Thursday 19 December 2013

2013: A year at The Pier

As we come to the end of another busy, eventful year at Pier32, with yours truly in my eyrie writing away furiously, let's take a trip back in time and have a look at some of the more notable posts I've put on the blog in 2013.

In January, we were lucky enough to join our pals at Kartforce at the NEC in Birmingham of a day of high-octane action on the track: Getting The Need For Speed With Kartforce.
On a gentler note, we joined forces with everyone's favourite Peruvian marmalade-loving bear, Paddington: Follow The Bear.

February saw Pier32 announce their range of American Apparel wear, and we examined the gleeful way they court controversy: Sex Sells And We're Buying!
On a less saucy tip, we took to the streets with charity clients Saŋk●tuary, who apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to the streets of Telford every Saturday night: Street Life.

In March, we braved the Zombie apocalypse with the brave souls who run the real-life game 2.8 Hours Later.
We also looked at the way 3D printing could be on the verge of changing the face of fashion for ever: Your Style, Your Way.

April was, of course dominated by the dreadful news of the Rana Plaza collapse, a news story that has brought the abuse of third-world workers in the fashion industry well and truly onto the front page. The tragedy would eventually claim over a thousand lives, and the repercussions continue to this day: The Rana Plaza Collapse.

May saw a post on the recycle path of an old rock t-shirt become one of our most popular articles of the year. Who knew there were so many Ned's Atomic Dustbin fans out there? What To Do With An Old Ned's Atomic Dustbin T-shirt?
Pier32 also showed their support for the IF Campaign, lobbying the G8 summit in June to ensure that everyone has enough to eat: There's Enough Food For Everyone If...

June, and the weather finally started to warm up. Gerry, the voice of Pier32, shared a summer track from his personal DJ box: Here Comes The Sun?
Meanwhile, Guru Ian's trip to Barcelona came up trumps as he discovered Vaho recycled vinyl bags: Vinyl Addiction.

A hot July saw us admiring Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood's new closed-loop designs for Virgin Atlantic: Fly The Ethical Skies.
Our exploration of the Future Threads Project showed just how important social media and the web are to ethical fashion, helping to rewrite the business paradigms from the inside out: Connecting The Threads.

A thirsty August led to our celebration of Common Grounds, an award-winning Fairtrade cafe in Belfast: Common Grounds: an uncommonly good cafe!
We also looked at the difficult position any charity that wants to expand can find themselves in, and how we need to rethink the relationship between charity and donor: Uncharitable Behaviour.

Ah, September. As we start to mellow into autumn, I had a look at how far the notion of ethical fashion has come in the last few years: Keep Up The Good Work.
We highlighted Gift Your Gear, a charity helping to recycle outdoor gear for charities helping to get underprivileged kids into the great outdoors: Gift Your Gear And Make A Difference!

In October, we joined writers worldwide for Blog Action Day, talking about human rights. My piece on the Rana Plaza garnered a Special Recommendation from UK ethical fashion star Ms. Wanda's Wardrobe - a real bright spot in the year for me. Beyond Rana Plaza: The Future Of Human Rights In Fashion.
Pier32 also moved into ethical lighting, and I put together a short promo video for the new venture, exercising both my skills with a Promarker and my powers of voice-over... Pier32 Eco-Lights

November, and as the weather closed in, Pier32 onesies and customisable sledges became the products that everyone wants this winter: The Pier In Winter 2: This Time It's Onesies (and Sledges)!
We also took a look at The House Of Wandering Silk, and the wonderful things that they can do with waste silk.

And all of a sudden, it's December. We celebrated the Ethical Fashion Forum's Source Awards, even if our predictions of the winners were a bit off. The Source Awards: Everyone's A Winner!
Meanwhile, the big news story is the ongoing controversy over Chinese angora, and the particularly cruel way it's harvested. That one will rumble into 2014, I'm sure.

So, Christmas is hardly any sleeps away, and Pier32 is running down the shutters. We're giving our ethically-treated elves plenty of time off for the festive season. The production line and offices will be closed from lunchtime on the 20th December, and we'll reopen for business on Monday 6th January, although both Ian and Gerry will be keeping an eye on emails.

As for me, I'll be closing down the eyrie, filling up my coracle with gifts and paddling off to spend Christmas with my beloved, a glass or two of ruby ale, a very large figgy pudding and a festive jumper made from the very finest British wool. What more could an ethical fashion writer want?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Angora: The pressure's on Zara

It seems like the explosive footage released earlier this month by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment Of Animals) of the abuse suffered by angora rabbits in Chinese factories has had an immediate and striking impact. Following H&M's announcement that they were discontinuing their angora range with immediate effect, most big-name UK retailers, including M&S, Next, Top Shop, New Look, Esprit and Asos have followed suit, pulling angora from their shelves. 

As ever with this sort of backlash, there's a holdout. In this case it's Zara, who as we've reported in the past are not the most ethical of High Street names. The flagship chain store of the Inditex group, the world's largest apparel retailer, Zara have refused to pull their products. Not only that, but they currently feature over 60 angora items on their web-shop.

But pressure is mounting. It's notable that after they were tagged as a polluter in the Greenpeace Toxic Threads campaign, Zara signed up to a pledge to clean up their act after less than a week of protest. An online petition organised by campaigning heavyweights SumOfUs has garnered over 250,000 signatures (including, in a personal capacity, yr humble author) and all eyes are now on the Spanish giant to see what they'll do next.

Hanna Thomas, campaigner for SumOfUs, explains:

“Ninety percent of angora fur comes from China, where there are no penalties for abuse of animals on farms and no standards to regulate the treatment of the animals. The reason for this cruelty comes down to profit, pure and simple. Angora has a trade value of £22 to £28 per kilogram, but the longer hair that comes from plucking, as opposed to shearing, can sell for more than double that. 
“The big retailers have a responsibility to tell their suppliers that their customers won’t accept the brutal treatment of angora rabbits. H&M acted, saying in a statement that it will step up inspections of its sub-suppliers before selling angora again. In the meantime, customers can take back their H&M angora products for a full refund.  
“If they can act, Zara can too. But right now, Zara’s website is full of angora sweaters, gloves, hats, and scarves, made from cruelty. Zara needs to pull these products immediately and commit to ethical production of angora, or they can expect a backlash from customers this holiday season."
Hear hear to that. I've decided not to embed the PETA video on the site: frankly, it's too upsetting. If you want to see more, search online.

In the meantime, if you'd like to sign the petition calling on Zara to immediately halt the production and sale of angora, click below.

SumOfUs Angora Petition

Friday 13 December 2013

A Bloody Nose For Comic Relief

You would think, surely, that any charity with access to a large cash influx and a high media profile would take care to make sure that their funds are invested wisely. And by wisely, I don't just mean in a way that will maximise profits for good causes. I mean by not investing in arms dealers, and firms with interests in tobacco and alcohol.

The blowback for Comic Relief following a BBC Panorama investigation into their finances shows how trust is a major part of any charity portfolio. It's very easy for critics to argue that big premises and lots of staff make an organisation with the global reach of Comic Relief vulnerable to corruption. Frankly, if the revelations of the Panorama expose are true, then Comic Relief deserve those accusations. They are going to have to work fast to regain the trust of the millions of people that donate to good causes through their umbrella organisations every year.

Scandals like this are fuel to the naysayers who use evidence of financial misdoing as an excuse not to give to charity. "Why should I?" the argument goes. "All I'm doing is subsidising a fancy building or the pay of a chief executive." It's difficult to make a case against that when people clearly feel angry and betrayed by a charity that they believed, and that has told them time and again, that most of their money is going to the good causes shown during the TV extravaganzas. I've never really bought into that story, because I know the uncomfortable truth: charities need money as much as the causes for which they campaign.

