Thursday 29 September 2011

The Wrong Kind Of Bond Girl

It's been a busy, buzzy couple of weeks for UK fashion. London Fashion Week has been a big success, and the launch of Westfield Stratford has given us the unlikely sight of fashionistas flocking to one of the grimmer corners of East London. But, as the Ecologist makes clear in a recent article, there's a ghost at the party.

Sourcing clothes ethically and at a good price is a tough balance. According to Dutch corporate investors SOMO in a report published in May, that balance is teetering in a very dark direction indeed.

Bonded labour has been an unpleasant reality in the marketplace for centuries. It's tantamount to slavery. In India, the practice is known as 'sumangali'. Girls as young as 14 are signed to three-year contracts, offered free accommodation and pay, with a lump sum payment to be made at the end. It seems an attractive prospect, especially for families that are looking to build enough money for a dowry payment.

The reality isn't so rosy. For the duration of that time, the girls effectively belong to the factory. They live in dormitories with no freedom or privacy, offered no benefits and are forced to work unpaid overtime. If they quit before the contract is up, then they forfeit the final payment.

According to SOMO, retailers like Tesco, H&M and Next all use factories that have workers under sumangali contracts. Fortunately, all three have signed pledges condemning the practice and are working with NGO's to get a three year plan under way to bring the practice to an end. But progress is likely to be slow and involve delicate negotiations. Sumangali is ingrained into the Indian way of work, and the SOMO report admits that any company doing business there is likely to indirectly source from suppliers that use the practice. Simply walking away from India helps no-one, least of all the girls at the bottom of the stack who most need the money.

None of which makes for particularly uplifting reading, I know. But even if it does take years to eliminate, or at least marginalise an exploitative practice that's been going for centuries, it's worth the effort.

The Ecologist: UK retailers struggle with bonded girl labour in India.

Monday 26 September 2011

I'm Not Slippin', I'm Just Livin'




How cool are these shirts? Supplied by Pier 32 for Studio 3 Arts, the three bold colours and glorious retro typefaces are enough to tickle this blogger's WANT nodes.

Studio 3 Arts are an issue-driven arts organisation based around East London and the Essex borderlands, helping to get local people involved in high quality arts projects. Their mission?
"Our aim is to use creativity to build communities. By encouraging existing interest in arts, and offering new creative experiences, we hope to improve individual lives, reduce social exclusion, and help to build stronger communities.
Our mission is to make art available to everyone. We encourage people to explore artforms they know and enjoy, and enable them to try new, untried ones. This process allows us to discover new, emerging artists and make art happen in unexpected places."
That's a seriously laudable aim, and Pier 32 is proud to be involved. The T-shirts are a tenner a pop, and available now from the Studio 3 Arts website. Why not snag the set?

Studio 3 Arts I'm Not Slippin, I'm Just Livin Shirts
Learn More About Studio 3 Arts!

Friday 23 September 2011

Practice what you preach

The Star Wars wallpaper is not mine, I hasten to add...
The Star Wars wallpaper is not mine, I hasten to add...

I can bang on about sustainability and recycling and the green virtues of vintage clothing until my face goes blue, but it really means nothing unless I can show that I know that of which I write. (On the evidence of that last sentence, showing an ability to write in the first place would be a good start.)

So I had a rummage in the hinterlands of my wardrobe. The dark, forbidding outland ranges, half a step from Narnia. And on the very last hanger before I found myself shaking hands with Mr. Tumnus, I found a black Levi's red-tab denim jacket.

I hadn't worn it in years. It stlll fits perfectly, and is at just the right level of wear and softness to become a regular part of my winter wardrobe. Teamed either with a hoodie or a thick jumper, it'll do the job nicely as the temperature drops.

I love the sturdy, hard-wearing feel of the thing, and the pockets are not measly afterthoughts. In fact, there are four decent sized inner pockets, the larger of which are a perfect fit for a Kindle. In one of the smaller ones, I found a good pair of shades that I thought I'd lost forever, and a pound coin. Double bonus.

In short, this jacket has somehow evolved to suit me perfectly for the winter of 2011. A change of look for zero cost. Nice one.

There's an idea then. Why don't you all have a rummage in your wardrobes this weekend, and see if you can reacquaint yourself with an old friend. You could be in for a very pleasant surprise.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Naked Fashion


As London Fashion Week winds down, I think we can see that ethical thinking is becoming more and more important in the industry. Esthetica has celebrated it's fifth birthday in style, with a ton of media interest. The pressure clearly needs to be kept on a high boil.

A new book by author Safia Minney, Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution highlights the massive changes that are underway, and what else we need to do. The tone is upbeat, while not stinting on the harsh, cruel realities that go into feeding our hunger for cheap clothes. The statistics make for a horrifying read. 1.5 million tonnes of unwanted clothes and textiles end up in landfill every year. A lot of the fashion that ends up at the tip does so unworn - a victim of the endless chase for the new thing, this season's look.

Safia makes two key recommendations in her book, both of which seem perfectly, almost laughably reasonable. Spend a little less, spend a little more. The key to sustainability is to buy less often, but on slightly more expensive key pieces that will last you for longer. This is an approach that Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood has long championed, and who are we to argue with her?

