Monday 30 November 2015

Visible Clothing: Airing Their Nightwear In Public

We're seeing a lot of people entering the realm of ethical fashion that are doing more than just greenwashing. They're taking a thoughtful approach to the challenges around the launch of a properly fair and sustainable brand, taking time to make sure they get things right.

Few, though, have been quite as thorough as the two guys behind Visible Clothing. Before 2013, they admit that they paid no more than lip service to the notion of ethical fashion. One event changed their minds and their lives. That event, of course, was Rana Plaza. Andy and Andy take up the story:

"We knew that sweatshops existed but preferred to remain largely ignorant. We decided this needed to change; we needed to align our buying choices with our values. So we gave away all - ALL - our clothes at the end of 2013 and built new wardrobes from scratch containing only clothes that we knew were made fairly. But our personal wardrobes were not enough. So we decided to set up Visible with the goal of helping everyone who has thought about buying fairly made clothes to do so at an affordable price."

That's what you call putting your money where your mouth is. That was only the start of the Visible journey, as the two Andys took a properly hands-on approach to research for their new line of pyjamas. They made it their mission to visit every single person that would work on their clothes through the supply chain. It would prove to be an enlightening trip for everyone concerned. The Andys came to realise that the simplest of garments can go across continents in the journey from field to wardrobe, with the raw materials often stitched and finished thousands of miles from their origin.

Hence the point to making the business Visible. Back to the Andys to explain:


Without visibility, it is difficult for you - the customer - to decide whether or not everyone is being treated fairly. It is also too easy for us all to ignore the rights of the individuals who make our clothes because we quite simply don't know them. With even the smallest detail about the person who makes the clothing we wear, our mind-set can begin to change, and that person can begin to transition from an invisible cog in the machine to an actual, visible human deserving of our respect, dignity, and fair treatment. We desire far greater visibility into the fashion industry.

We are therefore focusing on three things:

-Visible people - We want to connect you with the actual people who make Visible clothing and to provide those workers with the chance to let you and us know whether they are happy with their working conditions.

-Visible costs - We tell you where every pound (or dollar) goes when you part with your cash, leaving you to be the judge as to whether our clothes have a fair price.

-Visible impact - We will charge a fair price for clothes which are made by people who are treated fairly, and by doing so will create opportunities for extreme poverty to be eradicated.


We bang on about transparency a lot here at The Pier, and Visible Clothing seem to be taking this notion and running with it. It's amazing to see a company that are making a real selling point out of the open-ness of their supply chain. The fact that Andy wore Visible pyjamas through his voyage of discovery tells you a lot about the comfort and hard-wearing nature of their cotton nightwear. With Christmas coming up, these guys are worth checking out.

Have a look at their journey below:


Visible PJ's from Visible Clothing on Vimeo.


Friday 27 November 2015

Twelve Jumpers Of Christmas

Christmas jumpers. Gotta love 'em, right? Well, we do in the UK at any rate. It's estimated that we'll buy ten million of the things this year, at a cost of £30million. How many times will we wear them? Once, maybe twice. That's a shocking waste of money and resources, spent on an uncomfortable garment that one step removed from a bad Christmas joke.

WRAP's Love Your Clothes campaign is aiming to get us thinking a little differently about the dreaded Xmas jumper this festive season. The challenge–rather than buy new, why not upcycle an old jumper and give it a festive twist?

Here's the plan. Grab a jumper or cardy that's lurking at the back of the wardrobe, and decorate it with a Christmas theme. If you really don't have anything suitable, then second-hand from a charity shop is perfectly acceptable. The design can be for kids or adults. The final garment should still be washable, or the decorations removable so that it can be used after Christmas and not just chucked back in a drawer.

If sewing isn't your thing, then you can still help ease the burden. Why not swap and share your unloved Xmas pullies, or donate them to charity?

If you are in the mood to try out an upcycled design, the most creative entry will win a new sewing machine, with other prizes up for grabs as well. The competition is open now, and closes on Monday December 7th. Get sewing, you clever bunch!


