Thursday 31 December 2015

2015: The Year At The Pier


2015 has been, to put it mildly, an eventful year. In our little corner of the world, we've seen all sorts of changes and innovations. As usual, I'd like to take a bit of time on the last day of the year to look back on our coverage of ethical fashion and the charity world over the last twelve months.


In January, we celebrated with our friends at Sea Shepherd as they used a huge donation in the best way possible: they bought a new ship! We also took a look at a fascinating web series that took Norwegian fashion bloggers a little closer than comfortable to the Cambodian factories where many of the clothes they wrote about were sewn: Life In The Sweatshop.


February gave yr humble author the chance to talk film, as I looked at the ethical tailoring that was front and centre in the spy thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service. Not surprising, when Colin and Livia Firth are involved... We also reviewed the brilliant work done by our chums at East African Playgrounds for the kids (and parents) of Uganda, giving the gift of play.


March brought a new campaign from our pals at the charity Delete Blood Cancer, showing just how simple and easy it is to register as a blood stem cell donor. Meanwhile, in a trend that became much more happily prevalent in 2015, Levi's released data on their water use, and revealed how they plan to improve matters.


April saw us delightedly reviewing John Oliver's take on the state of the fashion industry on his satirical news show Last Week Tonight, bringing the subject to a wider audience. It was a good month for visual media, as we also previewed an exciting new documentary on the fashion scene, The True Cost.


May came along with a new play showing the gamification of the fashion industry (and how easy it can be to treat the people who make the clothes as disposable assets): The World Factory. We also took a peek at how our chums at Hubbub are making it fun to keep the streets of London a bit tidier: #neatstreets.


Halfway through the year already? Blimey! In June we introduced Tom Cridwell's fast-fashion busting 30-Year Sweatshirt, a clever subversion of the buy-and-buy-again model (and a celebration of Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood's notion of Choose Well, Spend More, Buy Less). In the same vein, we agreed with upcycling guru Orsola De Castro on how true sustainability can only come when clothes are built to last (which also gave us the opportunity to post a video to a disco classic): Use it Up, Wear It Out.


In July we carried on in that theme, looking at the ultimate in throw-away clothing: the 99p Dress. We also cast a worried eye over the demonisation of charity fund-raising, following the death by suicide of Olive Cooke, who it was feared had died under the pressure she felt she was under to donate. This story was one of the mainstays of the year in charity...


...although the big news story of 2015 for the Third Sector dropped in August with the collapse of Kid's Company. David Cameron's favourite charity combusted spectacularly, with major questions about their fund-raising and influence in high places. In the US, we examined American Apparel's change of direction, as they moved away from sexy ads following the sacking of controversial CEO Dov Charney.


September brought Pier Crush Vivienne Westwood out onto the front lines, as she used London Fashion Week to protest against fracking, and rolled a tank into David Cameron's home village. We also celebrated the work of our pals at Animal Defenders International, who are working to make circuses a cruelty-free zone.


And all of a sudden, it's autumn. October saw us looking at alternatives to leather that included banana and jellyfish! We also reviewed a new look for the Ethical Fashion Forum, as they launched an umbrella initiative, Mysource.


November rolled around, and with it applause for John Lewis. They launched the most talked about Christmas ad of the year in conjunction with Age UK, bringing the plight of lonely older people in the festive season well and truly into the public eye. We also took a look at a new idea from The Big Issue–retraining homeless people as coffee baristas. This caffeine-fuelled writer strongly approves...


And all of a sudden it's December! We welcomed a big new name in the charity sector–none other than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. We also looked at the work of Raven & Lily, an ethical fashion house giving refugees in Bangladeshi camps the chance to bring themselves out of poverty. As the crisis in Syria deepens, responses like this become ever more necessary. We need to understand and empower, not demonise and blame.


So, that's 2015 at The Pier. It's been a good year for us, and we hope to build on our successes in 2016 to bring you the best and latest news from the worlds of ethical fashion and charity. Don't forget, our offices reopen at 9am on Monday the 4th for all your customisable needs. We look forward to talking to you.


