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.


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.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Coffee Time!

As a writer, I exist mostly on coffee and imagination. I would be useless on The Pier without my morning shot of joe–although the full pot of filter I got through by myself the other morning was perhaps overdoing it a bit.

Mind you, coffee has benefits above and beyond the obvious slap to the nervous system and creative glands. Throwing away the grounds after you've extracted your mug of go-juice is a waste of a handy resource. It's been long known that spent grounds can go into compost. In fact, Starbucks will give you a bagful if you ask nicely. The aromatic powder is also good at keeping cats off your lawn if they have a tendency to use it as an alfresco toilet.

But it's the naturally deodorising properties of coffee that have the fashion world shaking out their filters. Once stripped of its more fragrant compounds so you don't smell like a fresh mug of Sumatran Blend, coffee grounds have all sorts of uses in clothing.

American Eagle have laden their new range of jeans, Denim X Café and Flex/Café, with 2 and a quarter grams of spent coffee grounds per garment. They claim that it wicks away moisture and protects against UV rays. The deodorising benefit of the grounds also mean that you can get away with a few more wears before washing–an environmental benefit that we've long preached about here at The Pier.

American Eagle aren't alone in seeing the benefits of scooping out the contents of that old cafetière. Good old M&S launched a range of shoes earlier in the year made from waste that included plastic bottles and yes–those grounds. Knicker specialists Sloggi released a range of underwear around the same time made from waste coffee. Focussing on the deodorising properties of the grounds, a British startup called The Ministry Of Supply brought out a set of socks loaded with the stuff. How they deal with a heavy case of the caffeine sweats after an all-nighter on the java is not adequately explained.

All of which goes to prove one point that's a key tentpole of ethical fashion. Innovation is key, and no resource, however unlikely, should be overlooked in the quest for new and interesting products. It's a criminal waste to chuck away your grounds when they could go onto the garden. If they can be of added benefit in clothing that helps to keep landfill sites un-used, then that's all to the good.

Espresso, anyone?

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Mysource: Do Fashion Better!

Fashion–it's easy, right? Sketch out a couple of designs, sew 'em up, sell 'em online, boom, job done. Wash, rinse, repeat until rich.

It's nothing like that, of course. Fashon is a huge business, earning trillions worldwide every year. Supply chains are deeply complex, with different elements of a garment coming not just from different countries but seperate continents. Products are difficult to get right, and making the connections a burgeoning start-up needs to succeed is a tricky proposition.

If you want to work sustainably, the challenge increases massively. 91% of clothing companies don't know where their cotton comes from, opening themselves to the risk of sourcing from slave labour. Poor labour practices run rife, and the fashion sector is the second most polluting in the world. Where do you even begin?

A new resource that hopes to answer exactly those questions is now looking for funding. Mysource, the reincarnation of the Ethical Fashion Forum, seeks to connect fashion professionals from all sides of the trade, from designers to suppliers, enabling the right choices to be made. The end result: promoting sustainable practice in the fashon world on a much larger scale than ever before.

This is a step change for the Ethical Fashion Forum, who have seen interest in eco-fashion jump massively in the last five years. Innovations created by the EFF like online-only conferences have made it easier than ever for manufacturers and designers to meet, chat and do business. Mysource aims to take that model to the next level.

Consider: according to a 2014 Neilsen poll, 55% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for brands with a social or environmental commitment. Environmental brand Reformation turned over $25 million last year, and raised $12 million in additional funds from investors like supermodel Karlie Kross. Meanwhile, household names like Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney have made fortunes from an ethical stance on their clothing. In fact, Board member and Head of Couture at Vivienne Westwood, Brigitte Stepputtis, believes that Mysource will be an indispensable tool to help train her team. She says:

“Mysource is exactly what brands like Vivienne Westwood need. There are no other platforms that compare.”
With disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse still fresh in people's minds, the time is ripe for ethical practice to take centre stage in the show they call fashion. Rather than gradual inroads, it's time to take fashon by the scruff of the neck and march it into the future. This is an incredibly exciting project, and The View will be watching it closely over the coming months.

For now, if you want to know more or even get involved, check out or the Crowdcube funding page at

Friday 23 October 2015

Pier32 and Swansea University

A couple of weeks ago, Swansea University held its Undergraduate Open Day: a chance for dewy-eyed newbies to start to get to grips with college life at one of the prettiest campuses in the UK. It was a rambunctious affair, with plenty of opportunities for selfies with the University's seagull (or maybe a swan?!) mascot.

Student ambassdors were on hand to help out with questions and guidance. They were easily spotted, as they were wearing bright green polos and hoodies you could see from a mile away. You can see where I'm going with this now, can't you? Those tops were provided by Pier32–as they have been since 2006.

Gerry, the Voice of Pier32, tells me that our relationship with Swansea University started thanks to our strong stance on ethical and environmental issues. Since then it's gone from strength to strength. We supply tees, hoodies, hi-vis and jackets for the Fresher's Fair, and the full gamut of clothing for Residential Services, from Workwear Trousers to tabards. The College of Sciences and English Language Training schools order t-shirts from us as well.