For more details, hit up the Love Your Clothes competition website:


Wednesday 25 November 2015

Coffee for Change, Please!

The Big Issue Foundation has, I think we can all agree, done incredible work to help homeless people across the country. The important thing for me is that it's not just about charity or handouts. The point of The Big Issue is to give people that have fallen on hard times a level of dignity, and a handhold from which they can haul themselves back onto their feet.

But there's one problem. Where do you go when you're tired of selling the magazine on street corners? What if salesmanship isn't your forte? As a confirmed introvert, I know that I'd struggle in an environment where I have to be outgoing and loud to make a sale. How else can you contribute?

The latest initiative from Big Issue founder John Bird, along with social entrepreneur Cemal Ezel, answers that question neatly while exploiting our weakness for a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Change Please opened its first coffee cart in London this week, employing ex-homeless people as baristas.

Ezel has form in this area–he runs the Old Spike Roastery in Peckham, which exclusively employs homeless referrals. The plan is to aggressively expand the carts and the employment rate, with the London operation alone expected to hire 100 new people in the first year. The training they recieve will mean that they can move on to other chains. With more than 3000 new coffee shops expected to open in the UK in the next twelve months, that means they're involved in a growth industry with plenty of opportunity. Talk about a step up.

Ezel has smartly keyed into a part of the commercial sector that offers good returns quickly, and understands that pride in work and quality of the end product go hand in hand. He says:

“Coffee is very commercial, it is very communal and it is more and more part of people’s daily habits. This is about getting people off the streets and into housing.”

Change Please coffee is sourced from beans coming from Rwanda, Tanzania and Columbia. It's important to get that blend right. If the coffee isn't good, people won't come. But there's a great deal of confidence in the future of the brand, with key sites locked in and plans for carts in the atriums of big businesses like Barclays Bank. With expansion to cities like Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh in the pipeline, it looks likely that we'll all have the chance to try the brew for ourselves too.

Baristas will be getting the Living Wage of £9.15 an hour (£8.75 outside London), so you could argue that Change Please staff will be getting a better deal than many of their compatriots working in rival coffee chains. That's no reason for jealousy–it's an impetus for coffee houses across the country to up their game and pay their staff fairly.

Our View: this is a clever and inspiring way to get homeless people back on the right track. Mine's an Americano.

Monday 23 November 2015

Modern Slavery And Fashion As A Drug

Queen of eco-fashion Livia Firth attended the Trust Women conference in London last week–and she pulled no punches in making her contempt for fast fashion clear.

Livia's concern was primarily that of low wages for garment workers, and how the big brands use their hefty negotiating power in emerging markets to make sure the bad situation stays that way. She said:

"The fast fashion companies are like drug pushers. They go to these countries promising to lift millions out of poverty, they get the business, and then once they start production in that country they start pushing prices down."
"They can always impose the lowest wages and local governments and entire countries are enslaved by that. Say you are in Bangladesh, if you are too expensive they'll go to Vietnam or Myanmar, which they are doing."
The solution, as far as Livia is concerned, is to create a global consensus on wages. She took the opportunity at Trust Women to announce the launch of a new survey into what she calls "legal fundamental rights for a living wage across all borders."

This idea tied neatly into one of the major themes of the conference–that of modern slavery. There's a strong argument that the business practices of multinational fashion brands are, by driving down wages and forcing the need for long shifts, creating a sweated underclass amongst the people that they claim to be helping by bringing in their business. As new collections hit the stores every week, we consumers are encouraged to buy and buy again, with no thought given to the provenance of the clothes, or the people who make them. This toxic attitude has to change.

Livia therefore announced a new initiative based on the idea of pledging to wear clothes more than a couple of times. The #30Wears campaign urges people to keep their clothing for at least–you got it–thirty times. That's obviously good sustainable practice, but for Livia it's as much about respect for and solidarity with the women who make the clothes in the first place. She said:

"By treating them (clothes) as disposable we are endorsing the slavery in another part of the world, where someone is producing them for nothing.
"So how about telling that woman in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, that we actually know she exists and we care for her? So when we buy something, let's wear it at least 30 times, in respect for her."
As ever, you can depend on Livia Firth to come up with provocative ideas, and squaring up to the big brands on wages is a strong move. We'll be watching for the results of her survey, due in May next year, with interest. As for keeping clothes for thirty wears–we're already on that. Some of my socks are old enough to walk themselves to the washing machine.

