Monday 29 April 2013
So the question is, how do you make sure that your clothing is ethically secure? Well, the simple answer is that it's not very simple. Most big-brand clothing lines are produced using a global supply chain. You have to be sure that the workers that produce the yarn and fixings, that weave the fabric, that put the clothes together, that transport them to the stores, are all fairly treated and not subject to abuse. That's a big, tough call. The simple fact is that it's very difficult to properly audit a piece of modern clothing. Let's put it like this: Greenpeace have pulled their t-shirt range from sale, as they simply couldn't be sure that the clothes were coming from responsible sources.
WRAP certification and SEDEX compliance are the only two properly attributable standards that make the grade as a FairTrade label for the clothing industry, and they're notoriously tough to achieve. Often, WRAP certification requires major changes to suppliers and manufacturing facilities. It's expensive and very hard work. Unless you're dead serious about your clothes line being properly, provably responsible, there's little incentive to put your company forward.
But, as we're starting to see after the events of last week, something needs to change. Relying on local labour laws and the good word of factory owners simply isn't good enough. Customers are starting to ask the right questions about their clothes, and are willing to pay a bit more for ethical production. What's needed is tougher regulation, more insistance on compliance to a stringent global standard on responsible production, and transparency from the big brands on how they source and produce their clothing.
Until then, there's every likeliehood that events like the Rana Plaza collapse are going to keep on happening. It's good to hear that the owner of the building has been found and arrested. But the conditions under which the workers who lost their lives work are endemic across Asia, and they won't change any time soon. It'll cost money to change that, which will have a knock-on effect on the price of clothes.
But let's face it. Wouldn't you rather spend a bit more than worry about the real cost of the clothes on your back?
Friday 26 April 2013
Ms. Wanda's Wardrobe, a long-time lock on the Pier32 newsfeed, has decided that enough is enough. They've launched the 1% Campaign, asking the big fashion companies to put their money where their mouths are. The manifesto is simple.
- A minimum of 1% of profits invested in responsible sourcing
- Grants available to factories to enable them to make the necessary changes
- More regular and unannounced audits of factories
- Better working with NGOs and trade unions to implement policies that have meaningful benefit to workers
Fast fashion and its dodgy practices are under scrutiny like never before, and they're starting to panic. It's time to fix this. Get yourself over to the 1% Campaign homepage, sign the petition, and let the big fashion companies know that we won't tolerate another Rana Plaza disaster.
The 1% Campaign.
Thursday 25 April 2013
This is the second incident in six months where a three-figure death count has been caused by unsafe working conditions, following a fire in the Tazreen Fashion building in November which killed 110 people. Bangladesh is notorious for wide-scale neglect of safety issues, and it is becoming a matter of worldwide concern that factory owners, in collusion with the Western clothing companies that they supply, are prepared to cut corners and abuse their workers until something gives way. Quite literally, in this case.
Primark have already admitted that one of the companies in the Rana Plaza, New Wave, supplies their stores, while Matalan have stated that they have been supplied in the past by that company. War On Want have pointed out that New Wave also supply Mango and Bon Marché. The other companies in the building have refused to reveal their client list. It's likely that these too supply internationally-known name brands.
Which brings us to the central question. How long are we prepared to put up with this? Bangladesh is the high-profile tip of an iceberg that has remained under the surface for way too long. President of Bangladeshi workers union the National Garment Workers Federation Amirul Haque Amin says:
"This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments, factory owners and owners' associations would take workers' wellbeing seriously. Instead the family of the victims must live the consequences of this terrible tragedy."Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building had violated construction codes and "the culprits would be punished". Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has announced a national day of mourning on Thursday in memory of the victims.
All well and good, but there are at least 80 families today who have lost not just loved ones, but their incomes. Most factory workers live one paypacket from poverty, and the Rana Plaza collapse means that they will soon be destitute.
Along with War On Want and other human rights charities, Pier32 condemns the actions of the landlords and factory owners that led to this disaster, and demands immediate financial compensation and urgent medical care for those families affected by the loss, either through death or injury. That's not enough, of course. There needs to be full, root and branch change throughout the garment industry, ensuring that international brands take full responsibility for the well-being of everyone that works for them, regardless of where they are on the planet.