Once again, we're lumbered with an outdated view of what charities should be--organisations that make money for their cause with no consideration towards investment in that organisation's future needs or infrastructure. As I've argued before, there needs to be a ground-up rethink of the way charities present themselves, and how we view them. As the government cuts and cuts again on funding for charities, it's time for the dialogue to open up on how donations are spent and invested, and how the Third Sector can work with the public to make sure the good causes they help continue to get the assistance they so desperately need.

The problem for Comic Relief is that they're doing the very opposite. They've changed the way they present their accounts, making it impossible to see where the money is going. This is a serious mistake, and could have horrible implications for Comic Relief and the charities that depend on them. It's vital that charities should be seen as open and ethical in all their financial dealings. Otherwise, in the current climate, they're just giving people another excuse to keep their hands firmly in their pockets.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

The Source Awards: Everyone's A Winner!

Last week saw the announcement of the Ethical Fashion Forum's Source Award winners for 2013: A glittering affair where the great and good as well as the future innovators of ethical fashion were, quite rightly, lauded.
Although Pier32 once again failed to snag a nomination, here at the View we made a point of being magnanimous and instead, tried to predict some of the winners. So how did we do?
Well, ahem, we managed a measly hit rate of 20%, by tagging The Sway's heavy metal-inspired bags and clutches as winner in the accessories section. I wouldn't listen to our tips for the 3:45 at Kempton Park quite yet. However, we did also highlight the wonderful Senhoa in our introductory piece about the awards, and they won in the One To Watch category. So that counts for something... right?
I still stand by my choices, of course, but the winners in every category are worthy of their prizes, as is every nominee. The Source Awards shows us the eclectic and innovative face of ethical fashion, and that is worthy of celebration.
The Ethical Fashion Forum has the full list of nominees and winners.

While we're on the subject of the EFF, they currently have a big promotion on site that highlights a huge range of special offers from forum members, just in time for the holiday season. Current Pier favourites Cock & Bull and Arthur & Henry both have money-off deals, and there are offers on everything from lingerie to knitwear to snowflakes! If you want to give the gift of ethical fashion this Christmas, you could do much worse than start here!
The Ethical Fashion Forum Christmas Offer List

Friday 6 December 2013

Sumangali: The shame of fast fashion

In an un-nerving and eye-opening expose for Mother Jones, journalist Dana Liebelson explored the world of the sumangali girl in India. She didn't like what she found, and neither should you.

Sumangali, the Tamil name for "happily married woman," has another meaning in the clothing factories of southern India. Girls in the Tamil region need a dowry before they can marry. In order to earn that, many of them turn to the clothing factories that offer good wages for a three-year contract that involves living and working at isolated factory complexes. It's only when they're behind the gates that the samungali girls discover the truth: the wages are a quarter of what was promised, and the work involves twelve-hour shifts working machines without safety guards that can grab hair or scar you if your attention slips even for a moment. On-the-job accidents and even deaths are not unusual.

Although the companies for which these factories provide services insist that their supply chain complies with ethical standards, the truth is less rosy. The scale of a multi-national production schedule means that it's impossible to check whether factories are following the rules. Girls can be moved out of the way of an impromptu inspection very quickly, and the intimidatory nature of management means that many girls are afraid to speak up even when they have the chance to do so. Liebelson herself was threatened by the staff at one factory, and followed back to her hotel.

Factories like the ones Liebelson visited supply big brands like Walmart and H&M, all of whom declare that sumangali does not exist in their chain. In order to make that the truth, there needs to be a root-and-branch reorganisation of the way that chain is organised and policed. Practices like sumangali, and the endemic corruption at the national level that allows it to happen, are something to which any company that declares itself to be ethical should be putting all its efforts into eradicating from its manufacturing process. Anything less is a shameful lie.

I urge everyone to read Dana Liebelson's article over at Mother Jones. Like her, it may just get you looking differently at the cheap clothes in your wardrobe.

I Tried to See Where My T-Shirt Was Made, and the Factory Sent Thugs After Me.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Pulling the wool out of your eyes over angora...

Angora sweaters are the best, right? So soft, so warm, so reassuringly expensive. Because they come from adorable fluffy angora rabbits, then surely they're cruelty-free, right? I mean, who could possibly be nasty to a cute widdle bunny?

Well, the Chinese, it turns out. A recently released video from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) show angoras in a number of different farms being strapped down to wooden tables and having their hair torn out by hand, whilst they scream in agony. China produces the majority of the world's angora crop. If it transpires that this is the way that fur is harvested, then the market in angora could be about to go off a cliff.

H&M, always eager to be seen as a leader in the greening of the high street, have already been caught up in the row. Five days after declaring that their suppliers met ethical standards and were subject to impromptu spot checks, and facing rebukes for that stance from critics who saw major flaws in the way those checks were carried out, the Swedish fashion giant announced that it would no longer be supplying clothes made from angora in its stores. However, products made from angora already in stores would not be withdrawn. Look out for a sale soon.

H&Ms move has led to competitors in its home country also pulling angora from the shelves, and it's likely that if the video spreads demands for angora to disappear will gain heat. For the rabbits in cages, of course, the future remains uncertain. It's possible rabbit stew could be back on the menu in a big way this winter.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

My Five Picks For The Source Awards

With the Source Awards coming up, I've been presented with a chance to highlight some exciting and innovative brands and producers. As always, The Ethical Fashion Forum have chosen some strikingly creative people to honour with nominations and, of course, awards. I thought I'd stick my oar in and raise a glass to five nominees that I believe have a good chance of snagging a prize.

I wanted to start by focusing on the menswear category because, you know, I'm a man and I wear, you know, clothes. I'm a little sorry not to see Clare Lissaman's Arthur And Henry shirts in the running this go-round. Instead, I've plumped for Cock And Bull, a menswear company that produces a fine range of clothing, wherever possible, in the UK. Their ethos is to create sustainable style from ethical fabrics. To that end, their tweed caps and waistcoats are woven from British wool and put together by British craftspeople. When they have to source from off our shores, they use hemp, bamboo and organic cotton from ethical sources in India and China. The look is classically English with a twist: pops of colour and interesting patterns.

I mentioned Senhoa in my post earlier this week. Creators of beautiful, Asian-inspired accessories, they work exclusively with victims of human trafficking or women vulnerable to exploitation in Cambodia, teaching them new skills and enabling them with a trade and an independent income.
The sale of their socially-conscious jewel ensembles provides income-generating opportunities, and aids the rescue, rehabilitation, and education of young women in South East Asia.

Sticking with accessories, I was struck by the hefty, edgy designs coming out of Australian house The Sway. Crafted from up-cycled leather and linings, the range is heavy on biker chic. Their clutches and bags are studded and buckled, and bulging with hard-rock attitude. They even do a couple of leather jackets. Proudly worn by trend-setters like Amber Valletta and Santigold, The Sway's gear will help you to toughen up your image in moments.

After seven years as the co-founder of women's wear brand HandYMade, Marion "May" Perret decided to start her own eco-luxe lingerie label. Launched in early 2013, Marion May pieces are one of a kind, created from surplus fabric she gleans from her fashion house contacts. Mixing jersey, silk and cotton, and with a mix of retro and contemporary styling, Marion May is creating lingerie with a more than a hint of luxury, that's backed up with a rigorous focus on sustainability.

Finally, my pick for the Source Design Leader, recognising a brand creating outstanding design to change lives, change perceptions, and raise awareness around sustainability in the fashion industry. It's a tough call; all four nominees are seriously pushing the boundaries.