From Gerry, Ian and I: HAPPY NEW YEAR!



Friday 18 December 2015

Customisable Clothing For Christmas! (Next Year, Maybe...)

You know how it is at this time of year. Parties and events and all sorts of social obligations, all of which need the right costume. As if there wasn't enough conspicuous consumption at this time of year without having to spend out on party clothes. That's if you can find one in the right colour and size, of course.

There are great leaps and bounds being made in the realms of 3-D printing, and some really interesting initiatives that could lead to the dream of completely customisable clothing that you design and print for yourself. For example, Dutch designers The Post-Couture Collective are already offering clothes that can be printed out in sections and clipped together like Lego. If you don't have the wherewithal to do that, Post-Couture can send you the sections in a wide range of fabrics, including one derived from recycled Sprite bottles.

The environmental impact of this kind of thinking is profound. It's a zero-waste model: you only print what you need. If your garment is made from recyclable materials, then it almost doesn't matter if it's created for a one-off event. The fabric can go back to raw to be used again. If you're printing it yourself, then there are no transport costs. It's as local as you can get.

There are other approaches to the notion of customisable clothing. How about a pair of shoes that can be any colour you want, or feature any design? Shiftwear, a new start-up currently going down the crowd-funding route, fuses fabric into a wearable screen that wraps around the foot. They offer downloadable designs, but with this kind of platform the sky is really the limit. Animated and dynamic content works just as well as static. Think about it. Head off to the Star Wars premiere with your kicks playing Episode 4 highlights. How cool would that be?

All of this is a little way away from filtering down to the average consumer, but it's very close to market. Here at The Pier we're all about innovation, and when it comes to alternatives to the Xmas grind for new clothing that you'll only wear once, we're in full support for anything that disrupts the model.

Plus, did I mention shoes that could play movies?

Thursday 17 December 2015

Raven And Lily: Mindfully Empowering Refugees

Photo: courtesy Raven And Lily
The life of a refugee is one spent in limbo. Chased from your home, living in a camp or in severely reduced circumstances in a shelter, with little or no way to make a living. It's in our nature to want to help, but charity is not what refugees need. The first thing they would ask for is some kind of normality. A chance to contribute. A chance to work.
Photo: courtesy Raven And Lily
Raven And Lily are an ethical apparel company that base their whole approach around a desire to let. refugee communities regain a little pride. They are partnered with groups of displaced artisans scattered through nine countries. Their latest initiative, the Pakistani Collection, highlights the works of Afghan tribeswomen, all of whom are paid fairly for their skilful work. Raven And Lily founder Kirsten Dickerson explains the thinking behind the handmade clothes of the new line.

For our Pakistan collection, our Afghan artisans utilize their incredible embroidery skills, and it also gives them a chance to ensure their children have a good education and can break out of the refugee camp poverty cycle. We also want younger women to value what their mothers and grandmothers have done, while getting an education, so that their cultural and artisan skills do not disappear.

We’re partnered with 272 women across eight refugee camps. There’s three different skill sets within those camps, because the women represent various tribal groups from Afghanistan. Each tribal group has different embroidery techniques that represent the region they originally came from. With every design that we create with them, we actually think through designs that would use each one of their embroidery techniques so that we can employ as many of the women as possible, since they’re spread out among all the refugee camps.

It's a complex dance, involving a lot of communication and organisational nous to pull off. But the key to Raven And Lily's success is thoughtfulness. From the source material through to the design, every piece is carefully considered, with a clear focus on the ethical implications of every decision. This holistic approach helps Raven And Lily to stand out from the crowd. But we shouldn't forget that the clothes are also beautiful, highlighting the skills of these dedicated artisans.

Our View: Raven And Lily are a great example of how to work within an ethical framework while still producing items of great quality and beauty. All power to them.


You can find out more and buy items from The Pakistan Collection here.


Monday 14 December 2015

The Christmas Closedown

The Christmas break is coming ever closer. Even here at The Pier, the time is near to give all our factory elves a break. It's been a bumper year for us, and we're ready for a chance to recharge the batteries and get our eggnog on.

