Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Year At The Pier: 2014

It's been an odd year for ethical fashion. An optimistic year, that showed a real advance in mainstream attention for the sector, yet one that was also dominated by the continuing repercussions of our Year Zero event: The Rana Plaza Disaster.

The deaths of thousands of garment workers and destruction of so many families in Dhaka's overcrowded fashion quarter has had profound effects in the CSR of many big brands, in labour relations and in the way we view and shop for our clothes. Change that seemed so slow in coming, has ramped up significantly in the past twelve months. There's still so much to do, but 2014 showed the first real signs of a profound shift towards a more sustainable, ethical model of fashion manufacture.

It's been a busy year for the blog too. Here are a few of the high (and lowlights) of a year at the Pier.

January had me musing on the link between money and denim, and how skinny jeans are more harmful for the environment than you might think: Money In My Jeans Pocket (warning: contains Anton Du Beck in a veeery tight pair of strides).

In February I celebrated the launch of our Salvage Collection, made entirely from recycled fibres, and boggled over the work of scientist Anka Domaske, who created a new eco fabric made from milk proteins: Milking It.

March was our Client Month, with profiles for our pals at Sea Shepherd, Children Of The Andes and Marine Conservation Research: worthy causes all. We also noted how fast fashion leaders Zara were suffering big losses as their model was adopted by smaller, leaner competitors: Peak Fast Fashion.

In April we celebrated as our friends at childcare charity Kid's City had a visit from The Amazing Spiderman, and considered a radical solution to the environmental impact of washing our clothes: Take Two Garments Into The Shower?

As May rolled around, I put my money where my mouth was and invested in a pair of ethically-produced Vans sneakers (I was lucky to find them, and they're a great buy). We're big on the intersection of fashion and tech around here, and documentary film The New Black had some really interesting notions on the way forward.

June showed how striking garment workers in China were getting support from a surprising source: the multinationals who had the most to lose from the walkout. In a year of paradigm shifts and redefinition of the often fraught relations between workers, management and the big brands, this was perhaps the most... striking. Sorry.

In July we explored the surprising link between prawn fishing and garment production, and how the UK government's stance on slave labour could significantly improve the lives of people caught in the net of slavery. We also noted how the chorus of big fashion names calling for the end of fast fashion was growing, as Michael Kors added his disapproval.

As the weather warmed up in August, we explored the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and what it meant for charity fund-raising: Water Way To Donate To Charity. We also celebrated the work of students at Nottingham Trent University, who saw the increase in waste at festivals (including discarded tents) as a resource to be converted into clothing: Loitering Within Tent (August was also the month where I couldn't resist terrible puns, apparently). 

September saw an amusing spat between Patagonia and The North Face, as both companies vied to show they were the most ethical over goose down. We also wondered whether it was time to forget the whole notion of the fashion season, and concentrate instead on clothes that were designed to last more than half a year.

The weather began to cool again as October came around, so naturally we cheered the arrival of Wool Week. When Halloween darkened our doors, we were there with our list of best-dressed horror icons. Who couldn't bow down and worship Morticia Addams?

November's big ethical fashion story was The Fawcett Society's mis-step over their 'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like' t-shirt. This was a tale that brought all sorts of surprises, including the first (and probably only) time that The Mail On Sunday would put an ethical fashion story square on the front page: The Right Story For The Wrong Reason.

And finally, here we are in December. We were amongst the first this month to feature Nervous System's 3D-printed dress, and highlighted boardshort company Riz's attempts to make clothing out of the vast floating islands of waste ocean plastics.

So, another busy year for the Pier32 blog. We hope you find us informative and entertaining. Thanks to everyone that's commented, retweeted or mentioned us over the past twelve-month. If you have any ideas, tips or suggestions, my door's always open.

Here's to a happy, ethical 2015.

Friday 19 December 2014

A Short Solution To Ocean Plastics

I want to talk about swimwear. There, that got your attention. Swimwear, a week before Christmas? Has Rob been into the eggnog already? Well, bear with me, because this roots into one of the big self-inflicted problems that we as a species have inflicted on the planet, along with a potential solution.

There are, at a rough estimate, 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic choking the world's oceans. There are reports of great archipelagos of waste floating in the Pacific, man-caused islands that are a big problem for sea life and navigation. Something needs to be done. The trick, as ethical British swimwear makers Riz realise, is to turn that waste material into a resource.

They want to create the world's first 100% recycled board short, and they want to make it from ocean plastic. Riz has form here: they already sell shorts made from recycled polyester. But the aim here is to go further, to make something that's made entirely from waste material, from the material to the zippers to the buttons.

Using a crowdfunding model that's already over a third complete, Riz are pushing the boundaries of sustainability and cradle-to-cradle thinking. They aim to start production on the new shorts by 2016, and here at The Pier we applaud any venture that helps to keep our oceans beautiful. And hey, if we end up looking good too, then there's no harm done, right?

The crowdfunding page for Riz Boardshort's new venture is now live. Check it out, and let's get the plastics into the water in the right way: as super-smart surfwear.

Riz Boardshorts Crowdfunding at kriticalmass

Finally, a little bit of housekeeping. We roll the shutters down at Pier32 today at 4pm, reopening on January 5th. However, Gerry and Ian will both be checking emails during the Xmas period should you need to contact us urgently.

Meanwhile, I'll be back in a week with the Best Of The Pier in 2014, a look back at another great year with your favourite ethical customised clothing supplier and the slightly odd chap that runs their blog.

In the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday 18 December 2014

Printing The Perfect Party Dress

It's perhaps a little too early to make bold, sweeping claims about the future of personal fashion, but a pair of visionaries in America have just brought that notion a touch closer.
Imagine you need that perfect dress for the holiday season. Nothing in the shops quite matches the vision you have in your head. This is always problem number one with fashion: clothes are designed and made to fit a crowd, not an individual. Frankly, I'm surprised there aren't more instances where two girls at a party show up wearing the same outfit. Unless you're a crafter, handy with a sewing machine and have a fondness for vintage, it's likely you dress a lot like most other people.
3D printing has long been touted as a way to change all that. The ability to create a design and have it spat out by a printer exactly as you imagined it is no longer science fiction. A company local to me, Creat3D, is selling printed Christmas decorations this year: elaborate, ethereal pieces that would be prohibitively expensive to make by any other means.
The problem for your future-minded fashionista is that you are limited as to materials you can use to create a 3D print. Hard plastics and even alloy are fine: perfect for jewellery and accessories. But you can't make clothes from them. The approximations we've seen up to now have been hard-shell, closer to armour than anything you'd want to wear to the office party.
That is changing, as Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg of award-winning design studio Nervous Systems have developed a new way of thinking about the whole problem. Their clever solution is to build a garment from hundreds of pieces of printed nylon which slot together like scales. The end result is a dress that moves, flows and drapes like fabric. The other benefit: the scales allow the whole thing to be compressed and printed in a form that unfolds neatly into the finished garment when done. Less waste, less energy consumed. There's no assembly needed. It's the very definition of ready-to-wear.
As each dress is designed around the unique body scan of the end user, fit is not a problem, and the garment can be tweaked to flatter or disguise as needed. It's one-of-a-kind, and completely based around you and what you want. It doesn't get more individual than that. Why dress like everyone else, when you can finally dress like yourself?
Sounds great, but there's a caveat. Nervous aren't quite ready to start printing for market yet. But the Kinematics Cloth app, allowing you to create and save your designs, is available now. Jessica and Jesse hope to begin production early next year. So although that perfect party dress isn't within your reach just yet, by Christmas next year you could be stepping out in a garment that's completely unique.

Nervous Systems
Kinematic Cloth

Friday 12 December 2014

How Bankers And Ethical Fashion Are Planning A Better Future

A fascinating symposium in New York last month saw some of the most inspirational voices in sustainable fashion talk to an audience of bankers. The aim of the event, hosted by Credit Suisse, was to show that new ways of thinking about fashion could be the key to significant rewards, both financially and for the well-being of the planet as a whole.