I'm plumping for Quazi Designs. This Swaziland-based company create their jewellery from waste magazine paper stock, in some cases weaving it to create the impression of wood, closing the circle between source and finished product. Working exclusively with female artisans who are encouraged to be a part of the design process, Quazi are really showing what a fashion house based on the twin foundations of sustainability and good ethical practice should be about.

So, those are my picks. We'll find out if I'm on the money or talking through my hat in a few weeks. Who would you pick?

Monday 25 November 2013

A Source Of Greatness: The Source Awards 2013

Crikey, is it that time again already? The Ethical Fashion Forum, home and cheerleader for the cutting-edge in eco-fashion, have just announced the finalists for their Source Awards in 2013. And wow, it's a varied and fascinating line-up.

Of course, there are some names familiar to the readers of this blog: Po-Zu's fantastic footwear gets a nod, as do the beautiful hand-made accessories of Nakate. Our old friends at Mantis World are in the sports and leisure category again; always a worthy nomination. We wouldn't use them at Pier32 if we didn't think they are great.

I'm very pleased to see a company we highlighted back in May, the innovative and potentially game-changing Paper No. 9 getting into the fabric and component manufacture category. Their fabrics are bespoke and limited-edition at the moment, but who knows when that could change?

As ever, the Source Awards highlight the best in ethical fashion: from one-person shops like Senhoa, to big high street names like New Look. The one thing that every nomination has in common? A real, provable commitment to sustainability and fair trade.

The Awards are announced next month. Keep it locked to The View for the full rundown of winners as we get them. In the meantime, the complete list of nominees is below.

The Source Award Nominees For 2013

Thursday 21 November 2013

Wood you like to see more trees? WeWood!*

You might remember I've talked about luxurious, fashion-forward wooden watch brand, WeWood here at The Pier. We're fans of the cool styling and their commitment to sustainability. They've been in touch to let us know about their new initiative. This winter, they're going back to their roots.

WeWood has teamed up with Time4Trees, a new and innovative national planting project. They plant 1.75 million trees annually around Great Britain in collaboration with a range of community, sustainable development and ecological projects. Working in conjunction with Time4Trees, WeWood's tree planting project will see it contribute to the sustainability of the beautiful British countryside by planting hardwood trees every month in the UK through a range of farmer assisted projects. It will plant one tree for every WeWood watch sold.

Matt Cromie, UK Director of WeWood says,

We take our one watch, one plant, one tree motto seriously and are passionate about contributing to sustainability efforts here in the UK and overseas. We use woods that are destined for the scrap heap in our designs and transform them into beautiful, functional watches. We are delighted to be taking our ecological efforts and commitment to sustainability a step further with our new Time4Trees partnership and look forward to making a positive contribution to the nation's woods and forests with one tree planted for every watch we sell.

The UK-based Time4Trees tree planting activity joins WeWood's continuing worldwide effort to plant trees through initiatives like American Forests and Trees for the Future. In addition to planting one tree for every WeWood wooden watch sold, the brand’s social and environmental commitment has seen it supporting a range of projects in local communities in Indonesia including a trade skills school.

We love their sophisticated range of stylish ladies and men’s timepieces made from 100% natural materials. But we really love the way in which WeWood is rapidly creating a name for itself as an eco-responsible company that pairs stylish apparel with sophisticated sustainability. Time4Trees has 380 reforestation teams in the UK, planting in 972 sites spanning 15,270 hectares. It aims to facilitate tens of millions of indigenous tree plantings and plant 2020 miles of new hedgerows. So just think, your swish new watch could help create much-needed habitats for wildlife across the country, and make Britain that little bit greener. For more, check out WeWood's website.

*the management wood like to apologise for the un-necessarily puntastic headline.

Monday 18 November 2013

The Pier In Winter 2: This Time It's Onesies (and Sledges)!

You know Pier32 for our ethical approach to customisable clothing; t-shirts, hoodies, hats and the like. The perfect choices for your business, club or promotional events. You can find Pier32 products everywhere, from university campuses to charities to the arena of the Reading & Leeds and Latitude festivals.

But we also like to think outside the box when it comes to promotional and customisable items, and this winter we have a couple of items that might just interest you.

The onesie is becoming the must-have item for late 2013. The ultimate in comfort wear, it's like wearing a sleeping bag with arms and legs. The onesie has made the transition from campus to high street, and everyone's going to be in one this winter. Forget the slanket, this is the way to spend a lazy day indoors. At Pier32 we have a choice of two styles, available in four sizes and up to 13 colour ways (depending on the brand). All you need to do is upload your artwork, decide on your sizes and colours and then prepare for the snuggliness!

Ready to get comfy? Start here!

But what if you decide to brave the weather and venture outside? Let's take the best case scenario: it's Christmas Day, and the country is blanketed in snow. Well, of course, Pier32 has a great range of winter and ski wear. But I bet you didn't know that we also offer customisable sledges! Again, we offer a choice of styles and colour ways, and the sledges are wood-framed and built to last. These are not throw-away items (we'd hardly be living up to our eco-friendly credentials if they were) and make brilliant presents, corporate give-aways or fund-raising prizes. If you want something unusual to get the name of your brand, product or group across this winter, a sledge is a cheeky and smart way to do it.

For more, contact us today!

So, as the nights draw in, you know that, indoors in the wrm, or outdoors in the snow, Pier32 has you covered.

Friday 15 November 2013

A writer writes, right? or Life During NaNoWriMo

I have a confession to make; my full attention is not on the Pier32 blog. Yes, I know, I hang my head in shame. That is, I would, if I had the time to hang about. Regular readers will know that I engage in all kinds of writerly activities, including my other blog Excuses And Half Truths and its associated podcast.

But this November, after a three-year break, I decided to return to the core event that has helped me find the skills and focus to become a published writer. That break was largely due to the fact that I wasn't sure if I could do it and concentrate appropriately on my duties here at The Pier.

Well, it seems to be the case that I can. Allow me to cross-post a piece from Excuses And Half Truths that explains what I've been up to since November 1st. And in case you're wondering, yes, the typing calluses are fully formed now, thanks...

It's been three years since I did this, and I'm still not sure if I'm doing the right thing, but uh-oh, here we go, NaNoWriMo.

It starts, as it always does, with an idea, usually at the beginning of October. The Nanowrimo feeling hits me in the same way every time--like a swift hit to the third eye. Inspiration strikes with a ball-peen hammer and a bradawl, and story starts flooding into me as if the gods of creativity have just turned on a faucet. I know, at that point, that the moment has come. It's all I can do to keep a header cap on the thing by throwing out plot notes, outlines, character synopses, timelines and the other underpinnings and foundations of any decent novel. All of which is busy work for that sweet moment on November the first, when I put down my first two words: CHAPTER ONE.

Let me slow down and backtrack for those of you amongst the Readership who may be new to my November mania. The National Novel Writing Month is a charity-led initiative focussing on child literacy and creative writing in schools. Through social media and local events, it enables authors of all ages and abilities to knuckle down and get some wordcount where it belongs... on the page. The challenge is this. Write 50,000 words towards the first draft of a novel in a month. Seems like a lot? It breaks down to 1667 words a day. Still seems like a lot? Well, you're right. It is. And that's the point. 

There's a lot of snark on the internet (no, really, there is) making the claim that Nanowrimo is about quantity over quality. 50,000 words in a month? Hardly the making of something that will amuse, inform, thrill, amaze, dazzle, terrify or generally gobsmack, is it? It'll be unreadable garbage. My response? These critics are absolutely right. And none of them are writers, because they have no notion of the concept of Draft Zero.

