Wednesday 31 August 2016
Over the past few years, I've become increasingly obsessed with having decent socks. TK Maxx has revealed itself as a good stockist of bamboo items, which are hard-wearing and light. I am a massive advocate of alpaca too, which has anti-bacterial properties meaning that you can wear them for a week without needing to change them.
Well, alright, a few days.
In my dotage, I have also lost patience with the notion of socks needing to match. It's boring, especially if you have an eye for a bright pattern or a bold argyle. Better to mix it up and keep it funky.
I'm glad to see I'm not on my own in this. Marianne Wakerlin, AKA The Socklady, has been knitting for most of her life, after her mum taught her the gentle art at age nine. She decided to have fun with patterns and wild colours, deliberately making sure that the two socks in a pair didn't match. She found she was onto something. Friends and family members couldn't get enough of her crazy creations, and she realised that she had the germs of a business.
Founded in 2000, Solmate Socks now sells across the globe. They're made from recycled cotton (hence the intentional differences in colour) and knitted in a small, family-run mill in Marianne's home state of Vermont, before being hand-finished. The socks are soft and cosy: just the sort of item that draws one's attention now that Autumn is round the corner (sorry, but it is). Grab a pair online, and see just how much simpler your life can be when you don't have to fuss about finding two socks that match in the morning!
For more, check out the Solmate Socks site (link leads to the UK store, or find them on Amazon).
Friday 26 August 2016
But the universal appeal comes with an issue. That is, that most t-shirts simply don't fit us properly. Think about it. We're different shapes and sizes. A dazzling variety of trunk length, shoulder width and so on. The notion of 'small, medium or large' simply can't be expected to cover the infinite variety of the human frame. In fact, research suggests that nearly 80% of us can't find t-shirts that fit properly.
The only solution would seem to be going down the custom-made route, which until recently would have been prohibitively expensive. But the phenomenon of crowd-funded companies that are able to cut costs has seen a rise in the availability of luxury products at bargain prices.
The latest of these is Son Of A Tailor, a Copenhagen-based startup that sees a well-fitting t-shirt as the core of a stylish outfit. Using a smart algorithm that can calculate the perfect fit with the need for a mass of measurements, Son Of A Tailor claim that they'll get the fit right first time over 95% of the time. If it isn't, they'll replace the garment for free.
The tees are made from organic cotton, with a built-in shrinkage ratio. So, as opposed to your shop-bought garment getting too tight after a couple of washes, Son Of A Tailor t-shirts will fit perfectly for longer.
With options for customisation including sleeve length and neck width, and a discount if you buy a stack at a time, Son Of A Tailor seems to be a smart way to upgrade your t-shirt game. If an item fits correctly and keeps its shape then you're more likely to wear and keep it for longer. Altogether now with the Sustainability Mantra–Spend More, Buy Less, Choose Wisely.
Son Of A Tailor won't rejuvenate the t-shirt trade overnight, of course. And sometimes you just want a cheap, baggy logo t-shirt to bum around in. But a rethink of a traditional model is always a good plan, and I for one am intrigued to see if these guys can give us a better option for those times when we just want to smarten up a little more.
For more, check out the website: https://www.sonofatailor.com
Thursday 25 August 2016
And yet, we're also very good at turning disaster into opportunity. Particularly when there's a little bit of money to be made.
The Adidas x Parley sneaker is a prime example of the cross point between environmental activism and fashion savvy. Designed in conjunction with the Creators Base in Brazil, this light, sleek shoe has been built using ocean plastic harvested by our pals at Sea Shepherd!
Made from plastic waste found in the Maldives and illegal deep-sea gill-nets recovered by our favourite sea-pirates, the sneakers have a light, open-weave feel. Of course, they're completely recyclable and sustainable.
