Friday 28 December 2012

The Year In Ethical Fashion

2012 has been an interesting year for ethical fashion, with some big changes and a real sense of more and better to come.

Early in the year, ethical streetwear company Howies bought themselves back from Timberland and quietly went from strength to strength. Their store in London's Carnaby Street is a go-to destination for cool kicks with a eco-slant.

Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood had a great year. She was featured in the Design Museum for her Ethical Fashion Africa collection. She snagged a special commendation in the EFF Source Awards and will be judging the Red Carpet Green Dress competition, that will see an ethically-produced dress at next year's Oscar ceremony.

Ethical fashion was big at Paris, London and New York Fashion Weeks. In London, the Esthetica offshoot at Somerset House had a real buzz to it, and felt less like an afterthought, and more like the best-kept secret that all of a sudden everyone needed to know about.

It was a massive year in protest, with Greenpeace's Toxic Threads getting promises of change out of the biggest of multinationals with very little effort. In the High Street, both M&S and H&M started recycling schemes, a trend started earlier in the year by Patagonia. Adidas was explicitly targeted by War On Want during the Olympics for using sweated labour in their 2012-branded goods with some clever campaigns, including swing-tags and projections onto the walls of the Olympic Village.

It's important to be vigilant, and understand that globalisation makes accurate tracking of a multinational's supply chain virtually impossible; as Greenpeace discovered to their cost when they found that their promotional t-shirts contained some of the same toxic chemicals for which they were skewering companies like Zara in the press.

But a sea change is gradually happening. As the Guardian reported back in January, companies that adopt a sustainable approach are outperforming those who don't. As branding becomes a vital part of a multinational’s identity, and any adverse hit to that brand has a direct effect on bottom line, an eco-aware, ethical approach is starting to be seen as simply good business practice. It's a slow process, and human rights horrors like the Bangladeshi clothes factory fires can and will continue to happen. But that's no reason to give up. Activism can make a difference.

Technology is the prime mover towards effecting change, of course, and as we do more of our shopping on line, there's a great argument for doing more to kick-start that change while sitting at home. Sites like Style Is... launched by EFF Source Award winner Ceri Heathcote make finding that ethical bargain a snap, and Pinterest is a great way of checking out what's new and groovy on the sustainable scene. Even Instagram is getting in on the act, as users upload photos pics of clothes to buy and sell. The pre-loved marketplace is becoming a vibrant and quickly-developing place for the savvy shopper to snag a one-of-a-kind bargain, or to snaffle that hard to find essential item without wearing your heels down to nubs. As charity shops find themselves suddenly back in vogue, and even Age UK rebranding itself as a recyclista's home from home, in 2013, why buy new when you can buy old?

Talking of the Ethical Fashion Forum, their Source Awards highlighted the very best in innovation and invention, with a roll call of brilliant designers and ateliers, including some friends of Pier32. If you want to see the future of fashion, their short list of nominees and winners is a great place to start.

A fashion blogger just finding his feet in 2012 would have plenty to write about in the ethical fashion field. So it's just as well that's exactly what's happened here at the Pier. As we move into 2013, I see a part of the industry that will increasingly dictate the path of the mainstream. It's an exciting area to be involved in, and I hope that's coming across. Here's to an increasingly sustainable and stylish 2013!

Thursday 20 December 2012

So This Is Christmas

...and what have we done?

Well, in 2012, Pier 32 has done quite a bit, actually. This year marked our move to carbon-neutral status. Our trip to Brighton in June for the Eco-Technology show saw us adding old friends and new to the ever-increasing circle of Pier32 influence (which is entirely benevolent and nurturing, I hasten to add).

It's been a big year for us in social media too, with the launch of a Pier32 presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and YouTube. Our Twitter feeds continue to feed you chat, banter and the best of the ethical web. Oh, and there's a blog too, apparently.

And of course, we're helping to supply the very finest in custom ethical promotional clothing to an ever-growing client base. I'd love to say thank you to every single one of them, but we could be here for a while if I did.

2013 is going to carry on with the same forward-looking feeling. A strong Pier32 showing will be off to the NEC for the Motorsport show in Birmingham in mid-January, where we'll be cheering on the Kartforce team that we are proud and happy to be sponsoring. Look out for new films from us on our YouTube channel, too, as we document our adventures.

