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.