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.

Friday 30 November 2012

Client Spotlight: Pais Project

As part of our expanding remit on the blog, I'm trying to set one day a week aside to spotlight some of our lovely clients. After all, without them we wouldn't be here. Today, let's talk about the Pais Project.

Founded in 1992, The Pais Project is a Christian youth and schools work organisation. It offers apprenticeships and training for young people, helping them to become more confident and fully-rounded members of both their churches and their communities.

Those apprenticeships are free, remarkably, and cover food and accommodation. They're funded entirely through donations, and successful applicants who pass the courses are in high demand in the Christian community as youth pastors and leaders.

Here's a couple of pics of the kids from Pais, teaching in a local school, and on the streets with a pirate. I'm not sure if he's part of the crew or just along for the ride. Note the t-shirts and hoodies, as supplied by Pier32!


To find out more about The Pais Project, check out the website:

They're heavily involved in an inter-church conference early next year, SWAP. For more on that, have a look at

(thanks to Louise Ball from the Pais Project for the photos.)


Thursday 29 November 2012

Ke$ha: Keeping It Real With Fake Fur

I can't pretend that I'm much of a fan of rave-pop songstress Ke$ha or her musical stylings, which come across to me as having the appeal of the business end of a dentist's drill. Sorry, old fart roots showing.

But I'm more prone to think kindly of the girl knowing that she's the Global Ambassador for Humane Society International. Even more so, that she's starting up her own line of clothes that will heavily feature faux fur.

Now, I'll admit to wearing the odd bit of leather, on my feet mostly. I'm agnostic about animal products in general, and downright enthusiastic when they're in a pie in front of me at dinner time. But fur coats have always had an element of squick, and I applaud any attempt by public figures to make the point that actually, there are perfectly good alternatives to chopping the tail off a raccoon to make your jacket look a bit more fancy. Lady Gaga sadly feels somewhat differently, and is as carnivorous in her fashion taste as ever, as anyone who's seen her raw meat coat will testify.

Yes, sure, Ke$ha has a new album out next week, which makes it very easy for critics and cynics to claim publicity stunt. I prefer to think she's using her status to push issues that she cares about, and hey, why not. I say keep animals off the backs of celebrities, and on a plate with some chips and salad where they belong.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

The True Cost Of Fast Fashion In Bangladesh

Terrible news has emerged from Bangladesh, as over 100 workers are killed in a fire in a clothing factory.

The fire, which claimed the lives of 110 workers at the Tazreen Fashion plant, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Dhaka, had trapped the full 1000-strong workforce in the burning building. Many were forced to jump from upper floors to escape the blaze. The blaze led to huge street protests, and calls for the prosecution of the factory owners for criminal negligence. A national day of mourning has been announced as the bodies of 59 workers, burnt beyond recognition, are being prepared for burial at a government mass grave in the southern suburbs of the city.

Disturbingly, a second fire at a factory on the outskirts of Dhaka broke out on Monday, trapping workers on the roof of the 12-storey building as firefighters fought to tame the blaze.

The garment industry is the mainstay of the Bangladeshi economy, with overseas exports topping $19billion. That's 80% of national exports. Clearly, Bangladesh will continue to welcome foreign garment manufacturers into the country. But the cost in human suffering at the factories that produce these goods has set that financial windfall into stark relief this week. It's clear that hard questions will need to be asked. The problem is that it's unlikely they will be asked of the multinationals who demand the cheapest possible price for their goods. Until the focus changes, tragedies like the fires in Bangladesh are sadly unlikely to be rare occurrences.