Draft Zero is the process of getting things down on paper. It doesn't have to be unalloyed genius out of the gate. In fact, most of it will be ugly, clunky and teeth-grittingly terrible. But it's out of your head and it's in a form where you can do something with it. That draft is not something that you can show people. You really, really shouldn't. It's a working document. A starting point. You can throw it into Scrivener and start making sense out of it. You can see what works and what doesn't and, over time, make something wonderful. But there's another aspect, and this is what brings me back year after year.

As soon as you start writing something, it changes under your hands, and goes in directions that you never expected. You can discover that your hero is an inexcusably horrible moron, but his sidekick has a story that just won't go away. You find that you've killed people you shouldn't, and you're clinging on for dear life as your tale gallops along and over fences that you don't remeber putting there in the first place. Under the pressure of a deadline, when you're forced to be creative, you discover that Nanowrimo feeling, and the story just starts spilling out of you. That's my experience, anyway.

I know many people who do Nano that struggle every step of the way, and manage a few thousand words. Have they failed? HELLS no. They've put something down that wouldn't exist otherwise, and somewhere in there might just be the spark of a work of literary art. You don't know, and you can't know, until you start. Once you take that first step, you're in a bigger world, and it's one that's only bounded by your imagination. How can you not want to try something like that out?

It's Day 15, the halfway point. I'm just ahead of the inorexable curve that leads to the 50K total. That could change. Who knows? But I'm so happy to be back. I've missed this feeling.

If you want to know more about Nanowrimo, then your first step should of course be If you want to know more about what I'm up to, then my Nano page is here. Add me as a buddy if you need to. I'm always happy to chat, offer advice, and angst about character development and how my plot has just driven itself off a cliff.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a novel to write.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The House Of Wandering Silk

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Like one of those gorgeous, colourful martial arts movies like The House Of Flying Daggers. Alas, there's no epic battle scenes or doomed romances to be had here.

That's not to say that The House Of Wandering Silk isn't of interest, though. Let's start off by talking about the material itself. Silk is a renewable material, made from the cocoons of insect larvae like the mulberry silkworm, which are boiled to extract and produce the fine thread we know of and treasure. The shimmering fabric has been used in Asia for thousands of years, and it's proven to last and last.

The House Of Wandering Silk is a social and ethical enterprise based in New Delhi. Founded as a way of bringing together artisans and producers to strike a fairer deal for silk workers in India, the House has also found that there are some methods, hitherto unknown to the west, of producing the fabric that produce astonishing results.

Waste silk is produced after the initial boil of the cocoon, when the desirable long thread has been extracted. The fibre that's left is shorter but thicker. The fabric that results from using waste silk is, bizarrely for something that's so clearly labelled as junk, extraordinarily luxurious. Hand spun and woven (unusual in silk production, as the thread is already there as part of the production process) the end is result is thick, highly textured and luscious.

Used to create traditional costumes cheaply, the House Of Wandering Silk are working with a husband-and-wife team who understand waste silk and know how to create stoles, wraps and scarves that are vibrantly coloured (the jewel-like shades they dye with works brilliantly with the natural warm beige of the silk) and utterly desirable. Not bad for a by-product that, until recently was thrown away as waste.

The House Of Wandering Silk is constantly innovating, and bringing products like bags and men's ties to market. Don't forget, Christmas will be with us soon. Why not keep an eye on the House Of Wandering Silk for a special gift for your loved one?

Find out more about the mysteries contained in The House Of Wandering Silk at their website.

Monday 11 November 2013

The Pier In Winter

I'm a bit of a big-mouth on the blog, so for once, I'm going to step aside and let Guru Ian tell you a little about the Pier in Winter. This post has been taken from our regular email updates, which you can subscribe to by clicking on the link at the bottom of the Contact page on the Pier32 website.

Contact Pier32

It's been a while since our last update. We hope you've had a great summer. The change in season and the noticeable difference in the weather would seem to be good reasons to see if there's anything we can do to help you.

As we are predominantly t-shirt printers you won't be surprised to hear that we're not going to turn away any t-shirt enquiries. But we will ask you to consider - given the fact that you're likely to wear something over a t-shirt at this time of year - choosing sweatshirts, hoodies or jackets instead.

The main reason for printed or embroidered customised clothing is for your logo to be seen. That logo could be your brand, your university, your cause, your retail design, your uniform. Whatever your own reason for using custom branded clothing, you really want that branding to be seen.

Of course, t-shirts still have their place at this time of year. That's usually indoors though. If the people wearing your logo or image are likely to be out and about then you can make sure your design is still seen by putting it on outerwear. Or perhaps even bags and umbrellas. In preparation for winter, we can even brand ski jackets and sledges for you!

To get started on your winter range, please send us an email or call us on 020 8398 2847 / 2867. Or visit our Hoodie Printing & Embroidery page for inspiration and ideas. For now though, take care this autumn!

Thursday 7 November 2013

The Soft Shoe Shuffle

It's the time of year when, if you're anything like me, you're going through your wardrobe, moving winter clothing up the rail and realising that it's time to invest in a new pair or two of warm, waterproof boots. Any old footwear that's looking a bit tired gets bundled up and dropped off at a recycling hopper. There. I have done my duty, and the planet is that little bit happier. I can go spend cash on a new pair of Timberlands with a clear conscience.

Sadly, it doesn't quite work like that. Shoes are enormously complex pieces of clothing, containing up to 40 types of material, many of which have been glued or sewn together. It's nearly impossible to break them down into their constituent parts so that the material is fit for recycling. Which means unless the shoes you donate are in a good enough condition to sell on, they're just going to end up in the bin. I was horrified to find out that 95% of shoes bought in the UK end up in landfill, a figure that includes the pairs that you give to charity.

It all seems hopeless. But scientists at Loughborough University's Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre (IMCRC) think they've finally found a way to break shoes down into a range of recyclable materials.

They've developed a multi-stage process, which involves sorting the shoes into different types, removing metal eyelets, then shredding the shoes. They are rendered down to granules which can then be graded using the weight and size of the fragments. The end result: four streams of materials, including rubber and fabric, which can be used in all sorts of other products, including components for new shoes. You've got it: closed-loop manufacturing.

The team at Loughborough are also working closely with footwear manufacturers like Clarks and Nike to design shoes that are easier to break down and recycle. Matthew Turner, Social Resposibility Manager at Clarks says of the project:

"The work of the IMCRC team at Loughborough will both inform our approach to footwear design, and show us new ways to recycle shoes when they have no further use. All in all, we believe it will be another step towards the goal of zero landfill."

A highly laudable aim, and a project that we here at The Pier will be watching with interest. I wonder if I can donate my worn-out trainers to them?

For more info, take a look at the IMCRC page.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Adidas: Making The Right Move In Bangladesh

In a move that's raised eyebrows in the boardrooms of sportswear multinationals and delighted campaigners, Adidas has become the first big-league name to sign the Accord on Fire And Building Safety in Bangladesh. The big-three manufacturer has been under fire in the past for their supposedly lax attitude towards worker rights and welfare in their South Asian factories.

Earlier in the year, the company were forced to pay nearly $2million in compensation to the employees of the shuttered PT Kizone factory in Indonesia: a payment that only happened after bad-tempered court appearances.

By signing up to a legally binding agreement that holds them accountable for the health and well-being of their textile and assembly staff across Bangladesh, Adidas are giving a clear signal to their critics, and putting the spotlight onto their competitors who haven't yet put their names on the dotted line.