It's been a busy year for us here at The Pier, and for most of the gang it's time to kick back and relax. The office will be closed from mid-day today, December 20th, and we'll reopen fully for business on January 3rd. Gerry and Ian will be checking their emails on the odd occasion when they can drag themselves away from the figgy pud and turkey.

In my little shack at the end of The Pier, I too will be slowing down a little, but I'm not shutting up shop entirely. Expect a relaxed but regular posting schedule, including my look at a year in ethical fashion. Keep an eye on the official blog twitterfeed as well: you can follow me as @Pier32Blog.

I'd like to thank all my readers, and everyone that's passed on kind words about the blog. This is Rob, lifting a glass and wishing you all a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

A Little Bit Of XXXmas Blysia

Yes, I know, time is running out, and if you're still looking for that special something for that special someone, then frankly you're cutting it a bit fine, sunshine.

If you're trying to find something for the ethically-minded lady in your life, then can I point you in the direction of Blysia Lingerie? They describe themselves as the Welsh answer to Agent Provocateur. View that however you like.

The ethical answer to Agent Provocateur would be closer to the truth. Members of the Ethical Fashion Forum's Fellowship 500, Blysia's scantywear, designed by founder Helen Ball, is exceedingly eco-aware. She uses fairly traded organic hemp, hemp/silk blends, bamboo vegan "silk" and organic cotton lace and threads. The trimmings are upcycled and recycled vintage.

All her fabric is responsibly sourced and managed, and the Welsh atelier where Blysia's lingerie is dyed and put together is powered by solar energy. Blysia is serious about their eco-cred, even if the products themselves are fun, flirty and saucy.

OK, you might be a bit too late to order in time for Christmas, but I'd say Blysia is worth keeping bookmarked for the next time you're in the market for naughty scanties with a bit of sustainable va-va-voom.

For more, check out the Blysia website.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Anne Hathaway Has Shoes To Sing About In Les Misérables

As a fan both of musicals (look, blame my mum, she insisted on blasting Rogers And Hammerstein at full volume during my formative years) and the slinky Anne Hathaway, I admit to bring cautiously optimistic about the new big screen version of Les Misérables.

I didn't know that Ms. Hathaway was a vegan, but she was insistent that it wasn't just the craft services table that came up to scratch on set.

Costume designer on Les Misérables Paco Delgado has revealed that his department had to source and construct custom vegan shoes for the actress. He told WWD's Footwear News:

“She’s vegan, so we couldn’t use any animal materials on the shoes for her character Fantine. We had to find very specific shoemakers to create lace-up boots and ankle boots."

He also came up with especially-distressed ballet flats for Hathaway, which are the only examples of this particular example of attention to detail to make it onto the big screen: don't blink, and you might just be able to catch them in the theatrical trailer.

You might wonder whether all of this matters for items of clothing that will, at best, only be glimpsed in the film. If you notice the clothes, then you're not paying attention to the story and characters. To put it another way; you don't want to leave a musical humming the sets.

I, for one, admire Anne for sticking to her principles. She has to shave her head and sing live in the film: let the girl have her custom kicks, for gods sake. Shoes maketh the man, it's said. Let's see how important they are to her performance in what promises to be a big noise for cinema in 2013.

Les Misérables is released in the UK on January 13th. Let's have a look for those shoes...

Monday 17 December 2012

A Chat With Missy Lil's

By blogging outside my comfort zone, I sometimes bump into some surprising people. A couple of old friends and work colleagues have popped up on the Pier32 radar. I may have mentioned that I know Tamsin from Source Award-nominated Nancy Dee (if you fancy a chat, Tamsin, get in touch!).

Today, though, I'd like to introduce you to my friend Charlotte Cooper, who runs the upcycled hat and fascinator business, Missy Lil's. We sat down recently over tea and biccies, and chatted about how she shifted from TV to titfers.

