Wednesday 30 November 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Zero waste is the holy grail for any green manufacturer. Everything that you produce gets rolled back into the system somehow, and waste management becomes a real exercise in creative thinking.
It's a tricky thing to get right, of course, and a slow process. But you can see the delight, almost the sense of play in trying out different tactics.
Witness, then, the Zero Waste Anorak. Loomstate Organic teamed up with Parsons The New School for Design, and graduate design student Andria Crescioni to create a garment that teams an unstructured charm with a cutting-edge approach to sustainability.
The anorak was made entirely with factory scraps, from the soft jersey fabric to the leather detailing. It's a very limited production run, admittedly. But as proof of concept and an example of what can be done with creative thinking, it's worthy of applause.
You can read more about the Zero Waste Anorak at Loomstate's site, where it's also available to buy. Might be worth getting your mitts on this one. It could be a real collector's item.

Friday 25 November 2011

The Cost Of Cotton

Gerry, the Voice (and many would say the conscience) of Pier 32 pointed me at an article last week that filled me with both anger and sadness. A wave of suicides amongst Indian famers has seen over a quarter of a million deaths in the last 16 years, mostly in the fast rising market for cotton.
The farmers take out huge loans for hybrid seeds, which are sold to them as fast-growing and high yield. Unfortunately, these seeds are unsuited to the harsh Indian climate, and give poor returns or even fail entirely. Faced with a debt they cannot pay, the farmers take the only way out they see left to them.
In the ethical market we can claim great gains and progress in fairly traded products, ensuring that our producers get a fair wage. But in the mass market this protection is still in it's early stages, and hundreds and thousands of people are falling through the gaps. This isn't a problem that's exclusive to the textile and clothing industry, of course--Chinese factories producing goods for the computing market have had spates of suicides that led to some buildings sprouting nets to catch depressed workers who were flinging themselves off the roof.
Our voracious hunger for cheap clothes has led to a globalised market that cares little for the people at the sharp end of the process. Big agricultural companies will happily sell seeds to farmers without asking the right questions about the land in which they're to be planted. Textile companies will always avoid unpleasant questions about the source of their cotton. Clothing manufacturers are slowly learning to look back through their supply chain and look out for blatant abuse. But short of a ban on hybrid crops in India and a significant increase in education on what crops can work in any given terrain, there will always be tragedies.
I'd love to say that there's something that we as consumers can do to help the situation, but I can't see what that might be. It's a symptom of unchecked and unregulated globalisation, a storm of unkept promises and lies that's leaving the farms of India without farmers. When the only thing these farms are producing are widows, it's certain that something has gone badly wrong.
If you can bear it, Yahoo News has more.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

A Pause For Po-Zu

There are those amongst you that could accuse me of being more enthusiastic about footwear than is entirely healthy. I can't help myself. I am a man with well-defined and esoteric tastes.

It doesn't help that that the vast and all-seeing net of bots and spies at my command keeps coming up with links to brilliant and innovative companies like Po-Zu. They are a British brand that launched in 2006 with two shoes, a kind of outdoor slipper for men and women. Since then, the range has exploded to include wellies and proper boots for stomping through misty English woodland. And something that looks like an Ugg boot for men. Not sure about that one.

Po-Zu are ethically sound, of course. Founder Sven Segal was inspired by the cradle-to-cradle ideas of William McDonough & Michael Braungart, and the shoes reflect that philosophy. The shoes have ethically produced latex rubber soles and all the materials involved, incuding the boxes they come in, are biodegradable. You can bury your shoes in your garden at the end of their life.

Po-Zu's USP is a coir "foot-mattress" in each shoe that moulds itself to your foot, ensuring an incredibly comfortable fit. I'm seriously impressed by the huge range in their online shop. There's a style on offer for most walks of life, if you'll excuse the pun.

FINE, OK, they don't just do shoes. Accessories include laptop bags and backpacks, and a shoe cream made from coconut that you can use as a moisturiser and lip balm. You could even, if the urge struck you, eat the stuff.

The site is full of great ideas and products. Po-Zu have a clever approach to retail, a light and funny touch that's somehow endearing. Their smart design has led to collaborations with Timberland and Maharishi, and I have the feeling we'll see more from these guys in the future. They're quite genuinely a step ahead.


