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.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Celebrate National Paralympic Day!

I have fond memories of this time last year, when the Paralympics turned a sunshine-soaked London into a sweeter, lovelier, more accepting place. The buzz around the Olympic Park was amazing; there was a sense that extraordinary things were happening every day. Which is exactly right. Feats of skill, strength and sheer willpower turned an afterthought of an event into something very special, and many of the athletes into heroes and household names.
This weekend, we get the chance to remember and celebrate all over again, as National Paralympic Day rolls around. Our friends at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (I talked about them back in June here) are hosting the celebrations and Pier32 is proud to be part of the mix.
We've supplied t-shirts to the Post Olympic Dance Group, who are performing as part of the Mayor Of London's Liberty Festival. This is a full day of events at the Olympic Park, which includes appearances from all your favourite Paralympic stars at the Copperbox, and a wide range of performances and shows. The programme includes a second chance to see The Limbless Knight: A Tale Of Rights Reunited, the hit of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. This show, featuring aerial and sway-pole performance from Graeae, was directed by Jenny Sealey, who co-directed the Paralympic Opening Ceremony.
It's going to be a packed day, with street theatre, dance, live music, film, installations and children’s activities, along with a special appearance from Andrea Begley, the winner of BBC's The Voice.
The event is completely free, and sounds like a blast. If you needed an excuse to check out the Olympic Park again, here it is.
National Paralympic Day celebrations as part of the Mayor Of London's LIberty Festival are this Saturday, September 7th at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, East London. For more details, check out the website.
National Paralympic Day

The Post Olympic Dance Group will be on stage at 17:40 on the Music Stage. Why not pop along and show your support?

The Post Olympic Dance Group are wearing Gildan heavy cotton tees. Check them out at the Pier32 Gildan page: