Friday 27 July 2012

Ready, Set...

Given the tone of our Olympic coverage thus far, you might be forgiven for thinking that we're down on the Games. This could not be further from the truth. Here at The Pier, we're incredibly excited that the Olympiad is in London for the third time since 1902, the only city to have this honour.

Your humble writer has tickets for three events, including a full day of athletics, as well as a day at the Paralympics. The cycling time trials will be running within yards of the Pier's riverside offices in sunny Thames Ditton, and most of us will be there, cheering on Wiggo and Cav after they did the business for us at the Tour de France.

Meanwhile, Guru Ian spotted this beauty moored outside the office yesterday.
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It's the Royal Barge Gloriana, preparing to take the Olympic Flame up the Thames to Stratford for tonight's opening ceremony.

Here's Gloriana, bedecked with flags later that day.

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And a close up of the flame cauldron. It's four feet high, and should look a treat in the late afternoon light.
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I'll cross-post some of my reports from the Olympics here via my daytime blog, Excuses And Half Truths. It's important to make sure you get all the skinny from this rare chance to see a world-class sporting event on our doorstep.

See you at the fencing on Sunday!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Let The Children Play

Gerry, the voice and conscience of Pier32 asked me a question yesterday that couldn't have come at a better time; has child labour been used at all to produce goods for the Olympics?

That's an important point to explore as we enter the preliminaries to tomorrow's opening ceremonies. The Beijing Games were marred by accusations of children working 15 hour shifts to produce badges and toys. Have things improved four years on?

There's certainly more focus on workers rights in third-world countries now, which has a lot to do with the tireless efforts of charities like War On Want. The rise in online activism has made it easier than ever to make your disapproval of poor labour practices known to the multinationals that have allowed them to proliferate in their factories. They know we're watching now, and they have to play a little bit more cleanly as a result.

Playfair, a UK-based charity, has been at the forefront of the push for worldwide workers rights over the past few years. They have scored some impressive victories this year. They have talked a lot of the major players like Nike and Adidas to sign a protocol protecting those rights in Indonesia, a hotbed of abuse. And although it's one thing to sign an agreement and another to enforce it, Playfair are seeing encouraging signs. Unions and worker associations are starting to become more involved in negotiations for fair pay and better working conditions. Let's be clear: a unionised factory will not tolerate child labour. So it's in all our interests to encourage and support these nascent organisations as they move towards securing the basic rights that all of us should enjoy.

There's still a long way to go, of course. Playfair have noted with sorrow that Adidas are digging their heels in, noting in their May report:
“Despite being committed to a living wage through sourcing agreements with the London Games Organisers LOCOG, Adidas continues to refuse to implement the payment of a living wage to workers producing Olympic sportswear, or any Adidas goods.”

The work, sadly, continues. The refusal of companies like Adidas to treat their workers with a base minimum of respect opens their factories up to the possibility of worker abuse and the risk of child labour. There's no reason that we as consumers, as human beings, should stand for this. It's thanks to charities like War On Want and Playfair that we don't have to.

None of which answers Gerry's question. I don't really have a definite answer. But bearing in mind that an estimated 215 million children work in some capacity across the globe, and based on the past record of companies that have Olympic contracts, I'd have to say that there's a very good chance that child labour has been used to produce some of these goods. A sobering thought on the eve of an event that's supposed to be about fair play.

For more, I recommend a browse around the PlayFair 2012 website.

Friday 20 July 2012

Are You Experienced?

How do you make your customers aware that the clothing you make is made from non-virgin, recycled materials? Well, one cheeky way is to name your company I Am Not A Virgin. The New York based company have been making jeans for four years now, graduating from prototypes made from factory scraps to the latest designs that contain 25% recycled material made from brown beer bottles.

