Wednesday 31 October 2012

Talking About The Ocean

Thinking about sustainability, particularly in the fashion sector, is still a process in its early stages of development. To get it right needs a framework and a set of goals, or at least something to argue about.

Kate Fletcher, Reader in Sustainable Fashion at the London College Of Fashion, has posted a link on her blog to a series of talks she recently took part in that hopes to map out that framework. Titled "50 Ways of Working Sustainably,", the talk is part of work being done by The Puma Sustainable Design Collective. Yes, that Puma. Amongst the sports clothing multi-nationals, they seem to be taking the lead in opening up the discussion about how fast fashion impacts the planet, and what we can do about it.

This is inspiring and thought-provoking stuff, and well worth your time. Bizarrely, it's password-protected - hardly an open approach to the discussion. However, Kate has been kind enough to share the code, and I feel it my duty to do the same.

If you're interested in some of the radical thinking being done to reconfigure fast fashion and its economic, social and environmental impacts, then this hour-long video is well worth your time.

Watch "50 Ways of Working Sustainably" here on Vimeo. The password is md101.

Friday 26 October 2012

Pop to the Pop-Up Shop

I'm a little late to the game, I'm afraid. But if you happen to be in London's painfully fashionable Shoreditch area today or tomorrow, you could do worse than check out the PureThread pop-up shop that's making a brief appearance on Old Street.

A partnership between the hip New York-based styling service and eco-fashionista Jocelyn Whipple, the shop highlights the best and most innovative in sustainable and green fashion.

Look out for brands like Stewart + Brown, KAMI and Privatsachen at the store, which is open from 11am to 8pm today and tomorrow. Lots to see and buy... but you'd better get your skates on!

The PureThread Pop-Up Shop is at 67 Old Street in Shoreditch, EC1V 9HW, in That London.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Terrible Truth Behind Bangladeshi Leather

There's disturbing news coming out of Bangladesh, as Human Rights Watch highlight the environmental and humanitarian abuses committed by local leather tanneries: abuses that the government seem either unwilling or incapable of fixing.
The report on Bangladesh's Hazaribagh region, released earlier this month, reels off a horrific string of occupational hazards faced by leather workers. They suffer from skin diseases and respiratory problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to tan the hides, and limb amputations from improperly secured cutting machines.
The waste water that comes off the tannery floors goes directly back into the local supply. This water is tainted with chunks of animal flesh, and chemicals like sulphuric acid, chromium and lead. Children as young as 11 work full shifts in the factories, soaking hides in these chemicals and operating the razor-edged cutters that trim them. Workers are regularly denied sick leave or compensation for injuries caused on the job.
It's a shocking list of human rights and environmental abuses, and the Bangladeshi government are doing little to put it right. Plans to relocate the tanneries and shut down the worst of the offenders have been in bureaucratic deadlock since 2005, despite international rulings to safeguard the rights and safety of everyone in the territory.
In the meantime, the tanneries continue to blight the landscape, chasing profits that have risen by $41million per year in the last decade. The leather of Hazaribagh is worth big money to the multinationals that export it. To the people who work in the factories, it's all they have; a Catch-22 situation that the factory owners and the government are happy to exploit.
For more, I recommend a look at Human Rights Watch's page on the humanitarian and environmental crisis in Hazaribagh, which contains a link to the full report. It makes for shocking and eye-opening reading.

Friday 19 October 2012

Old Becomes New Again At Midnorth Mercantile

Sustainability is, at heart, the process of making things last. Making clothes out of durable hard-wearing material, manufacturing them so that they don't fall apart after a little bit of use. The vintage and second-hand market has always pivoted on this ideal. Old clothes were made to last. With a little care and thought, they can have a new lease of life far beyond that imagined by the original manufacturer.

If you're ever in Minnesota, it's worth tracking down Midnorth Mercantile. This vintage menswear store, based in downtown Minneapolis, has made an art out of the craft of repurposing old clothing for the modern man. Owner "Moustache" Mike Ader understands that well-made clothes can improve with age. If they don't, due to cut, fit or wear, then he reworks them into desirable new items. Mike says:
"The purpose is to try to reuse all the materials in some form, whether that's in constructing something new out of old material, using the material to repair a less damaged garment to make it sellable, or using old and new materials together on a project like the Candy Stripe Tote."
Ah yes, the Candy Stripe Tote. This is probably the best example of the work that Midnorth Mercantile do so well. Crafted from Mike's collection of old Hudson Bay wool blankets and teamed with new leather fittings, their take on a classic blanket bag is already generating a buzz, even at the prototype stage. We're going to see a lot more of the Candy Stripe Tote, I feel.