Rob: That is a smashing drop of Orange Pekoe. Hi, Charlotte. Tell us a little about how Missy Lil’s was founded and your upcycling philosophy.
Charlotte: I make no bones about it, I collect junk. My love of shiny objects rivals that of a magpie. My drawers are full of broken jewellery and interesting scraps of material. I started Missy Lil's as a way of filling a gap in my life and to utilise my eclectic collection. I had recently started writing about vintage fashion and discovered that I had a talent for, and enjoyed actually making vintage inspired hair accessories. I use new and vintage materials, although I try to do as much up cycling as I can. This way I can be sure that the majority of my pieces are completely unique and individual.
R: How tricky (or otherwise) is it to find material that you can repurpose for use in Missy Lil’s clothes?

C: When I first started Missy Lil's I put a call out via Facebook, asking people for any of their scraps of unwanted material and broken jewellery and could not believe the response! It stunned me just what, and how much, people sent me. I'm actually still using some of the original pieces a year later. People love to think that their cast offs can be made into something beautiful again and this has become Missy Lil's mantra.
R: Missy Lil’s seems to be quite locally focussed at the moment. Is this likely to change? Do you want it to change?
C: Due to time and travel limitation (I take my driving test in January) trading directly to the public has remained a very local affair for me. But I have very loyal customers and a lot of the vintage fairs attract people from all over the country. At present I am making a matching set of 3 hats for a civil partnership in That London for a chap who attended an Exeter fair with his mum!
I also sell in local seaside towns, which obviously attract many tourists, so you could say that I sell all over the globe! My online presence means that I have been commissioned by people from Scotland to Essex. With every sale I get free advertising, as they wear their Missy Lil's hats to their particular function. I also get free advertising in the magazine that I write for, 'Vintage Life' which is a national glossy (hopefully global soon!). And my Facebook page has over 200 likes, and counting. (Rob discloses: I was Like No. 199.)
R: A rich tea biscuit, please. What are the future plans for Missy Lil’s?
C: I have been approached by more shops from Belfast to London to supply my hats and see my business heading this way, I do enjoy the fairs and wouldn't stop doing them, but it is easier if other people are doing the work for you! I also hope that my Internet sales grow in 2013 and I get more commissions and sales.
R: A silly one to finish with: what cocktail would Missy Lil order on a night out–and why?
C: A cocktail on a night out? It would have to be an Old Fashioned... Could it be anything else?!
Well, quite! Charlotte, thanks for the chance to chat, and best of luck with the driving test! You can check out the full Missy Lil's range at the website, which also contains a pretty good high street bargains blog, for the full vintage look without spending big bucks.

Missy Lil's

Charlotte, bemoaning Pier32's ram-raid on her biscuit barrel.

Friday 14 December 2012

Kartforce: Driving Their Support For Our Boys Into 2013!

Kartforce team

Back in August, I talked about Kartforce, a brilliant charity helping injured ex-servicemen to rehabilitate themselves through go-kart racing. They've supplied specially adapted karts that are drivable without pedals for a team of five drivers who have four legs between them--and more than the allotted amount of heart.

The Kartforce team will be racing at the Autosports International Show at the NEC in Birmingham on Friday 11th of January, against a hot-ticket bill featuring a ton of international drivers. The event will be hosted by racing legend Johnny Herbert, and celebs like Robbie Savage and David Brabham will be on hand. It's a cracking start to the year for the boys, and Pier32 are right there with them.

That's not just empty talk. We're one of the sponsors for the event, and have supplied the official Kartforce fleece, which will help finance the team in what promises to be a landmark year for the charity. It's Kartforce's aim to get more injured troops karting in 2013, keeping them active and strong, and showing the world that losing a limb doesn't mean losing hope.

We're chuffed to be able to help out Kartforce in their first big event of 2013. There's lots more to come from them, I'm sure.

Start your engines.

For more info about the Johnny Herbert Karting Challenge, check out the website.


Thursday 13 December 2012

Smoking Out A New Use For Tobacco

Recent legislation in Australia that's likely to be copied across the planet shows the humble cigarette to be an increasingly endangered species. As branding on fag packets devolves into a simple brand name teamed with a big, full colour picture of a seeping, tar-filled lung, you have to wonder whether the tobacco industry has a future at all.

Ploughboy Organics thinks that it does, although not in the way you'd think. The company, based in North Carolina, has found that there's a heck of a lot more that you can do with the tocacco plant then dry the leaves and smoke them. The stalks, once considered to be field waste, produce durable, sustainable fibres that can produce an antimicrobial fabric. Use it by itself, or team it with other organic fibres like wool or even nettle for a real mix of looks and feels.