Friday 20 November 2015

Noble Wool For Elegant Occasions

The weather has closed in. It's dark in the morning, and dark when you leave work. As winter takes hold, we start digging through our wardrobes for winter wear. For many of us, that means reuniting with woollen garments.

Ah, wool. We've waxed lyrical on these pages many times about the stuff. It's eminently sustainable, of course: insert grass into sheep, and there it is, every year. The fibres are durable, water-resistant, breathable, anti-bacterial, completely natural and, if you pick the right manufacturer, eminently local. Scottish wool, still a spit and a whistle away from us in the UK in relation to its nearest natural rival, New Zealand, is the best on the planet. It's a no-brainer.

But when we think of wool, we think in terms of chunky sweaters, thick scarfs, heavy socks. Actually, alpaca is best for socks, but I digress. What I'm getting at is that there's a bit of an image problem when it comes to wool. The words sleek, elegant and tailored do not come to mind when we consider the fabric. That's not just a shame–it's completely inaccurate.

Our dapper chums over at The Tweed Pig reported recently on a new organisation seeking to redress the balance. The Noble Wool Club, a collaboration between fabric producer Scabal and Woolmark, aims to highlight the use of superfine fibres and the skills of the farmers and weavers that bring them to market. Scabal, whose Huddersfield mill has been in production since the 1530s, is leading the pack with a 12-micron fibre, perfect for the softest, most luscious suiting fabric. This is not your chunky knit.

But the Club is as much about provenance and sustainability as the quality of the wares. To join, you have to be a producer of superfine fibres working under an exacting range of conditions. Farms must be family-owned, breeding sheep (typically Australian Merinos) based on heritage bloodlines that are fed on granite-based soils typically found 600m above sea level. With a focus as much on the land and the history behind the wool as the production, the Noble Wool Club is taking an approach that you could compare to that of French wine-growers and their terroir.

It's important to shout long and hard about British wool. Its quality is second-to-none. The heritage and history under which it is produced brings us a fabric created with pride and care. Wool's sustainable creds are not in question. It's about time we started looking at how we can use it more, in contexts outside the realm of the thick and itchy Christmas jumper. Our View: The Noble Wool Club is an admirable initiative that should do much to highlight an aspect of a great British fabric that often gets overlooked.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Chemical Cocktails In Your Clothes

A disturbing report by researchers at Stockholm University has revealed that the chemicals used to make our clothes are hanging around for rather longer than we'd prefer.

In fact the research, led by anaytical chemist graduate Giovanna Luongo, (pictured above) found over a hundred identifiable compounds in clothes bought from high street retailers. In a press release, she said:

“Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effect for humans, as well as the environment, could possibly be related to these chemicals. Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity.”
Oof. So let's dig into what Giovanna and her team found. The chemical cocktails they discovered on our clothes can be split into two main types–'quick release' and 'slow release'. Quick release compounds wash off when they go in the machine. All fine and dandy, except that means that these chemicals end up in the water supply. Aquatic toxicity, remember? More worryingly, slow release compounds stay on the clothes, where they can be metabolised by skin bacteria or absorbed by the skin itself.

The chemicals present include quinolines, a suspected carcinogen linked to liver damage, and aromatic amines, found in tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust. Not what you expect to be rubbing up against when you pull on a shirt in the morning.

Just to add to the worry, even the organic cotton samples tested were found to contain benzothiozoles, which have been associated with respiratory problems. Does going eco make a difference? Well, yes, but not in a good way. Giovanna and her team found between 7 and 30 times the concentration of benzothiozoles in garments labelled as green alternatives. That even includes organic cotton.

The problem is, that Giovanna can't put her finger on what this all means. Some of the compounds her team found weren't even on the list of producer's approved substances. They could be byproducts, or accrued during transport. It's simply unclear where they came from.