A statement was released last night from WRAP, following rumours that the Tazreen Fashion plant and its parent company had been WRAP-certified.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, USA - This weekend's deadly fire at the Tazreen Fashions Limited factory in Bangladesh was a tragedy of the highest magnitude. All of us at WRAP extend our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones in the fire and pray for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.
WRAP continues to see itself as a stakeholder in the Bangladesh garment industry and we are committed to being a responsive and effective supply chain management partner that helps factories independently verify that they are doing their work in a safe, ethical and socially responsible manner. In the furtherance of that mission, we also aim to be an education resource for factories, especially in the arena of safety. Our comprehensive Factory Fire Safety Training Program, offered regularly in Bangladesh, is leading the way in this field by providing training not only on fire response but fire prevention.
As media coverage of this tragedy has unfolded, we have come across occasional references suggesting that Tazreen Fashion may have been WRAP certified. We would like to clarify that this is completely untrue. The Tazreen Fashions Limited factory is not, and has never been, certified by WRAP, nor has WRAP ever even conducted an audit in that facility. We have also come across information suggesting that the factory's parent company - the Tuba Group - is WRAP certified. That, too, is untrue; WRAP certifications can only be given to individual production units, and not to groups or parent organizations. At present, there are no factories from the Tuba Group that are WRAP certified. As such, any claims by or about the ownership group or any individual factory within it with regards to being WRAP certified are false.
This tragic fire at Tazreen is a disastrous reminder of how vitally important this issue is. No loss of life is ever acceptable within the garment industry. Through certification and education, WRAP remains dedicated to its mission of promoting safe, lawful, humane, and ethical manufacturing around the world.

Monday 26 November 2012

The Source Awards: Support our chums!

Exciting news, as it seems that a few of our ethical fashion friends are shortlisted as finalists at the 2012 Source Awards!

The Global Awards for Sustainable Fashion, run by the Ethical Fashion Forum highlights the best and most innovative in the eco and sustainable fashion field across 12 categories.

Ms. Wanda's Wardrobe, to my mind one of the snappiest and most incisive reads in the field, is up for a gong in the Best Awareness category. They're sharp, righteously angry when needs be at calling out the big brands for their ethical fubars, and clued up on the best way to approach the high street with a sustainable eye. If you're not reading it... why not?

Similarly, Pamela Ravasio's Shirahime blog gets a well-deserved nod. Pamela's beat is truly global, and her work is brilliantly researched and always on the ball. A must-read if you have any interest on the planetary impact of fast fashion, and innovative ways to find another track.

I'm especially chuffed to see Nancy Dee in the running for Brand Leader, as one of the sisters that run the show, Tamsin, was an old work colleague of mine back in the day. But their smart, vintage-savvy approach to sustainable clothing have made them a big noise in the field.

Long time Pier Twitter buddy Katcha Bilek has been nominated in the Innovation: Accessories field. Katcha and her team repurpose innertubes, bike tyres and seat belts into unique and stylish bags, belts and accessories. They even do a way-cool collar for your dog, in a choice of slick or chunky tread. They're running a Facebook compo to win swag with a click of the Like button, but I recommend spending a little cash on some of their bold, innovative gear.

Pants To Poverty, Mantis World and Rapanui, who have both been featured on the blog, are finalists in the Street/Casualwear category. Pachacuti's fabulous panamas get a nod in Accessories. And it would be sorely remiss of me not to mention Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood, up for the award as Design Leader. She'll always be the leader in our hearts.

The winners will be announced in early December: rest assured, we'll keep you up to date with the latest news as it breaks.

Friday 23 November 2012

Streetlytes: Bringing A Little Light To The Needy

I appreciate it's been a somewhat dark week here at the Pier, as we cast a bleak eye on fast fashion shenanigans and the increasingly tough times faced by charities. So let's finish the week on a brighter note, as we highlight one of our new clients, who are doing the right thing by the most vulnerable of Londoners.

Streetlytes run drop-in centres and workshops, reaching out to the poor and homeless in central and west London. They provide hot food, amenity packs including toiletries and warm and waterproof clothing for those most in need. The ultimate aim is to open a 300-bed mission facility open all year round, providing a shower, a hot meal, bad and breakfast for those that find themselves for whatever reason out on the streets.