There's little doubt that this is a hard-nosed business decision as much as a sign of corporate compassion. The rotten publicity over PT Kizone led to a raft of top US colleges cancelling their contracts with Adidas. If the company can prove they've changed, they might just be able to lure influential schools like Cornell back into the fold.

Whatever the motivation, the end result is a good one, and United Students Against Sweatshops, the college association that brokered the boycott, are rightfully celebrating. In fact, they're ramping up the pressure. The Worker Rights Consortium has now formally recommended that universities require brands producing collegiate apparel in Bangladesh to sign the Accord. 

It's another example of the Detox Effect I was talking about earlier in the week. The most vulnerable part of any corporate structure is its image, a fragile thing that it will do anything, including root and branch changes to the way it does business, to protect.

Thursday 31 October 2013

It's time to Detox.

The facts, when they come to light, are dreadful and shocking. Fast fashion and sportswear multi-nationals have been polluting the groundwater and potable drinking supplies around their factories for decades. They are effectively treating rivers and streams as their own private sewers. The waste products from their manufacturing processes is toxic. In some cases, carcinogenic. And they've been dumping it straight into the water that local people use for drinking, cooking and washing.
That's the bad news. The good news is that we are starting to find out about it. Thanks to groups like Greenpeace and their Detox campaign, environmental abuses from the biggest names on the High Street are coming to light with increasing regularity. As people find out about what these companies are up to, they start to tell their friends and family. And the word gets out. All of a sudden, that sportswear company isn't known for their charity work or sponsorship deals. They're the people that turn rivers red with toxic dyes.
Social media has become an incredibly potent campaigning tool, and it's proved to have remarkable results. Thanks to the Detox campaign and others like it, many multi-nationals and fashion houses have pledged to overhaul their supply chain, removing toxic chemicals from the manufacturing process by 2020. There's a long way to go, but that's a massive step forward, and shows just how much power we as consumers have to enable real change in the fashion industry.
Here's a video from Greenpeace that talks about Detox, and where we go from here.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Juice Up Your Day With Fuel

Like many writers, I tend to survive on a healthy, balanced diet of caffeine, instant noodles and the gnawed nubs of my fingernails, especially when I have a deadline looming. On those odd occasions when I do emerge blinking into the daylight, it's good to get something of worth and substance down my neck.

Juice bars are a bit of a lifesaver for lazy hacks like me. Real, fresh fruit juices are a brilliant way of topping up your five-a-day without having to go through all the tedious grunt-work of chewing. I've been a regular visitor to the Fuel Juice Bar in Reading for a couple of years now for a quick blast of wheatgrass and kumquat.
Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I discovered that Pier32 have been supplying shirts and aprons for Fuel since 2007, and that we're helping out as the business undertakes a pretty rapid expansion from thirteen to twenty-five stores. There will soon be a bunch of new Fuel Juice Bars up and down the country including, I'm happy to report, one in Pier32's home base of Kingston-Upon-Thames. With the growth of the company comes a fresh new design and uniforms, which Pier32 were happy to supply.
It's good to see a young business doing well and pushing forward, and it's a great sign that Fuel have chosen an ethical path for their expansion by using Pier32 to supply their branded uniforms. We wish them luck, and happy juicing!

Fuel Juice Bars choose mens and womens t-shirts from Skinnifit, soft-shell jackets from Russell Jerzees and short bar aprons from Premier, all available from the extensive range of customisable clothing by Pier32.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Blog Action Day: The Story Continues

It's been a week since thousands of bloggers united under a common cause, and used Blog Action Day 2013 to celebrate human rights, and to highlight the work that still needs to be done in order to halt abuse.

Over 2000 bloggers from 130 countries took part. It's a big subject, and unsurprisingly there was a wide range of coverage. From examinations of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, to a horrifying expose of the countries where stoning to death is not just tolerated but legal, the day had it all.

Here at The Pier we were blogging too. I talked about the work that needs to be done post-Rana Plaza to give Bangladeshi workers a fair deal: if you haven't read the piece yet, it's here.

But as part of the alliance of like-minded writers uniting under the banner of the Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers, I wasn't alone in stepping up to the plate and firing off a home run of a post. In fact, there were over a hundred of us talking about human rights in the fashion industry on October 16th. Ms. Wanda has a run-down of her favourites (I'm extremely happy to note that my piece got a mention), and there's some absolute humdingers in there.

My personal favourite was from Green Issues by Agy in Singapore, with a searing indictment of what sand-blasting jeans can do to workers. Many people don't even realise that this still goes on, and that it's casing dozens of completely un-necessary deaths and illnesses each year. Our Twitter chum Kendall from Kindness By Design used her keen eye to dig out the best human-friendly clothing around, and I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't mention the winner of the Best Human Friendly Blogger Award, which went to Mancunian Vintage and her personal account of how she became an ethical fashionista. 

The event was a huge success, and it goes without saying that I'll be back with my human-friendly colleagues next year for more of the same.

Hope you can join us. Until then, human friendly fashion blogging continues here at The Pier twice weekly, three times if I'm feeling particularly feisty.

Monday 21 October 2013

Brilliant Corners: The Indie Style Of The Blue Corner Store

When I was younger, I wanted to run a record shop. It would be a cool, calm but welcoming place, somewhere where you wouldn't get sneered at for liking chart pop, but with the knowledge to help you when you wanted to move on up. There'd be a little coffee bar next door, and we'd sell t-shirts.

I never did find my perfect shop, and with the state of music retail these days, it's probably just as well. But I've found a place that has just that vibe.
The Blue Corner Store started life as your typical snarky indie music blog. That snark's still there of course: any music blog worth reading needs edges sharp enough to cut yourself on. But the writers have mellowed enough over time to be able to include reviews of the new Miley Cyrus album without starting from the assumption that it's worthless. It's a lively, informed and informative read.
More importantly for our purposes, the Blue Corner Store sell a carefully-collated range of clothes. That's where Pier32 come in. The Blue Corner boys insist on an ethical approach for all their sharp, retro designs, and we fit the bill perfectly. We supply most of the items they stock, ensuring that their clothes are investment pieces: built to last and supplied from eco-friendly, sweatshop-free brands.
The Blue Corner Store has just launched a new range, while hanging onto all their favourites (the Quiff Skull T is tricky to keep in stock apparantly, it's that popular). Now's the time to pop over and check them out. I recommend a browse at the blog as well. You might just find your new favourite band.
If only they did coffee...
The Blue Corner Store
The Blue Corner Store uses American Apparel T-shirts, hoodies from AWD and sweatshirts from Continental. Click through for more details on these best-selling ethical brands.
American Apparel:



Friday 18 October 2013

Putting The Spotlight On A New Pier32 Venture

At Pier32, we believe in doing our bit for the environment. I've always seen emerging technologies as a way of becoming smarter about the way we handle our needs, as we move into a century that's likely to have some major challenges to the way we live now.

For example, did you know that lighting can account for up to 25% of a building's energy costs? With the advent and development of LED technologies, it should be a no-brainer for businesses to replace their lighting with newer, cleaner solutions. But take-up is slow. No-one wants to suffer the downtime of putting in new lighting structures. And of course, there's still a stigma attached to low-energy bulbs: that they're unreliable and take forever to come up to full luminance.

I'm happy to report that those rumours are very old news, and that putting in new eco-friendly lighting is a lot simpler than you might think. But tell you what, I'll let this nice chap with the Pro-Markers write it all down for you.

The benefits are obvious, and we're putting our famed customer service to bear, making sure that fitting LED Eco-lights is a low-fuss installation that starts saving you money and energy from your first bill. It's an exciting new venture for us, and we think it fits in with our mission to bring an eco-friendly message to businesses across the UK. If you'd like to know more, visit our dedicated Eco-light page or just chat to Gerry The Voice directly. We think LED Eco-lights are a brighter way to help lighten your energy bills. We hope you'll agree.