That's not all. The plant can also provide dyes that are non-toxic, and use less water and lower temperatures to fix, reducing environmental impact. The colours are strikingly vibrant, from an eye-pinging cyan to a rich burgundy hue they call Carnelian.

Basically, what we have here is a breakthrough that converts one our great evils into a renewable, sustainable resource. If everything that Ploughboy and its CEO Susanne DeVall is true, then tobacco could render the Greenpeace Detox agreement to be pointless. This, from Ploughboy's latest press release:

"The company’s goal is to produce low cost organic dyes and fiber for the global marketplace utilizing raw materials that are free from chemical agents and pesticides — which negatively impact our environment. An overriding philosophy for the organization is the commitment to sustainable agricultural practices and responsible manufacturing processes from the field to the finished product."
Sounds pretty good, huh? At the moment, Ploughboy are keeping their cards close to their chest in regards to what these processes might actually be. I hope that there's not an announcement of hoax waiting in the wings. But if not, then this is another example of an alternative fibre that could transform not just the apparal industry, but the way we look at the production of fabric on a worldwide scale. Ploughboy are thinking big, and their excitement is palpable.

Why smoke it when you can wear it?

For more, get over to the Ploughboy Organic site.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Mango And Esprit: Welcome To The Detox Nation

It's been one hell of a month for Greenpeace's Detox Campaign. After Zara's remarkable and unexpected sign-up following less than a week of protest about the toxins in their clothes, Mango and Esprit have now signed the pledge to eliminate hazardous nasties from their supply chain by 2020.

That makes ten major companies to have signed up to Detox, following M&S, C&A, H&M, Adidas, Nike, Puma, Zara and Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning. It seems like manufacturers are falling over themselves to show how ethical and eco-friendly they can be.

The focus now is on Levi's, who still refuse to release data on their emissions into rivers in China and Mexico, despite having signed the Joint Roadmap to Zero Discharge Of Hazardous Chemicals (a list that has also been signed by many of the Detox signees). For Greenpeace, that doesn't feel like enough. It might seem a little unfair, but it's always been Greenpeace's role to harry and poke at huge corporations and their ethical and ecological failings. Would signing the Detox pledge make Levi's adopt a zero emissions workflow any more quickly? Well, that remains to be seen, but as Zara has found out, it's a good way to stop the protests outside your stores.

As a sidebar, Greenpeace have released a rather good anime-style promo for the Detox Campaign, that feels like a trailer for something bigger.

Who knows, that might just be what it is.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

A Fire Still Blazing In Bangladesh

The deaths of over one hundred workers at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Bangladesh continues to fan the flames of controversy. The factory was making goods for any number of multinationals, including clothing chains owned by Sean "Puffy" Combs, and American big box giant Walmart, and many of these are trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

The Walmart connection becomes more interesting the more you dig into it. The company strongly deny that their products were made with their permission in the doomed factory, blaming the evidence of clothes from their Faded Glory line on the site on a rogue supplier who is no longer working for the group. Meanwhile, it's emerged that the company blocked a move to improve fire and electrical safety at the Bangladeshi factories that worked under Walmart contracts during a meeting in 2011, claiming that it wouldn't be "financially feasible" to upgrade facilities at the sites in question.

The deaths continue. A blaze at the That's It Factory north of Dhaka killed 40 and injured many more, as fire exits were intentionally blocked. A fire at an undergarment factory in southern China last week killed 14 workers, all of them girls and young women aged between 14 and 20. Sparked by a disgruntled worker who was owed back pay, the incident only focussed the world's attention more firmly on issues of safety and worker exploitation in the fast fashion industry. Even the US Secretary of Labor has weighed in on the issue. In a press release issued last week, Linda Solis compared the fire to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York, that claimed the lives of 146 female workers. That fire marked a sea-change in American workers rights and workplace safety legislation, and Ms. Solis views the Nazreen fire as having the same impact. She says:

  “Investigations should be conducted and the perpetrators punished, but things cannot then return to business as usual. I know that change is not easy. The U.S. Department of Labor stands ready to help, with technical assistance and expertise, to work with the government of Bangladesh to ensure that this horrific tragedy becomes a watershed moment for Bangladeshi workers’ rights.”
This is, at the moment, all talk and little action.  At least WRAP, who have been at the forefront of raising concerns over worker safety in the developing world, are doing something. They are launching fire safety training courses through the region, beginning in Pakistan later in the month. You could argue that's putting a fire blanket down on cold ashes, but the sweatshop conditions in clothing factories throughout the Indian subcontinent will carry on, and will continue to take lives, unless some kind of action is taken quickly. Nearly 500 workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh alone since 2007. That cannot be allowed to continue.

