Emmerson, helping to put him through a three year training programme which will lead to a single-seat license.
Pier 32 Racing's debut on the track will be this weekend, where James will be taking part in the largest single-make kart racing event in the UK, the Maxxis Formula TKM Festival. This promises to be an action packed event, and everyone at Pier 32 wishes James a tankful of luck. The event will be shown on Raceworld through Sky Sports, so keep an eye open for the distinctive black and red Pier 32 livery on your tellybox.
The Maxxis Formula TKM Festival takes place at the Kimbolton International Circuit in Cambridgeshire from the 12th-14th August.
For more info, visit the Pier 32 Racing site.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Gardening Shoes

I'm new to the ethical side of fashion. As a result, I find that in the course of my research my comfortable world view is constantly being jolted out of true. An example. At a fitting for wedding clothes the other week, I joked about doing the Doctor Who thing of teaming my suit with a new pair of Converses. I was firmly put right by our knowledgeable Marketing Director Ian. My beloved Chucks are a no-no. They're not produced to any real kind of ethical standards.

The sport shoe market in general is not best known for it's green credentials. Although companies like Nike (who bought Converse in the mid-nineties) are signed up to ethical pledges, their manufacturing processes leave a lot to be desired. It seems like you have to work a little harder these days if you want to look fly while giving Ma Earth a bit of a breather.

I was pleased to read about Oat Shoes, then. This Dutch brand create kicks that are completely biodegradable. When you've worn them out, you can bury them in the garden and they'll rot away to nothing. NOT landfill, please. We have our standards.

Better yet, the shoes have tree seeds in the lining, that are released as the trainers decompose. So you could plant a trainer and end up with a stand of saplings. It's a great idea, that won Oat second prize in the Amsterdam Green Fashion awards last month. We need more of that kind of smart thinking when it comes to ethical fashion. And I still need a new pair of shoes for this wedding.

Friday 5 August 2011

Clothes Maketh The Man

Now, I'm not the world's most fashionable guy, as the Kinks once famously almost sang. I tend to look as if I've dressed in my sleep, or by flinging myself headlong into a wardrobe and seeing what sticks. This, sadly, is pretty close to my actual dressing regime. When you factor in the need to not only look good but to try and reflect an ethical and eco-friendly attitude - well, things start to get a bit tough, even for an impeccable clothes-horse such as what I am.

Of course, there's always Pier 32's extensive catalogue of apparel, but there are times when even that won't do.

Fortunately, the Ecologist has me covered. That most venerable of green publications has brought out a list of their top five items of men's clothing, that won't break the bank or hurt the planet. With some of this stuff to hand, the well-dressed man-about-the-planet can be sure that he's looking good and doing good. My personal favourite? Well, the polos from Bam are classy and simple. But might I be so bold as to recommend the vegan footwear from skate company Macbeth?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a mani-pedi and some highlights. Looking this tasty takes work, you know.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

A Game Of Profit And Loss

We've seen over the past week or so that sustainability and ethics need to be baked into the core of a company's mission statement. If they're not, then accusations of box-ticking and complacency are always going to be waiting around the corner, and a brand that can't quickly respond to those accusations has a PR disaster on their hands.

It's tough to get big complex corporate structures to understand why it's so important to make sure that their suppliers are run ethically and responsibly. Child labour and inhumane working conditions can seem like abstract concepts or easily explained away as a different cultural trait to a company whose focus is purely on the bottom line. Not everyone can have Pier32's ethical guidance, which comes from the very top of the corporate structure.

So, how do we put the issues involved in this complicated subject into a simple and easily understood form?

Well. Shall we play a game?

Channel 4 have just released Sweatshop, a game where you run a clothing factory staffed by skilled workers and child labour. Based on a simple tower defence model (think Cooking Dash, Plants Vs. Zombies or something similar), your job is to fill the orders as best you can while keeping profits high.

The clever thing about the game is how easy it becomes to make the wrong choices. It's quicker and easier to fill the production line with unskilled kids, and skimp on the essentials like cooling fans and toilet breaks, especially when a big order comes down the line.

But as you make those choices, your karma meter will begin to skew, and it soon becomes clear that by making the wrong choices you're losing the game and becoming a monster in the process.

Sweatshop is subtle and extremely clever at making the player think on the consequences of their actions, and slips in plenty of informational nuggets along the way. Aimed at a teenage audience, I see no reason why a lot of high-ups in the fashion chains that use sweatshops as a matter of course shouldn't have a go at it. Who knows, it might just change their thinking.

You can read more on the thinking and design behind Sweatshop here.

Monday 1 August 2011


It's been a couple of weeks since Greenpeace launched their Dirty Laundry report, highlighting the needless pollution of Chinese rivers by textile dying plants working for Western clothing brands. The excuses have begun rolling in, as companies like Nike, Gap and Adidas scramble to retain some manner of dignity. Many claim not to use the plants in question for dyeing at all.

This of course ties into the issue of ethical audits that I was discussing last week, and how flawed they can turn out to be. Lacoste and Abercrombie and Fitch responded to the Greenpeace challenge by stating that the factories in question complied with their codes of conduct, and provided evidence of their due diligence. Clearly, that's not enough.

There's a bit of good news to be gleaned from this, though. A week after releasing an official denial, Puma brought out another statement. In a move that has left their competitors standing, Puma have pledged: eliminate the discharges of all hazardous chemicals from the whole lifecycle and all production procedures that are associated with the making and using of PUMA products by 2020.

PUMA understands the scope of the commitment to be a longterm vision – with short term practice to be defined in the clarification of actions to follow. To ensure transparency, PUMA will report on the progress of this commitment in its annual PUMA Sustainability Report.

An Action Plan will be set up by PUMA within eight weeks from the time this commitment was made.

That's moving pretty quickly, and shows that the Greenpeace message has hit home. It's proof that multinationals have to respect their green and ethical commitments, and respond without the usual corporate flimflam if they expect to be taken seriously when things go wrong.

Well done, Puma. Now, how about the rest of you? 

There's more on Greenpeace's Detox challenge to the multinationals here.