Midnorth Mercantile have struck a fine balance between respect for vintage items, the craft and effort that went into them, and the demands of the modern fashion marketplace. The clothes and accessories look great, and have a heft and history that only makes them more desirable. This is not your average second-hand clothes store.

Check out the website for more.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

A Snug New Start For An Old Fleece Jacket

If you're a tech-friendly person like me, you'll know that it isn't enough to just have your Kindle or your iPad or your smartphone. No, they have to be dressed up in fancy new duds whenever you take them out for a walk. The tech accessories market is huge, and encompasses everything from woollen socks to mil-spec protection.

Now a new company, ReFleece, are bringing a bit of eco-chic to the market. Crafted out of recovered  jackets sourced from sustainable manufacturer Patagonia, and lined in post-industrial fleece scrap, their iPad and Kindle cases are colourful, practical and more than a little desirable. Even better, they remain completely recyclable. The case and lining are pressed together using a low-energy process and no nasty chemicals. They provide water-resistant protection for your precious devices, and look darn stylish in the process. A must, I think, for the techy fashionista.

ReFleece cases are available in Patagonia stores, or online at the ReFleece website.

Friday 12 October 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

Socially-conscious fashion label EDUN, who made a splash at New York Fashion Week with their rock-chic stylings last month, found they had a hefty over-run of fabric in a fetching camo print. They could have simply thrown it away.

Instead, they teamed up with footwear designer Matt Bernson to create a range of shoes that are really going to work both on the beach and in the club next summer. Made from tenting canvas and featuring  brasswear from artisans in Kenya's Bombalulu workshops, this co-production really does solve several problems at once, and does it in a downright stylish way.

I think you're going to be seeing a lot of these next summer. I suggest you get in quick!

For more, check this article on Ecouterre.

Monday 8 October 2012

Sustainable Luxury

One question raised after the green fashion sector's sterling showing at both London and New York Fashion Weeks was: can eco and high-end fashion really sit comfortably together? Isn't there a mismatch between the market, the ethics and the ethos?
This shows a fundamental misread of green fashion, that assumes that the clothes are still knitted out of jute by tiny communes and sold exclusively through stalls at achingly worthy London markets. The truth is a lot simpler and a lot less insulting to everyone concerned.
Green, eco and sustainable fashion takes its mission statement from the idea of respect. For the planet, in terms of the way that the fabric is produced, and how that material is manufactured into clothing. For the people who grow the crops, weave the fibres, and make the clothes. In order to show this respect, the green sector makes sure that cost-cutting measures do not include the dumping of toxic chemical byproducts into local water tables, or the exploitation of their workforce.
No-one considers high-end producers like the suit-makers of Saville Row to provide anything but luxury goods. Yet these clothes are produced from sustainable materials by workers who are highly skilled, and valued and paid accordingly. This ethos is at the heart of green and sustainable fashion, and I'm bewildered that anyone would think otherwise. Long-Time Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood has often stated that the best way to green up your wardrobe is to buy fewer, but better-quality and therefore longer-lasting clothes. It's cheap fashion that's the problem, not the sort of heirloom item that will cost more initially, but become a mainstay in your fashion arsenal for years to come.
In other words, we need to see more successes like the big noises made by eco-fashionistas at London and New York, to really show a sceptical public that high-end ethical fashion isn't just this year's fad. It's the future.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Ethical Fashion's High-End Makeover

Could 2012 be the year that the fashion industry finally starts to take ethical and eco-fashion seriously? The signs are pretty positive.

The September London Fashion Week was widely hailed as one of the greenest yet, with the EstEthica annex making a real splash. It suddenly felt like the place where the smart money was gravitating, rather than an out-of-sight, out-of-mind offshoot. Brands like Honest by Bruno Pieters, Auria X swimwear by Margot Bowman and the cool street style of White Tent showed a sector that has its finger on the pulse of modern fashion without sacrificing a shred of green cred. Add in the first ever ethical Vogue's Fashion Night Out, one of the big tickets of the whole week, and you can see why the buzz over eco-fashion is growing.

That buzz has been transmitted across the Atlantic, where New York Fashion Week has seen ethical fashion making a big noise on the catwalks. Designers like Nina Skarra and Kimberley Ovitz have showcased clothes made from tencel, organic cotton and soya, while Brazilian brand ‘Osklen’ by designer Oskar Metsavaht made a big splash with  creations made of ecological materials like fish leather (no, me neither) and vegetable dyed waste silk.

There's a palpable air of exciement around eco and green fashion. Sustainably-minded designers and brands are showing how they can make the grade as the next big thing, which can only help the cause. Spring and Summer 2013 could be very interesting indeed...