Monday 10 December 2012

Who Owns The Seed?

Regular visitors to The Pier will have become aware that I'm not so much an eco-fashionista as I am a big old geek who likes pretty things. As such, I sometimes become excited about things that may, on the surface, only be tangentially connected to the remit of the blog. Like seed sovereignty, for example. But trust me, this is important stuff.

Simple question: who owns the seed from which our food and fibre for our clothes grow? The farmers, or the multinationals like Monsanto who supply millions of tonnes of stock to the agricultural areas of the world? It used to be simple. Farmers would not just harvest crops, they'd also harvest the seed from which they could grow next year's crops. A sturdy, self-replicating cycle.

That cycle has changed as agribusiness has flourished. These huge multinationals supply seed with increased yield and tolerance to drought and pests, meaning more crops, and more money for everyone. Right?

Hmmm. As we're seeing in India and other places where subsistance farming has been merrily been shunted aside in favour of this new world view, the transition hasn't been painless. The GM seed that's been supplied by agribusiness is sterile, meaning there's no way for farmers to save seed: they have to buy more next year. They're also more reliant on the chemicals agribusiness supply to help the seed flourish: not just pesticides and weed-killers, but special nutrient blends and fertilisers. All of which costs money. Farmers have to take out loans to afford the stocks of seed and chemicals.

If, god forbid, drought happens and all that money is thrown onto dried-up mud, then farmers end up in debt to their eyeballs and with no way out of the spiral. Well, there's one. The huge spike in farmer suicides in India can, to a certain extent, be explained by this shift in the way modern farming is carried out.

I'm not as down on GM crops as you might think. Imagine a cotton crop that needed less water and fertiliser to grow effectively, or a modified nettle or hemp plant that could take its place. Modified crops could turn a lot of the concerns about agribusiness around. But it will be tricky to grow, and likely dependent on exotic pesticides and nutrients.

In the areas where agribusiness is most heavily pushing their products, in developing nations like India, China and Brazil, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find seed that isn't copyrighted and good for one season only. In the short term, of course, it's good business sense--build a customer base and make sure they keep coming back. But in the medium to long term, it doesn't address issues of climate change or how that impacts the land on which that seed is supposed to grow.

The United Nations has come up with a plan it calls The Green Economy, which aims to break the deadlock between business and the environment. It starts from the point where the land is viewed as "natural capital", a resource that needs careful management rather than flat-out exploitation. It lays out a few simple rules whereby the economy co-exists with the environment, and the best interests of all sectors including agriculture, forestry and fisheries, are provided for without using up the natural capital. It will require a major rethink on current practices, but the status quo is no longer sustainable. We need to figure out whether seed ownership is an agribusiness resource, or a basic human right.

For more, I recommend a look at Leisl Truscott's piece for Textile Exchange, which includes links to the full UN report on the Green Economy.

Friday 7 December 2012

Our Clients: Renewable World - Offering A Lifeline

Back in June, I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah from Renewable World, a charity devoted to tackling poverty through the provision of renewable energy. They do important work that transforms lives.

That work has been recognised, as Renewable World has been selected to feature in the BBC's 2013 Lifeline Appeal. This is a big deal--only one international charity a year is chosen to feature in the appeal.

Lifeline will feature Renewable World's work in Nepal, and the face of the programme, Daybreak's Gethin Jones will be travelling there in January to visit the partners and communities with which the charity is working.

How can technology help rural communities in the foothills of the Himalayas? Well, let's consider the simplest of things; access to water. If you spend a large chunk of your day fetching and carrying water to tend to your crops, then things tend to get put aside. Like education. If you need your kids to help you in the daily grind of subsistence farming, then you can't afford to send them to school.