IANAV have made a virtue of this, launching a limited-edition jean that's been stitched inside out to show off the unique weave of the cutting-edge material. Head honcho of the company, Peter Heron, has big plans for the future, saying:
"We will eventually have different lines of jeans made from green soda bottles, blue water bottles, and my original idea of using fabric scraps collected at the manufacturing mills," says Heron. "We're also making T-shirts that are made with recycled food tray (tri-blend black color), clear water bottles (white color), discarded x-ray film (light gray color) and in the future empty yogurt cartons. The T-shirts are super soft and feel great."
Unlike a lot of the limited lovelies I feature on the blog, you have a chance to get your mitts on IANAV wherever you are by supporting their Kickstarter fundraising campaign. This will help the company to keep on pushing out their desirable, innovative clothing, and also fund their other crusade - to keep the rights to their name. A certain banking/airline/media conglomorate are pressuring IANAV to change their name to something else - I Am Not Chaste, perhaps.

That's virgin on the ridiculous, if you ask me.

For more, and to support IANAV, visit their website.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Right Way To Run

It's getting more and more difficult to sort out the right sportswear brand to choose in the run-up to the Olympics. I think for the time being it's a no brainer to steer clear of Adidas. Nike have made giant leaps in their sustainability profile, but that doesn't make them angels by any means.

So where do we turn for sportswear that ticks all the boxes? Apart from the obvious choice, I mean.

It's a tricky situation, made worse by the complexity not just of the global manufacturing process, but of the items themselves. As Lucy Seigel pointed out in a Guardian article in May, the modern trainer has getting on for fifty components, all of which have the potential to cause pollution somewhere along the chain. Figuring out ways of lessening the impact of these items is not an easy job. And although improvements are being made in workplace safety and ethics, change will remain glacially slow and open to stalls and hiccups for the foreseeable future.

So should we just give up on the idea of green performance wear? Of course not. As ever, it just means that as consumers we should take a little more care over our purchases. Brands like New Balance and Puma are making great strides down the right road, with the latter publishing an eco profit-and-loss account.

Fashion can also play a part, and I don't just mean different liveries and colour ways. The shift by smart athletes away from complex, heavily-padded trainers towards the "barefoot" method uses the bare minimum of foot covering to promote a toes-first method of running that's already breaking records. Barefoot trainers are significantly lighter and less costly in every sense of the word to manufacture. Again, New Balance are front-runners in this new field, but expect to see the big players make a much bigger deal about barefoot running in the next year or so.

It's a real shame that some of Pier32's favourite brands like Fair Corp and Veja don't yet offer a decent range of performance wear (although keep an eye on Fair Corp's diversification into cycling wear - we had a tiny preview of this at the Eco-Technology Show and the range looks good).

As ever, it's the slightly more niche end of the market that are the true innovators. Ethical snow, skate and sail wear is much easier to find than a trainer that won't break the bank and the planet. But this is a growing field, and as ever The View From The Pier promises to be, if not first off the starting line, then certainly in the front pack in reporting any innovations.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Changing The Game

You may be rolling your eyes at War On Want's Big Rebrand (there's still time to get your swing tags, people). It's just a silly little stunt, right? Activism never changed anything.

Well, actually, it does. And in the age of social networking and quicker, slicker ways of getting a view or a message across, fashion activism can be astonishingly effective.

Let's look at one brand, and what the heck, it might as well be the world's biggest. 10 years ago, Nike was the exemplar of everything that was wrong in fashion retailing. Unaccountable, unethical, uncaringly pollutant. But years of activism and boycotts has proved one simply fact to the company: that approach is (Ah-ha!) unsustainable.

In May, Nike produced a sustainability report that was half confessional, half rewrite of the corporate culture. You could argue that they had little choice in the matter, that the old way of doing things was eating into profits and ultimately doing damage to the brand as a whole. But the fact that Nike not only recognise that, but are prepared to put some fairly significant funds behind the changes, shows that they see the way the goalposts are shifting.

Resources are becoming scarce, energy costs are rising. Add that to the pressure from activist groups and concerned consumers turning their back on the brand and--well, something had to give. The great thing is how whole-heartedly Nike have embraced the need to change, and the surprising humility in the report. You could dismiss it as corporate flim-flam, but the fact remains that Nike are spending billions on a root-to-branch reworking of their supply and manufacturing chain, that will increasingly embrace innovation, green thinking and sustainable practice.

