Wednesday 30 September 2015

Making Fair Trade Transparent With Pachacuti.

Transparency and traceability are two key ideas that help to define ethical fashion. To put it more simply, knowing how and where our clothes are made. That's pretty important if we want to be sure they're being made with the appropriate levels of respect for the environment and people who create them.
Technology is helping companies that would otherwise have little idea or control over the production process to ensure their products are being put together as they'd hope. The communication and navigation tech that we take for granted is changing the way ethical fashion gets from remote locations to your door.
We've talked in the past about Pachacuti, who work with native artisans in Ecuador to make brilliant Panama hats. Over the past three years, they've been willing partners with the EU Geo Fair Trade project in a scheme which has brought unprecedented levels of traceability to their supply chain. The aim: to provide visible accountability of sustainable provenance, both for raw materials as well as production processes.
The results have been pretty remarkable. Pachacuti hats are woven in the remote region of Azuay–an area that is largely inaccessible by road. Despite that, the project has managed to log GPS tags that shows the 154 houses in which Pachacuti hats are woven. It doesn't stop there. Data on the areas where the all-important straw is harvested and processed has also been collected–from weather patterns to the times when the roads become impassable.
Why bother with all that? Well, by tracking where materials are coming from, it's easier to open lines of communication, allowing Pachacuti to work with the Ecuadorian people to ensure their product is produced sustainably and fairly. The communities that produce the straw and hats work as collectives, protecting the land and the folks who toil upon it. Communication equals transparency, allowing both sides to deal with each other openly, honestly and most importantly, accountably.
The craft of creating a Panama hat in Ecuador is, if you'll pardon the pun, woven into the culture. It permeates so deeply into Ecuadorian life that in 2012 UNESCO put hat weaving onto their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage: knowledge, traditions and rituals which pervade the everyday life of a community, passed down through generations and forming an intrinsic part of their identity and culture. It's vital that it be both celebrated and protected.
These rural communities suffer from high rates of migration and alcoholism, which aren't helped by the unscrupulous practices of most traders who buy hats from them. Pachacuti are setting a different example, working directly with collectives to ensure high quality and a fair price. As the word gets out that there is a better way than deling with the scalpers, one that protects their rights and culture, then communities are seeing the benefits to allowing a transparent and sustainable model guide the way they do business with the West. The EU Geo Fair Trade project is a pilot, but everyone involved is highly enthusiastic about the future.
Most importantly, it dispels a well-worn myth. Panama hats aren't made in Panama at all, and now we have the data to prove it!

Friday 25 September 2015

Vivienne Westwood Vs. The World

It's been a busy old month for Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood. She's released her autobiography, of course, which should be a lock on the Christmas list of every self-respecting eco-fashionista (hint hint). It tells the story of her turbulent life as punk icon and fashion innovator.
But Westwood shows no signs of slowing down in her seventies, becoming ever more politically engaged. Her fears about climate change have energised her work over the past few years, and we're now seeing nothing less that a genuine, unstoppable force of nature.
For example, her opposition to the extension of new fracking licenses in the north of England is well-known, and has led to the birth of her Climate Revolution brand. But while most people would start a petition or write to their MPs, Vivienne went one louder. She drove a white tank through the Prime Minister's constituency of Witney in Oxfordshire, pulling up virtually at his front door in the village of Chadlington. The point was clear: how do you like the noise, mess and pollution, David?

Vivienne Westwood and the Nanas launch Talk Fracking tour from rikki on Vimeo.

Vivienne has also brought the Climate Revolution message to London Fashion Week, currently clogging the gutters of Soho in fake fur and used MAC lipsticks. She staged a noisy protest on the opening day, complete with banner-waving models marching through the streets. The "Fash Mob", conveniently scheduled before her Red Label S/S16 show, was a sharp way to show how fashion and politics have always shared DNA. The show itself featured Mad Max stylings with spray-stripe make-up, with the Fash Mob hollering their approval from the cheap seats. Part catwalk show, part protest rally, Westwood showed that not only is she still relevant, but that she's leading the pack when it comes to innovation and sheer entertainment value. Shiny and chrome.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Livia Firth Takes Over HuffPo for Sustainable Fashion Month