Streetlytes were part of last week's Mitzvah Day, which is how we heard of them. They were doing outreach work in Bayswater, but the guys at Streetlytes are there to help whenever there's need. We're proud and happy to help support this good cause, and I urge you to check out their website to find out more about their good works.

Find out more about Streetlytes.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Zara: An Increasingly Toxic Brand

Yesterday, we looked at Zara and how their fast fashion thinking is percolating into the way we treat clothing; as disposable landfill fodder. Now, they have the starring role in another fashion faux pas. They've been tagged by Greenpeace as serial polluters.

The latest instalment of the Detox campaign, that has successfully persuaded brands like Adidas and Nike to clean up their act in dumping toxins into water supplies near their factories, looks at nasties in the clothes themselves. It's not a pretty picture. Of 141 garments purchased worldwide from global brands like Armani and Levi's, 89 were shown to have high levels of NPE, a known irritant that is highly toxic to aquatic life.

Worse, two garments were shown to use azo dyes that contained high levels of cancer-causing amines. Both these items came from Zara, who scored highly on the list throughout.

It's an eye-opening read, with some real and nasty surprises. I recommend a flip through the report, which is available in full at Greenpeace's Toxic Threads page.

As an aside, we should also note that it's tougher than you'd think to successfully audit a global fashion supply chain. For example, you can't actually buy a Greenpeace t-shirt at the moment. That's because, as a by-product of the Toxic Threads study, Greenpeace found that their clothing contained some of the same chemicals they were campaigning against. As a result, they've pulled all their textile merchandising from sale "until suppliers are able to provide us with transparent information proving that they are able to produce clothing using zero hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chains."

It could be a PR nightmare, but by being transparent and sticking to their principles, Greenpeace have not just averted a crisis--they've shown how serious they are about the campaign. If only Zara, who have so far only issued a boilerplate assertion of ill-defined best practice documentation, could show the same level of commitment.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Zara Is Accelerating Fast Fashion To Dangerous Speeds

A fascinating article in The New York Times on the inexorable rise of Spanish fast fashion chain Zara shows some disturbing trends for the way we consume clothing in the 21st century.

Consume is a word I use deliberately. The Zara fashion model is about responding to trends with lightning speed, and under-stocking their stores. The end result: if you spot something you like in a Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti or Pull and Bear, you'd better get it there and then. The chances are if you go back the following week, it'll be gone, and it won't be coming back. Some Zara lines last for as little as a month.

Because they're so cheap, you can afford to impulse-buy. The clothes are priced to move. Zara's business model isn't keyed to having old stock sitting on racks taking up space that could be taken up by new lines.

The worry is that because the clothes are so cheap (and I'm talking here about the price point rather than the quality; Zara's clothes aren't poorly made at all) consumers are starting to view them as disposable. They're applying the same rules that Zara uses on the shop floor to their own wardrobes. Rather than use 'em up and wear 'em out, they're wearing 'em once and chucking 'em away. And that, as we're all agreed, is something of a problem. Masoud Golsorkhi, the editor of Tank, a London-based culture and fashion mag, puts it best when he says:

“The reality is: a T-shirt is a T-shirt is a T-shirt. It costs the planet the same thing whether you have paid £200 for it or £1 for it. It does the same amount of damage. A T-shirt is equivalent to 700 gallons of water, gallons of chemical waste, so much human labor. But it used to be that we could do with three T-shirts a year. Now we need 30. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to throw away clothes than to wash them. That has got to be wrong.”
The problem is not one that's going away, despite our eco-fashionista shrilling. The Zara group is set to expand massively into Asia, opening 400 stores in China alone next year. America, up to now the best guide to the fast fashion market, buys 20 billion garments a year. That's 64 items of clothing per person. With the Asian market in play, we can expect to see that figure spike by a factor of four. If we think the amount of clothing going into landfill is a problem now, just wait until the average fast fashion consumer is buying and binning, at a conservative estimate, 200 garments a year.

