Friday 27 April 2012

Hats off to the Pier!

As we suffer through the wettest drought in living history, keeping your bonce nice and dry becomes more and more important. Fortunately, the Pier has your noggin well and truly covered.

We stock a wide range of headgear, as you'd expect. The standard peaked cap, or it's slightly more street variant the rapper cap (which features a flat peak and a more rounded top) are available in a myriad of colour ways for all your promotional needs. My personal preference is for the good old-fashioned beanie. It keeps my ears warm on the bike and rolls up easily to tuck in a pocket. Again, we can offer custom colours and logo options - all part of the inimitable Pier32 service.

To find out more, check out our latest newsletter. And let's try and stay dry out there. Doesn't look like this drought's going away any time soon...

Tuesday 24 April 2012

How Green Is H&M?

All eyes are on Swedish fast fashion giant H&M, as they move to reposition themselves as the green choice on the high street. But have they done enough to make that move more than an empty PR ploy?

The figures, published in their latest sustainability report, look impressive. A new code of conduct for their workers pushing for good working conditions. The highest use of organic cotton of any large fashion retailer, which a pledge to be 100% organic by 2020.

The announcement will also mark the launch of The Conscious Collection, a range made from Eco-fabrics like Tencel and (hooray!) hemp. The news looks good for H&M's sustainable credibility.

There's another side to the story, though. Talking about responsibility towards your workers is all well and good, but it's all still too easy for H&M to devolve that oversight to local factory owners. A unilateral announcement of a code of conduct is no replacement for proper dialogue with workers and decent investment in factory conditions.

As for the much-advertised Conscious Collection, Ms Wanda reports that it will only be available in less than 5% of stores - 100 shops worldwide. That's hardly a major rollout of a new ecological era, more a limited edition that looks good on the adverts.

H&M are making an effort to change things around, and any attempt to shift away from sweatshop conditions and harmful manufacturing techniques deserves applause.

But let's not kid ourselves. H&M are still a major fast fashion retailer, with all the ethical dilemmas that come with the territory. They have a long way to go before we'll buy their line on a bright sustainable future.

Friday 20 April 2012


For the herb-smoking population, the 20th of April is a day for celebrating and an excuse for a little over-indulgance. It's like Easter for stoners. The history of why that happened is a fascinating tale all by itself. Check that out here.

But I'm choosing to celebrate another aspect of the plant today - one that's a bit more relevant to the ethical fashion industry. Let's talk about hemp, baby.

Hemp clothing has been around for a long time, and it's always had a reputation for being a bit hairy and rough - much like the people that choose to wear them. But that's starting to change. Hemp, along with other natural fibres from plants like jute, flax and even stinging nettle, are part of a group known as bast fibres. And these are becoming more and more exciting as economic and sustainable alternatives to cotton.

Cotton is something of a poisoned chalice for the green fashion scene. It's expensive to grow, depends on heavy use of pesticides, and stops the soil it's grown in of nutrients. It's still seen as the only naturally-growing fibre. That's not the case, and as it becomes more of a burden the search is on for viable alternatives. Bast fibres might just do the trick.

Hemp can be grown without pesticides, on smaller plots and, unlike cotton, can be cultivated in the UK. New developments have seen the appearance of hybrid fabrics made from hemp and wool blends that answer the demand for cheaper, greener, locally grown product.

Ethical and sustainable fashion, as far as I can tell, is about taking new approaches to old solutions. Hemp, one of our oldest fibres is long overdue for a revival. I think today is an appropriate date to celebrate it. Let's raise a glass to hemp - or whatever else sparks your fancy.

Friday 13 April 2012

The Pier32 Film Club: The Man In The White Suit

A Google search on "Future fashion" for my earlier post on 3D printing and spray-on clothing brought me face-to-face with an old friend that I'd like to introduce to you all. A film that satirises the consumer society and the modern need for more clothes at a cheaper price point. Furthermore, it's a sharply-written tale that slips a neat science-fictional concept into a rollicking fast-paced comedy.

I'm talking about Alexander McKendrick's Ealing classic, The Man In The White Suit. Released in 1951, it stars Alec Guinness as an idealistic scientist, Sidney Stratton. Sidney invents a fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. You'd imagine it would be an incredible boon to mankind, and that's the way Sidney sees it. But business and union interests have different ideas, seeing his invention as a threat to profit and jobs. Sidney is forced to go on the run to protect not just his invention - but his life.