The Adidas x Parley is a limited edition designed as a promotion for World Oceans Day, but you could easily view it as a proof of concept for a more extensive range. Let's face it, there's a lot of plastic in the ocean that's comparatively straightforward to harvest and reuse. We should stop just seeing it as a problem to be solved, but more as an opportunity to be taken.
For once, our exploitative tendencies could be pointed in the right direction, and used to make ocean plastic a thing of the past.
Take a look at the sneakers here.
Monday 22 August 2016
And not just any old rag. The Daily Mail.
The approach taken by fashion writer Polly Dunbar is that of value for money, mixed in with a healthy dose of nostalgia–both hot-button items for yer average Mail reader. By pointing out the cheap materials and rushed production methods inherent in the model, Polly makes it clear: fast fashion items are shoddily made and will fall apart on you quickly. Testing popular brands, she found out that some would fade or lose their shape after only two washes.
There's also an admirable dig into the science in Polly's extensive piece. For example, garments that use a blend of fabrics that shrink at different rates will lose their shape much more quickly–and the majority of fast fashion items are exactly that.
She delves into the history of fashion, with the help of Daniel Milford-Cottam, a fashion cataloguer at the V&A. Even clothes made in the 60s and 70s, which we have the unfair perception of being badly, cheaply made were in fact skilfully and sturdily constructed, and in the most part from long-lasting natural fibres.
This being the Daily Mail, there has to be an element of conspiracy, of course, that somewhere along the line we're being deliberately ripped off. In this case, Polly and Daniel talk about planned obsolescence, and how modern production methods guarantee that clothes won't last as long. Machine-sewn buttons that come off easily, unfinished running seams... We've all seen them, and it's pretty obvious that they're a symptom of an industry that believes in cranking 'em out and selling 'em cheap.
The article concludes with a few tips on buying with an eye to the future. We're properly down the rabbit-hole here, friends, as The Daily Mail recommends the Spend More, Buy Less, Choose Wisely model that we've championed here at The Pier for years now. It's a massive vindication of ethical fashion.
Our View: while we shudder to actively promote an article in The Daily Mail, Polly Dunbar's piece is really worth a read. Forensically researched and full of practical tips that can be applied to real-world shopping habits, it's one of the best works of journalism on why ethical fashion matters that I've read all year.
If the mainstream is getting the message, then we could be in for some major changes.
Read Polly's piece. Just stay away from the Sidebar Of Shame, okay?
Polly Dunbar's piece on the Fast Fashion ripoff.
Friday 19 August 2016
As ever, our Olympians have presented a sharp, smart image at the Games, helped by graphic t-shirts and warmdown wear in bold, bright designs. Which is where events enter the remit of this blog, of course, as those garments were designed by a favourite of The View: Stella McCartney.
A standout feature of the new kit is the Olympic Coat Of Arms, designed by Stella in conjunction with the Royal College Of Arms. Featuring lions, the national flowers and a crown of medals, the design is celebratory and unashamedly patriotic. That didn't mean Stella had an easy ride with it, though. She told Vogue:
The boldness of the design, which could be mixed up and reincorporated into other elements, gave Stella the freedom to present a range that was never boring while presenting a unified front. This was important. She explains:
"I really fought for the coat of arms. I had to go through so many governing bodies, BOA, BPA, to get approval - and I'm not used to that. It's a bit like being back in school. But I wanted to gift the nation."
The kit is technologically advanced as well, with innovations from team supplier Adidas meaning that the clothes are lighter and more capable of keeping athletes cool during events. It's the perfect balance of style and function, and has helped Team GB to present themselves at their very best.
"The obvious thing is to work with the Union Flag. But what I wanted to do this time was to have imagery and icons within the treatment that felt individualised. So every single piece of the kit is different - different pieces of the design have been pulled out and blown up - and that meant that we had to style it more, create outfits from different pieces. Whenever I talk to the athletes, they say they want to feel like a team. I wanted them to feel like one."