We will always want cheap clothes, but the cost is higher than we think. Workers in the third-world countries where these clothes are put together struggle to make ends meet, and a tiny increase in the price tag of many items - less than a quid - would guarantee a proper wage for them. That doesn't seem like much to ask to me.

This book is an essential read if you're interested in how fashion moves forward into the 21st century. Naked Fashion highlights the issues, the problems, and more importantly the simple solutions that we can all implement with barely a thought to make the world of fashion just that little bit more fabulous.

Naked Fashion is available now from Amazon.

Naked Fashion: The new Sustainable Fashion Revolution

Monday 19 September 2011

London Fashion Week

We're in the throes of London Fashion Week, and I thought we should have a quick peek at some of the more interesting collections coming out of Estethica, the ethical stream of the whole event.

The big buzz on Twitter is all about Emesha, who used the week to announce a collaboration with fashion illustrator Lisa Stannard. The new print collection uses Lisa's designs and textures in a series of boldly androgynous clothes in silk - a natural fabric which naturally biodegrades at the end of it's life cycle.

Ada Zanditon, a rising star in eco-fashion circles, is knocking the ball out of the park with her new collection. Her show, "Poseisus", takes influences from the sea and retweaks them for the urban environment. The clothes are layered, strongly coloured with shots of citrus orange and coral pink, and delightfully floaty. Cleverly, she's working with Ecover, helping to highlight the damage that cleaning detergents can do to delicate marine ecosystems, and the simple things we can do to help solve the problem. Make no mistake, Ada is high-end fashion, with a degree from the London College Of Fashion and an apprenticeship with Alexander McQueen. But her clothes are cutting edge in every sense of the word - her approach is eco-friendly from sourcing materials to the construction of the garments.

No fashionista would be complete without a cavernous bag, and this season's eco-choice is likely to be from Lost Property. They're showing a fantastic range of totes that have been upcycled from hessian coffee bags. Tactile, roomy and fancied up with leather grips and detailing, these are going to be a must for the clothes pony with a conscience - or anyone that digs stylish individualism in their everyday carry.

There's loads more on offer. Esthetica runs until Thursday at Somerset House on the Strand.


Friday 16 September 2011

Hitting The Bottle (no, not like that!)


I mentioned our range of hoodies, zoodies and mid-weight jackets last week while grumbling about the weather - which doesn't really seem to have improved much. But it's still desperately changeable out there. I struggle at this time of year to find the right weight of outerwear, especially as I cycle partway to and from work. It can be freezing in the morning, and warm with hazy sunshine on the trip home. What's a boy to do?

I like this Okarma fleece, part of a range that has been made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. It takes 44 bottles to make one jacket. That's a lot of pop. The end result is warm without being overpowering, light without letting the early morning breeze scour through it like water through a colander. I don't do cycling wear, and this seems like the perfect compromise. Plus it's ideal for puttering around the garden doing those jobs that seem to pile up at this time of year.

Presenting autumnwear with an ethical twist - although I can't quite believe I'm talking about autumn in the middle of September. I'm holding out for an Indian Summer...

The Okarma OK040 Recycled Fleece at Pier 32

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Estethica: All Dressed Up

According to the Soil Association (and who are we to argue with that august body?) this month is Organic September. They're highlighting all kinds of initiatives to get us to think and consume in a more organic manner.

More importantly for the purposes of this here blog, they will be exhibiting for the first time at London Fashion Week. Estethica, the ethical exhibition running parallel to the main show will feature a Soil Association stand, co-designed by Telegraph style guru Tamsin Blanchard. They will be featuring brands like Continental Clothing, a Pier 32 favourite.

Estethica is a internationally recognised ethical designer showcase, leading the way in celebrating the best in responsible fashion. Over 20 brands will be exhibiting this year, all of which meet tough ethical criteria combined with design excellence.

Georgina Thomas, Certification textile specialist for the Soil Association notes:

“It is increasingly clear that it is possible to produce modern, fashionable textiles in a way that is kinder, cleaner and better for people and the planet. It is great to be representing sustainable organic fashion at such a prestigious event.”

Estethica starts this Friday 16th Spetember, at the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House on the Strand.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Thames Swim

Most of you will already have heard all about David Walliams and his fundraising swim along 140 miles of the River Thames from Gloucestershire to London. However, as The View From The Pier can be read all over the globe and some of you may not have even heard of London, more details can be found at the Sport Relief website.

This particular article simply focuses on the bit where David swam by just a few feet from the Pier32 windows, meaning I wanted to come into the office on a Sunday to get my very own close-up glimpse of a new national hero.

We're very close to the Thames here at Pier32. In fact, we're on an island in the middle of it, somewhere between Hampton Court Palace and Kingston upon Thames. My young son, 9-year-old Alistair - who knows David as an author rather than as a comedian - was actually in the water in his wetsuit as David swam past and then followed him downstream for a few hundred yards, being towed by his mum in a kayak.