Livia Firth, one of our favourite eco-fashionistas, has taken over as guest editor of The Huffington Post this month–a smart move as September also sees London Fashion Week litter the streets of Soho with glitter and pouts. Putting the website's focus strongly on sustainable fashion, Livia has a lot to say on what defines the term. Her view: it's impossible.
In her opening editorial, Livia says:
"Words such as ethical, sustainable or ecological fashion have been so over used that they create more confusion than certainties.
The truth is we are in a situation today perfectly described by Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement when he asked a very simple question: "How did we end up in an era when we have to define and certify things that should be normal?"
To unpick that, we need to define unsustainable (and fast) fashion."
The notion of unsustainable fashion is significantly easier to quantify. In short, it's all the production methods that we have campaigned against for so long: sweatshop labour, unmonitored use of toxic chemicals, even the season model that insists we chuck out our wardrobe and start again twice a year.
But fast fashion is a whole new kind of monster, one that's ramping up the damage to almost absurd levels.
"Fast fashion is a relatively new phenomenon. One that's caught us all, as consumers, in an absurd circle of micro trends. Think about it. Around two mini seasons a week in store. Disposable clothes that stay in a woman's closet for an average of just five weeks, before being thrown out - all in the name of the democratization of fashion.
In reality, this is exploiting not just us, the "consumers", but also the planet's resources and the people who produce them. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 showed the world the true human cost of production at these volumes and prices. And don't even mention the environmental impact. It's enough to say that between 11,000 and 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce just ONE pair of jeans."
That's the bad news. The good news is that once you've identified a problem the solution becomes obvious. Fast fashion is clearly a problem. The solution is not to play the game. There's no reason to buy according to micro-trends. Show a little taste. Buy less often, but with an eye to the future, with the understanding that everything you buy is going to last you. At the same time, urge manufacturers to do their bit for their workers and the environment.
Ethical fashion is, ultimately, about common sense in the face of an industry that seems to have gone completely mad. The pushback is happening, and voices like Livia Firth's are at the front of that effort. Pay attention. It might just change your life.
I urge you to read Livia's editorial, and to keep an eye on HuffPost's sustainable fashion month.

Friday 18 September 2015


I wouldn't call it light viewing, but a documentary released in May has come across the Pier's News Desk that I think will be of interest. Udita is a film taking on the predicament of garment workers in Bangladesh, and their struggle to organise, unionise and get a fair deal for their work.

Udita (Bangladeshi for 'arise') follows a turbulent half decade in the lives of women on the front line in the garment workers struggle. From 2010, when organising in the workplace would lead to beatings, sacking and arrests, through the tragedies of Tazreen and Rana Plaza, through to the present day, when the long fight has begun to pay dividends. We see this vital period through the eyes of union members, workers and leaders.

Udita is the work of acclaimed activist documentary film-makers Rainbow Collective. It weaves the stories of people they have followed in earlier films like 'The Machinists' and 'Tears In The Fabric' with those of new characters. The narrative they create is compelling, moving and inspiring.

There's a real upsurge in films highlighting the struggles of garment workers and ethical fashion, but Udita is one that's worth checking out for its clear vision and obvious empathy with the people portrayed. Perhaps not the most unbiased of documentaries, but a little righteous anger against injustice never hurt.

Watch Udita in full below.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Keeping circuses cruelty-free with Animal Defenders

The circus. A happy place, full of fun, thrills and good clean family entertainment. Unless you're an animal that's part of the show. Then you're more likely to be spending your life in cages that are too small for your needs, subject to cruelty and mistreatment by your owners and handlers.
There's a wide consensus that circuses featuring wild animals are un-necessarily cruel. But it may surprise you to know that they haven't actually been made illegal in the UK. A ban was promised by the government in 2012. In 2013 it published draft legislation to that effect, but it has still to be passed. This is a shame, as across the globe bans are taking shape and being enforced. In Peru and Columbia, lions, tigers and bears are being rescued from their cages and rehabilitated. Although it would be great to release them back into the wild, most circus animals have been declawed and suffer from broken teeth. So they're given a forever home in a sanctuary preferably in their native habitat, or as close as rescue workers can get to that.

A lot of that essential work is being done by groups like Animal Defenders International. Founded in 1990, the charity uses video surveillance and powerful campaigns to get the message across about animal cruelty in all its forms: in entertainment, the illegal harvesting of ivory and the fur trade. It was thanks to ADI that the news first broke on Anne the Elephant and her cruel treatment at the hands of her "owners", Bobby and Moira Roberts. ADI were directly responsible for the ban on wild animals in Bolivian circuses, and continues to work on their rescue and rehabilitation.

In fact, ADI are on hand at most protests, demos and rallies where animal welfare is the primary concern. Which is where Pier32 comes in. If you've seen an Animal Defenders tee or scrub on the news, it's come from us.
Junior, getting help from a dentist after being rescued from a circus in Peru.
We're proud to be associated with a world-wide charity that's doing so much to help animals in need across the globe. Their ongoing project working with rescue circus animals in Peru is fascinating, and shows a real sea-change in the way we view the use of wild creatures in entertainment.