So, if you want any last-minute orders, you'd better get a wiggle on. Our final deliveries will go out this Friday, the 18th December. The machines will start up again with a cheerful groan on Monday 4th January, ready for a busy and successful 2016.

But fear not! Our directors, Gerry and Ian, will be checking emails through the holiday period, so don't be afraid to get in touch–even if it is just to wish us a happy Christmas!

The View will be dropping into Xmas hibernation at around the same time, but do look out for our Best of 2015 post, which will be arriving at some point between Christmas and the New Year. The perfect opportunity to look back over a fascinating year in ethical fashion and charities. Meanwhile, our Twitter and Facebook feeds will still be open. Please do check them out and give us a follow. Links are in the sidebar.

As for 2016, expect our three-a-week post rate to continue, with an increased focus on the Third Sector. And keep your eyes open for our fresh new look... coming soon!

There's still a couple of posts to come from me, but let me take this opportunity to thank everyone that follows, reads and comments on The View From The Pier. It's been a busy year down at the Writing Hut, and it's always good to know I'm not on my own down here.

From Gerry, Ian and the rest of the Pier32 Crew–Happy Christmas!


Friday 11 December 2015

Charity Gifts For A Feel-Good Christmas!

So how's the Christmas shopping going? About now, you'll usually get two responses to that question–a groan of despair or a smug grin.

It's tough to know what to do for gifts, especially if you have a big family with relations that you don't see that often. You end up getting anything that springs to mind, regardless of whether it's what the recipient wants or not. Or if you do ask, you get the most maddening reply in the world–"oh, just get me anything." There's a reason the shop shelves at Christmas are filled with seasonal tat. It keys into the mentality that at this time of year you must buy, and buy hard.

I chose to opt out a few years ago, insisting that no-one bought for me, and that I would only get gifts for kids and grandparents. It makes life much simpler, but I appreciate that my approach doesn't work for everyone. What do you do, then, if you're faced with the same old Xmas dilemma?

The Money Saving Expert site, run by financial guru Martyn Lewis, has come up trumps with suggestions. Like me, Martyn is no fan of buying for the hell of it. This year, he and his team have come up with a range of charity gift-giving ideas that neatly toe the line between budget and thoughtfulness. They mostly work like gift cards, which is why they're called virtual gifts.

Some of the old saws are in there, like the Oxfam "buy-a-goat-for Christmas" voucher, but there's a wide range of fun ideas in the list. Martyn says:

Virtual charity gifts are less wasteful than buying tat and are far closer to the Christmas spirit. From helping to save lives with vital vaccines, to buying livestock for villagers to help them become self-sufficient, your donation really could change lives for the better.
We especially like Unicef's "deliver a baby" kit, which supplies vital midwifery supplies and medicines, and Good Gift's "adopt-a-vegetable" which helps to save rare varieties from extinction. But there's plenty to choose from. It's a list of ideas that will help you buy well and do some good this festive season.

And let's face it, it has to be better than braving the high street this weekend, right?

Find the Charity Gift Guide list on the Money Saving Expert site here.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Making the connection between fashion and Climate Change at COP21

Some interesting results are coming out of the International Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, not least from some big names in fast fashion.

Let's start with a blunt statement of fact. Climate change is real, and it's causing catastrophic shifts in the global landscape. Flooding in Chennai has displaced thousands of people. The North of England is still struggling with the after-effects of Storm Desmond, which has caused the highest recorded amount of rainfall in some areas in a century, and forced many hundreds of people out of their homes. It's almost absurdly clear that something has to be done.

Which is what makes the joint statement from big-name multinational brands like Adidas, H&M and Gap quite so striking. They're calling for a robust and immediate deal on climate change and its effects. The reason? Simple common and business sense. The declaration read:

“From the farmers in cotton fields to the workers in garment factories, we know that people in some of the least climate-resilient regions are being negatively impacted by a warming world. Drought, changing temperatures, and extreme weather will make the production of apparel more difficult and costly.”
There's the point. The businesses behind that statement are the largest producers of cotton in the world. Now, I know it's a thirsty crop, but even cotton doesn't do well underwater. The joint statement shows the realisation that climate change presents a clear and present danger to the resources and people without which they cannot survive. Let's be clear: the statement issued at COP21 has little to do with altruism. It's about survival.