Read more on the Po-Zu website, and check out this interview with founder Sven Segal on Planet Green.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Fit For Purpose (and a Fair Corp update)

At Pier32, we understand that our customers are a discerning and fashionable bunch. We also understand that they don't come in one uniform shape or size. So why should our promotional clothing be like that?

In the latest Pier32 mailout, we look at how we make sure that, when you order a load of shirts from us, we'll do our utmost to make sure everyone gets the best fit available. There's no need for everyone involved in your promotional or fundraising event to wear the same shape of garment. And there's no extra charge for that, either!

You know of course that our ranges are ethical and fashionable. We stock a massive range of clothing from manufacturers like Continental, Earth Positive and B&C Collection that wouldn't look out of place on the high street. Smart, durable and responsible. You can't really say fairer than that, can you?

There's more on this week's initiatives, and all sorts of other gems from the Pier if you subscribe to our newsletter. Just visit the Pier32 website for more information on how to join our informed and responsible community.

While we're on the subject of the web, just a quick heads-up on a friend of the Pier. The Fair Corp, home of this blogger's favourite footwear, Ethlethic shoes, has just rolled out a brand new website. It's full of news, offers and interviews with the farmers and workers who help to make Ethletic such a smart brand.
Go visit, and tell em The Pier sent you!

Wednesday 16 November 2011


Change is a funny thing. When you're not expecting it, it can be on you like an express train. When you're looking for it, it's more like the slow stopping service, grinding towards you at a snail's pace, stopping at every third lamp-post.
For those of us that want to see a more responsible, ethical fashion industry, the pace of change can be frustratingly slow. The Ethical Consumer notes in their latest shopping guide that the average UK female buys half her bodyweight in clothes this year, and owns four times as many garments as she did in 1980. Meanwhile, despite campaigns and increased public awareness, sweated and forced labour around the world seems to be growing to meet that voracious demand. It can look like the train is stuck a long way down the line.
But there's always hope. That average UK female also says that she's more likely than ever to buy clothes that last, making investment choices rather than cheap impulse buys. Market research from Mintel shows that:
“the disposable fashion trend could have peaked and 2011 may see shoppers reassessing value for money and putting more emphasis on sustainability, integrity and durability.”
Meanwhile, recent revelations about the use of forced child labour in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan has led to big UK brands like Asda and global names like Adidas and H&M declaring an outright ban on the use of fabric from the region. Add to this big results like the action taken to safeguard Chinese rivers following Greenpeace's exposure of pollution by textile plants, and the future starts to look a bit more rosy.
But we need to keep an eye on the manufacturers, who have a spotty history of responsible behaviour. Use of PVC by clothing brands had died off following a spate of publicity about its toxicity. Now, bizarrely, companies like H&M have started using it again.
It's down to us, really. Katy Brown of Ethical Consumer says:
"We know from experience that clothing companies will respond to consumer feedback which is why it's vital that shoppers keep up the pressure on companies to improve their ethical standards."
We are more powerful than we think, and until manufacturers and retailers have ethical standards baked into their best working practices, it's our job as informed consumers to keep them on track, and the pace of change on schedule.
Read more about the 2011 Ethical Consumer's report on their website.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Stone Cold Gorgeous

I talk a lot on this blog about the way technology and the internet is transforming the marketplace, bringing small artisan communities closer to customers across the world. This is as true in Western Kerala as it is in West Wales, the home of Monkstone Knitwear.
Designer Anna Felton is working with her boyfriend, Richard Reed to create a new range of high quality woollen clothing and accessories on a lovely part of the Pembrokeshire coastline. Richard runs Trevayne, the family sheep farm, and has used the opportunity to develop sustainable methods of permaculture, enhancing biodiversity in the valley he and his flock call home.
Anna's designs are informed by the yarns she can get hold of each year, which include fleeces donated from local farmers. She's careful to credit the farmers who help her out with wool from Welsh Black Mountain, Coloured Dorset and Natural Dorset breeds, and Monkstone uses local shearers, spinners and hand knitters to help create the pieces. The clothes are beautifully textured and detailed, and the insistence by Anna and Richard of keeping their community at the forefront of what they do means that the garments have a real sense of place. Grounded and gorgeous, Monkstone Kniitwear shows that sometimes you don't have to stray far from home to find the best.
In fact, you don't have to shift your bum off the sofa. Everything Monkstone make is available in their online shop.
But if you do fancy seeing what else the region has to offer, they even have camping facilities. How about that for getting up close with your suppliers?