To find out more, visit the website:

Animal Defenders use our SW350 Cool Tee:

Thursday 10 September 2015

Make Your Clothes Last Longer

As a writer on ethical fashion, I try to find inspration from everywhere I can. It's such an open subject, taking in aspects of the environment, worker relations and health and safety, technology, science and the arts. So I cast my net widely.
I make no apologies, then, for giving a shout-out to a recent article on BuzzFeed. Yeah, that's right, the place with all the weird quizzes and cat GIFs. The thing is, BuzzFeed is a big place, and there's a lot of smart life-hacks on there.
A hat-tip, then, to staff writer Maitland Quitmeyer (please, let that be her real name) for an aggregated piece entitled 22 Borderline Genius Ways To Make Your Clothes Last Longer. There are some genuinely valuable ideas in here, designed to give the items in your wardrobe that little extra boost. Really simple things too, like how to hang a sweater to avoid the dreaded shoulder bumps. Or a neat way to waterproof fabric shoes (like Toms, for example) using beeswax and a hairdryer.
Crucially, the last tip gives the heads-up on how long you should wear clothes between washes. One of the major ways we can cut energy use in the home is by using power-hungry appliances like washers and driers a little less. Our perception of what's dirty against the reality of everyday use is a little skewed. You can wear jeans for 10 days without needing to throw them in the washing basket. Chunky knits and sweaters, even longer. No-one's suggesting you turn your pants inside-out for that second day's wear, of course. But it's worth considering whether that t-shirt really needs to go in for a boil-wash after a single four-hour wear if you haven't done anything strenuous.
It's also worth noting that Maitland extols the use of washing lines over dryers. These have a couple of advantages. Firstly, they don't cost anything to run. Secondly, they're better for your clothes. Less agitation means less wear and tear. And sunlight has anti-bacterial properties, keeping your beloved items fresher for longer. If you're worried about fading, simply turn your clothes inside out before getting them on the line.
Being an ethical fashionista is as much about making the most of what you already have as shopping smartly. Why throw a pair of jeans out because there's a hole in them? It takes ten minutes with an iron-on patch to repair them, and you don't need any sewing skills. Unless you like holes in the knees of your trews–I see that a lot these days.
I recommend a look at the BuzzFeed list, and see how these simple tips could radically extend the life in your clothing. Haven't you heard that it's cool to be frugal?

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Oxfam Confronts The Charity Shop Dilemma

An interesting knock-on effect of the boom in fast fashion has been the hit that charity shops have taken. Clothes from shops like Primark are simply not fit for purpose after a few washes, which means those items are going straight in the bin instead of the recycle hopper. Added to that, people are buying fewer new clothes in general, and therefore hanging onto stuff that they would normally donate. Added to that, conflict in the Ukraine, traditionally a big market in second-hand and donated clothing, has seen a significant drop in demand and a glut of material in the marketplace.
The end result? Charity chains like Oxfam have seen a 3% slide in sales. And that's a problem for a business that has over 700 stores nationwide. What sort of a message does it send when even the charity shops start closing?
The problem for retailers in general is that we consumers have become much more savvy over the past couple of decades. The massive growth in online shopping has largely passed the charity market by–how do you cost-effectively market an individual donation? Meanwhile, the boom in discount stores like Aldi and Lidl, that can offer supermarket quality at pound-shop prices (including clothing), means that the traditional charity shop model has to change to survive.
Oxfam are now trailing discount stores in six locations, setting out its mix of donated fashion and homewares as well as its range of Fairtrade goods at cheap block prices–£1, £2 and £3. By getting people through the door, the idea is that they'll be enticed by the quality on offer and add Oxfam to their usual shopping mix.
It's not all bad news for Oxfam, of course. Their specialist Book And Music stores are havens for the specialist market, gathering rare vinyl and collectable literature in welcomingly inviting spaces. And although donations fell, public fundraising was up by 2.5%. An interesting response to those who feel charities are too invasive. In all, the charity's income actually rose by £12m last year.
Oxfam are at the leading edge of charity retail, and it'll be fascinating to see if other brands respond to the challenge. The tired notion of a shabby, unwelcoming charity shop as the last resort of the desperate is falling away, as smart shoppers see the benefits in buying pre-loved wares. There's a change in attitudes, to which the sector should respond imaginatively.