Even more interestingly, the alliance pledged to do their part in helping to bring a real solution to the table. Eileen Fisher, eponymous head of the giant fashion brand, said:

“We have to think differently about business as a bridge to change. We have the powerful opportunity to come together across our industry to co-create how we measure success, not only in dollars but in the cost to humanity and the environment. This includes committing to practices and policies that directly address the apparel sector’s impact on climate change.”
Now, this is a big deal. When some of the biggest names in business come together with government to announce change, then two things become clear. Firstly, that something might actually happen this time. Secondly, that these hard-nosed corporate heads have run the numbers on climate change... and they're terrified about what they can see coming.

Time is running out, but announcements on this scale are unprecedented. This is a cross-brand initiative that includes most of the planet's best known apparel names, standing together to demand a real solution to the major issue of modern times. Climate change is an underlying cause of much of the unrest we see today, as arable land and potable water become resources worth fighting over. We'll have to wait and see what form the new agreements and plans take. But for once, we can see political and business needs meeting in the defence of a greater good.

And that has to mean something. Doesn't it?

Monday 7 December 2015

Not My Style: Disrupting The Way We Shop?

You want to shop ethically. As a big fan of The View From The Pier, you know that we urge consumers to think about how they buy, use and re-use their clothes, as active contributors to the ethical fashion scene. But it's tough. Brands launch new initiatives and campaigns all the time. Does a limited-edition run of an eco-conscious range mean that a high street brand can be trusted with your green pounds? Or are there other nasties lurking under the surface: pollution, worker abuse, unsafe or dangerous premises?

The thing is, short of doing the research every time you pop out to buy a pair of socks, it's hard to be sure that you're doing the right thing. Which is why a new app currently looking for funding through Kickstarter might just be the answer to your ethical shopping dilemma.

Not My Style takes the information you need to make informed decisions on the clothes you buy and presents them in an easy-to-see way, on a device we all carry with us every day: our smartphones.

The app gathers assessments from leading industry research and overlays it with a review of consumer-facing transparency. In other words: how easy is it for you to find out from stores how the workers in their supply chains are treated? There's also an opportunity for the brands themselves to contribute to the assessment.

Not My Style distills that data into a simple ranking, on a slick, stylish app. You can then make an informed choice about where you want to shop and ensure your style matches your values.

Here's the thing: for Not My Style to work, it has to be collaborative. This, from the Kickstarter pitch, tells you more:

Our mission will only be achieved if thousands of shoppers use our app - that way the brands will have to listen. So our challenge is to build an addictive app that shoppers will want to use and ensure we effectively promote it across the country - and maybe one day the world. We will know we’ve been successful when more brands tell the full story so that savvy shoppers can make informed choices about where to spend their money.
We are also making sure we are on sound legal ground, and will rely on the help of the TrustLaw network to access pro bono support to make sure we are giving you the best information we can.
Finally, we need to make sure you – and the world – trust our ranking system. Our team already brings a lot of expertise in this field and we’ll be working with industry experts to ensure we build something you can put your faith in. We also hope our users and supporters (you!) will provide us with feedback as we go along.
It's an ambitious plan, with room to grow. One of the founder's visions is to use Not My Style as a kind of fashion aggregator, an ethical Asos, if you will. By building that functionality that gives you the information you need when you need (and by using GPS, how close you are to the nearest ethical outlet) the hope is that people power will start to nudge the big brands in the right direction.

It's clever, forward-thinking stuff that puts power quite literally in the consumer's pocket. And with a green-to-red light ranking, it couldn't be simpler to use.

Our View: brands are often elusive about their record on ethical issues. Building transparency into the everyday shopping experience is a very good idea, and we applaud the creators of Not My Style for making something that could well be a game-changer.