More on this tomorrow.
Wednesday 24 April 2013
The problem with working in a global marketplace is that it's global. Deep, right? Stop rolling your eyes. What I mean is that there's more to putting together a global brand than logistics. Cultural differences are a big part of the potential success or failure of any venture--and that goes for ethical fashion as much as for any other.
An example. We're all agreed that re- and upcycling are a big part of sustainability. Everyone likes funky preloved clothes, right?
In Asia, and China particularly, there's a massive stigma around second-hand clothing. There's a strong tradition of make-do and mend, and clothes are generally only binned when they're worn beyond repair or the owner has died. This means there's little market for second-hand, and in a country where superstition still has a powerful sway, many people believe that these clothes have a ghostly connection to their previous owners, and won't go near them.
Things are changing, but gradually. As fast fashion starts to slide into focus in the Asian market, consumers are adopting Western patterns of consumption--not great. And status, a important factor in Chinese society, plays a part too. Christina Dean, head of Redress, a Hong Kong based charity aiming to raise awareness of sustainability in the Chinese market, says:
"When it comes to fashion, people want to look good and they certainly don’t understand the negative environmental impacts embedded in their new reflection. They are already overwhelmed by the vast quantities of fashion brands and designers and so the concept of sustainable fashion is as alien to them as some of the new names.Economically, people still expect sustainable fashion to be more expensive, but because sustainable fashion doesn’t have the kudos that ostentatious brands do, few consumers will want to pay more if this doesn’t translate into higher status."
It's not all bad news. Some educated types are starting to see the dangers inherent in this buy-and-bin approach, and the notion of second-hand clothes is starting to lose its stigma as fashion leaders pick up the notion of sustainability and make it fashionable--much in the way that icons like Livia Wirth and Vivienne Westwood have in the UK.
Sustainability faces the traditional problem of same same but different as the global market grows. Assuming that one message will work across the board is a schoolroom error, and it's down to people like Christina to make sure that this rapidly expanding market doesn't make the same mistakes that the West has.
For more on Christina and Redress, check out this great interview on Urban Times.
Monday 22 April 2013
Friday 19 April 2013
Do you like rubber? Of course you do. What's not to like? The way it moulds itself to your body shape. The tactile quality. The way it shines and squeaks.
Ahem. Yes. There are a lot of reasons to get excited about rubber, but from an ethical standpoint it's an important resource because it's so sustainable. Rubber comes, logically, from the rubber tree in the form of a gum, which can be formed into anything from bike tyres to sexy, sexy tube dresses.
But because the stuff is so robust, it's also eminently upcyclable. Our Facebook friend Katcha Bilek has made a great business out of selling belts and other accessories out of recycled tyres, and now she's pointed us in the direction of another designer stretching the boundaries of what can be done with rubber.
Urban Lace make clever, gothy jewellery out of old bike inner tubes, which are carefully recut into ear-rings, cuffs and bracelets. They're surprisingly delicate and darkly pretty--accessories with an edge. There's even something for the man in your life.
Urban Lace's accessories have an ever-so-slight fetishy air to them, a hint of the unusual, without going down the handcuff and chain route. As the fashions that were always on the edge become increasingly mainstream, Urban Lace seem to have found the right balance between goth and go-to-the-office. A little something for the 50 Shades-loving lady in your life, perhaps?
For more, hit up the Urban Lace website.
Wednesday 17 April 2013
A knock-on effect of covering ethical fashion for Pier32 has been the growth of my interest in clothing in general. I like to think that I cut a slightly sharper silhouette than I used to before I started this gig. I'm dressing to suit my shape these days. Less baggy clothes, and I'm certainly no fan of the kid-in-a-romper-suit and big trainers that a lot of men my age have devolved to. Sure, comfort is a factor, but at the same time I'd rather look like a grown-up, ta very much.