You can buy Stella's designs, and at least pretend that you're an Olympic athlete. On your marks, get set, go to the TeamGB shop and fly the flag!
Thursday 18 August 2016
It's called the Attitude-Behaviour Gap, and it's a real stumbling block to getting a clearer idea into how ethical shopping can become more mainstream. To put it simply: we say one thing and do another. Why is that?
A short article over on the Ethical Trading Initiative website digs into the problem, and comes up with some interesting conclusions. There are a number of factors at play which, when put together, means that we're not quite as ethical in action as we are in intent.
The first issue is that of information overload. Anyone that spends an amount of time a day on the interwebs can sympathise with that, of course. An acquaintance of mine often says 'the more I research, the more confused I get.' And therein lies the problem. Contradictory reports, the lack of clarity as to what action to take, or even how effective that action can be, leads us to make a lot of encouraging noises without actually doing that much.
Then there's the problem of what to do when you actually need a new outfit. You may head to the shops with the best of intentions, but the fact remains that ethical choices on the high street are still thin on the ground. Even brands that make a big noise about their conscious standpoint like H&M only stock a limited range of ethically-sourced products, with a tiny selection of colours and sizes that shrinks the choice still further. What you want to do and what ends up happening may diverge simply because the items you have in mind aren't available. This doesn't just apply at an individual level, either. You're just as likely to be buying for a friend, child or loved one as for yourself. How easy is it to buy ethically then?
Social pressures play a part as well. Fitting into a group can mean dressing in a certain way or spending time and money in certain shops. What if someone you want to impress drags you along to Primark on a Saturday afternoon? How do you say no to that based on your conscience? If your moral judgements and those of a larger societal group are different, it becomes that bit harder to make and stick to the right decision.
It's clear that this disconnect works across the board: look at the surprising results that have come out of big political events like the Brexit vote, which most polls indicated would be a whitewash for the Remain camp. If we're not telling the whole truth when we talk to researchers or fill in an online survey, then we shouldn't be surprised when results don't match up to expectations. Does this mean the whole idea of the 'ethical consumer' is largely fictional?
Well, no, but with caveats. We've seen how easy it can be for fashion brands to roll back on controversial decisions with a well-aimed dose of Internet ire. People, at heart, want to do the right thing by garment workers and the environment. But the terrain is still dense and difficult to navigate, and it shouldn't be surprising if our best intentions can be overridden by the choices we have to make in the real world in order to get things done.
Tuesday 16 August 2016
You're also investing in a certain image, of course. Those of us who wear sports brands are advertising that we have at least thought about the idea of doing something athletic, even if that does turn out to be watching the footie in the pub.
But then there are the brands that allow you to align yourself with a more socially responsible agenda. H&M have for years tried to become the conscious choice–not, it has to be said, with 100 percent success. But one brand has a history of shouting out about social injustice, through the awesome power of slightly dodgy pullovers. That company is Benetton.
You could be forgiven for slotting Benetton into the 'do you remember?' files. But back in the day, the brand and their edgy, direct advertising were everywhere. United Colors Of Benetton preached equality, and campaigned for AIDS research and against racism in a way that reached out to a high street audience. Sure, they were sometimes controversial (one poster depicted the moment a young guy died of AIDS-related illness, surrounded by his distraught family) but the headlines and the profits kept rolling in.
That stance made Benetton fans out of a lot of people, who bought the clothes partly with the understanding that their money was going to a company that cared. One of them was Stylianee, who wrote movingly about her relationship with the brand on What Eve Wears. She bought Benetton for the same reasons that all of us that invest in ethical fashion do: the clothes were long-lasting, and the company behind them seemed to have a soul.
But Stylianee's story is one of heartbreak. She realised that, over the years, Benetton has become just another fast fashion brand. She says:
Worse yet, she discovered that Benetton was one of the brands found to be making clothes in Rana Plaza. They would eventually pay compensation, but only after a bruising PR exposé that pulled apart their caring, sharing image and showed them to be just another greedy fast fashion outlet.
