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.