So, by providing a hydraulic ram pump to get that water up to the terraces where those communities live, you can instantly see the benefits. Newly mobilised water resources are helping them to grow more high-value crops, increasing household income. Better yet, it means that kids can be sent to school, and that families can spend more valuable time together. A simple thing that we all take for granted can empower whole communities at the turn of a tap.

I've been a fan of Renewable World since I found out about their work, and I'm chuffed to hear that a lot more people are about to do the same. They will be featured in a 9-minute film in February as part of the Lifeline Appeal, and I'll be sure to let you know when you can watch it, and see for yourselves how Renewable World are changing lives for the better.

Find out more about Renewable World's work in Nepal here.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

The Source Awards 2012: And The Winners Are:


A stonking good night at the Ethical Fashion Forum Source Awards last night, even if the best you could manage was a hot chocolate and the livestream on your laptop.


A hearty round of applause goes to Mantis World for their Sustainable Production Award, and we'd like to issue heartfelt congrats to Pachacuti, Pants To Poverty and Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood, all of whom were specially commended in their respective categories.


Here's our list of the winners:



  • Innovation (fashion design): Honest By and Linda Mai Phung
  • Innovation: (accessories and footwear): GUNAS
  • Innovation: (jewellery): Hearts
  • Innovation (childrenswear): Toto Knits
      • Innovation (one to watch): Nomi Network

  • Brand Leader (design): Lalesso
  • Brand Leader (street/casualwear): The IOU Project
  • Brand Leader (accessories and footwear): Andean Collection

  • Sustainable Supplier (Production): Mantis World
  • Sustainable Supplier: (Fabrics And Components): Organic Textile Exchange

  • The Africa Award: SOKU Kenya

  • Independent Boutique: Think Boutique

  • Design Leader: Suno
  • Outstanding Contribution: Safia Minney

  • Retail Leader: ASOS
  • Sustainable Style Icon: Livia Firth

  • Media/Awareness Raising: Six Magazine

  • Education: London College of Fashion for their MA in Fashion and the Environment

  • Source Contributing Writer: Ceri Heathcote

Many congratulations to all of us here at the Pier to the winners, runners and riders. Well deserved kudos, but the real winner tonight was ethical fashion, which shone at the chance to show what a vibrant, innovative and exciting sector it can be.


Tuesday 4 December 2012

Zara Comes Clean Over Toxins

It's been a little over a week since Zara were explicitly tagged by Greenpeace in their Toxic Threads campaign as a company with serious issues over toxins in their clothing. They scored poorly in a list of manufacturers whose apparal contained dangerous amounts of pollutants, including some that were known carcinogens. How on earth could the multinational pull itself out of this huge ethical hole?

Turns out it's pretty simple, really. All you have to do is say you're sorry, sign up to Greenpeace's pledge, and agree to fundamentally restructure your entire supply chain to cut all toxins out of the system by 2020. There. Was that so hard?

This is a pretty major landmark for everyone involved. Zara's parent company, Inditex, initially responded to Greenpeace's accusations with a standard boilerplate assertion about their best practices--the sort of thing that fools no-one, especially when documentation as to what those best practices might be is never forthcoming.

What surprised everyone was the abruptness of Zara's volte-face. In less than a week, faced with little more than a few protests in shop windows and outside stores, one of the biggest multinationals on the planet has pledged to completely rejig its manufacturing processes. I'm more than a little gob-smacked. It's interesting to see how the threat of protest and the damage that can cause to a carefully-crafted corporate image can now change the direction in which that company is heading. Outside the remit of this blog, Starbucks has recently pledged to pay a fair amount of corporation tax, based mostly on boycotts and the smackdown taken to their caring, sharing image (not helped by recent revelations that the tax increase would be paid for in part with cuts to staff perks. Note to Starbucks: stop screwing up. I miss my Pike Place, but I'm not going back until you sort yourselves out).

Are we seeing a sea change in the way corporations do business? Has ethical and eco-friendly behaviour become a factor to be dialed into the mission statement? More to the point, does transparency about company practices need to become a part of that structure? Clearly, no-one's buying the sort of pablum that Zara initially put out in response to the Greenpeace report anymore. If you have to respond, it's better to do it quickly and without recourse to bullshot.