LED Eco-lights From Pier32

(Allow me to toot my own horn for a second: that film was a one-man creation: that man being me. I even did the voiceover. Well, if you want to do something properly, you have to do it yourself...)

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Beyond Rana Plaza: The Future Of Human Rights In Fashion

The following piece has been written for Blog Action Day 2013, as Pier32's contribution to the Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers consortium. Find out more, including links to all the other bloggers taking part, here.

It's a terrible thing to note that one of the defining moments of the ethical fashion movement should be a tragedy. But that, sadly was the case in April of this year when a multi-storey building, the Rana Plaza, collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. That building was home to factories that stitched clothing for many big Western outlets. It was the workplace for thousands of garment workers, and it was a death-trap.
Over a thousand people died when the building's foundations crumbled away to concrete dust. Mothers with families, and children, some as young as nine years old, all of whom worked crushingly long shifts to keep food on the table and a roof, however patched and leaking, over their heads. It was a humanitarian disaster, and all eyes were on both the owner of the building, and the fashion houses and supermarkets whose duty of care to their workforce had been so badly compromised.
What happened next was shocking. Rather than admit culpability and offer compensation, many of the companies involved, including global heavy-hitters like Walmart, Primark and Gap insisted that they had nothing to do with the disaster. It was only when news footage of clothes labels in the rubble, clearly showing their names began to appear that their tone changed.
That pressure led to coverage of the plight of the fashion worker in the Far East and India on an unprecedented level. Shows like the UK current affairs flagship Newsnight ran damning pieces on the disaster and its knock-on effects. Something had to change.
The Bangladesh Fire And Safety Agreement, signed in July by many of the manufacturers with interests in the Rana Plaza, is the first government-backed accord to give factory workers in Dhaka and beyond, whose economy depends near-exclusively on fashion, more of a say in how their workplaces are run. Basic health and safety standards, including the banning of locked fire exits (a factor in many factory deaths) and agreements on better working hours and working conditions.
Even now, though, some manufacturers are dragging their heels. Gap and Walmart refused to sign the BFSA, deciding instead to set up their own, internally-monitored programme. Many families are still waiting for any form of compensation. And changes taking place through the BFSA will take time to filter into the system. It felt like a victory for human rights in Bangladesh, but one that needed to be fought for every step of the way.
In September, it happened again. The Aswad factory in Gazipur caught fire, trapping and killing several garment workers. There was a sudden, sickening sense of deja vu. A dangerously sub-standard building, missing or disabled safety features, an owner who didn't give a damn about the businesses he crammed into his high-rise.
And worse, the same blithe denials from the multi-nationals at the heart of it all, the same meaningless statements of regret that only became apologies when their clothes were found draped in the wreckage. All the advances that had been made since Rana Plaza seemed to vanish like concrete dust in the wind.
The human rights abuses that the fashion industry enables and allows to continue are endemic in the industry, and names that you know and trust are complicit. Or worse, silent and secretive about their suppliers. Our partner in today's Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers event for Blog Action Day, Ms. Wanda's, has launched a video with some very disturbing allegations. I urge you to watch it before it gets taken down...

So, what can we do in the face of these seemingly insurmountable odds? We're working against a huge global industry that issues nothing but lip-service to human rights concerns. All that seems to concern them is the bottom line, and if that means out-sourcing work to contractors who run dangerously substandard buildings and fill them with underpaid, overworked, underaged workers with no rights, then, well, so be it. I'm not trying to paint them as moustache-twirling black-hats--running a global supply train is tough, and keeping it ethical even more so. But the abuses are there, and the worst bit is that when they're exposed nothing seems to happen to change it.
If that notion horrifies you as much as it does me, then there is something you can do. You're a consumer with purchasing power, and access to the most powerful and integrated communications network that the world has ever seen. So use it.
High Street companies don't like to be seen as slave-masters, and bad publicity is poisonous to the wholesome image they like to portray. Keep yourself informed, using bloggers and news sources like (ahem) this one, and make a noise when you hear about humans rights abuses like the one above. Stick something on Facebook. Tweet a link. Email a brand. Let them know that this can't go on. If Mothercare have sorted out their factories, then why aren't they shouting about it? Transparency is vital if we're to believe a global company when they say they've changed.
The fight for an ethical fashion business is going to be a long one, with many more pitfalls and tragedies along the way. But it's a fight worth fighting, and persistance is all. The multi-nationals want us to give up and go away. Tough. We won't.
Because what we want is simple. We want workers the world over, from Newcastle to Nairobi, from Dhaka to Darlington, to be treated with respect and concern for their well-being. We want them to be paid a fair wage. We want them to have a say in how the business they contribute their labour to is run. And we don't think a factory floor is any place for a nine-year-old. It's not much, in the great scheme of things, and if it means we have to pay another quid or so for our clothes... is that a price we're not prepared to pay?

I'm Rob Wickings, and I'm a Human Friendly Fashion Blogger. Thanks for listning. Now say something.

Friday 11 October 2013

The White Male Blogger Apologises

There was an interesting piece from Ben Philips, campaigns and policy director at Oxfam, in the Guardian the other day, which resonated with me in all sorts of ways. His point was that as a posh white bloke, he could never really understand the privations and suffering that he was spending his career campaigning against. I recommend reading the whole piece, but here's the bit that jumped out at me...

"I've lived amongst people in poverty, too, in their houses and with their families, walking alongside them, literally and organisationally. But I could always leave. And in the toughest times I've been aware at my core that my British passport, my connections, the colour of my skin and being a man are insulators from the worst. I will never understand the tyranny of a hungry belly. I'll never fully understand exclusion."

I completely get this argument. I have all the benefits and powers that are part and parcel with being born into citizenship of one of the most powerful and richest countries on the planet. I want for nothing. I'm well-fed, clothed and sheltered, and my employer treats me with respect and pays me well. I'm not as well-off as Ben, perhaps, but on the global scale I'm absolutely one of the 5% richest people in the world.

How, then, can I write with any sort of authority about people who have next-to-nothing, who don't know where their next meal is coming from, who face abuse and worse at their workplace... if they're lucky enough to have a job in the first place?

The simple answer is that I can't. I will, fingers crossed, touch wood, spit and whistle, never know the suffering that the workers of Chinese and Bangladeshi clothes factories face on a daily basis. I pray that remains the case. I wouldn't wish that life on anyone.

And therein lies the point. I may not know how tough they have it, but I can empathise the hell out of the situation. I may not know how to lace a loom or run a sewing machine, but I understand that anyone that does has the right to be treated with the same level of respect that I have at work.

Yes, I am a very lucky man. I try not to take any of my advantages for granted. Because I have a little skill in stringing together words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, that's what I do to try and tilt the balance, however imperceptibly, back towards level. I donate where I can. I agitate when I can. I make noise, and bang a drum to bring attention to the abuses that are part of so many people's lives. It's not much, in the scheme of things. But it's a start.

As a lucky, healthy, well-off white male, I'm right at the top of the privilege tree. Being aware of that, like Ben, is the first step towards using the leverage you have in the interests of positive change. Doing nothing, or complaining about my lot in life? Now that would be a crime. And it's one that I have no intention of committing.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Blog Action Day Is Coming...

Every October, thousands of bloggers around the world join together for one day to highlight a cause and make some noise about it. It's called (logically enough) Blog Action Day, and this year the theme is Human Rights.