If you're a college or university with a need for customised apparel, and understand how important it is to find promotional clothing that's ethically produced, then why not get in touch and see what Pier32 can do for you? If nothing else, it gives you a chance to pick up the phone and hear Gerry's dulcet tones slip like dark velvet into your ears...

There are some more good pictures from the day on Swansea University's Storify account. Check it out...

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Primark: The Devil In The Detail

There's a general air of opinion amongst we ethical fashion types that fast fashion can do no right. Companies like Zara, New Look and especially the best-known UK name in the sector, Primark, are guilty of everything from the pushing of micro-trends to poor quality but super-cheap clothing, factors that keep people buying and a steady stream of non-recyclable clothing heading for landfill. Employee expoitation and dangerous working conditions are all par for the course. So far, so obvious.
The real story is, of course, rather less simplistic.
Did you know, for example, that Primark were one of the first companies to offer compensation to the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse–and that they contributed an amount above and beyond their legal obligation? Furthermore, the company have become the latest signatory to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a non-profit organisation that monitors the Higgs Index of a brand.
Higgs Index? Well, this is a self-assessment tool developed by the SAC that allows companies to calculate the sustainability performance of their supply chain and identifies areas that need to be improved. It assesses both the environmental and social impacts of products.
In a statement, Primark said:
"By measuring sustainability performance, the industry can address inefficiencies, resolve damaging practices, and achieve the environmental and social transparency that consumers are starting to demand. By joining forces in a Coalition, we can address the urgent, systemic challenges that are impossible to change alone."
Parse that statement, and a couple of interesting points emerge. Firstly, they note that changes to transparency and the elimination of "damaging practices" are things that customers are starting to call for. In other words, advocacy of a more ethical fashion sector is starting to make a difference. Consumer power is a real force in moving away from the old toxic models.
Secondly, Primark is very clear that they can't do it alone. Which is why joining the SAC is such a smart move. It has a membership that includes big brand names like Adidas and H&M, agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency as well as non-profits, academic institutions, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. No-one wants to be the first to jump into a new supply chain structure. But by teaming up with a group that can provide a good theoretical and legal framework for such a move, when it happens it's more likely to be a success.
Look, I'm not saying we should all suddenly rush out to Primark to show our support. But it's important to realise that sometimes the bad guys aren't quite as evil as we like to think, and that painting any issue in black and white ignores the subtle hues that are much closer to the truth.

Friday 16 October 2015


What is the future of charity? Some could argue that, with swingeing government cuts to essential services, it's needed more now than ever. At the same time, the funding these charities need is also facing a severe haircut, and austerity and bad publicity mean that people are less inclined to dig in their pockets and donate.

It seems hopeless, but there are always opportunities if you know where to look. Innovations in technology have given charity donation a real boost, with online initiatives like the Ice Bucket Challenge raising millions for motor neurone disease. Giving a fiver to charity is as easy as firing up PayPal. The next big thing is around the corner, and many charities are working hard on smart ways to raise awareness and pull in some cash.

Today, I want to highlight something a little different: an audio drama. iHomeless is a satirical look at the far reaches of charity innovation–the launch of an app that lets you control the life of a homeless person. If they need food, cash or shelter, you're there to help. Unless you're away from your phone, of course...

The drama was inspired by a real app, iHobo, that aimed to show what life was like for a homeless person. With shades of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, iHomeless shows what can happen when interactivity goes that little bit too far. In a bit over six minutes, it skewers our attitudes to homelessness, and the way technology can make us a little too complacent about matters of life and death.

iHomeless is a Tin Can Podcast production, written by Jonathan Brown and edited by Fred Fournier. Starring Fiona McKinnon, Ashley Hope, Keith Eyles, Chris Spyrides and Dave Bibby.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Helping Hippotherapy Northumberland

We work with a lot of lovely community clubs and charities here at The Pier, but none have given me a glow recently quite like Hippotherapy Northumberland.

Let's dispel a few misunderstandings right off the bat. Hippos are not involved in any way, means or form. This is not some weird mis-spelling of the word "hypnotherapy". No, hippotherapy uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully-graded motor and sensory input to kids with disabilities. Simply being on or engaging with horses has remarkable therapeutic results. However, the 3 dimensional 4 point movement of the horse stimulates normal reflex and posture. In conjunction with a therapist alongside who knows how to optimise the experience and therapeutic effect, hippotherapy helps to normalise and bring down spastic and high tone episodes.

Hippotherapy Northumberland is founded and run by Angela Torsch, a recently-retired NHS local community paediatric physiotherapist from the area. She says of her area of specialty:

“The intention is to present this as an activity the child with disabilities can engage in and gain from, physically, emotionally, cognitively and relationally, and helps to encourage posture, strength and balance.

“For many, it is the first time they can engage in a leisure/recreational pursuit and it is a very special opportunity that raises the quality of life for children with even severe disabilities.

“It differs from, but can lead to Riding for Disabled, helping many who are not yet able to access this fantastic service.”