 The symposium speakers were prepared to address some key issues behind sustainable fashion: not least the meaning of the word itself. Soraya Darabi, head of e-tailer Zady, heaped special scorn on those that use it as a kind of catch-all buzz-term--much in the way that 'green' became co-opted into virtual meaninglessness in the 90s. She said:
“It is really hard to understand if someone says the products is sustainably produced—what do they mean? Do they mean the catch phrase version of sustainable, or do they mean it is authentically sustainably produced?”
The key, Darabi believes, is in transparency, in knowing where and how your raw materials are sourced, and how the people who handle and transform those materials are treated. That's a chain that stretches from farm to closet, and it's vital to get a handle on the complexities of that network if you want to understand sustainability.

With this in mind, the experts argue, a change is arising where people are becoming more connected with the stories and people behind their clothes. There's a great opportunity for ethically-conscious retailers to catch the leading edge of that wave of interest. Things are changing, and it's important to see that to be able to benefit from it. Jill Heller of The PureThread said:
“I think people are starting to understand that shopping for clothing, can in fact, link them with something bigger. One thing to really look at is fair trade. Are the workers being paid fairly? Are they being treated fairly? Are the labor conditions safe in the building? Are there reasonable hours of work? I think it is a very important to look for fair-trade certifications on the garments.”
The experts were withering of the fast-turnover, high volume output of the traditional, seasonal fashion model. By stocking winter clothes just after the bank holiday, or swimsuits after Christmas, stores are invoking a model that urges us to buy and keep buying. Sustainability is, Jill Heller argues, about rejecting that model, and making the most of what's already in our wardrobe. If we're buying clothes that are of good quality and designed to last, there's no need to buy every year.

Heller said:
“We don’t need to consume as much. We probably have a closet full of clothing that you can figure out how to reuse and restyle; like shopping your closet, meaning take a fresh look at it.”
The event was a success largely because sustainable fashion is no longer viewed as a niche interest. It keys into notions of fair treatment and respect for dwindling resources, that are becoming ever more important in this rapidly-changing world. There are still challenges to starting a sustainable fashion business and making a success of it. But if the bankers of New York are prepared to listen, then we're already making massive progress.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Organising The Future Of Fair Pay And Conditions For Global Garmet Workers

It's becoming clearer that the world of ethical fashion reached a watershed in 2013, with an event that, for awful and tragic reasons, brought the challenges and dilemmas of the sector firmly into the public arena. That event was, of course, the Rana Plaza collapse, which showed the world just how untenable the current model of fashion production has become.
The question is, what next? In a fascinating talk hosted by The Guardian and chaired by that paper's ethical living correspondent Lucy Siegel, experts and activists met recently to tease out a potential road map for future development.
Agreement was quickly reached on one issue: wages for garment workers needs to rise. They are frequently not paid enough to provide for their families, and portions of these meagre wages are often withheld or simply never appear in the pay packet. An agreed minimum wage structure would help, but even this is fraught with problems. For example, you can't simply apply it to one part of the workforce. Finding the right figure involves getting government agreement, and preferably involving both business owners and workers in the discussion. Even then, there's no guarantee that the solution will change: a boost in wages is usually met with a corresponding rise in prices and rents, leaving people as badly off as before.
Unionisation, much of the panel argued, is a major part of motivating change. Much of the benefits that we take for granted in the West come directly from collective bargaining. Transparent and regular negotiations could make for a positive change in the often fraught relationship between workers, factory owners and the government. All of this has to come from a great effort of will, of course, but there are other influences to bring into the mix.
The power of brands to implement change cannot be underestimated. When the annual earnings of a company like Adidas outstrip the GDP of Cambodia, for example, then it's clear that the high street names have significant leverage. The good news is that brands do want to be involved. Jenny Holdcroft, policy director of IndustriALL Global Union, representing 50 million workers worldwide, said that her organisation is working with 14 different companies, many recognisable in the high street, to come up with a new plan for collaboration and partnership. This willingness to embrace change is a radical shift from the position of just a few years ago - a clear sign of just how much the tragedy of Rana Plaza has changed the economic landscape.
Meanwhile, the role of the consumer is a little less clear. There was less agreement on the panel that buying a single ethical product makes a difference. Our time and efforts is, Seigel argues, better spent in supporting the efforts of garment workers across the world to make a better life for themselves and their families. In short, don't just buy something, do something.
Everyone on the panel agreed that there was a long way to go, and the challenges ahead are significant and complex. There's no one-size-fits-all solution that can be applied on a global basis. But the signs are more optimistic than they have been in a long time. Holdcroft notes that:
“We are working in a way we have never been able to do before, with brands that want to make a difference.”
All the speakers were clear-eyed and realistic about the future of ethical fashion, and what needs to be done to give the humble garment worker a dignified and unexploited employment. But there does seem to be a new optimism, a new willingness on both sides of the negotiating table to make positive change. It seems that, out of the dust and rubble of Rana Plaza, a happier future migh just be starting to emerge.

There's more on the discussion over at the Guardian.

Friday 5 December 2014

Christmas With Pier32

One trend that has bemused me over the last few years is the re-emergence, however ironic, of the Christmas jumper as a fashion item. Do we blame Darcy from Bridget Jones for pulling off the pullover look? Whatever the reason, the colourful Xmas jumper is a look that's made the leap out of the home. Last year, the pubs of London were full of party-goers resplendent in chunky, snuggly knitwear. Can you afford to miss out?

As ever, Pier32 has you covered. In association with the Christmas Store from Premier, we're offering a range of top designs, from reindeer to pud. If you're a fan of nordic noir, we can even help you to rock the Sarah Lund look. And of course, they're ethically produced to Wrap-certified standards. What could be better?

Well, since you ask, we've gone all-out for the festive season this year. You can get the turkey in while wearing one of our Xmas aprons, rock the house with our musical tie or make out like the merriest rapper in town with our snowflake and tree-bedecked flexfit cap. We're even doing socks, so that's the presents sorted as well!

Camp as Christmas

But the star on the top of our tree this year has to be the Xmas Onesie. No need to worry about what to wear while you're unwrapping your pressies and taking that first sip of egg nog. In Santa and Nordic designs, you can be snug and comfy in the knowledge that while you might look a bit silly, you're embracing the holiday season in all it's gleeful absurdity.

The dictionary definition of gleeful absurdity.

So what are you waiting for? Grab that phone, and chat to Santa Gerry or Ian the Ethical Elf, and let's make Xmas 2014 one to remember.

The Pier32 Christmas Store

Wednesday 3 December 2014


This one tickles me rather a lot.

It's a sad truth that, as the cold weather presses in, we are drawn towards warmer clothes. The warmest and most weather-resistant of them all are fur coats. Nature has provided animals with pelts that are warm, nearly waterproof and good-looking. So, of course, we have to have them.

The cruelty of the fur trade is one of the best known dirty secrets in the fashion world, and yet somehow we still find excuses to justify the death and skinning of minks, rabbits and foxes. In the last few years, shockingly, fur has even been enjoying a little bit of a comeback, popping up on catwalks to, pleasingly, howls of protest.

Kudos and applause to ethical cosmetics manufacturer Lush then, who have been merrily pranking the dim, cruel fashionistas who are not just looking for fur, but bargains. Lush set up a site purporting to sell fur coats at a substantial discount. The site was actually a front. When clicking on the basket, the unsuspecting victim was taken to another site,, which had a bit more to say and show about the origins of the stuff. Needless to say, it's merciless in showing how innocent animals are tortured and killed in the cause of vanity.

The problem is that fur sneaks into more products than you might like to think, including makeup brushes and false eyelashes (hence, I suppose, Lush's involvement). The explicit point made by the website is one that many of us would think obvious: fashion fur is unnecessary and needlessly cruel, with the material in some cases taken from living creatures. In a so-called civilised time, it's a bit mind-boggling to think that there's still a market for the stuff. Let's hope that the potential buyers of fur coats and cuffs are at least a little put off when they are confronted with the truth about what they're wearing.