Benetton, the brand I always admired for its creative and provocative marketing campaigns, its visual bravado for love and equality, its Social Responsibility Strategy, the UNHATE Foundation and so on so forth, that Benetton that fascinated me, it perspires (sic) that it was doing exactly the opposite of what it was preaching: it was producing in sweatshop conditions and it was polluting the environment without batting an eye.
There's some good news that comes from this. Stylianee now organises Fashion Revolution events in her native Greece. She also keeps an eye on her old favourite, as part of the #WhoMadeMyClothes? initiative. She notes that Benetton seems to be moving production to the Balkans and Eastern Europe, perhaps over the outcry post-Rana Plaza.
But her story is one that's worth sharing, especially if you're a fan of one particular clothing line. Do they do what they say, and source responsibly? Or has the bloom gone off the rose, leaving something that smells a little rotten? If in doubt, check the label, do a little digging... and prepare to fall out of love with your favourite brand.
Friday 12 August 2016
Part of the draw of cashmere is its rarity. Drawn from the winter undercoat of the Hircus goat, the fibre is hard to get at and only available for a short period. In a good year, the global cashmere yield will be around six and a half thousand tonnes. But that supply is dependant on a finely balanced array of environmental factors. As climate change bites, those factors are shifting.
The Hircus goat lives and feeds on remote grasslands in China and the Mongolian steppes, which are suffering from brutal degradation. Harsh winters and summer droughts have decimated the herds, with some estimates putting the total at 9 million head lost over the last year.
At the same time, brands like Uniqlo are selling cashmere at bargain prices, which bumps up demand. In response, farmers are increasing the size of their herds–which of course puts further pressure on the spare pickings on the grasslands. An unexpected side effect is that the goats that do survive are becoming tougher, the essential fine winter under-coat becoming coarser and less attractive to buyers. With rising temperatures further affecting that insulating layer, some industry experts are gloomily predicting a major fall-off in the supplies of good-quality cashmere.
This is a concern throughout the fashion industry, and in part explains the stance that it is taking on climate change. You can control the look, the marketing, the way the shops sell your goods. But a threat to the raw materials on which everything is based is a business-ending crisis.
So there's something of a fight-back on the cards. The Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) was launched last year to protect the animals, pastors and the environment on which they depend. The Chinese government has applied embargoes on herd size. Meanwhile, a selective breeding programme backed by money from luxury brand behemoth LVMH aims to boost the quality of that all important undercoat–leading to smaller herds but a higher yield of gold-standard cashmere per animal.
There's a possibility, of course, that this could be too little, too late. If so, then the luxury brands will no doubt have a strategy in place for the shrinking supply as cashmere becomes ever rarer and more desirable. But the impression I get is that no-one wants that, and in fact the big names are working hard to protect the herds. It's a good sign that the fashion industry is starting to realise they have a duty of care to the environment, and that responsible stewardship could mean that we can all enjoy the softness of cashmere in the future.
Thursday 11 August 2016
Now, I could get all preachy and talk about how ethically unsound the whole process of going on holiday is. We buy a load of new clothes, towels and lotions, much of which will be used a couple of times before going back into landfill. We jam onto overloaded planes that use millions of gallons of precious fuel a year, descending on previously unspoilt resorts that are now polluted hellholes of nasty bars and cheap hotels.
I could do that, but it would be uncouth.
Instead, let's talk about a new initiative taking off on IndieGoGo that might just lessen the environmental load a little bit. Unbound Apparel takes the idea of holiday packing, and applies the 'less is more' principle to it in a really innovative way.
Think about how you pack for a fortnight away. Half the weight in your suitcases is down to the two weeks worth of clothes that has to go in there. 14 days-worth of pants, socks and base layers. Reducing that load would go a long way towards dropping the amount you take away with you.