Which brings me to an interesting point. Men's clothes are boring. There's no real sense of experimentation. Look at the ladies (which I do with a purely professional eye, I assure you). There's a panoply of styles, looks, prints, fabrics, colours and shapes on display. Every high street is a fashion show. For the men, there are four looks. Workwear. Jeans and a top. Smart casual. Sportswear. That's about it. It's the same wherever you go. Check out any awards show, and you see the problem laid bare. The ladies are a rainbow, a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour and form. The gents are in suits. Black tie. This is the best you can aspire to. Unless you have the nerve and the legs for a kilt which, frankly, I don't.
It's a shame, when you look at the peacock dandies of history. Doublets and hose. Ruffs. Codpieces. Once upon a time invention and innovation was as much a part of men's fashion as it was women. But as the Georgian era moved into the Victorian, we pulled our legs into trousers, put a jacket on and gave up.
It's not a situation that's likely to change anytime soon. There's a fashion push every five years or so to put men in skirts. It never works. You can take all the pictures of Beckham in a sarong you like. You'll never get Joe Bloke strutting down his local high street in a swishy print wrap-around, unless he's working out his gender issues. Also, I refer you to my point about the kilt above.
So, if there's to be change, it has to arrive gently. If you can't change the shape, you can change the fabric, or play with form in clever, subtle ways. We're living in the 21st century, now. We can go space-age without draping ourselves in tinfoil.
For example, Ministry Of Supply, who have just successfully funded a production run through Kickstarter, have launched the Apollo Shirt. This is made from the same knit synthetic blend that NASA make their space-suits from. This stuff offers exemplary odor and moisture management, and moves with, rather than against you. The end result? You stay crumple-free, tucked in and looking cool all day.
Meanwhile Voy Voy, a relaxed surfer-skewed brand make t-shirts and polos with neat breast pockets in contrasting colours and stripes. This little pop of colour makes them stand out in a clean, sharp way. Again, there's innovation in the whole production line too, with an insistance on organic cotton and local labour to cut down on distribution and transport costs. A lot of these smaller companies are able to base their whole corporate philosophy around ethical principles, which helps them keep costs down without compromising on quality.
With sites like Kickstarter allowing these small start-ups to reach out to a much wider audience than would have possible a few years ago, we're beginning to see a real boom in clever designers pushing out great new ideas. Maybe the time is right for men's clothing in the 21st century to shrug off the old ways, and herald in a new renaissance.
Monday 15 April 2013
Let's start the week off by highlighting a charity that are doing a lot of good, and trying something a little different to raise some funds. Jessie May provides free nursing care at home for kids with terminal illnesses in Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire. Their visits allow parents to pop out to the shops, help their other children with their homework or simply sit down and eat dinner. It's a vital service, enabling parents to have a break, confident that their son or daughter is in the care of someone who understands the complexities of their medical needs, and, most crucially, someone they trust. No other organisation in the Bristol area offers this type of care, including the NHS. This is tough, but important and rewarding work.
They're holding an event in June that sounds like a lot of fun. In association with Newfound Friends, they're offering the chance for you to be rescued at sea by a Newfoundland dog! These giant, friendly monsters are famous for their skills in the water, and Newfound Friends has made a name for themselves by putting on water rescue shows to help charities like Jessie May raise the money they need. The sight of a 14-stone dog launching itself from a speeding dinghy and paddling to your rescue has to be seen to be believed...
For more details, check out Jessie May's website.
Thursday 11 April 2013
First up, the daddy of ethical brands: Fruit Of The Loom.
More than 160 years later, Fruit of the Loom is now a global underwear and casualwear business, employing more than 32,000 people worldwide. It's instantly recognisable and almost ubiquitous. You most likely have an article of Fruit clothing in your drawers or wardrobes right now.
The responsible attitude to workers, materials and processes that is becoming something to shout about for many companies has been part of the DNA of Fruit Of The Loom since the beginning. The Fruit Code sets out the way they expect their suppliers and manufacturers and all their workers, low to high, to treat each other and the planet. In short, with respect. This means simple things, like respect for religious holidays, fair pay, even dental plans for their workers. But it permeates through every part of the business.