So, should we be worried? The simple answer: no-one really knows. The last word on this comes from Conny Östman, a professor in analytical chemistry at Stockholm University.

"We have only scratched the surface, this is something that has to be dealt with. Clothes are worn day and night during our entire life. We must find out if textile chemicals go into our skin and what it means to our health. It is very difficult to assess and requires considerably more research.”
Our View–this is just another example of what can happen in a global supply chain that's so complex that proper oversight becomes impossible. Professor Östman is right. We should be prioritising the long-term effects of the chemicals that go into and, in some cases, stay on our clothes.

For more information, check out the Stockholm University press release, which has links to the science.

Monday 16 November 2015

Mitzvah Day

Mitzvah Day is almost here! This Sunday, 22nd November, sees one of the biggest inter-faith community events in the country reach out to make a real difference to those in need. Founded in 2005 by Laura Marks, Mitzvah Day is a chance for people to to donate their time and energy to a diverse range of causes that make a tangible difference to those in need around the world.


Acts of kindness are engraved in the Jewish way of life, as individuals give selflessly of their time and of themselves. Every year on Mitzvah Day, over 37,000 participants do just that, through a multitude of projects based on the principle of doing acts of kindness. Although it's now a major part of the UK Jewish calender, the main focus of Mitzvah Day is inclusiveness–everyone is welcome. In fact, the interfaith appeal of the project is part of what has made it so successful.

Mitzvah is the Hebrew biblical term for 'deed' or 'commandment' and has become synonymous with doing good. You could argue, then, that every day is mitzvah day–the desire to do good cannot be confined to one day. They're right of course, so Mitzvah Day's doors are never closed, ensuring many of the projects and partnerships under the umbrella have year-round reach.


The range of these projects is dizzying. From shopping for foodbanks to collections of craft materials, from ground clearance and maintenance to day-care for seniors and children, there's something for everyone. This year, Mitzvah Day is putting a special focus on help for refugees, with donation drives, bakeathons and help with the make-up of care packages all on the menu. And the reach is spreading, with Mitzvah Days also being held this year across Europe and even in Australia!

The point of the event is to give freely and cheerfully of your time, to make a difference through an unselfish contribution. You don't need to be a member of a synagouge or church. All you need is the will to help.

There's still time to get involved! Check out the Mitzvah Day site for available projects, or to see how the organisation can help with your idea.

Pier32 have been involved with Mitzvah Day since 2008. This year, we supplied the organisation with t-shirts, bags, beanies and baby bibs. Maybe we can help with your event. Give us a ring, or get in touch through our QuickQuote service.



Thursday 12 November 2015

Hugh's War On Fashion Waste

When you think of voices raised in support of sustainable fashion, the name Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall doesn't readily spring to mind. Sustainable farming and fishing, sure. But clothes?

Hugh's latest show for the BBC, Hugh's War On Waste, is obviously focussed around the terrifying amount of perfectly edible food we waste as a nation every day. But the second episode of the show, which went out on November 9th, took time to cast a jaundiced eye over our relationship with fast fashion. The results were not pretty.

In one arresting sequence, Hugh created a seven-foot, ten thousand garment pile of discarded clothing in a shopping mall, then asked the public to guess how long it took the UK to generate that amount of waste. The horrifying answer: ten minutes.

Hugh said:

"We're binning more than £150m worth of clothes every year in the UK, and they end up being incinerated or buried in landfill. Chucking away clothes at this current rate is clearly an environmental disaster."
The point is that, like food waste, for a large part there's nothing wrong with the clothes we shove in the bin. What no longer suits us may very well be a perfect match for someone else. Even if that's not the case, the textile from which those garments are made is a valuable commodity in its own right. Hugh continues:

"There's really no excuse to bin any of our old clothes. Even if you think they've had their day, they can still end up as a recycled mop head or stuffing for a car seat. Charity shops will take anything and if they don't think they can sell it they will move it on to someone that can use it in a different way."
We need to stop of thinking of food and textile waste as useless if we're to get control of our overflowing landfills. The correlation between Hugh's example of perfectly good food going in the bin and perfectly servicable garments going the same way couldn't be starker. Shows like Hugh's War On Waste are essential in the push to educate people about how they can help save money, cut carbon emissions and sort out the environment with some really simple, easy lifestyle changes.