Unbound Apparel has created a simple kit that could shrink that two-week load down to a single set of pants, socks and t-shirt. The garments are made from merino wool, which is naturally moisture-wicking and odour-repellent. In simple terms, clothes made from merino stay fresh, wrinkle-free and wearable for weeks. Unless you accidentally spill moussaka down your top, there's no need to wash them. Even then, merino rinses easily and dries in a flash.
Normally, merino is hideously expensive. Not surprising, really–it's a highly prized fibre, normally used for high-performance active wear. But the team behind Unbound Apparel have done that crowd-fundy thing of cutting out the middleman. This means they can offer a set of undies, socks and t-shirt for $110. That's fifty percent saved on the normal retail price of this sort of item. The t-shirt is simply styled to go with pretty much any outfit. The pants and socks are the best you'll ever wear.
Imagine cutting the usual two-suitcase load for a holiday trip down to a backpack. Imagine being able to blow past the luggage carousel and get straight on with your break. Imagine the savings on fuel if we all did that.
Well-known thinkers and leaders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are famous for cutting down on their wardrobe choices, for devising a costume and sticking to it. It's one less thing to think about in the morning. On holiday, we will often buy a ton of new clothes that we'll never wear again. Sometimes, we don't even wear them on the break they were specifically bought for. This summer, why not spend a little more on gear that could be part of your travel wardrobe for years to come?
Pack less. Holiday more. Makes sense, right?
For more, check out Unbound Apparel's IndieGoGo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unbound-apparel-the-ultimate-travel-hack--2#/?ref=10.go2.fund&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=10.go2.fund
Tuesday 9 August 2016
We've all seen the horror stories: the Olympic Studium in Athens rotting away, unused and forgotten. But after the 2012 Games, universally hailed as a triumph, much noise was made about the way Queen Elizabeth Park and ongoing lottery funding would support the people of East London.
It seems, though, that things haven't quite worked out that way. Quite the opposite, in fact. The government diverted £425million from the Big Lottery Fund to help build the Olympic Park in Stratford–a sum it is yet to repay. This is despite a final underspend figure on the 2012 Olympics of nearly £500million.
Moreover, charities are furious that the Stadium has been handed over to West Ham Football Club for the next 99 years. Charity relief campaigners The Directory Of Social Change, which has called on the new Mayor Of London Sadiq Khan to intervene, points out that the stadium was built using public money and will now solely benefit the owners of West Ham. Hardly the definition of legacy we'd consider to be in the best interests of the people...
The need to pay back monies owed to the Lottery have become more urgent in the face of Brexit, as charitable causes are set to lose £225million in EU funding. The Third Sector, struggling more than ever as donations dry up, need the money they are rightly owed to keep themselves, and the lives of the people they support, above water.
Ciaran Price of the Directory For Social Change puts the situation plainly:
Our View: this is simply unsporting behaviour by the government, who seem to view Big Lottery Fund money as free cash that they can dip into as and when they need. This sets a dangerous precedence, and should be rightly pushed back against. It's bad enough the money was taken in the first place, but as it transpires it was never needed, it should be immediately returned to the people who can make best use of it.
“While many charities are seeing demand for their services rising at a speed never before experienced, and while they are finding it more and more difficult to get the financial support they need to meet this new level of demand, the government has been sitting on this money, continuously trying to kick it further into the long grass, hoping we’ll somehow forget about it.”
Friday 5 August 2016
So, something light and simple for our Friday post. I'm a big fan of Tricker's Shoes. Sturdy, hand-made items that are designed to last for more than a lifetime. Seriously, Tricker's footwear is handed down from father to son. Sure, they cost more. But they're not throw-away items. And as locally-made items that support British artisans, they're a brand to celebrate. One day I shall own a pair. Oh yes, one day.