The View From The Pier is joining in. We're part of Ms. Wanda's Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers network, which is an affiliate of the greater, over-arching Blog Action structure. We're in good company too. The HFFB includes high-calibre writers like Ceri Heathcote and Kendall Benton of Kindness By Design. All of us will be talking about human rights and fashion on October 16th.

Let's face it, it's a rich subject. The fashion industry was indirectly responsible for one of the most serious urban disasters in modern times, the Rana Plaza collapse in April this year. Fashion is notorious for the shabby if not downright negligent way it treats third world workers. Along with environmental concerns, it's the major issue with which ethical writers constantly struggle to highlight. As Esther Freeman of Ms. Wanda's puts it:

For me, I really don’t care if my dress has been made with recycled polyester, if the person who made it is being sexually abused, not paid a living wage, or having to endure unbearable working conditions.

If you're a fashion blogger, it's not too late to make your voice heard! Join our merry band at the link below, where you'll also find a resource kit to help you make the most of the day.

If you're a reader, then please join us on October 16th, and let's talk about fashion, human rights and how we can make a difference.  

The Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers Consortium

Blog Action Day 2013

Friday 4 October 2013

London Cloth: A New Spin On An Old Yarn

Pamela Ravasio at Shirahime (one of the best ethical fashion bloggers out there, always worth your time) has pointed me in the direction of a story that shows how eco-fashion can frequently be all about the rediscovery of old techniques and methods, and melding them with a modern approach.
In 2011, sewing machinist Daniel Harris (no relation to the famous tweed makers, but you have to love the coincidence) found a rusty old loom in a shed in darkest, rural Wales. He fell in instant love with the heap of old tech, and brought it back to the studio space that he'd just bought in East London. He couldn't get it through the door.
In taking it apart and putting it together in order to house it, Daniel's admiration for the intricate machine grew. Over a period of a year, he taught himself how to use the machine, and how to weave cloth with it. Daniel found himself on a mission, and bought more machines, the oldest dating back to the 1850s. He bought them back to life, and realised that there was a deeper purpose shining through.
Is it coincidence that Daniel's name is what it is, or that he somehow set up shop in an area once famous for textile production? Perhaps, but the fact remains that in a warehouse space stuffed full of samples, bolts of cloth and antique and lovingly restored machinery, Daniel Harris is doing something wonderful.
The London Cloth Company specialises in cloth woven from British wool. As 97% of the wool we see in this country comes from Australia and New Zealand, this is a big deal. Daniel has built up relationships with a network of Welsh and English farmers, which means the wool he buys has impeccable provenance. You can trace his wool down to the flock from which it was sheared. Better yet, the wool is undyed, yet retains a great variety of shade and hue. From herringbone to dogtooth check, there's a whole lot of colour in London cloth.
Daniel is a one-man operation, yet the quality of his cloth is making a big reputation. He exports to markets as far-flung as Sweden and Japan, and has provided cloth for Ralph Lauren. His short-run custom tweeds are ideal for designers and private clients looking for something that bit different and special. He's small-time compared to the industrial yarns of Scotland, pumping out tweed by the kilometre. But London Cloth has little in common with the faux-nostalgia boom, despite attempts by some journalists to label him as some sort of hipster. Daniel Harris is working with machinery and methods that, despite the hard work, boredom and pain involved, produces material that has value beyond the surface. His cloth has enviable eco-credentials, and he's doing things in his own way... the right way.
We need more craftsmen with the grit, determination and vision of Daniel Harris. Half mad inventor, half evangelical missionary, he has created something with solid links to the past, and a firm eye to the future.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to talk to my tailor. Daddy needs a new suit for winter.

The London Cloth Company

Wednesday 2 October 2013

How Your Old Socks Could Save The World

Reycling is one of the most important ways in which we can cut down on waste going to landfills, and drop energy emissions from manufacturing. But it's becoming clearer that we can do more to help out old Mother Earth, by simply going through our wardrobes a little more often.
A new report from the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that recycling of old clothes and textiles is a highly significant way of reducing greenhouse gases. According to the study, it has the impact of taking a million cars from the roads, and more than four times the impact of glass recycling. And yet, only 15% of waste textile products find their way into reycling programmes.
Lou Baty, president of SMART, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association says:
"Local governments need to capitalise on the positive environmental impact of clothing recycling programmes not only as it impacts greenhouse gases, but how it can also extend the lifecycles of landfills.
"The message the public needs to hear is 'Donate, recycle, don't throw away' when it comes to their clothing and household textiles."
The EPA would like to see textiles become a "top-of-mind" recyclable, in the same way that glass, plastic and paper are today. For that to happen, though, there will need to be infrastructure changes. Donating old, clean clothes is becoming easier, with clothes-bank hoppers outside many stores and supermarkets. But it still isn't as straightforward as dumping a washed can into the green bin.
And what about my old socks with the holes in them, or the t-shirt that I just can't get the red-wine stain out of? These are clearly not donatable items, and yet they can find new uses if broken down into their constituant fibres. Fabric recycling is a great idea, and I for one am fully behind it. But for it to take off, the process needs to be a no-brainer, something that can be rolled into your everyday routine without extra work. Once that happens, then we could all really start to see the benefits.

Friday 27 September 2013

Making The Case for Biowool

Wool. There's not that much too it, really. Grows on sheep. You can make jumpers out of it. Nothing to get excited about, you'd think.
Of course, that's bunkum. Wool is amazing stuff. It's a sustainable resource with all sorts of uses. Woollen clothing can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and can be woven into just about anything you'd care to imagine. Fine tailoring, fancy lingerie, suitcases...
That's not a mis-spelling. Industrial designer Daniel McLaughlin picked up an award from the James Dyson Foundation earlier this month for his innovative work on bio-wool. This is a new material, a combination of wool from old carpets and a resin sourced from rapeseed oil that forms a tough and biodegradable polymer. He's highlighted bio-wool in the Terracase, a hard-shell piece of luggage designed for business travellers. Light, durable and good-looking, bio-wool has many benefits. By using waste wool, it's adding another revenue stream to the accounts of wool farmers, who are often hard pressed to make ends meet.
At the Royal College of Art show where McLaughlin, a graduate in industrial design, showed off the Terracase, he explained how he had explored the properties of waste wool and bio-resin, and come up with a product that had a ton of potential. Using sustainable resources, keeping waste products out of the compost chain and helping a cash-strapped industry that's close to his heart (McLaughlin's family are wool farmers), he's might have just ushered in a new age of innovation in textiles. There are hundreds of potential applications for biowool. Steve Parsons of Wool of New Zealand, who has offered to assist Daniel in his work, says:
"By moving into new product categories where there are no preconcieved ideas about how wool is used and what its value might be, we can start imagining the customer experience and design far more exciting products."
Too right. We're deeply reliant on oil-based plastics, and any innovation that helps to move us away from that toxic spiral has to be celebrated. There are benefits to biowool far above and beyond the creation of a smart new line in wheely cases. Let's not be sheepish here, there's no baa-rrier to how far this could go.


Wednesday 25 September 2013

Gift Your Gear And Make A Difference!

Just because it doesn't fit you any more, doesn't mean it won'y


There are a lot of charities and youth organisations out there that do fantastic work with underprivileged kids in the great outdoors. Expeditions and adventures in places like North Wales, the Lake District or any one of this green and pleasant land's many, many beauty spots can be the first time these kids have seen anything beyond an urban wasteland.