Friday 28 November 2014

Dive Into The Submariner's Sweater

As is the way when I'm up against deadline and flat out of ideas, random associations start to bump up against each other. With Rememberance Sunday still fresh in the memory, our thoughts are turning towards the sartorial elegance of the military silhouette. At the same time, we are at the waxed tip-ends of charity lip-warming event Movember, and there are a lot of gents hitting the streets with mighty impressive moustaches. Also, I don't know if you've noticed, but it's getting damned cold out there. So, what is a chap to do to make the most of his newly-discovered soldierly swagger, while keeping himelf snug against the burgeoning chill?
Fortunately our chums at The Tweed Pig, who always know how to cut a dash, have the very thing up their impeccably tailored sleeve. Naval types will be very aware of the robust cosiness of the classic submariner's sweater. A rollneck, typically in an off-white you could call buff, ecru or natural. No shocking pinks or patterns here. This is functional clothing which gets its good looks from the pared-down aesthetic at play.
Function is all important. Layered with the classic Navy duffelcoat, the sweater is designed to keep you warm and above all dry. The choice of wool is a smart one here: the lanolin that's an inherent part of the fibre shrugs off moisture, and the material keeps you snuggly while letting your skin breathe--more than you can say for a lot of modern fibres. Even the slim fit helps to insulate you. A fine example of form and function working together beautifully.
As part of a simple winter wardrobe, made from that most sustainable and ethically sound of fabrics, I don't think you can go far wrong with the submariner's rollneck. Let's face it, chaps. If it's good enough for Noel Coward and John Mills, it's good enough for you.
The Tweed Pig points out that you can begin your own submarine adventure, appropriately enough, at the Imperial War Museum, where an authentically-styled submariner's sweater is available. What are you waiting for? Run silent, run deep, and get one.

The Submariner Sweater

Tuesday 25 November 2014

A Hubbub about Refashion Day

Our pals at Hubbub are hosting a Refashion Day this week, and we think you should know about it.
Hubbub are advocates of sustainable shopping, and the aim of Refashion Day is to get you to think again about what's in your wardrobe. Whether it's that old shirt with the buttons missing, the jeans with that hole in the embarrasing place, or simply something you've grown out of (either stylistically or, you know, physically), Hubbub wants you to refashion that old gear into something new and interesting.
The event, held tomorrow at Somerset House on the Strand in Central London, is there to help if your idea of upcycling is putting the clothes you don't wear on a high shelf. There are a series of talks and workshops to give you inspiration and show you that end of shelf life doesn't necessarily mean the end of the line. The free Sew It Forward workshop, running from 12-4, will take in items that need mending, or show you how to do it yourself. Traid will be leading a class showing how to turn unwanted jumpers into bobble hats (handy for that unloved Xmas gift from Auntie). There are also talks on upcycling in fashion, and even a jewellery-making class.
You get to leave with a goodie bag, safe in the knowledge that you're doing good in more ways than one: profits from the day go to homeless charity The Connection. The Refashion Day runs from noon till 8:30, so there's every opportunity to pop in and see if that well-loved but threadbare (or hated but sturdy) item can get a new lease of life. As the season of conspicuous consumption looms large, it's good to see an event that's all about making the most of what you already have.
For more, check out Or get yourself over to Somerset House between noon and eight-thirty tomorrow. There's a real hubbub brewing over this one...

Friday 21 November 2014

The Colour Of The Future

Transparency is a primary goal for ethical fashion. It's a simple thing, really: knowing and, more importantly, being able to show where your goods are made and where the materials that went into making them came from. In the world of modern fashion, it's nearly impossible to do that. Supply chains are hopelessly extended, and a single item of clothing can pass through the hands of dozens of workers. The documentation alone could choke a buffalo.
Chemicals specialist Archroma have just brought out a product that may at least ease that burden a little. Their new range of eco-friendly dyes, called Earthcolors, are designed to be fully trackable from factory floor to shop rack.
The dyes are made from bio-diverse sources like almond shells, rosemary leaves and saw palmetto. The vibrant reds, browns and greens they provide are perfect to add a pop to denims and casualwear. Better yet, the plant matter used would normally go to landfill. Archroma claim that no land has been set aside to grow plant material for the dyes. It's all biomass from the agricultural and herbal industries.
I mentioned paperwork earlier. The Archroma dyes are tracked by means of an NFC swing-tag that's attached to the item of clothing, which can be read and updated at a touch with a smartphone. This means that, for the first time, consumers can get information about raw materials, the mill in which the fabric for that new dress was woven and even where it was laundered. It's an easy and straightforward way to keep your customer involved and informed about the history of their clothes.
Alan Cunningham, head of textiles dyes marketing at Archroma, says:
"Our aim is to give consumers a choice. We all should have the possibility to choose the fashion option with the least environmental impact and to be safe in the knowledge that there is substance behind what is claimed on the label."
The dyes, four years in the making, are produced in Spain and have a transportation footprint of less than 500km--a spit and a whistle in today's global fashion network. The Earthcolors range won't turn the overstretched production model on its head overnight, but it's good to see that a little lateral thinking and a clever use of technology are being used to nudge the change towards a more sustainable future that little bit closer.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

How To Build An Ethical Supply Chain

Last week, the Guardian gathered a group of thinkers, writers and activists involved in ethical fashion to answer a simple question: how do we ensure that garment workers are treated fairly? The answers were fascinating in their own right, but it was interesting to see how the solutions that were offered seemed to agree with each other, and fit into three broad headings.
The first thing that all the experts agreed upon was PAY. It's clear that the minimum wage that most workers are paid is not enough to provide comfortably for their needs. Generally speaking, wage structures are agreed upon by the factory owner and the brand for which they produce clothes. The worker has no say in it, with predicably poor results.
While this situation is depressingly familiar the world over, it drops into focus even more when given a little context or coverage. Say what you like about the Mail On Sunday coverage of the Fawcett Society t-shirt debacle, but at least it got the fact that Mauritian garment workers are paid well under a quid a day for their labours. The shocking thing is that this is fair treatment by factory standards: 62p for a shift is above the national minimum wage.
So how do workers get fair compensation for their skills and labour? By being included in the negotiation of pay structures. CO-OPERATION between the people on the shop floor, management, clients and government is vital to ensure that wages aren't screwed down to the point where they become unworkable. If there's no representation from workers at the table, they will by default become excluded, their basic needs undiscussed and unmet.
So how does that happen? Simple. Garment workers need to be provided with THE RIGHT TO UNIONISE. Collective bargaining allows a workforce to be treated more fairly, and provided with some of the benefits that we take for granted in the West. This has a positive knock-on effect on productivity: a happy, healthy, motivated workforce works harder and more effectively.
Some multinationals claim that their hands are tied, that local regulations forbid them from allowing unionisation in their factories. When you consider that some big-name brands have a larger revenue than the annual GDP of the countries in which they operate, then you start to see through that line. That's not to say that government don't have a part to play. Harpeet Kruar of the Business And Human Rights Resource Centre notes that, when Cambodian garment workers had a pay rise, landlords in Phnom Penn hiked rents, wiping out most of the gains. There should be legislation in place to ensure that sort of blatant exploitation doesn't happen.
The landscape of modern apparel production is a complex, shifting one. The supply chain for any one garment can run into thousands of miles and several countries. Labour negotiations are fraught with difficulty. But this complexity can be unravelled if all the parties involved work together to ensure that process becomes transparent, accountable and above all fair.
That includes the end point of the chain, of course: us. I'll leave the final word to Tyler Brulé, whose angry piece for the Financial Times just after Rana Plaza is still just as relevant today.
I’m curious as to why we get all concerned about the happiness of cows sweating it out in Australia, whether the fish on our plate was line-caught or the distance some vegetables might have travelled to get to market – yet we’re not particularly bothered about the thousands who work behind razor wire in China fusing patches of nylon together for our activewear, the toxic nature of the garments we buy armfuls of, or the despicable conditions in factories that millions have to call their workplace.