Hugh's War On Waste is available via the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

John Lewis and Age UK: Moonlight Becomes Them

Everyone's going on about the John Lewis advert for Christmas. An old man who somehow been exiled to the moon is rescued from Yuletide loneliness with the help of a girl, a telescope and a balloon. It's so sad! It's so moving! It has... very little to do with John Lewis, if we're going to be honest. Apart from the end caption, there's no store branding whatsoever. But that's the point. Because this season, John Lewis are using their advertising clout to raise awareness for a charity that fills a desperate need at this time of year.

Age UK work for some of the most under-appreciated people in the country–the elderly, and particularly those who live alone. Christmas, with its focus on family and togetherness, can be really tough for older people without a support network. It can sometimes feel as if you're simply not there. As if you're living on the moon.

Hence the ad, directed by up-and-comer Kim Gehrig (who also headed up the This Girl Can campaign for Sport England). John Lewis is hoping to raise thousands of pounds for Age UK using profits from three specially branded products–a mug, gift tag and card. But awareness is just as important. The store is also urging staff and customers to volunteer with their local branch of Age UK, to help elderly people who might otherwise find themselves alone over the holiday period. Even the ad's tagline, “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”, deliberately echoes Age UK's "No-one should have no-one at Christmas".

Rachel Swift, head of marketing at John Lewis, summed up the thinking behind the campaign:

“The charity really resounds with people at this time of year, and the ad ... lends itself to thinking about someone who lives on your street that might not see anybody”.
Over the past few years the John Lewis advert has become one of the signs that Christmas is on the way. It's heartening to see the brand using the enviable promotional clout at its command to both help out a charity and highlight in a subtle way one of the more unpalatable truths about The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Social media has been full of people posting about how the ad made them cry. Let's hope they all realise that there's a bit more of a message to this year's spot, and that the little old man in the moon has people just like him all across the country this Christmas.

Monday 9 November 2015

Bunka Fashion College: The Future Everyday

Education is at the heart of building a sustainable fashion model. If students aren't aware of the environmental or societal impact of the clothes they design, then it's impossible to move forward. Let's put it like this: in order to break the mould, there has to be someone willing to break it and to offer a viable alternative.

I mention this as if it's a new notion. But for the fashion students of Japan, one school has been offering an education in fashion that would seem head-manglingly radical to Westerners. And it's been open since the nineteen-twenties. Let's take a look at the Bunka Fashion College.

Opened in 1923 as a dressmaking school by Isaburo Namiki, the school prides itself on operating under five key principles: craft, sustainability, contribution to society, self-expression and most importantly, collaboration. Tutors encourage their students to work together on projects, bringing their individual strengths to bear on a problem and its solution.

A vital part of the education at Bunka is the knowledge and understanding of human anatomy. The mannekins that the students use are based on their own body shapes, rather than the generic models in use in nearly other fashion school on the planet. The intention is to make students realise that there is no one shape, no one fit. They are urged to think about clothes that work for everyone–the young, the old, the disabled. It shouldn't be a strange idea. After all, we all need clothes. Yet, as those of us that are taller, shorter, wider or narrower than a percieved norm know only too well, it often feels as if fashion is simply not designed for the likes of us.

With a focus on Japanese concepts such as satori (the enlightenment achieved through intense concentration on a particular task) and kaizen (continuous improvement) the students at Bunka are stretched to the limit to find their own voice and vision, and applying it in a way that ensures it has benefit to the world outside. It's a holistic approach that can offer great rewards–many Bunka graduates go on to work at famous fashion houses like Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto.

It's notoriously difficult to get into Bunka as a Westerner. Nearly all classes are taught in Japanese, and until very recently there was no outreach project to other schools. That's beginning to change, gradually, as exchange programs are now run with Central St. Martins, Nottingham Trent University and Parsons NYU. And, although it's tough, 20% of Bunka students are now from overseas. The challenge is clearly worth it.