Let's take, for example, their flagship European plant in Morocco. Every aspect has been designed with care and forward thinking, with the environment firmly in mind at each step. All the service pipes are underground, saving ceiling height and reducing air conditioning.
Water is a precious resource in Morocco, so it was important to invest in facilities and processes that improve the water supply for the local community. The innovative water treatment plant used at the Fruit factory cleanses the water used in the manufacturing process so when it re-enters the local supply, it's never been cleaner. Up to 65% of the water used in the dyeing process is recycled. The dye-house itself has a heat exchange system that keeps water at a constant temperature and vastly reduces the amount of energy needed to heat it.
The Fruit Of The Loom commitment to open-end yarn manufacture also means that they use 30% less energy and produce 23% less wastage - vital when you look at the vast output of the factory--just under one billion garments to date. This also reduces the burden on landfill by reducing bale wraps and packaging.
That's just one example of the hard work the company put into their responsibility towards their workforce and the environment. This has been recognised, as Fruit Of The Loom are now WRAP-certified.
WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) is the world's largest facility certification programme and whilst it is supported by the global apparel industry, it is totally independent.
WRAP is dedicated to ensuring lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing throughout the world. In order to receive certification, suppliers are regularly audited and must comply with the 12 WRAP principles. These relate to areas such as workplace regulations, child labour, hours of work, health and safety, discrimination and security.
WRAP certification is a big deal. It's a globally trusted standard, that shows how Fruit of the Loom operates within the highest ethical and environmental standards. At Pier32 we're proud to be associated with the brand, and happy to offer their extensive range to you.
To find out more about Fruit Of The Loom at Pier32, check out the brand page.
Fruit Of The Loom At Pier32
Wednesday 10 April 2013
A quick news blast regarding our friends at Renewable World. Five of their noblest souls are pounding the streets for the Brighton Marathon this Sunday morning, helping to raise funds for the charity.
Renewable World are, as you probably know, all about using smart, affordable technology to help make the lives of people in remote rural communities that little bit better. They were featured on BBC's Lifeline appeal programme back in February, and are doing amazing work worldwide.
Tom Morton, Hayley Court, Fran Witt, Neil Gunning and Jim Watson are all running to help Renewable World to deliver energy from renewable resources to power lights, refrigerators for medicines, water pumps, and agricultural improvements. The ultimate aim is to increase living standards and incomes, and improve health and welfare for everyone that needs their help.
Can't say fairer than that, can you? You can help by giving to Tom's JustGiving site, or Jim's JustGiving site. Or, if you're in Brighton on Sunday, why not pop down and cheer them to the finish line? Look out for the natty green T-shirts... supplied by Pier32, of course!
Tuesday 9 April 2013
Leather-worker Scott Rawlings, working out of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a rather cool Etsy shop, Fullgive. He makes and sells beautifully designed and finished satchels, iPad cases and guitar straps. The item that concerns me, however, has a bit more history behind it.
Scott makes leather cuffs that have been upcycled from old belts. They're weathered, beautifully soft and more importantly, each one is unique. There's interesting details and embossing carried across from the old leatherwork, and an element of potluck when you place an order. You can pick black, brown, or more edgy skate/surf designs, but that's all the choice you get. You're never quite sure what you're going to end up with in terms of detailing. I like that. Sometimes it's good to embrace the unexpected.
Scott's cuffs aren't pricy--in the UK you can pick up one for just over a tenner. I don't think that's bad for an accessory that's pretty much guaranteed to be unique.
Check the cuffs, and Scott's other accessories, out at his Etsy shop, Fullgive.
Friday 5 April 2013
He's still looking, almost three months later, but he's doing so with the intensity and focus that comes from a career in the Army. Using Twitter to raise awareness, he's been on local radio, had a feature piece in the Independent, and been retweeted and mentioned by hundreds of people worldwide. What does he have to offer? Well, let's let the man sell himself (collated from his massive tweetstream)...