Thursday 13 November 2014


You may know Freitag for their bags and backpacks made from old shipping tarps. But the Swiss-based company, who are something of a pioneer in the upcycling game, are about to make waves in the world of fashion. Their inspiration comes from an unusual source: their own workers.
When looking into workwear and uniforms for their staff, the Freitag board found that they couldn't get material that met their exacting standards. They were looking for fabric that was tough, sustainably produced, compostable and made in Europe to cut down on the air miles. So, they decided to make their own.
Freitag call the end result F-abric. It combines sustainable yarns like hemp and linen, and combines them with modal, which is a cellulose fiber sourced from beech trees. Tough, durable, but wearable, F-abric was the starting point for a capsule range of workwear that includes work trousers and dresses, unisex t-shirts and even a backpack.
Extensively tested in Freitag's own facility in Zurich to make sure the clothes could stand up to factory conditions, the range has an austere yet graceful line, matching the brand's own cool design aesthetic. It's sustainability creds are impeccable--by keeping the work largely in-house, Freitag were able to shorten their supply chain significantly, and the whole line conforms to Oeko-Tex standards. With a hint of pride, Freitag say that the range was produced with a chemical profile so limited that you could swaddle a baby in a swatch of F-abric without worrying. And of course, the clothes tick the end-of-use box as well by being completely compostable.
It's wonderful to see a company that cares so much for its workers that it's prepared to design a whole new line of workwear for them from the ground up. It'll be interesting to see if the range ever makes it to the wider market, or what the future is for F-abric outside this admirable but sandboxed experiment. Let's all try it out!

Thursday 6 November 2014

Fawcett Society Update

A twist in the tale of the Fawcett Society scandal regarding the ethical production of their iconic t-shirt. This, from Fawcett deputy CEO Eva Neitzert...

We are pleased to confirm that we have today seen expansive and current evidence from Whistles that the CMT factory in Mauritius they used to produce our ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt conforms to ethical standards.
We have been particularly pleased to receive evidence that:
- 100% of workers are paid above the government-mandated minimum wage and all workers are paid according to their skills and years of service.
- The standard working week is 45 hours, and workers are compensated (at a higher rate of pay) for any overtime worked.
- There is a high retention of staff and employees are offered training and development.
- An audit into the CMT factory was carried out in October 2014 by an independent not-for-profit organisation and this did not reveal any material concerns on the working conditions, the welfare or the health and safety of workers.
- Workers are able to join a union and there is a union presence in the factory.
The evidence we have seen categorically refutes the assertion that the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirts produced by Whistles were made in a sweatshop.
Whilst we have confidence in the evidence provided to us, we are currently working closely with an international trade union body to scrutinise it so that we can be absolutely assured of its provenance, authenticity and that all findings are robust and factual.
Further, whilst Fawcett has a UK remit, we are nonetheless acutely concerned with the inequalities women across the globe face. We recognise that investment in developing countries is vital and support this provided decent labour standards are adhered to.
We will continue to work with Elle and Whistles on this project.
Looks like the ball's back in the Mail On Sunday's court on this one...

Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Right Story For The Wrong Reason

I never thought I'd see the day when the Mail On Sunday, of all papers, makes an ethical fashion story their Page One lead. Under the headline "62p A Day", they feature a factory in Mauritius where t-shirts for the western market are cranked out while workers are paid a derisory pittance and sleep sixteen to a dormitory in squalid conditions. For those of us who cover the ethical fashion beat, it's a distressingly familiar story. It's almost refreshing to see it splashed on the front page of a national newspaper.
Of course, that's not the whole story. The MoS discovered that the factory in question was being used to make t-shirts, sold by posh brand Whistles, for a high-profile campaign sponsored by Elle to support women's rights charity The Fawcett Society. T-shirts that had been worn both by celebrities and prominent left-wing politicians, including Ed Milliband and Harriet Harman, who proudly wore hers for Prime Minister's Question Time.
Now, The Fawcett Society has long called out The Daily Mail for its robustly old-fashioned views on feminism and equality. And of course, the paper will grab any chance it can get to make the Labour front bench look foolish with both mitts and its tail. Let's be clear. The Mail's story has little to do with worker's rights. It's about giving old enemies a bit of a kicking.
Before we go any further, here's a declaration of interests. Back in 2012, Pier32 printed two runs of the initial design of the "this is what a feminist looks like" shirt for the Fawcett Society, which were sold from their website. We used blanks from B&C Collection, who are members of the Fairwear Foundation--which means those two runs were on shirts that hadn't been produced in a sweatshop and were printed here in the UK. The Fawcett Society chose to go elsewhere after those orders. We were never told why.
The web gets more tangled when you start looking into the history of how these new garments were produced. In a statement, Fawcett claim that they expressed concerns over the t-shirts when they saw the "Made In Mauritius" tag after being told they would be ethically produced in the UK. These concerns were alleviated by Whistles, who claimed they had independent ethical compliance audits from the factory in question.
Which would be fine and dandy, except Whistles CEO Jane Sheperdson is no stranger to this sort of controversy. She was an executive at TopShop for four years, second only to Arcadia head Philip Green. Arcadia, the conglomorate that owns brands including TopShop, were among the first to outsource clothing manufacturing abroad to cut costs. And CMT, the factory at the heart of the row, was landed in hot water back in 2007 for the same shananigans that have caused such a headache for Whistles and Fawcett this week.
None of which proves anything, of course. It's important to note that the allegations in question remain purely that. Whistles insist that the factory in question is properly certified. If that's the case, then it should be run under strict ethical guidelines. There are two versions of the story, and neither quite add up. There are currently more questions than answers, and we have a few of our own.
In a press statement, Fawcett Society president Dr Eva Neitzert states:
'...we remain confident that we took every practicable and reasonable step to ensure that the range would be ethically produced and await a fuller understanding of the circumstances under which the garments were produced.'
What steps were taken, exactly?
Once it transpired that the t-shirts had not been manufactured as requested in the UK, why did Fawcett not bin the run and insist that they were supplied with goods as requested?
Why, as negative publicity for the range continues, are Whistles still selling the t-shirts?

No-one is coming out of this cleanly. The Fawcett Society look like gullible idiots, and their iconic brand has become tainted. Whistle's ethical reputation (such as it was) has taken a battering. Even the Mail, who trumpeted their concerns about the women at CMT, did so while their famous "Sidebar Of Shame" printed salacious gossip and leering pics of starlets directly alongside. No-one buys their concern. The agenda is clear as day.
Ethical sourcing and supply-chain transparency remains a minefield in which many big names have been caught. For charities, good practice is doubly important. It's essential that their promotional items are produced to strict ethical guidelines. The good work of The Fawcett Society, which we support unreservedly here at The Pier, has been shockingly compromised this week. Whether through complacency or incompetence, it's worrying that the phrase "this is what a feminist looks like" is now associated with the image of a dupe... or worse, a fool.

Friday 31 October 2014

The Best-Dressed Horror Icons

Happy Halloween! It's the time of year when, funnily enough, many of us think seriously about what to wear... just not in a typical fashion sense. Which got me thinking. Sure, we can all put on the tattered clothes, squirt on the Kensington Gore (stage blood. normally a mix of corn syrup and food colouring) and pretend to be zombies. But what about those icons of horror that have taken a little more care with their look? In short, who are the best dressed Halloween icons?

Let's start with the daddy of them all: Dracula. Let's face it, the guy knows his tuxedos. He's effortlessly elegant, even when stalking a tasty snack. For the real fashion show, though, we have to look to the Francis Ford Coppola version of the character, as played by Gary Oldman in the 1992 adaptation, Bram Stoker's Dracula. He seems to change costume in every scene, flipping from finely-cut suits accessorised with little round sunglasses and a top hat, to heavily decorated brocade robes, to that extraordinary suit of red armour. The guy is a fashion plate, and he doesn't care who knows it.