I have no doubt that what we've seen from Zara is a hard-nosed business decision. It'll cost them plenty to retool their supply chain, but bad PR will cost them a heck of a lot more in lost business. Their sudden turn-around has suddenly bought them an awful lot of brownie points, and made them look like heroes. We won't know until 2020 whether this pledge is worth more than the iPad it was quickly drafted on, but I would imagine that a lot of companies are looking nervously at their own piles of dirty linen and wondering how soon it'll be before the stink coming off it becomes obvious.

It's a little early to call the Zara decision a tipping point in the way clothing manufacturers do business, tilting towards a more ethical model. But the signs look a little more hopeful than they did this time last week.

Monday 3 December 2012

Birthday Greetings and a Christmas Wish

A few bits of housekeeping before I begin. This entry marks the 100th post this year for The Pier, another step in our inexorable move towards global domination. It's been getting on for 18 months since I started blogging for Pier32, and I like to think we've gone from strength to strength. There's more and better to come in the next few months, so keep it locked to this signal.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish Guru Ian a slightly belated fortysomethingth birthday, which I'm sure went with a bang. He's been the prime mover in getting me to this point in my writing career, and I owe him a major debt of thanks for that. Birthday happys, Nin.

Now, Christmas. For some, the most wonderful time of the year. For others, a grim reminder of the greed and venality at the heart of our consumer society. You might bah humbug at that, but hear me out for a second.

TV's Money Saving Expert Martyn Lewis recently caused a stir in The Telegraph when he wrote a piece on Christmas, and how he believed spending for it was out of control. He says:

Across the country people are growling at the enforced obligation to waste money on tat they can't afford, for people who won't use it. Festive gift-giving has lost its point, risks doing more harm than good, mis-teaches our children about values and kills the joy of anticipation of what should be a joyous time.
Before you think this is just curmudgeonly bah-humbug, this rant isn't about presents under the spruce from parents or grandparents to children or spouses. It's about the ever-growing creep of gifts to extended family, colleagues, children's teachers and more.
I first braved this subject on my website back in 2009, expecting a snowstorm of protest. Instead, many people joined my call to arms, relieved they were not alone in their distaste for the gifting ritual.
The next year, I polled 10,000 people on whether we should ban presents. Seven per cent said ditch all of them, 30 per cent said to all but children, and a further 46 per cent said limit it to the immediate family. Fewer than one in five supported giving beyond that.
Yet even with years of economic stagnation, each successive Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah, too few brave the peer pressure and shut up the giving shop. With Christmas just five weeks away, there's still time to pull back and agree on NO PRESENTS THIS YEAR.
I can only agree. We struggle to find gift ideas for an ever-increasing extended family, throwing cash at barely-thought out solutions that more often than not end up either at the charity shop or worse, in the bin and heading for landfill. Worse, if you actually ask people what they want, you get a vague response or the infuriating "oh, I'm sure whatever you get will be fine." Gaaaah. Something has to give. There has to be a solution, and sometimes it needs to be radical.

As a writer on eco and sustainability issues, I know that the greenest thing you can do is simply not buy things you don't need. Last year, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we had to cut back, and that Christmas was a great place to start. We spread the word that we didn't want any presents, and that we'd only be buying for kids and grandparents. The reaction was a little mixed, largely on the bemused side. We don't have kids, therefore there was no way for our families to reciprocate when we were spending money on them. We had to make it very clear; it's OK. Have one on us. We'd rather spend the money on good food and booze, and on enjoying everyone's company.

In general, it worked very well. A few stealth presents slipped through the net, but on the whole our extended family understood what we were up to, and I think they were happy to have two fewer gifts to buy. So, we're doing it again this year. We'll be visiting our families over the Christmas period, bringing good cheer and a couple of bottles and that's about it. I'm sure everyone will manage without a selection from the Boots 3 For 2 range this time around.

I can't say that this is for everyone, and it would be easy to start throwing around accusations of penny-pinching or downright Scroogery. But let's face it. We live in tough financial times, and I don't think trimming down your Christmas list is anything other than sensible. We making sure that the boys and girls for whom Christmas is a special time get something from us, but apart from that it's homecrafted cards and our heartiest best wishes.

That being said, it's my birthday two weeks before Christmas, and I expect to be spoilt rotten.

For more tips on how to downscale your Christmas, have a look at Martyn's tips over at The Telegraph.