Back to the fundraising, David and his team raised more than £1million in the eight days it took him to complete his journey, an amount nothing short of phenomenal that will make a huge difference to a lot of people. Hopefully, this will inspire many more people to get involved in charity fundraising. It could be argued that some will wonder whether their own efforts resulting in a couple of hundred pounds are still worthwhile, but they are, they really are. We work with many charities and all the funds they receive are needed.

Now, those of you that follow Pier32 on Twitter will have seen references to our 'Riverside Meeting Room'. It's actually the pub at the end of the island. It's also where David stopped for a warm drink, a rest, and a massage on his way to Teddington Lock - his target for the day.

As you can see, an encouraging, welcoming and supportive crowd was there to greet him, including actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz and actress Sarah Alexander.

So, well done David Walliams. What an effort, what an achievement, what a man. And what about a knighthood?

Friday 9 September 2011

Warm Up With The Pier

Yesterday, I pulled a warm coat out of storage. The sky was the colour of iron, and just as cold. To call this summer a damp squib would be an insult to moistened fireworks. It looks like autumn has come early, people.

At Pier 32, we care about your well-being. We want you to be warm and snug when you poke your noses outside your front door. At the same time, it's not cold enough to warrant full-on winter wear. Never fear. We have your backs covered.

Our range of hoodies, zoodies (hoodies with a zip, yeah, I know, it took me a minute as well) and soft-shell jackets are just the thing as the temperature drops. Warm yet light, packed with features like MP3 pockets and cable loops to keep your tunes close but out of sight, and available in great new contrasty colourways. You'll look the business and have no worries about staying cosy as the cold closes in.

If you've subscribed to our newsletter, you know this already. Why not beat the blogger to all the latest from The Pier?

You can subscribe to the Pier 32 newsletter at the foot of the home page: Pier 32 Home

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Back To The Land

When Hyun Jin Jeong talks about earth-coloured clothes, she's not kidding. The Central St. Martins student based her Master's thesis on the ancient and largely forgotten art of earth dyeing.

Using soils from different regions, Hyun found that she could create colours of surprising vibrancy, from rich reds to buttery yellows.

Troubled by the toxic legacy of chemical processes in the textile-dyeing industry, she took soil from areas ranging across the UK and her home region of South Korea, categorising them into different colour palattes and finding a method to apply soil-based paints directly to fabric. The results are delicately beautiful.

Hyun says:
"My vision of textile futures is the re-discovery of everyday materials from nature. There are many different natural materials that were once used but are now forgotten. I think rediscovering these materials and using them wisely is essential for a sustainable future."

Read more about Hyun Jin Jeong on the Central St. Martin's Textile Futures blog, and on her own Earth Dyeing site.

Monday 5 September 2011

Wool Week

I'm excited. Can't you tell? It's been a long, slow year but at last September has come around, and with it comes British Wool Week.

Don't roll your eyes. Yes, ok, wool, big wow. Sheep leavings. Made into jumpers and socks. Hardly bleeding edge fashion, is it?

Well, actually, wool is a big deal. Its a natural fibre, producing a fabric that's one of the best at all-weather protection. You get a new fleece every year from your sheep, making wool a sustainable fibre. It has a high UV protection rating, and is capable of creating garms that are warm in winter and cool in summer. It's a great fabric to work with. But don't take my word for it. Blog crush Vivienne Westwood writes:
"Wool is one of the world's great natural fibres, famous for its versatility and comfort."

Acclaimed British designer Paul Smith agrees, saying:
"Wool is always my first choice because it's natural, it works, it's substantial; you can't do better than to use wool."
Sadly, the industry has been in a slump for years, with farmers finding themselves unable to make a living from wool farming alone. Which is why Prince Charles launched the Campaign For Wool last year, a promotion that was such a success that it's evolved into Wool Week for 2011. A huge range of events is planned, including the launch of Wool Modern, featuring work from exciting new designers Like Fast and David Koma, alongside the lovely Ms. Westwood and the atelier of Alexander McQueen. See, look, wool and bleeding edge fashion.

Accessories designer Quentin McKay, headlining a show of boutique bags made from wool at Harvey Nicks puts it best when he says:
"We have continually tried to replicate what nature has provided us with but have never quite succeeded – and, indeed, why do we bother? The best already exists and is sustainable and friendly to both our environment and us."
Events run all this week, and you can find out more below. It's important to support this most sustainable and British of fabrics at a time when its future has been thrown into doubt. Go on, show the love. No need to be sheepish*.

The Campaign For Wool.

Wool Modern.

*sorry. Best I could do. I'm feeling a bit wooly this morning.

Friday 2 September 2011

Continental: Going Strong with Pier32

Good news for Continental Clothing, one of the brands that Pier32 are pleased to support and feature. Recent figures released by the Soil Association show that Continental are their fastest growing licensee. The company have doubled their product lines and had a twelvefold increase in accredited products in 2010. That's one heck of a jump, but it's not really a surprise. Their range is top quality, and demand is growing fast for their high fashion items.
Pier32 stock a wide range of apparel from Continental. Why not check them them out?
Continental at Pier32