"As well as testing Jaguars and Land Rovers for JLR, I am also a trained chauffeaur and advanced driver (RoSPA). I have a licence that can only be described as full, and I'm very proud to say is clean. I'm an ex-soldier who's professional, intricate and a perfectionist in he does. If you want a grafter with ingenuity, discipline, common sense initiative and couraage, then you've come to the right place!"Bear (he uses the nickname online for security purposes) is a trained Army mechanic who has maintained incredibly expensive and complex front-line equipment. He can drive anything and fix anything. He'd make a brilliant chauffeur/handyman for a corporate client, but his organisational skills (he's run decent-sized charity events) mean that he could turn his hands to practically anything.
He's all over Twitter, and he's not giving up. Frankly, it's the least we can do here at the Pier to give a friend a shout. So, let's finish the week with a battlecry and a call to arms. Give Bear A Job!
@BigBearF1, or check out the hashtag #givebearajob. Everyone at Pier32 hopes you get the job you deserve soon, big fella.
Thursday 4 April 2013
H&M are doing an awful lot these days to try and show themselves as the greenest store on the high street. They're one of the few big brands to release a sustainability report, for example. Their 2012 report came out last week, and it's fascinating reading. This is no corporate puff-piece. It's a bracingly honest document, that's prepared to admit that they're not perfect. Work needs to be done on wages and worker conditions in their factories, for example.
They do have a lot of which they can be proud. Working with the WWF to cut down on their water usage, partnering with the French government on a pilot scheme to accurately map their supply chain. Then, of course, there's the Conscious Collection, bill-boarded everywhere, a flag-waving showpiece for their use of new, eco-friendly fabrics.
It's not all rosy, of course. Transparency is all well and good, but there are different kinds of clarity. Anti-sweatshop group The Clean Clothes Campaign recently launched Unconscious Collapses, an action that focuses on the unsafe working conditions in H&M's Cambodian factories. These unventilated buildings have led to malnourished and overworked factory staff fainting in their hundreds. Christa Luginbühl, a coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign says:
“H&M claims that [its] clothes are made with responsibility for people and environment, but hundreds of overworked and malnourished workers faint during their daily work. A fashion collection cannot be ‘conscious,’ ‘sustainable,’ or ‘responsible’ if a producer denies garment workers the basic human right for a living wage."
H&M, meanwhile, simply say that "more needs to be done." But the point is that H&M made $2billion in profits last year alone. If more needs to be done, then surely they have the money in the bank to get the goals that they mention in their report sorted out, and quickly.
Any huge multinational is always going to have problems with a supply chain spread globally, and abuse is something that's easy to turn a blind eye to. It's great that H&M are not painting themselves as paragons of sustainability, but it's important that their eco-initiatives are scrutinised carefully for signs of greenwashing.
With that in mind, Vogue and H&M are hosting a live webcast on sustainability at 3pm this afternoon (UK time). It's probably worth checking out to see if you believe that one of the biggest brands on the planet are putting their money where their mouth is.
Subscribe to the feed at the link below.
Tuesday 2 April 2013
Puma have always been in the forefront of this change in perception, so it seems right that they should be the first to push forward with their first closed-loop collection. Their Incycle range is made of biodegradable components, with the raw materials coming from organic sources. No toxic nasties were used to create the clothes, which have earned the much sought after Cradle To Cradle Certificate. The Puma Basket Trainer (pictured) is made from a blend of organic cotton and linen, while the range's jackets and backpacks are made from PET and and polypropylene, all of which can be broken back down to their original components.
It's all well and good launching a recyclable range, but it's not much use if your customers can't easily return the items when they're done with them. To that end, Puma have closed the loop by offering in-store recycling bins in conjunction with recycling giant I:CO. This isn't just for their clothes; they'll take any brand. This is important in getting customers thinking about the whole life cycle of the clothes they buy. Recycling bins tend to live in car parks and municipal tips. They're an afterthought, connected with unglamourous chores. Turning the process into a feel-good drop-off of beloved items, rather than an alternative to the bin, means people are more likely to do it in the first place.
This is a tiny part of the full Puma range, but it's a start, and a campaign in which we in the ethical fashion have a vested interest. If the big boys can make a go of cradle-to-cradle, then it becomes that little bit easier for the rest of us.
The Incycle range from Puma is available in selected stores worldwide, and online at Puma.com.