Monday 19 November 2012

Britain: Not So Charitable

Some worrying news from the Third Sector. A survey by the Charitable Aid Foundation has shown that charitable donations dropped by 20% in real term in 2011.

It's double trouble for charities. People are giving less, and fewer people are giving. The numbers make for depressing reading. The total sum given to UK charities fell from £11bn to £9.3bn during 2011-12, the largest cash drop in the survey's eight-year history. The proportion of people donating to charitable causes in a typical month fell from 58% to 55%. The median amount donated was £10 in 2011-12, down from £11 the previous year and £12 in 2009-10. It's a steep downward drop with no sign of relief for cash-strapped charities.

The reasons for the steep cut in donations are pretty obvious. The double-dip recession has everyone looking carefully at the bank balance, and charities are usually one of the first things to go when you're tightening your belt. But there's a troublesome Catch-22 at the heart of all this. Government cut-backs are provably aimed at the least-able to cope. The help they need is coming from charities who are increasingly being instructed to stop up the shortfall--at the same time as their funding is being brutally cut, and the vital revenue that donations provide is quickly ebbing away.

It's a little to early to tell if the figures constitute a trend. We can only hope not, because the consequences of a donation line falling inexorably towards zero are frankly too horrible to contemplate.

Friday 16 November 2012

Pushing On With Pier 32

You may have noticed a few changes to the site over the past couple of weeks. For one thing, Ian and Gerry have changed the logo. It's a bit of a mixture now, with elements of the original Pier32 logo from the early 90s with the new text that Ian launched this year. We kinda like it, and hope you do too.

I hope you've also noticed the increased frequency of posts on the site. This is deliberate, too. Gerry, Ian and I had a highly beer-fuelled productive meeting at the Riverside Meeting Rooms last week, and we came to one conclusion--we need to be everywhere. At the Riverside Meeting Rooms, megalomania is served with the peanuts.

We're trying to be a lot more social. I mean, we're a sociable bunch anyway, but it's good to show your face around. The blog now has its own dedicated Twitter account, @Pier32Blog. If you're in the Twittersphere, come and say hello and give us a follow. We also have a Facebook page because let's face it, everyone has a Facebook page. My dad has a Facebook page, which is a thought that genuinely gives me the shudders.

We're also working on getting some video online through our YouTube channel, Pier32TV--early days on that yet, but I'll update as and when we get rolling. I have a few fun ideas to share...

And well, gosh, whatever else we can think of. Pinterest, Google+, Moshi Monsters... All of this is my responsibility as Pier32's new Communications Director. Yes, I came up with that one myself. Shut up, stop laughing.

As part of the deal, I insisted on a sweetener, something to bump up my productivity to help clear all this extra work. It needed to be light, fast and portable. After all, inspiration for bloggage can come out of nowhere, and I need to be ready when the muse baps me upside the head with her baseball bat studded with idea-spikes. So, if you'll forgive me for getting my geek on, allow me to present Pier32's Mobile Blogging Solution.

That's right, a picture of the very post I'm writing. Down the rabbit hole we go...
That's right. It's an iPad with a keyboard. To be precise, a new 4th gen. iPad with Retina Display, fed by a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard. The software of choice is Blogsy, which I can use for both this blog and my personal one, Excuses And Half Truths. The headphones are Sennheiser CX300s, perfect for cranking up the Norwegian death metal I listen to while in Rob's Happy Writing Space. This won't disturb the yummy mummys in the local cafes in whose dark corners I lurk, drinking too much coffee and laughing that little bit too loudly at my own jokes. The unhinged cackling is the bit that disturbs them.

The cowboy coffee mug is by Cath Kidston. Shut up.

Anyway. The general inference is that I'm getting paid for this now, so I'd better put some pants on, man up and crank out some content for youse guys. I hope to hit 100 posts in 2012, which would more than double what we did last year. I've never shied away from a writing challenge, and I hope to rise to this one in robust fashion.