For those of us working in the ethical fashion biz, The Man In The White Suit has an awful lot to offer. It says a lot about the impact of new technology on established business methods, and how new solutions bring about new problems. It's a great film, smart and funny in equal measure. And doesn't Alec Guinness look spiffy in that snow-white three-piece? Check out the clip below.

The Man In The White Suit on YouTube

The Man In The White Suit is widely available on DVD, and you can stream it through LoveFilm Instant.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Printing The Future Of Sustainable Fashion

Every so often, you get a frivolous thinkpiece in the fashion press about "the future of fashion". There's usually a tinfoil dress in there, or some LEDs strung onto a necklace. So-called "smart" clothing, with embedded microchips that tell you when it's time to sling them in the washing machine, are sort of missing the point. All you have to do is sniff a t-shirt to tell if it needs a wash.

However, there are meaningful discussions to be had about technology and fashion, especially when it comes to making the industry more sustainable. You could argue that the internet - the most significant technological advance in the last thirty years - helped the idea of eco-fashion to become an industry, allowing manufacturers, suppliers and customers to connect with each other cheaply and easily. The idea of not needing a bricks and mortar presence to sell your wares would have been unthinkable twenty years ago - now companies like Po-zu and Fair Corp are building a solid consumer base out of that very idea. And Etsy means that anyone can build a small, fast-moving, easily adaptable business out of their back room and connect to shoppers worldwide. The big players are taking this to the final logical conclusion, becoming virtual companies that outsource everything to external suppliers.

But this could just be the start. The idea of 3D printing - creating solid objects out of a a CAD design - is no longer science fiction, or even out of the range of the consumer. Machines that cost tens of thousands of pounds ten years ago can be had for a grand today. And they don't just have to be used to print out plastic geegaws and doohickeys. Pioneers like Freedom Of Creation are already experimenting with fabrics to create new types of apparel. FoC and other innovators are leading the way in printing shoes and jewellery with a beautiful organic look, as if they'd been grown from coral. Clothing is taking a little longer. At the moment, the closest we've seen are tops made out of fabric that looks like heavy-guage knitwear (although they look nothing like Aran jumpers), but there's no reason that the materials available to designers shouldn't expand rapidly. Five years ago you could only print using special kinds of plastics. Now you can use materials like wood, glass and rubber. The potential to use completely recycable and organic materials is getting closer. And there's virtually no waste in a 3D-printed garment or accessory.


Meanwhile, Manel Torres, a chemical engineer at Imperial College, London has taken a different approach and developed Fabrican - spray-on clothing. Formed out of fibres in a liquid suspension,  a cross-linking of these fibres stick together, creating an instant non-woven fabric which can be sprayed onto any surface. The potential for different colours and even fragrances are limitless. Admittedly, you'd need a certain type of body shape and personality to be enthused by the idea of a spray-on top, but the questions it sparks about how we interact with our clothes and the possibilities offered by a fabric that can be used in ways not previously imaginable are frankly mind-boggling. Fabrican has medical, automotive and design applications that could revolutionise the way we look at fabric as a creative material.

Of course, questions of ethics have to be rolled into the discussion as well. What happens to the tens of millions of workers in the fashion industry when everyone starts printing their clothes at home, or spritzes on a top as easily as applying the morning deodorant? One thing's for sure - the future of fashion will be stranger and more exciting than any of us can imagine.


Well, here's hoping, anyway.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Applause for Po-Zu

We're a little late to the party, but this news is worthy of note. Late last year, The View From The Pier highlighted Po-Zu, a company who were making waves with their coir-soled shoes.
Sven Segal, founder and CEO of Po-zu has walked away as Entrepreneur Of The Year at the PEA (People And Environment Achievement) Awards held last week. The judges were impressed with the way Sven had taken his frustrations with an industry that's highly toxic to the environment and blatantly ignorant to ethical concerns, and channeled them into a successful business. Po-zu has taken a series of positive steps that the footwear industry could incorporate quite easily, from glue-free sole attachment to the choice of sustainable materials, and ensuring that the workforce and suppliers receive decent conditions and a living wage.
It seems the only way is up for Sven and Po-Zu. They've sold over 50,000 pairs of shoes worldwide since the launch of the company in 2006, and you can now pick them up in John Lewis in the UK - a real boost to the visibility and reputation of the brand. (EDIT: not the case at the moment, sadly, but Sven hopes to have them back in store soon - see his comment below!)
Congratulations from everyone here at the Pier to Sven Segal - making giant strides towards a more sustainable, ethical footwear industry.