Moving forward in time, let's talk about the American Psycho, Patrick Bateman. Played by Christian Bale in one of his breakout roles, Bateman may have terrible taste in music and a worryingly compulsive way with a chainsaw, but hey, we all have our flaws. He understands that clothes maketh the man, and high end brands send their own very important message. He even totes his bodies around in Jean Paul Gaultier bags. He has a rigorous exercise and skincare regime, and has even developed a signature look, teaming bespoke suits with a splashproof hazmat coverall and an axe. He's the image of the eighties power-dresser, with all the homicidal bits well and truly on display.

My next pick is a little left-field, but bear with me. Pinhead from the Hellraiser films may have taken that whole facial piercing thing a little too far, but the leather costume he wears is to die for. He takes goth chic, adds a dose of priest-like sobriety and carries off the whole thing with an almost regal bearing. Sure, it's not the sort of thing you can wear to the office. But Pinhead has a calling, and the leather gear is part and parcel of what he does and how he rolls.

But what about the ladies? Well, one name that definitely has to be mentioned is Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer herself. She's not just good with a wooden stake. She also knows how to put together a killer look. Through seven seasons she developed an image that went from short skirts and vests to a sleeker, more sophisticated silhouette. Low boots and leather trousers emphasise freedom of movement (important when you're kicking a vamp back to hell) and offer a bit more protection. Practical with sexy as standard, Buffy understands how wardrobe is as important to the job as the pointy accessories.

My last pick goes back to the old school, with a classic horror look that several spooky icons have made famous. The long dark hair, pale skin, red nails and long black dress typifies a certain kind of girl, from Elvira to Vampira. But for me, the look was best nailed by Morticia Addams, played by Carolyn Jones in the classic 60s TV show the Addams Family. Although Anjelica Huston made a great job of reinvigorating the character in the two 1990s movie versions, Jones has a little more elegance, a little more... class. You can completely get why she drives her husband Gomez so wild. She may be vampish, but she's also a fine gardener, a loving wife and mother, and very much the brains of the family. An icon, in every sense of the word.

Those are my picks for the best-dressed icons of horror. Who have I missed? Let me know!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Kering Makes Sustainability Their Business

Big news from luxury fashion conglomerate Kering this morning. Vogue is reporting that the high-end brand, which includes names like Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, has inked a five year deal with the London College of Fashion to promote ethical fashion.
Under the deal, two students a year will recieve a bursary worth over £30,000. Their focus will be on the exploration and development sustainable techniques and materials in fashion. There's no word yet on whether their work will land them a distribution deal with Kering, but that has to be in the back of every applicant's mind.
But that's not all. Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault has also announced plans for his company to release a full yearly environmental profit and loss account--the first major fashion brand to do so. Pinault says:
"At Kering, sustainability is everyone's business. We believe in it not only because it is the right thing to do, but because sustainable business is smart business. In fact, in my view, the businesses that consider their impacts on the environment and society, and re-orient there practices to deliver not only financial value but also value more broadly for nature and for people will prosper in the future. And conversely, the companies that bury their heads in the sand and think they can continue "as usual" will simply not last."
This is potentially massive news. The head of an influential high-end fashion house has just tied the future of his company irrevocably to sustainable fashion, a move that his competitors can only view as a call to action. I was talking earlier in the month about how fashion needs to normalise ethical practices. I think we've just seen a big step towards that becoming reality.
Read Pinault's whole statement here. It's very heartening news indeed. More on this breaking story as we get it.

Friday 24 October 2014

Ten Years Of Bite-Back

I was lucky enough to be freed from my writing cage at the bottom of Pier32 this week, accompanying Guru Ian and Super Sandi to an very cool event - a party to celebrate ten years of marine conservation charity Bite-Back. And where else would they choose to host it than at the Sea-life London Aquarium?

Bite-back focuses largely on the conservation of sharks, who are rapidly becoming an endangered species. As you read this, over 59 million sharks will have been killed this year alone, and the numbers are rising. 

Let's get a few prejudices out of the way. It's unfortunate that when we think of sharks, John William's theme to Jaws rises unbidden into our heads. But they are simply not predatory to humans. Let's put this into perspective: the fact that shark attacks make the news is because they are such rare events. For every person killed or injured by a shark, 25 million sharks are killed. In 2013 (a peak year for shark attacks) 12 people died. Humanity, meanwhile, was killing a shark every four seconds. Whether through 'sport' fishing, or for culinary and medicinal use, we have the upper hand over those beautiful, graceful creatures. Writer Joe Chernoff and Ripetungi Studios collaborated on an infographic that makes the situation clear, which you can see in its full, scrolly goodness here.

Graham Buckingham, man of the sea

Bite-Back is largely the work of one man: Graham Buckingham, whose tireless energy and tenacity have helped to knock shark and other endangered fish like marlin and swordfish off the menu at big supermarkets like Asda. His latest campaign, to stop UK restaurants from selling shark-fin soup (shark's fin is tasteless, and the method of harvesting it is almost unbearably cruel) has already won a ban on the dish from high-profile restaurants like Hakkasan. The party at Sea-Life (with whom Bite-Back have recently begun a three-year partnership) was a celebration of everything he's done in the past decade to protect vulnerable marine life from the most dangerous predator of all... man. It was a chance, too, to get an up-close look at what he and Team Bite-Back are fighting for. I have to tell you that there are worse ways to spend a damp Wednesday evening than wandering around an aquarium with a glass of fizz getting a bit of quality time with a hammerhead. 

Pier32 are long-time collaborators with Bite-Back (you can buy the t-shirts and hoodies that we supply at the Bite-Back shop) and it was an honour to be invited to this week's shindig. We consider ourselves proud members of Team Bite-Back. Here's to another ten years of keeping the oceans safe for shark-kind.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Bag It Up: How Hand-Weaving Could Solve The Plastic Bag Problem

Here at The Pier, we believe that recycling is a big part of the future of sustainable fashion. Cradle-to-cradle thinking along with some smart tchnological knowhow have brought us products like PET, a fabric made from plastic bottles that have been shredded and woven into a thread that can be used for all kinds of products, from bags to jackets.
But there's a more hands-on approach to the reappropriation of discarded plastics that's starting to get attention in the ethical fashion crowd--not least because it's dealing with one of the most ubiquitous items on the planet.
The humble plastic bag is quietly taking over. In the US alone, over 100 million of them are used every year, and yet less than 1% are recycled. The mile-wide island of drifting plastic in the Pacific Ocean is perhaps only the first sign of a future in which we will find ourselves up to the eyeballs in the stuff. The biggest problem is one of blunt finance: it costs more to recycle a bag than to make a new one. But where we see a problem, others see raw materials... and an opportunity.
Reform Studio in Egypt has found a novel way to reinvigorate the dying art of hand-loom weaving, while at the same time empowering local women and helping them to find a way out of poverty. Artisans take the plastic, then shred it and weave it into durable, colourful fabrics for houseware. The material, called Plastex by the company, is long-lasting and water-resistant--a problem which, when in its initial state is choking rivers or landfills, is turned into a positive advantage.
Plastex is cheap, made from nearly limitless and unwanted base materials and can be made using simple techniques that are extremely energy efficient. The techniques have been around for centuries, the equipment often for decades. There's no need to use industrial processes, and the end result uses the bright colours of the bags to create upholstery that's bold and vibrant. Check out their new Grammy's Collection (pictured) that updates a classic 60's chair design for the modern age.
Meanwhile back in the States, bagmaker Sheila Odyssey is using the same techniques to create her range of clutches and purses. The aesthetic here is much more glamourous, shot through with a bright thread of humour--each item states, in a shoutback to its humble origin, that "This Bag Is Not A Toy." But at heart her offerings are much the same as those of the Egyptian collectives: discarded plastics woven on hand-looms. Both Odyssey and Reform Studios have looked past the economic reasons not to do something about the problem of excessive carrier bags, and seen that the solution can be beautifully simple.