Founded in 2013, the club is going from strength to strength, and we're really happy to be supplying Hippotherapy Northumberland with hoodies. Angela sent us a shot of them in action.


In further good news, Angela tells me that Hippotherapy Northumberland has recently attained charitable status. They're now looking for sponsors to partner families, which will help to make access to hippotherapy an affordable option for kids who could really benefit from it. Their registered charity number is 1163434, if you want to help in any way.

If you want to know more about Hippotherapy Northumberland, your best bit is their Facebook page:



Angela was supplied with Varsity Contrast Hoodies from the Just Hoods range by All We Do Is.


Thursday 8 October 2015

Adidas Are Changing The Game On Closed-Loop Recycling

It's very easy to point fingers at the big manufacturers when it comes to laying blame over the environmental and workplace abuses that have made fast fashion such a toxic proposition. But you need to remember that the big brands really don't like the negative publicity attached to their name. Slowly but surely, they're taking steps to ease back on the damage and actually start to do a little good.
Let's bear in mind that names like Nike and Adidas have huge resources that they can bring to bear onto a particular problem. If they want to crack a nut, that nut gets cracked. Many of these companies now have CEOs at the helm that see the benefit in making their supply lines more sustainable. Five years ago, notions like cradle-to-cradle would have been unknown in the boardrooms of the high street big brands. That's no longer the case.
Adidas has started up a major research project into the notion of the endlessly recyclable shoe. Working in conjunction with WRAP the project, called Sports Infinity, aims to find and develop new composites that can be used over and again to create goods that are customisable to the user's specifications. Adidas says:
“...every gram of a football boot could be broken down and recycled into a 3-D shapeable material for the next creator to mould into their dream product without the use of adhesives.”
Adidas are calling this, with a wrinkle of self-awareness, "game-changing." And they're not wrong. This could have massive implications for the footballing world. Parents with growing football-mad kids would no longer have to buy and bin a new set of boots every few months. Instead they could be remodelled and recustomised. All of this done without the need for toxic chemicals.
Glenn Bennett, executive board member of global operations at Adidas, added:
“Sport Infinity is the next step in our commitment to innovation and sustainability. This project will close the sustainability loop, creating a high-performance product that can always be recycled.”
Extrapolate this development up to the fashion world and you can see what a big deal Sport Infinity's innovations could potentially be. Closed-loop manufacturing would chop landfill waste numbers off at the knees and drastically drop the use of toxic nasties. The introduction of clothing that's easily customisable by the end buyer would mean a radical retink in tired old notions of seasonal ranges and sizings that don't quite work for the model-imperfect human frame. Sports technology is often an innovation pressure-cooker. Where they lead, the fashion world will follow.
Let's put it like this. If a company as big as Adidas are looking seriously at closed-loop recycling, then it's about to become the next big thing.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

A Tonne Of Clothes At Brighton Fashion Week

The big fashion shows are all well and good, but sometimes it's worth checking out the events that aren't at the top of fashion editor's lists of must-attends. Frequently, that's where the most interesting work is being done.
Take Brighton–a lovely place, but not a big signal on the fashion world's radar. They're missing a trick. This year, those of us with an ethical eye would do well to check out Brighton Fashion Week starting on October 15th.
This year's event focuses on sustainability. The theme is disrupton: re-invent the way we design garments, re-think how we consume and re-define what is possible through valuing and renewing existing materials. To that end, consumer group Love Your Clothes and Cancer Research UK are bringing the party to Brighton, in the shape of a tonne of old clothes.
I'm not exaggerating. A lorryful of pre-loved clothing will be arriving at the Brighton Open Market, along with a challenge to students and designers–make something with that. Visitors are encouraged to rummage through the pile to find items that they can reuse or retask into a new garment. Not sure about your sewing skills? No problem! There are workshops on Saturday 17th run by local specialists Sew Fabulous and Eco Makers Emporium. They include basic sewing machine and hand sewing sessions to give beginners the practical skills and confidence to tackle simple projects, as well as classes on upcycling old clothing into stylish accessories.
Visitors are also encouraged to bring and donate their own unloved items. After all, it could find a new home with an eco-fashionista that knows just what to do with that old top you've fallen out of love with. The whole point of the exercise is to get people thinking differently about the contents of their wardrobe. In the UK we buy and bin a million tonnes of clothing a year. Fifty per cent of these clothes are re-used, but around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill despite all textiles and clothing being requested for recycling and charity donation. That has to change. An event like this is a great way to get the public engaged about simple ways to make their wardrobe more sustainable.
Jamie Perry, Campaign Manager at Love Your Clothes said:

“Keeping clothes in use for longer is the single biggest thing we can do to reduce the environmental impact of clothing. There is no reason for any item of clothing to end up in landfill – it can all be re-used, donated or recycled. We’ve got three days of great events planned to show people how they can give their clothes a new lease of life by repairing or revamping them and the value of choosing to buy pre-owned clothes.”
The event runs from 15-17 October at the Brighton Open Market, Marshals Row, Brighton. For more info, and to book a place on a workshop, check out