I came across a short video that looks into the hard work and attention to detail that goes into the creation of a bespoke pair of Tricker's shoes. If you're a fan of process videos or the slow shows on making chairs or kitchen knives that BBC Four does so well, then you're in for a treat here. Take a couple of minutes to enjoy this.
Wednesday 3 August 2016
It's rare to find a manufacturer that can see that and treat the animals from which wool comes with the appropriate level of respect. Outdoor brand Patagonia is one of that saintly few. Since 2011 they've partnered with an Argentine farming collective, Orvis 21, to source merino wool at the highest level of ethical stewardship. It all seemed like a winning situation.
Then, last year, PETA released photos showing the abuse of sheep at the Orvis 21 compound. Dismayed, Patagonia took drastic measures. The company decided to stop buying wool from any supplier until they could guarantee the right level of animal welfare.
It's taken a year. Now, finally, Patagonia have restarted their wool programme. And it's a step change.
The Patagonia Wool Standard has been undertaken with consultation from highly respected names in husbandry and welfare, including Dr Temple Grandin. It takes as a baseline the Responsible Wool Programme, which for many manufacturers would be above and beyond the call of duty. And then it goes much, much further.
Apart from the welfare of the sheep under its care, Patagonia also looked closely at land management, ensuring that the pasture on which the animals graze is well looked after. Issues like pesticide and fertiliser use and the protection of the land's biodiversity are all carefully monitored as part of the programme.
Above all, Patagonia came to the realisation that wool is a byproduct of animals that are bred for slaughter. It was their responsibility to make sure those animals were given a life as stress-free as possible. From birth to a compassionate end, the Patagonia Wool Standard is designed to respect the sheep who provide them with the highest quality of wool for their needs.
Our View: it's unusual to see a company that admits a keystone policy has gone wrong, but Patagonia's approach to animal welfare is something else again. I can't think of another company that would put a halt to the production of a major line for nearly a year to make sure it is produced responsibly. A tip of the hat to them.
To find out more about the Patagonia Wool Standard, start with the press release.
Tuesday 2 August 2016
A major theme of his campaign stance is his promise to bring jobs back to America. He wants to restart industry in the moribund Heartland states, the core of his support. But Trump can be as guilty of outsourcing as his opponents. Take, for example, the well-shared photo of his iconic 'Make America Great Again' cap, highlighting its 'Made In China' tag.
It's no surprise that many items that bear the Trump branding are made overseas. But, as a coruscating Buzzfeed article recently made clear, clothes made using Trump's name are cut and sewn in factories with some of the worst worker's rights records out there.
Honduras is not known for a progressive approach to dealing with the people who work in the huge garment factories that crank out clothing for multinational brands. In fact, workers are often abused and silenced if they dare to make a stand.
Protexsa, a company owned by one of Honduras' highest-ranked families, holds a reputation for tough conditions even in an environment that treats workers as second-class citizens. The factory floor often reaches temperatures of 105 degrees. But people on the line limit themselves to small sips of water as they work. Even toilet breaks could cause them to slip behind quota and lose the production bonuses that allow them to live instead of just survive.
Worker Rights Consortium, a labour-rights monitoring organisation based in Washington investigated Protexsa in 2013. That followed concerns about the clothing the factory produced for the City of Los Angeles. WRC's report concluded Protexsa to be in 'serious violation' of fair working conditions. Workers were forced to take mandatory six-day weeks and faced abusive supervisors.
Until 2014, when records become unavailable, thousands of items of Trump-branded clothing came out of Protexsa. The clothes were marketed as luxury items. They were bound for stores like Macy's (who recently stopped stocking the brand following Trump's derogatory statements on Latino workers). But their manufacture took place in an environment that was anything but.
The Republican nominee's organisation is keeping a tight lid on details about the sources of Trump-branded products. This is unsurprising, as scrutiny of the man and his business practices will only increase as we head towards November. It'll be interesting to see what new insights we glean about the most divisive Presidential candidate in recent US history, based on the way he sources his production.