Friday 17 October 2014

The New Normal

We've talked before about the need for ethical fashion to become more than just a niche product. At the moment it's a kind of worthy sub-genre that, if we were in the movie world, would be world cinema or documentaries when compared to the giant ugly blockbusters that the fashion behemoths spit out.
Worse still, ethical fashion can be seen as not just worthy but expensive. By the simple act of paying artisans a proper working wage, unit costs go up, which means the price of the finished item goes up, which means you can never be seen as a cheap and cheerful everyday choice.
It doesn't help that, if brands do decide to launch ethical collections, they do so while effectively ghettoising the range. It's kept in its own little stable away from the main shop floor, where its poor delicate sensibilities might be ruffled by the clothes on the rest of the racks. By making these collections 'special', 'exclusive' or worst of all, 'limited edition', the best intentions of the big-name store are ruined. The range withers on the vine, excluded, ignored and eventually cancelled for want of sales. "We tried," the brands will say, "but no-one wanted to buy the clothes." Not surprising if the stuff's 20% more expensive and stuck on a standee at the back of the store.
In order for ethical fashion to succeed, it needs to become, well, normal. It needs to become the choice that people make without thinking, the item that people reach for because it's the first thing on the rack, and isn't unusually priced. We have a long way to go before that happens, of course. But one way of getting the message out, counter-intuitive though it might seem, is not to get the message out. Rather than push out the message about how eco-friendly and socially responsible your clothes are, why not just make the best clothes you can to the highest ethical standards you can, and see what happens when they are forced to stand up for themselves?
There are few people out there that will buy clothes because they're worthy, and the era of the eco-warrior who was proud to wear itchy, badly-dyed goat-hair jumpers is, thankfully, past. People don't wear clothes because of the label. They buy them because they're comfortable and they look good. I'm not saying marketing isn't important. But a piece has to be more than its advertising campaign.
A recent piece in the Guardian highlighted designers at London Fashion Week who were working with short supply chains, a close relationship with their factories and clever use of recycled materials without making a fuss about it. These guys are start-ups, but they see a sustainable model not as a choice, but as the only logical way of working. Daniela Felder of German label Felder Felder says:
"Working closely with our factory is crucial to get the right result but also because of the relationship we work with people we trust, it’s personal, there is genuine love and care."
More importantly, though, these smaller operators can move quickly and have the ability to experiment and try new things. Here, perhaps, is the key. Ekatherina Kukhareva, for example, is using computer-controlled flat-knitting techniques to cut her waste output down to scraps. There's no need to compromise. They can see the cracks in the current model, and manoeuvre smoothly around and through them. As pioneers for potentially game-changing working practices, designers like Felder Felder and Kukhareva are shaping the future dialogue between fashion house, factory and consumer, making sustainability the new normal.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

You Say You Want A Revolution

Revolution. It's a loaded word, filled with connotations, expectations and threat. The notion of revolution is not something you throw around lightly. You shout for it when the system has become irrevocably broken--when the best thing to do is to tear everything down and start again from scratch.
There's an increasing groundswell of opinion that the fashion industry is approaching just such a tipping point. Influential voices like eco-fashionista Livia Firth, journalists like Lucy Seigel and Pamela Ravasio, as well as designers such as Vivienne Westwood are making the point that the industry needs to change, and fast.
I believe that call for change has its manifesto, or at least a framework onto which a working document can be built. Writing in The Business Of Fashion, Edward Hertzman puts a brutally sharp focus onto 21st century fashion, and shows us how it is ripe for change.
The facts of the matter, once you break them down, are simple. The fashion industry is splintered, and incapable of policing itself or indeed being policed. Fast-fashion garments are typically made up from elements sourced and stitched around the globe. The fabric may be from India, the trim from China, and the item may be put together in Bangladesh. How does one company make sure that their extended supply chain is under appropriate scrutiny for ethical behaviour every step of the way? The sad truth of the matter is, they can't. Agreements like the Bangladesh Fire And Safety Accord are seen by many as a sticking plaster over a gushing wound. It may, perhaps help workers in one part of the chain, but does nothing to address the wider issus at stake.
And there's a lot to deal with. The fashion industry is a trillion-dollar business that seems to run on distrust and corruption. Kickbacks are the fuel that keep things running, everything is run on razor-thin profit margins, and the whole model seems to be permanently on the brink of collapse. And when it does--quite literally, in the case of Rana Plaza--the people that suffer are the ones at the bottom of the pile, the poorly skilled, badly-paid workers who have little choice but to do what they're told, or lose the one source of income that's keeping the roof under their head.
The multinationals distrust the factories, who they view as constantly trying to rip them off. The factories distrust the multinationals, who impose high-handed compliance guidelines that have to be paid for by the factory owners with no guarantee of orders or work. And everyone, I mean everyone, hates the consumers, with their voracious appetite for dirt-cheap clothes in the latest styles.
So, what's to be done? Here, sadly, Hertzman loses focus, unsurprisingly when faced with such a bewildringly complex conundrum. He admits he has more questions than answers. The increasing number of designers that are choosing to step away from the whole outsourced model, and work more closely whith their suppliers and artisans perhaps show us a path out of the swamp, but it's a slippery slope. And the fact remains that the business in its current state is seriously overdue for change. Revolution is a loaded word. And it's time we started using it.

Do, please read Edward Hertzman's article, An Industry In Denial. It's a real call to arms.

Friday 10 October 2014

Run Through The (Urban) Jungle with The Great Gorilla Run!

I was talking yesterday about how events at this time of year have a tendency to catch up on me unawares. I only realised that this is Wool Week after a timely and unrelated reminder from one of my Twitter followers. But how on Earth did I let this year's Great Gorilla Run pass me by?
For those of you who don't know about this extraordinary event: The Great Gorilla Run is a charity fun-run, which tracks a course through Central London and takes place in late September. Why Gorilla? Well, it's a way of raising funds and awareness for organisations helping to protect the dwindling gorilla population in Africa and beyond--it's estimated that there are only 800 of the hairy beasties left in the wild. But what makes the Great Gorilla Run most noteworthy is the dress code. If you want to take part, you have to be prepared to make the effort and go ape.

This year's run took place on the 20th September, and has to date raised over £70,000 for its chosen charities. The runners took on an 8km course that took in sights like Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral and The Shard... not that I'd imagine they could see that much through the gorilla masks. They were greeted at the finish line by celebrity spoon-bender Uri Geller and all-round Goodie Bill Oddie, a long-time supporter of the event. Uri told the crowd:
“There are only 800 gorillas left on this planet so it is great to see so many of you supporting them in this way. Your mind power is giving the gorillas the energy to survive and my mind power gave you the energy to get through 8km.”
Uri Geller-powered gorillas in running shoes. The mind boggles.

The Pier32 connection to all this? Well, we've been supplying t-shirts for The Great Gorilla Run for years, at the event itself and for their online store. We're happy to be a part of the madness. Who knows, maybe next year we'll embed a reporter on the Run itself. Strictly undercover, of course...
The Gorilla Run Crew wearing their P32 tees. Looking good!

