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.