None of it comes cheaply, though, and one of the biggest financial buffers that these charities come across is gear. You can't send a bunch of inexperienced city kids up a mountain in cheap trainers and a trackie top. That's where a nationwide initiative called Gift Your Gear comes in. They take in unwanted outdoor gear and redistribute it to those that need it the most. From outdoor trousers, jackets, fleeces to waterproofs and children’s clothing, if it's in reasonable nick it can be reused.

If you have gear hanging in a wardrobe at home that hasn't seen the light of day for a while, then why not give it a new lease of life, and donate it to an organisation that can really use it? After all, it belongs outdoors!

Through September, you can drop your unwanted outdoor gear into any Rohan store. You'll get 15% off any purchase made on the same day. You'll be helping the next generation to find out just how good exercise in the UK's parks and forests can be.

For more info, visit Gift Your Gear's website.


Thursday 19 September 2013

A short film on fast fashion

It's sometimes tricky to make a point about fast fashion and its toxic effects without coming across as either a killjoy or a loony. The economy's shrinking, and cheap clothes help us to make ends meet, right?
You can talk through the points and pull apart the argument, but sometimes a short sharp dose of show and tell is the solution. I'm delighted to have been pointed in the direction of a sub-two minute clip from OnlineMBA, a site that provides education and industry insights to current and prospective MBA students. As part of their resources they've created a series of insightful, business-focused videos. This one lays out the key arguments for and against fast fashion in a light, fun way. And most importantly, it makes the case that fast fashion isn't just morally and environmentally objectionable--it's downright bad for business.
Check it out. I'll be intrigued to know what you think.

(with thanks to Zoe Gray at MinuteMBA for the link)

Monday 16 September 2013

Would you? WeWood!

I've written in the past about Proof Eyewear, the brilliant range of designer sunglasses made from sustainable woods and plant resins. But wood can be used as an accessory in all sorts of surprising ways.
Guru Ian has pointed me towards an Italian company called WeWood, that are doing great things with wooden timepieces. Launching in the UK this October 1st with a range of six watches, they're the last word in eco-warrior chic.
Sophisticated, luxurious and durable, WeWood watches are made from surplus instrument-grade wood that has an airy lightness and remarkable tensile strength. They are designed to hug the wrist, as they're crafted with a gentle curve that makes them so comfortable to wear that you'll never want to take them off.
Matt Cromie, UK Director for WeWatch, tells us more:
“We believe it is important to use sustainable materials in fashion, creating pieces that look good and do good, and we echo this in every watch we design and make. We only use wood that would otherwise be thrown away, creating something functional and stylish that is designed to be worn, used and enjoyed rather than wasted. Our high-tech Miyota movement timepieces are made from natural wood and as well as using materials destined for the scrap heap, our designs actually help to replenish forests and woods around the world with a new tree being planted for every watch sold.”
This is sustainability writ large. Waste materials retasked into something useful and beautiful, with a new tree planted for every item sold. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
For more details, check out the WeWood website.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Nakate: Hope And Second Chances

In 2010, journalist Shanley Knox was reporting on AIDS projects in Uganda, when she came across a girl called Cossy, whose story would inspire her in ways she couldn't have imagined.

Cossy Nakate was 7. She was living with her aunt after both her parents had died, and was being shuffled around from relative to relative. She was frequently neglected and abused. But the thing that struck Shanley most about Cossy was her attitude; the sparkle in her eye, her refusal to give up. As she spent time with Cossy and the other girls and women of the village where they were staying, Shanley saw that they all had the same lively, forgiving nature and joy of life. 

She decided that she wanted to do something to help these women. When she returned to the States, she brought back a bag of locally-made necklaces that had been made from waste paper, bone and horn. The junk and litter of the African landscape had been transformed into something of beauty and value. It was a metaphor that Shanley embraced. From those seeds she started the Nakate Project. 

Nakate's jewellery contains a story and a kernel of hope. Shanley works with the women of Uganda to create beautiful pieces that are transforming lives. The women are given opportunities to start their own businesses, and become independent. Over 90% of the women working with the Nakate Project have opened bank accounts, and invested their funds back into buying livestock, building themselves homes or paying off loans. At the same time, Nakate promotes sustainability, using recycled materials in new and innovative ways to create jewellery with a design aesthetic that's downright high-end. This isn't junk. 

Shanley says: 

“When you wear Nakate, you are celebrating the core values of sustainability, respect and empowerment: We believe that profit is a mechanism for generosity. Profit is a tool. Most use profit for greed, their own gain, but that doesn’t need to be so. We believe profit makes generosity sustainable.”
Nakate are a prime example of a company that's taking sustainability to new levels. They're empowering women who would otherwise be victims, and creating desirable items out of trash tat would otherwise be in landfills. It's a remarkable and inspiring story that shows how girls like Cossy can make a difference in ways that you'd never expect. 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

A Crafty Protest For London Fashion Week

London Fashion Week kicks off in a few days time. As ever, it's all about glamour, sheen, exquisite finishing and that cool British vibe. There are huge banners up and down Oxford Street, that I can't help but notice on my way into work.

Ms. Wanda's Wardrobe has tipped me off to another kind of banner that's being produced in the run-up to London Fashion Week--one that's a heck of a lot more ethical.

In association with War On Want's Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops campaign, the Craftivist Collective are making a load of Mini-Protest Banners, that highlight the disparity between the pay of the models and designers flocking to London, and the workforce that make the clothes that they're promoting.

They're urging everyone to get involved. There are kits available, and events planned across the country. Make a banner, hang it in a public place, take a photo, and the Collective will collate them all into a huge image gallery that will be on display at the Knitting And Stitching Show this autumn.

The craftivists say:

“Our small, provocative Mini Protest Banners can help us reflect on this issue of sweatshops and what we can do as an individual (consumer, voter etc) to keep the spotlight on this ugly side of fashion we CAN change. Also by hanging your banner in public you can engage others in fighting for a world without sweatshops.”
I'm a complete fumble-knuckle when it comes to anything involving needle and thread, but I applaud the work that the Craftivist Collective are doing, and I admire their skill in knitting together activism, protest and stitchwork. The deadline for entries is October 1st.

For more info, check out the website, where there are already some fine examples of work on display!

Friday 6 September 2013

Keep Up The Good Work

Sometimes it can seem like there's no point to ethical fashion. No matter how hard we try, the industry remains for the most part uncaring about the world it's polluting and the people it uses up and spits out. Why do we even bother?

Well, there's grounds for hope as much as despair. An article from Ethical Consumer researcher Bryony Moore for the Guardian shows us how, although there's a long way left to go, there's also been some pretty significant progress on the road to ethical fashion.

The main point I always make when talking about what defines ethical fashion, particularly with reference to Pier32's clothing, is that it should be sweatshop- and child labour free. The cotton industry in Uzbekistan is one of the biggest and most recent horror stories. Forced child labour is rife--we're talking your actual child slavery here. Campaigns headed up by the Responsible Sourcing Network have led to dozens of the big high street names, including Adidas and H&M, pledging to stop using Uzbek cotton until slave labour is banned. That's major progress on one of the main tentpoles of the ethical fashion movement.

There's plenty more to be hopeful about, from awareness of the dangers of sandblasting jeans--a process that can cause silicosis for the workers who have to distress the fabric--to successful campaigns against toxic dyes in ground water and, of course, the public outcry over health and safety abuses that led to tragedies like the Rana Plaza disaster.

One thing all this has in common--the successes come out of committed and tireless campaigners at the grass roots level making sure that the public become aware of the awful things of which the fashion industry can be capable. In the digital age, it's easier than ever to network, organise and get the word out. That's why, although, progress can be slow, it's being made in all sorts of areas that would otherwise be roundly ignored. It's a tough job, but such a worthwhile one.

For more, read Bryony's article.