Pier32 supplied the Great Gorilla Run with Gildan Ultra Cotton Tees: just the thing to wear over that gorilla suit.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Wool Week

Image by yr humble author
Wow, it comes round fast. Almost before you realise it we're into the last quarter of the year. For any discerning ethical blogger, that can only mean one thing. Early October, just when the weather is starting to close in and we begin to excavate our warm clothes from the back of the wardrobe, is when we celebrate Wool Week.
Why am I bleating on about wool? Well, it's a natural fibre that man has known and used since the Stone Age. We are yet to develop an artificial replacement that comes close to matching its unique all-weather properties.
It's renewable, of course. To make wool, all you need is grass and a sheep. Every year, said sheep will provide a new harvest. As wool is a fibre that is tied so closely to the natural environment, it behooves everyone involved in its production to safeguard the land on which sheep graze. It's also biodegradable: return wool to the soil and it will break down quickly and easily, with the added benefit of releasing nutrients as it goes.
Wool is a remarkable fibre. Let me drop a little science on you. It's hygroscopic, which means it absorbs and releases moisture in the form of water vapour. Heat generated as it does this makes the fibre a natural insulator. That also means it reacts to changes in body temperature, keeping you comfortable whatever the weather. It can soak up 30% of its own weight in moisture vapour, and it's odour resistant: handy for those long hikes over the hills when you might be getting a sweat on. It's breathable too, as the crimped structure of the fibre traps air pockets in the weave, which again helps to keep wool comfortable next to the skin.
It's easy to look after (the days of hand-wash only for wool items are long gone), keeps its shape for longer and inhibits bacterial growth. It doesn't promote allergies, it's fire-retardent and high in UV resistance. All that off the back of a sheep. This stuff is amazing.
This is before we talk about the multiple uses for wool: from clothing to insulation and soft furnishing, wool is uniquely, naturally versatile.
This Wool Week, retailers, manufacturers, designers and artisans are getting together to help us reconnect with this most extraordinary fibre, a treasure that springs from our beautiful countryside. There are new collections in fashion and interiors, a gathering of knitters and even a bike ride. No, I don't think you can make bicycles out of wool yet. But you know, I wouldn't be surprised if some bright spark found a way.
Wool Week continues for the rest of this week. To find out more, go to

Friday 3 October 2014

Clean Clothes And Dirty Money: how fast fashion is helping to launder drug profits

Fast fashion is responsible for a lot of unpleasantness in the world: from sweatshop and slave labour conditions, to environmental damage, to in the worst case scenario (and yes, I am thinking about Rana Plaza here) death and the ruin of families on the breadline. But it seems, if reports coming from the LA's Fashion District are to be believed, that fast fashion is now helping drug cartels to launder money earned from the sale and distribution of narcotics.

The US Department Of Justice calls the District "an epicentre for narco-dollar money." Hardly mincing their words there, but it shows what a problem the area has become for law enforcement when it comes to controlling the flow of money from Mexican cartels like the Sinaloa family, that come through the factories and back out across the border.

So why is fast fashion so attractive to the bad guys? Well, the businesses in the District are known for high-turnover and low price goods. As the federales clamp down on high-value exchanges through local banks and the borders are controlled ever more tightly, the cartels can see how they can use cheap disposable clothing as a pipeline for their profits. They are using a method called "black-market peso exchange" to clean their dirty money.

It's a simple process. The cartels find Mexican brokers that will buy from American firms in US Dollars. They then import and sell those goods in the local markets for pesos. The end result: clean money, millions of dollars worth. Fast fashion brands are a good fit for the exchange: cheap clothes with a high turnover mean the cartels can move a lot of money in a short space of time.

And I do mean a lot of money. Recent seizures in a sweep of businesses across the District netted an estimated $100 million in funds, including cash that authorities say included ransom payments to the Sinaloas.

It should be noted that of course most of the 5,000 businesses operating in the Fashion District do so completely within the law. But it just goes to show that fast fashion's low-cost, high turnover model can have consequences above and beyond the obvious problems.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Doing It For The Kids

In a recent article for The Guardian, fashion activist Rachel Kibbe makes the case that ethical brands need to engage with a growing and influential market: the so-called Millenials.
Or as we used to call them, teenagers.
Although there's not a great deal of fresh meat in Rachel's piece, she does make a couple of interesting points. However, there's a whacking great hole in her central argument. By asserting that ethical brands need a more active social media presence to attracts the youngers, she ignores the fact that they are largely an online phenomenon in the first place. Brands like People Tree grew up on the Internet, and don't need to rely on bricks and mortar stores. The Ethical Fashion Forum is a vibrant online community that allows free online access to tons of useful resources. Most of the brands that I've covered and dealt with have solid Twitter, Instagram and Facebook presences.
However, is this enough? In some ways, Rachel's right. Pop into Primark on a Saturday afternoon, and the place is groaning with teens. Are any of them aware of the problems with fast fashion's ethical and environmental model? Do any of them care?
The thing is, Millenials have always had the web, have grown up online. As Rachel says, they're more than capable of researching an issue and making up their own minds. Is it, then simply a case that ethical brands need to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: getting a pop star to endorse their message? That's a slightly more tricky prospect, with the ever-looming chance of backfire: check out Lana Del Rey for H&M, advertising angora sweaters just as the scandal over the way the stuff's harvested kicked off.
If Rihanna or Taylor Swift made the case for ethical fashion, and urged their fans to hit the stores and demand change, what would happen? Would we see a fashion revolution? Social media can of course be a driver for change. What Rachel doesn't seem to realise is that it's already happening. Greenpeace's Detox initiative has caused a major shift in the way huge fashion multinationals deal with their industrial waste, and War On Want's campaigns regularly make the headlines. These are projects whose core engine is the power of social media.
Millenials are smart, engaged and incredibly media-savvy. There is still work to be done to ensure that they see that there's more choice out there when it comes to fashion than the big-box brands, and of course celebrity endorsement can help. But I think it's borderline insulting to suggest that ethical fashion needs to up its social media game. We're already here. And the message is getting out, albeit a little slower than Rachel--and indeed the rest of us--would like.

Friday 26 September 2014

Livia Firth: Give Fashion A Seat At Climate Change Talks

Livia Firth, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge (the initiative that gets sustainable clothing onto the red carpet at Hollywood premieres) wants ethical fashion to be taken seriously. But more than that, she believes that the industry has a place around the table at climate change talks.

In the week after a climate change march that saw 650,000 people take to the streets around the world to demand action, Livia pointed out that fashion has a pivotal part to play in helping that change to happen.

She says:
" is a full spectrum industry. It extends from the farmers that grow cotton to the women beading in ateliers, it encompasses millions of people from agriculture to the creative marketing and selling. It is also dependent on the animal kingdom and some of the most fragile ecosystems on earth. Therefore fashion touches on every great environmental theme: climate change, declining available resources, lost wilderness, flooding, through to the flipside of flooding - drought. And of course, all of these are interconnected.
 But while human kind continues to treat fashion as a frivolous side line, it pollutes and squanders with impunity. In pursuit of selling fast and furiously, it can transgress ecological boundaries and leave social justice in tatters."
There are some very important points to made here: Livia isn't just trying to hop onto a bandwagon. Fashion is a voracious consumer of precious resources. It takes thousands of litres of water to make one pair of jeans. It also consumes people by the million. Badly paid and treated workers are at the heart of the industry. By changing the way we make and consume clothing, we can take enormous strides towards a better, healthier world. Effective green legislation has to be at the core of that change, with government and business working together to ensure that big conferences like the upcoming G8 make the most of the limited time frame that's open to them.

Livia Firth has always been a persuasive advocate for the role fashion plays in society, and how that role can be a positive one. By expanding the remit, she shows just how entwined fashion, climate change and social justice
really are, and how important it is that future laws and action include the industry as part of the solution.

Read the whole thing at The Huffington Post. 

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Is It Time To Bin The Notion Of The Fashion Season?