Friday 4 September 2015

A Bangladeshi Ban On "Rana Plaza" Film Could Help Its Chances

September 1st was supposed to see the release in Bangladesh of a drama about one of the greatest disasters to engulf the country in recent times–the Rana Plaza collapse. The building's failure in April 2013 cost over a thousand lives, and sent shockwaves through an industry that brings £25billion into the coffers every year.
You notice that I say "supposed." Sadly the film has been banned from screenings in its native country for the next six months. The high court of Bangladesh has deemed the film unfit to play in theaters for at least that long. Meanwhile the film’s director, Nazrul Islam Khan, claims it shows hope and transparency in the controversial garment industry.
The film, also called Rana Plaza, is a lightly fictionalised account of the incredible story of Reshma Begum, who was trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed bulding for seventeen days. She survived in a tiny space that had dried food and bottled water, keeping her alive until rescue teams could dig her out. It's a remarkable tale, and one that deserves to be shown to the widest audience.
Sadly, the garment factory owners of Bangladesh disagree. They argue that the industry has suffered enough over the past couple of years, and that Khan's film shows it in an unflinchingly negative light. The film exposes the unacceptable conditions that Bangladeshi factory workers face every day. But Rana Plaza was found by the courts to be unfit for distribution for more prosaic reasons. The High Court ruling claimed that it contained horrific scenes that could affect workers. The prime petitioner in the case is a trade union leader, but it's unclear just how much influence powerful factory owners in Bangladesh had on the decision.
However, this ruling might just backfire on them. Khan is determined that his film should be shown, and the six-month embargo ends close to the three-year anniversary of the collapse. Our View–this is a much more potent marketing opportunity, keeping the tragedy firmly in the minds of a prospective audience. That's exactly the sort of thing the factory owners who fought so hard to silence the film wanted to avoid. We'll keep you posted as to when the film gets onto the big screens. Along with The True Cost, it could be one of the must-watches of this (or next) year for fans of ethical fashion.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Five Steps To An Ethical You

It's all well and good for bloggers like me to wibble on about sustainable this and ethical that and highlight a new manufacturing process that somewhere, ten years down the line might be the way towards the light. But that doesn't help you now, does it? If you want to take an ethical approach to your fashion, then you need some practical and affordable steps to guide you.
Friends, I'm here to help. Here are a few ideas that'll give you a hand.
First up, do a bit of research. Ethical fashion is a complex beast, filled with misinformation, assumptions and outright lies. Things change as well, of course, so it's worth keeping up to date with the latest news. I'd recommend the Guardian's sustainable business pages, and sites like Ecouterre. Twitter can also be an enormous help: follow key names like Livia Firth, Orsola de Castro, Carry Somers and Fashion Revolution.
Of course, I'm not going to give away all my sources...
Next up, I know it'll be expensive to replace a wardrobe full of clothes. My advice: don't. Start with the small things. Affordable accessories made from upcycled or recycled materials are a great way to get started, and you'll usually be helping small businesses or ethnic communities running their own start-ups. There are great pieces out there made from things like recycled paper fused into a kind of resin, or fabric cast-offs. Have a nose around. There's plenty to choose from.
Then, start looking at the materials that make up your clothing. Clothes made primarily from synthetics like rayon or nylon are heavy burdens on the environment, using tons of chemicals and energy to produce. They're also non biodegrable, staying in landfill for decades. If you can, stay natural, or explore more esoteric materials like hemp or even nettle. One proviso: Tencel is an engineered fabric made from tree cellolose. As I mentioned last week, it's a highly sustainable fabric and well worth looking into, especially if you're in the market for basics or sportswear. It might sound synthetic–it's nothing of the sort.
A great way to get sustainable is to dress with an eye to the future. A classic silhouette doesn't age, and remains impervious to trends. A piece bought now that still looks classy five or ten years down the line is a properly sustainable investment, and something that can team with other items you already own give you a ton more options. There's a reason that the little black dress is still popular, you know...
Lastly, take a long, hard look at your wardrobe. See if you can team items in different ways. Maybe adapt or reaccessorise a piece to give it a fresh new look. If there's something you really can't stand any more, donate or recycle it. If you have M&S gear that needs to go, you can shwop it, donating in-store or at your local Oxfam for money-off vouchers on a new treat. There are plenty of options out there that don't involve tearfully binning half your wardrobe.
Above all, have fun! Ethical fashion is an exciting, forward-facing area of the industry, full of innovation and invention. At the same time, it keys into classically frugal approaches that your grandma would recognise and approve of. Shopping and thinking ethically will save you money and have you looking good while giving the environment a hand. Why would you not want to give that a try?