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Winter Is Icumen In

No matter how much I dig my heels in and howl, winter and the "festive" season approaches at speed. The evening and in some cases the morning commute are done in darkness now. It's not surprising that this is the season of parties - you need something to keep your mind off the cold bleak weather outside.

Pier32, as ever, have your best interests at heart. We've got a wide range of winter jackets that will help to keep you as snug as an insect in a carpet (or something like that). From foldaway showerproof tops to full-on skiwear, we can do the lot. And as we offer clothing from award-winning ethical manufacturers like Continental and Starworld, you can be sure that you're buying and wearing cold-weather wear that's certified to be good for everyone.

While you're at it, why not take a look at our range of high-visibility wear, which includes a jacket made from 25% recycled materials. A neat way to stand out from the crowd in all kinds of ways.

Of course, if you subscribed to our newsletter, you'd know all this already, although Guru Ian's hard work does help me to lash together a blog post when I'm feeling a bit lazy. You can subscribe at the Pier32 Website.

Pier32 Jackets
Pier32 Recycled Hi-Vis

Friday 4 November 2011

Clean And Green

Sustainable clothing is a beautiful thing. But unless you're going to do the tremendously ungreen thing of wearing it once and then chucking it (unless you're into single-use paper overalls, of course - that's you're choice, and potentially a great idea for closed-loop clothing) at some point those clothes are going to need washing. Sooner rather than later, if I'm any guide. Hey, I'm an active boy.
I'm assuming that you aren't taking your organic cotton down to the river and bashing the dirt out with a rock. Which means there's a problem. Modern cleaning solutions are, bluntly, a drain on resources and a big worry for the environment. It's been known since the seventies that detergents have pretty harsh aftereffects on aquatic ecosystems. And of course, washing machines and dryers are notorious power hogs.
But we're starting to see a major shift in the way the big brands deal with this problem. Taking their cue from pioneering brands like Ecover, household names like Unilever and Ariel are working hard to (sorry) clean up their act. Persil's Small And Mighty uses a concentrated formula, and in doing so has cut packaging and transport costs in half, as well as putting less waste surfactant and detergent back into the ecosystem. Ariel, meanwhile, have innovated with products that do the job at significantly lower temperatures than before, as low as 15 degrees. New eco-brands like Method, meanwhile, have developed bottles that only distribute the right amount of product, again cutting down on waste and nasty by-products.
But there's still a long way to go. Many older washing machines simply can't wash at 15 degrees, and the idea of buying new has to be balanced against how much more efficient this new tech is going to be. There is still plenty we as consumers can do - the simplest being to start drying clothes on lines again as opposed to in a tumble. New textiles designed to repel dirt and odours could be another step forward. As ever, it's innovative thinking and smarter use of technology that will ensure that in the future, when we clean our clothes, we're not muddying the waters.
For more, read Peter Madden's article in The Guardian.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Beldi: Bring The Souk To The World

When we talk about markets in the digital world, we sometimes forget the literal sense of the word. The vibrancy and colour of the souks of Morocco isn't something that easily translates to the Internet.

While Beldi can't quite do that (and as the world's worst haggler, I'm a little relieved) this new start-up is committed to bringing the best that the artisans of Morocco have to offer to a worldwide market.

Beldi are dedicated to keeping the craftsman's traditional skills alive, highlighting houseware and, more importantly for the remit of this blog, stylish leather accessories and jewellery.

Beldi are no crowd of corporate hawks swooping in and strip-mining the markets either. They're a husband and wife team, and co-founder Chafiq Ennaoui grew up in the souks. He understands the slow negotiations that typify the way business is done, and knows many of his suppliers from childhood.

Working with the craftsmen of the souk brings their beautifully crafted wares to a global audience, who may never see this stuff or would be too intimidated to bargain for it in the traditional way. Sustainability, support for local artisans and goodies at a fair price. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Immerse yourself in Beldi's world at their website.