Check out our links in the sidebar for more Pier32 shenanigans, and remember: here at the Pier, we've got you covered.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Checking The Market For Organic Cotton

There's worrying news from the organic cotton sector, with word arriving of a nearly 40% drop in production in the last year.

The latest report from sustainability thinktank Textile Exchange shows 2011 was a rollercoaster ride for organic cotton. Production was down 37%, particularly in India which is the heaviest producer of the fabric. This drop in available product came at the same time as some of the heaviest users of organic cotton, particularly H&M, C&A and Nike, had all indicated that they intended to use more of it in their clothing.

The reasons for the sharp drop in production are interweaved into each other, a snarled web of circumstance. Premiums for organic cotton have been squeezed over the last couple of years, and farmers have been given annual instead of long-term contracts--all of which have led to the growers moving away from cotton and towards crops that could actually earn them a profit.

In short, the manufacturers that claim they want to use more organic cotton are not giving the incentives to the people who actually grow the stuff that they need. The report calls this a "supply and demand disconnect". I call it the obvious byproduct of both ends squeezing the middle too hard.

It's not all bad news, though. The report also outlines the way in which conventional cotton farming is improving in environmental, social and sustainable ways, and the growth in markets outside India. West Africa and Central Asia are all areas that could see significant growth in organic cotton production in the years ahead.

The report makes for fascinating, if dense reading. It's available for free download from Textile Exchange.

The 2011 Organic Cotton Market Report from Textile Exchange. 

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Mitzvah Day

What's a mitzvah? Yeah, I know, it sounds like the setup to some convoluted shaggy-dog tale. But Mitzvah Day International, which happens this Sunday, is no joke. It's a faith-based initiative that could be described as a day of good deeds. To put it simply, people of all faiths sign up to take part in hands-on projects, volunteering their time and energy to help communities grow stronger.

The organisers put it like this:

Our mission is to reduce hardship and poverty, to help our environment and to bring a little joy - hands on – no fundraising. It is a way for all of us to make our mark regardless of our affiliation, wealth, age, sex or nationality.
Mitzvah Day is based on the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedek (righteousness) and gemilut chassadim (acts of loving kindness).
Can't really say fairer than that, can you? Pier32 have been supplying t-shirts and beanies to Mitzvah Day on a long-term basis, and we're delighted to be helping them out again in 2012. This marks the start of a new era, as they become part of A Year Of Service, a new idea that encourages people to take time and volunteer 12 times a year. A small step that collectively could make a massive difference.

Find out more, and if you fancy helping out, there's still time to volunteer for this Sunday! There's a ton of different projects to choose from, like Mitzvah Mummies and Give Up Your Lunch.

For more, visit The Mitzvah Day Website.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

The Clock Is Ticking For Dirty White Gold

Back in September I wrote about Dirty White Gold, a crowd-funded documentary about the cotton industry and how it abuses both the farmers that grow the crop and the land on which it grows. The film is into its final week of funding, and it still needs your help to get made.

At the time of writing, DWG has raised 85% of its target £18,000. This money is being used to match cash that's already been raised in a previous fund-raising round, which will attract other investors. Film-making is a tough, expensive business, even in the low-budget documentary field in which director Leah Borromeo moves.

This is a worthwhile enterprise, that shows just how broken the current model of cotton production is becoming. As you'll see in tomorrow's post, Indian farmers are turning away from organic cotton altogether, and farmers across the sub-continent are suffering as the notoriously tough to grow crop sucks away their resources, strips their fields of nutrients and ultimately leaves them with a debt that they can't pay. Suicides in the farming community have spiked over the past few years because of the shame associated with it.

Leah and her team need to raise a puny £2,750 in the next few days to meet their target and keep Dirty White Gold on the tracks. The Pier have already contributed. If this is a film you'd like to see, go ahead and drop them some cash.

Here's the trailer.

The Cotton Film : Dirty White Gold | Crowdfunding trailer from Leah Borromeo on Vimeo.