As the dust settles on London Fashion Week, it's worth considering a couple of aspects that, while not at the forefront of yer average fashionista's thought processes, did make the whole rigmaorale a little more interesting than usual.
War On Want made the case for the unseen stars of the event: the garment workers that put together the clothes in the first place. With stunts like a huge banner across Waterloo Bridge and a solidly successful social media campaign, the ugly secret behind the glittering world of fashion--that it relies on underpaid and vulnerable employees--was much higher on the agenda than many big names would have preferred. If no-one was talking about the garment workers before London Fashion Week, they certainly were afterwards.
The other discussion centred around an even more uncomfortable truth. Designer Carrie Parry dropped a bomb on the whole structure of the fashion calender in the pages of The Guardian. The seasonal cycle that big fashion events eulogises is a major factor in the industry's lousy record on green and eco-issues. Think about it. With two new collections out every year, the impetus is not on reducing consumption. It's about regarding the clothes you bought in the spring as somehow redundant, no longer worthy of consideration. By the time spring rolls round again, well, those are last year's colours, last year's cut. Time to start again. Even if you choose to donate or recycle the previous season's fashion, the focus is still on conspicuous spending, on filling your wardrobe with goodies. Frankly, it's not good enough.
Whether it'll ever change is another question, bearing in mind that fashion's business model is based around this notion of seasonality. It would take a radical, almost revolutionary tear-down of everything that fashion, especially at the high end, stands for. It's important to think around the box, and consider whether there are other ways to operate. Parry and others like her are questioning the system, refusing to book a place on the Paris, London and New York catwalks and instead using the funds to explore their supply chains. Personally, I'm a great believer in buying, say, a winter coat, and knowing it will last me for years. That, after all, is the thinking behind Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood's ethos of Spend More, Buy Less, Choose Well. I don't, I'm afraid, have an easy answer to this conundrum. But at least people are starting to ask the question.

Friday 19 September 2014

Gildan at Pier32

Here at The Pier, we're very proud of our association with Gildan. A top Canadian apparel brand, they provide some of the best-selling promotional wear items on the planet.

But, more importantly, they have an ethical profile that's second to none. They regularly win awards for their efforts and solid performance on sustainability, waste management and social responsibility. WRAP and Sedex certified, Gildan show the rest of the sector how to do it right.

After the honour of being included in the RobecoSAM Sustainability Index earlier this year, Gildan have managed to top that. Their Activewear has been included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the second year running. This is a major achievement, as the DJSI takes a best-in-class approach to inclusion. If you're not at the top of your game when it comes to your sustainability strategies, you're not getting in.

Companies are selected after a comprehensive assessment of long-term economic, environmental and social criteria that account for general as well as industry-specific sustainability trends. Gildan are the only North American company to make it onto the DJSI this year, as part of the Textiles, Apparel and Luxury Goods industry group. This year's index launches on Monday.

All of which tells you something about Pier32. The brands we supply are chosen very carefully to be high quality clothing, of course. But the ethos behind the brand is just as important, and Gildan are one of our best selling labels. We believe that's because their ethics are as good for the planet as their clothes are.

Why not check out our wide range of Gildan clothing at the Pier32 site? And while you're in a browsy mood, take a look at the Gildan site and see just how socially responsible they are.

Gildan at Pier32


Wednesday 17 September 2014

West Sussex WPAs: reduce, reuse, recycle!

Although David Cameron's notion of The Big Society appears to have disappeared down a big fat rabbit hole, there are those of us who still believe that its central concept--volunteers selflessly working together to make life better for everyone--is still a worthy enterprise. If you want an example of how that might work, look no further than the Games Makers at the London 2012 Olympics. An incredible bunch of people from every walk of life, united under a common cause, who managed to turn a brilliant event into an unforgettable one.
That example still inspires many today, although the group in today's piece are actually old hands at the volunteering game. West Sussex have been using squads of volunteers to get the word out about recycling in the local area since 2008.
The WPAs (Waste Prevention Advisors) can be found out and about at local fairs, fetes and festivals, and chatting to community groups. Their specialist education package Wastebusters sees the WPAs spread the good word in schools throughout West Sussex. Their message is simple: reduce, reuse, recycle.
The volunteers have been trained in presentation skills and health and safety through resources provided by Sussex University, giving them the confidence to share the important message about how we can all do our bit to save money and keep their part of the country that little bit greener and more pleasant.
Pier32 are in the mix too, providing the WPAs with polos, fleeces and rain jackets. The fleeces in particular fit the brief, as they're made from PET: recycled plastic water bottles. Looking good while spreading the word about recycling? It's something we do every day here at The Pier.
Check out the dedicated website at, where you can find out more about the programme, and read their dedicated blog Ask Annie. If you need to know about composting, Annie's your girl.

Pier32 supplied the WPAs with premium polo shirts from Fruit Of The Loom and Sirocco Windbreakers by B&C Collection.

Our recycled fleeces, (pictured) made by Okarma, are made entirely from PET, a material created by shredding and reweaving the plastic from used drinks bottles. 44 bottles go into one jacket. If you want one example of recycling done right, this is it.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Wool Brings Us An Alternative To Leather

Leather is, like it or not, one of the most environmentally unfriendly materials out there. Regardless of your opinions on the rights or wrongs of wearing animal skins (which is something that we as a species have been doing for a very long time) the tanning process is incredibly toxic to both the ecosystem and the workers who have to handle the chemical nasties involved.

The alternatives aren't much better: pleather, made from polyvinyl chloride, is a plastic: just as toxic to make, and it doesn't allow the skin to breathe. There's clearly a gap in the market for a proper alternative to the ol' cowskin.

The appropriately-named Richard Wool, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Delaware, thinks he's found the answer. His eco-leather is made from flax and cotton fibres, which are mixed with plant oils and laminated together in layers. The end result is natural, breathable and has many of the benefits of leather, and none of the environmental costs. Wool says:
“The designers love it because it gives them a whole element of design that they didn’t have before when they were trying to work with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as an artificial leather substitute. And it’s breathable. It’s not like a plastic that would make your foot sweaty if you wore it.”
Nike, Puma and Adidas have all expressed interest in the vegan, non-plastic material, and Wool hopes to move the development and manufacturing schedule up quickly. He's not alone: Puma have already made a pair of test shoes out of the eco-leather.

There are still some problems to work through. The material is stiff, and stitching has a habit of breaking under tension--again, due to the lack of flexibility. Wool and his team are optimistic that these fixes will be completed soon. Those of us who can't or won't wear leather are, I'm sure, equally keen to see the material move into the marketplace.

Friday 5 September 2014

The North Face And Patagonia: Getting Down And Dirty

An interesting spat is developing in the world of outdoor clothing, as the Guardian's Mark Gunther reported recently. It's all down... to down.

Goose and duck down, to be more exact. The stuff is great for pillows and bedding, but its ability to hold in warmth while staying light makes it the ideal padding for performance outerwear. The problem comes with the harvesting of the down.

Ducks and geese are primarily bred for food. Their feathers and down are largely viewed by producers in Eastern Europe and China as a waste product, which they remove with maximum efficiency and minimum care for the the fowls involved. The birds are plucked while awake, and the process causes major distress.

For Doug Tompkins of The North Face and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, this simply won't fly. Both men are committed environmentalists. Tompkins, in particular, is on record as showing his disdain for factory farms. After facing criticism from animal-welfare group Four Paws on the issue, both companies set out to make things right.

Sustainability experts were sent out to unpick the often tangled supply lines, and one thing became clear: there were no existing guidelines for the ethical treatment of waterfowl. Tompkins and Chouinard set out to draft their own standards--and therein lies the problem.

Both companies claim that their guidelines offer the best possible protection for wildfowl whose down is destined for their products. There have been heated declarations as to who offers the most transparent and ethically sound set of standards. There are minor but significant differences between the two documents: for example, Patagonia reaches out to so-called 'parent farms', where there is more likelihood of birds being plucked, while The North Face concentrates its efforts on breeding farms.

This may all seem like two people fighting to prove who's the nicest, but there's more at stake. The down industry is largely focussed on bedding products, and are unlikely to implement standards laid down by companies like Patagonia and The North Face, whose business makes up a tiny percentage of the whole. If they can get the larger players to agree and settle on a welfare plan for the ducks and geese that form such an integral part of their product, then there's a much greater chance of the slaughterhouses taking note.

As for Four Paws, who started this whole thing? At the moment, they prefer Patagonia's Traceable Down Standard, damning The North Face's Responsible Down Standard as "a step in the right direction". Owch, burn. But it's still early days for an arena which has seen little in the way of regulation. The winner in this row, hopefully, will be the animals at the centre of it all.