What does this mean down the line, especially for Nike's competitors? The fact is that they are all more likely to listen to activists and more importantly, do something about it. Greenpeace's Toxic Challenge highlighted the way big manufacturers were dumping toxic chemicals into rural waterways around the world. Within weeks many of the big players were falling over themselves to announce plans to go toxin-free. It could be that these plans were already in the pipeline, and the Greenpeace action simply appeared at the right time. But in an era when brand loyalty is all-important, any damage that the inherent corporate culture can do to that brand is slowly starting to be edged out.

The claims that the 2012 Games will be the greenest ever is, sadly, under fire precisely because of the refusal of Adidas and others to see past the massive payday that the Olympics has become for them. But they are protective of their brand, and little actions like War On Want's upcoming event could have surprisingly major outcomes. It's a game with a remarkably level playing field, and one where the final score is not at all guaranteed.

Friday 6 July 2012

Bringing The Fight To The Enemy

War On Want, who first brought to light the shameful sweatshop conditions under which Adidas are producing most of their Olympic wear, have upped the ante on the run-up to the 2012 Games.

In a campaign that's a neat cross between viral marketing and direct action, they are encouraging people to slip into stores and add an extra swing tag to any Adidas clothes they find. Cleverly branded to look like official Adidas material, the War On Want tags highlight how much a worker in the Cambodian factories used by the sportswear giant gets for making the clothes.

There's already been a great response, but War On Want want more people to get involved. So they've announced a Big High Street Re-Brand next weekend, the 14th and 15th of July. Order your tags from WoW, and be subtle and creative in how you rebrand the Adidas sportswear you find.

I think this is a great idea, and a clever way to get the word out about the real cost of Adidas clothing to the people who care the most - their customers.

For more, and to order your tags (if you want to take part on the 14th and 15th, you should order before this coming Monday), check out the War On Want Adidas page.

And hey, let's be careful out there. It's War On Want, not war on Sports Direct.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

A Year At The Pier

A few special occasions to note today. This is the 200th View From The Pier post, and it also marks a year since I took on the huge responsibility of writing the blog.

It's been a challenge for me. Which is, to be honest, the whole point of the exercise. I've always felt it's important to push the boundaries of my writing. As a sci-fi/horror geek with questionable tastes in clothing, running an ethical fashion blog is as far out there as it gets.

All I can say is that you learn on the job. I'm still learning, and will continue to do so. My fascination with technology and smart solutions to everyday problems has bled into my writing for The Pier in surprising ways, and I'm always ready to have my eyebrows hiked into my hairline by new and innovative ideas. Ethical fashion is a fast-moving field, attracting very clever people from all sorts of different disciplines. It's a real melding of science and art, providing us with striking and beautiful products.

I don't want this post to turn into a clip show, but you can't see where you are until you know where you've been. We've highlighted designers like Veja, who recently won an Observer Green Award and Po-Zu, whose founder Sven Segal landed the Entrepreneur of The Year at the PEA Awards. We were there when the news started to break about the way Adidas and other multinationals were breaking the promise that the 2012 Olympics would be the greenest ever with their sweatshop practices.

We've cheered as Marks and Spencer made all the right moves towards becoming the most ethical chain on the High Street, and jeered at the greenwashing of wannabes like H&M with their strictly limited organic ranges.

And yes, we've crushed hard on Vivienne Westwood, and swooned over the brilliant Ethletic trainers. We've whooped and pointed and blown raspberries at a government that has no idea that you don't give the Third Sector extra responsibility at the same time as you cut their funding and not expect people to notice. I've talked to two lads in a field in Stroud about pants, and celebrated undies with Holloway-Smith Noir.

Here at The Pier we are opinionated, passionate, open-minded and ready to learn. We don't know everything, but we're smart enough to find out how to fill in the gaps.

We're a year in, and I think I've just set up the ground rules and laid the foundations. It only gets better from here.

It's especially nice to be able to celebrate today as it's the birthday of Ali, Mascot and Future Boss of Pier32. Let's crack a bottle of organic Fairtrade sparkly, enjoy some cake and look forward to another year at The Pier.