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 Fran├žois-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.