While we're at it, Leah has done a decently extensive interview with Ecouterre on the film and her reasons for making it. Well worth a read, but let me just quote her final statement, that I think goes to the heart of why Dirty White Gold is so important. She says:

I want to go into a store, buy a coat, and not have to think about whether anyone’s killed themselves in the making of it because a human morality is in every stitch.
Can't really say fairer than that, can you?

You can help to fund Dirty White Gold on their Sponsume page.


Monday 12 November 2012

Rankabrand and a Paradigm Shift.

A paradigm shift is an event that changes the way that you thought about something. It can be quite a shocking thing to happen, as your preconceptions and prejudices lose their solid footing.

Last night, I came across a link posted by our old friends at Ethletic, the ethical shoe manufacturer. They had come close to the top in the rankings for footwear in the Rankabrand listings, a pretty solid judge of a brand's sustainability. The ranking is based on issues like child labour, fair wages for workers, environmentally friendly leather tanning, eco-friendly materials, banning hazardous and toxic chemicals and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Ethletic's great showing in the lists wasn't such a surprise--nor was the fact that number one was Veja, award-winning Dutch innovators of eco-shoe-wear. No, the big surprise was at number 4, a slot taken by Nike-owned rock-n-roll shoe icon Converse.

I had been under the impression that Converse had a dreadful record on sustainability. Not the case, apparently. Which means that I have been wandering around shoe shops for the last year sneering at the display of Chuck Taylor's fine shoes for no good reason.

Worse still, fine English brands like Clark's and Dr. Martens are waaaay down the lists. This is, to put it mildly, discombobulating. Which just goes to show, you should never rest on your preconceptions. You could be in for a nasty shock.

The Rankabrand site is well worth a browse, just to see how your favourite brands stack up on sustainability.

Friday 9 November 2012

The Future Of Upcycling

As we all know, recycling and upcycling are by far the greenest of eco-fashion options open to us as consumers. Why put new stress on landfill sites when you can simply reuse the cool old clothing you've already got? If it's looking a bit too worn or tatty, then use bits of it to make new products! Easy lemon peasy puddings, right?

If only. That works quite nicely for a personal or small-scale enterprise, but it's tricky to ramp up the model to retail level. There are problems with erratic supply (old clothes have a way of running out or simply not being available) and with the material itself. Cotton, for example, is not something that you can simply roll into a cradle-to-cradle loop to create the ever-lasting jumper. Over time, the fibres shorten, and will eventually wear out.

Consider also the complexity of the modern garment. A breathable outdoor jacket with membrane, zips, buttons, rivets, drawstrings and bonded seams is not something that you can build with bits from other clothes. The best you can do in that case is to roll in as much material as you can from materials like PET that are based on recycled sources, like plastic drinks bottles.

The best approach is to rethink the whole process from top to bottom. Not the cheapest of options, but the one that will reap the greatest rewards in the long run. The front runner here is outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, who have run recycling programmes since 2005 and have Ebay shops for discounted preloved clothing, putting the clothes and the people that want them together. It helps that they're a cult and collectible name, of course, but Patagonia have been ahead of the curve in terms of thinking about extending the lifestyle of their products for years.

Meanwhile, Puma's Creative Sustainability Lab is going back to the design stage for future ranges of recyclable and compostable products. This is already showing dividends--the rethink of their packaging led to the introduction of the iconic Little Red Bag. This is made from recycled cardboard and can go straight onto the compost heap. it's also half the size of their old packaging, which has dropped their carbon emissions by millions of tons a year. If the big hitters are thinking like this, then you can be sure others will follow.

Innovations like smart RFID tags in clothing could have a big impact on making large-scale recycling much simpler. Data held on the tags can give a full breakdown of exactly what materials went into each item of clothing. Team this with software that can tell you what can be made from this raw material, and you have an upcycler's dream. A Swiss company called I:CO has already developed this chip, and they claim to be working with major names including yes, Puma, to further develop it.