There's a lot to be learned from schools like Bunka for the forward-thinking fashion student. Its focus on holistic and collaborative education is a step-change up from many other colleges, and making sustainability a core part of the curriculum is something we'll see a lot more of in the next few years. Bunka Fashion College is one of those places where the future has always been the logical place to operate.

For more, check out this piece on the Business Of Fashion site.

Friday 6 November 2015

Success For SCAP

In Wednesday's post, I talked about the huge potential for ethical success in ECAP–a newly created cross-Europe initative to build a more sustainable textile industry. But this isn't a stand-alone idea. The plan is built on strong foundations. The UK's SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) has been in operation for two years, aiming to make big reductions in water and carbon impact across the sector by 2020. At WRAP's annual convention this week, it became clear that action has been taken with a vengeance.

In just two years retailers, brands and organisations from across the clothing supply chain have reduced water impacts by a significant 12.5% per tonne of clothing, against a 15% reduction target by 2020. They are also making encouraging progress on a cut to carbon impacts, achieving a 3.5% reduction per tonne of clothing against a 15% reduction target. Did I say encouraging? It's hugely impressive!

Reaching the 2020 targets would make a huge dent in the UK's carbon deficit and water use figures. There could be an annual carbon saving equivalent to removing 250,000 cars from the road, a water saving equivalent to 170,000 Olympic sized swimming pools and 16,000 tonnes less waste created in the first place.

In order to meet the SCAP 2020 targets, signatories (which make up over half of UK high street brands including, most recently, George at Asda) must focus on five main areas. They should increase the use of lower impact fibres; build product durability; help consumers care for clothing; guide those customers towards reducing waste to landfill (through WRAP’s consumer campaign Love Your Clothes) and work with supply chains to reduce waste. Like the recently announced ECAP, it's an ambitious plan with ambitious targets. So it's gratifying to see so much progress in such a short space of time.

It's important to note that engagement with customers is a vital part of the plan. After all, you can make all the changes to the supply chain that you like, but if the end user is still binning rather than recycling, all that hard work is for nothing. The Love Your Clothes campaign is a key component of the strategy. John Lewis uses LYC literature as part of its Learning Guide, helping Partners to pass on durability messages on the shop floor. Love Your Clothes recently sponsored Brighton Fashion Week, and Clothes Aid supports the campaign on its collection bags which can be found across the country.

Marcus Gover, Director at WRAP, said:

“SCAP signatories have made great progress against the targets to date, particularly water. This is a positive indication of what can be achieved and we must capitalise on the momentum we’ve built."
Our View: these results are very good news and show how engagement with an idea across business, government and charities can make a huge difference in a short space of time. With five years to go, who knows what could be achieved? All of a sudden, ECAP's ambitious targets don't seem at all unachievable!

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Perfect Circle

An important challenge to sustainable fashion is based around a very simple question–how do we keep textiles out of landfill? A million tons of clothing goes to the tip in the UK every year, and a lot of it can be recycled in some form. The question isn't just how. The question is how to make it realistic for businesses to make the recycling process worth their while.

We're starting to see a situation where the fashion and textile industries are aware of both their terrible record on sustainability and how that record makes them look to the marketplace. They're looking for incentives and guidance to do the right thing. WRAP, the trans-national organisation at the heart of promoting ethical practice in the clothing market, is about to give them that very thing.

They've launched ECAP (European Clothing Action Plan), which has received a €3.6m fund from the European Union’s environmental financial support instrument, EU Life. The aim is to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints of textile industries across 11 European countries, and drop the amount of clothing going to landfill–90,000 tons a year less by 2019.

It's an ambitious project with ambitious goals. But the EU funding means that there's an impetus to get businesses on board and explore new and innovative ways to make clothes with a smaller environmental impact. Closed-loop methods are not just being hand-waved as a blue-sky option that might make things better. They're actively promoted as a way to recapture wasted resources and pick up on new business opportunities.