BREAKING: Good news! With 11 days to go, Not My Style has reached its funding target. There's still time to get in on the ground floor and be part of the community. For more, check out Not My Style's fundraising page.

Friday 4 December 2015

Change Your Shoes For Everyone's Good!

The image that many of us will take from the recent climate talks in Paris is of shoes. A huge demonstration set to coincide with the talks was banned by the French government, citing security concerns after the terror attacks of November 13th. But the streets were not empty. Instead, in a silent protest that was in many ways more effective and affecting, protesters left behind their shoes in neat rows. Amongst the footwear, a pair of kicks from none other than Pope Francis.
All of which goes to show that shoes are a simple yet vital part of our everyday wardrobe. We barely even think about them–but imagine leaving the house without something on your feet. And here's the thing. Because we think so little about them, the processes by which they are made are ignored.
That's a mistake and a problem, because the shoe industry is guilty of egregious environmental and workplace abuses. Labour Behind The Label's latest campaign aims to shine a light on the way our shoes are made, and how we can help to change things for the better.

The scale of the operation is mind-boggling. 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced in 2014 alone. That's 3 pairs of shoes per person, 87% of which are made in Asia. There's a real lack of transparency in the industry, which means that widespread worker exploitation is commonplace. But worse still, the environmental impact is frankly shocking.

The main health and ecological problem of leather production and shoe manufacturing is the use of toxins in tanneries. The worst of the lot is chromium. This highly toxic chemical is used in the process of tanning raw hides. Chromium residue transfers to plant waste water, causing harmful pollution to the environment and serious impacts on human health, including cancer, blindness, eczema and asthma. There's even evidence that trace amounts remain in the shoes, risking the consumer as well.

The Change Your Shoes campaign aims to raise awareness of this shocking and uncontrolled hit to environment and workers, with the launch of a new app. It will allow you to virtually step to Brussels, and add your voice to those urging governments worldwide to legislate for a fairer, cleaner shoe industry.

Come on, everyone. Step to it.

For more, including details on downloading the app, hit up the Change Your Shoes campaign page:

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Dear Max: A New Power In The Charity Sector

Philanthropy is a big part of what makes charity work. The wealthy giving some of what they have to aid the poor has been part of the circle of life since ancient times. Some religions, notably Islam, make that link explicitly: it is part of your duty as a good Muslim to give a portion of what you earn to those in need. Zakah, as it's called, is one of the third pillars of the faith. It's a recognition that any wealth that any individual has is a gift from God and it comes with an obligation to use that wealth responsibly.

Sometimes, it's hard to see that sense of obligation amongst today's super-rich. Their money is squirrelled away in trust funds, off-shore accounts, in arcane financial deals that keep the taxman from their door. Charity becomes just another part of the portfolio, another way to claim back expenses.

There are notable exceptions, of course. Microsoft founder Bill Gates runs a charitable foundation worth billions, which does amazing work in fields like disease prevention. But yesterday saw an announcement that's redefined the boundaries, and at one stroke put a huge new player on the board.

Congratulations, first of all, to Mark Zuckerberg, the man who brought us Facebook. He and his wife Priscilla Chan are new parents to a baby girl, Max. You might celebrate an event like that with a party. Maybe an announcement in the press. Mark and Priscilla have launched a new charity organisation instead.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has "the mission of advancing human potential and promoting equality", and is being funded with Zuckerberg's own stock of shares in Facebook. This instantly puts the new charity on track to be worth $3bn by 2018.

Obviously it's early days, and we have no idea what works the Initiative will be funding. But this is a big step forward, and has the potential to shake up the charity sector for the common good. Who knows, perhaps Zuckerberg's example will persuade more of the super-rich to step forward and take a little more responsibility for the incredibly fortunate position in which they find themselves.

The last word goes to Zuckerberg, in the form of the letter he wrote to his new daughter.

Dear Max,

Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise, and we hope you will be happy and healthy so you can explore it fully. You’ve already given us a reason to reflect on the world we hope you live in.

Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.

While headlines often focus on what’s wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today.

We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.

We believe all lives have equal value, and that includes the many more people who will live in future generations than live today. Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here.