Automation of the sorting process is also important, and a European Union initiative, the Textiles4textiles plant, is up, running, and looking for backing. This plant identifies and sorts materials like wool, cotton and polyester speedily and efficiently. A big step forward for getting raw materials back into the production cycle.

It's an exciting time for the re-and-upcycling industry, as cradle-to-cradle concepts start to percolate out from the realm of the theoretical, and into real-world applications and solutions. It's an old way of thinking, with a very 21st century spin on it.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Profit and Loss for M&S

A bumpy couple of weeks for M&S. Possibly our most eco-friendly high street store made headlines by signing up to Greenpeace's Detox challenge, and pledging to remove all toxic chemicals from its clothes manufacturing by 2020. This is a big step, but one that's completely in tune with the chain's Plan A initiative to green up their supply chain.

However, the news isn't all good. Their first-half financial report, just released, shows a sharp drop in profits, down 6%. The blame for this seems to point at that pesky supply chain--specifically, failure to get the clothes that they were TV-advertising into the shops in sufficient quantity.

This compares dismally with Primark, whose first-half profits have bounced up by 15% in the same period. Which just goes to show the harsh rule of retail. You can be as virtuous as you like in your company philosophy. You can recycle and shwop all the clothes you like. But if you can't get your products to your customers, then that's a major problem. There's a reason it's called fast fashion. Primark succeed by responding quickly and in volume to rapidly changing trends. Sadly, until M&S learn that lesson, they're not going to make inroads into that market and perhaps persuade the fickle British consumer to change their ways.

Monday 5 November 2012

The Life Of A T-Shirt

If you need a quick, sharp lesson in the damage that fast fashion is doing to the planet, then you really should check out the brilliant infographic that's just gone up at Urban Times. The work of Harley Barron, in association with Textsure, it lays out the huge impact that a single T-shirt has on the environment in bold, clear text and pics.

It's a shame it's such a big pic, because the post-modern effect of printing it on a t-shirt would be truly epic.  I've embedded the infographic below, but for the full effect, click on it or the link above to go to the full size version at Urban Times.

Friday 2 November 2012

A Greener Way To Shop?

Grumble about it with all your might, but there's no getting away from the awful truth; we're rapidly approaching the season of consumption. Most retailers will expect to see 40-50% of their sales in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Imagine it. The queues. The parking nightmares. The stores full of screaming, arguing families...
Is it any wonder that more and more of us are doing our Christmas shopping online? Make a cuppa, get yourself comfy on the sofa, fire up the laptop and there you go, shopping done. And, by moving away from the centralised shipping and big-box store energy impacts, you can be smug in the knowledge that you're conspicuous consumption is being done in a far greener way. Right?

Well, yeah, kinda, but. Let's not forget that the big online heavy lifters have their own environmental and ethical questions to be answered. Amazon, to pluck an example out of the air, have faced accusations of worker exploitation and an extremely poor record on paying their corporation tax--a figure that adds up to billions for the cash-strapped British economy. And of course, they have to ship everything they sell to your door using a vast network of trucks and distribution centres--your new pair of Converse or that Christmas party dress doesn't pop through your letterbox by magic.

There are ways round the dilemma, which the savvy green shopper should already know all about. Shopping locally using smaller retailers saves a lot of the grief of slogging round big, isolated warehouses. They too, if they're on the ball, will have their own internet shopping hub, meaning that you can support a small business and cut transportation costs.

Bear in mind that the internet is as useful a research tool as it is a shopping basket. It's worth spending a bit of time that you'd using prowling the big sites to see what's available in your local area. Even if it does mean cracking the airlock and actually going into town, at least you'll be focussed on one or two shops, rather then having to face a painful, aimless meander looking out for the perfect pair of socks for Uncle Jim.

And who knows, this year you might find the whole process to be that little bit less painful. That's my Christmas wish, anyway...

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.