There's also a strong focus on design. It's estimated that 80% of a garment's environmental impact is set at the drawing board. Educating designers in how to make their clothes easier to break back into their raw material means there's a much better chance of closed-loop-friendly garments becoming the norm.

Let's face it, change needs to happen. Earlier this year, WRAP tagged the textile sector alongside food & drink and electronics as areas that account for 25% of the UK’s carbon footprint, 40% of UK household waste and a whopping 80% of its water footprint. Just by targeting that sector, massive and lasting improvement can be made.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin is cheerfully bullish about the future of ECAP:
“Finding more sustainable ways to work with textiles is an area set to deliver huge benefits – both economic and environmental. To be leading on a project of this magnitude is something I am very excited about, and applying tried and tested approaches such as voluntary agreements and consumer campaigns across Europe will really take our expertise to the next level. I look forward to watching this initiative progress.”
She's not the only one. Our View: major EU-funded initiatives like ECAP shows how seriously both government and business are looking at notions like closed-loop, which even five years ago seemed like a wacky, unattainable dream. With the money and the will in place, we could be looking at a future where clothing is no longer just a one-time deal.

Monday 2 November 2015

Kids Company: The Money Pit

The enquiry into collapsed charity Kid's Company rolls on, and horror stories continue to pile up.

As a report recently undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCooper makes clear, concerns were raised over the charity and its spending habits for over a decade prior to its failure in July. Yet money continued to trundle into the coffers–only to just as quickly be wheeled back out again. From the initial £50,000 grant recieved through the New Opportunities Fund in 2000, through to the final £3million in rescue funding given just a fortnight before the charity closed its doors for good, a picture is emerging of a media-savvy charity with the ear of government and a shameless habit of demanding more and more public money–in total an eye-watering £46million.

The pattern runs like this: Kid's Company burns through money at a disturbingly high rate, then asks for more, a request accompanied with dire warnings of what might happen to the vulnerable kids under its care should that cash not be forthcoming. With ex-BBC head Alan Yentob in the chair, and David Cameron's blessing, it was a simple matter for Carmen Batmanghelidjh to double down and ask for more and more money.

Batmanghelidjh and Yentob winkled £300,000 from public funds in 2002, £500,000 in 2003, and points north, up to a dizzying £8 million in 2012. All of these demands were couched as "emergency funding" to allow the charity to keep running and avoid redundancies. Most began as requests sent directly to David Cameron. With Ms. Batmanghelidjh frequently sharing the stage with the Prime Minister as a key example of how charity and government could work together, it's not hard to see how her brand of "loving blackmail" could get results.

Over the 15 years of Kid's Company's existance, Batmanghelidjh recieved funding of £46million from the public purse, a much steeper sum than the initial $30million estimate. By 2008, Kids Company had its mitts on 20% of the cash held in the Department for Education’s Youth Sector Development Fund, which was budgeted to support 43 similar organisations.

BuzzFeed News, in conjunction with Newsnight, has exposed some of the more shocking examples of Kids Company over-spending. £67,000 was spent in 2014 on one client, who volunteered at head office and most staff members believed to be an employee. Another had an PhD funded through the charity, despite being the relative of an Iranian government official. Tens of thousands of pounds was provided for this purpose. Most eyebrow-raisingly, two children of a Kids Company staff member were given over £134,000 in funds over six years. Registered as "therapy costs", the breakdown nevertheless included bills for designer shoes worth over £300. I guess you could call that retail therapy.

With opaque accounting methods, accusations of favouritism from Batmanghelidh regarding pay rises and even questionable tax breaks, Kids Company seem to have taken murky practices to a whole new level. Although you almost have to admire Batmanghelidjh for her tenacity and fund-raising ability, the fact remains that she grabbed those funds at the expense of dozens of smaller and equally deserving charities, while sneering at the competition. But Kids Company never issued clear accounts and could not come up with a cohesive plan of where all the "emergency funding" was going.

Our View: the whole debacle is a shocking example of privilege run riot, uncontrolled ego and a charity that saw public funds as a bottomless pit of cash. We have no doubt that there's more to come on this story.

For now, check out Buzzfeed News' full report on the debacle.