Beats for Global SeeSaw

Tammy, Han and Me with Global SeeSaw's goodies

Tammy, Han and Me with Global SeeSaw’s goodies

Music, fair trade shopping and wholesome food (and wine) is my idea of a pretty perfect Friday night. That’s exactly the position I found myself in last week at Mettricks Guildhall, Southampton, at Beats for Global SeeSaw. Global SeeSaw are a Hampshire-based social enterprise who work with women in India to produce and sell fair trade bags, clothing, jewellery, homeware and gifts. Southampton graduate and blogger, Hannah Talbot (Han Meets World), pulled the event together to showcase Global SeeSaw’s great work as well as promote local artists (musical ones that is). It was a fairly familiar format for Global SeeSaw, who are used to working with local community groups and churches to hold shopping parties and showcase events. They also sell online and wholesale to independent shops.

Global SeeSaw products

Global SeeSaw products

For me, one of the best things about the evening was meeting Tammy from Global SeeSaw and Han, who I’d previously only known on Twitter, to talk about ethical fashion and social justice and all those things that mean so much to all three of us. I’d recently been feeling a bit lost in terms of my role and impact as an ethical fashion/shopping advocate (see my story here) so just having the chance to get involved in the conversation again was a big motivational boost. I also felt sad that I don’t live in Southampton anymore to fully immerse myself in the cultural shift that seems to be occurring in the town. Because I’m not sure where I’ll be in three/six months I’ve been hesitant to commit to particular events, or make contacts in my local area (i.e. back home, where I haven’t properly lived for ten years). I want to get back into doing things again – doing things and writing about things!

Charlie Hawkins takes to the stage

Charlie Hawkins takes to the stage

Global SeeSaw has been selling fair trade goods since before fair trade became fashionable. They started off as the UK distributor for Freeset, an enterprise with the aim of creating sustainable employment for women who have been trafficked into prostitution. They now work with a range of producer partners in India, using sustainable materials like jute and organic cotton to create their products. All profits from Global SeeSaw are re-invested into the business to create more employment and freedom worldwide. At the heart of their model they fight against human trafficking by providing employment to vulnerable women.

Freedom Bracelets made from recycled saris

Freedom Bracelets made from recycled saris

Last Friday’s event not only showcased Global SeeSaw’s products but also fundraised for the enterprise, with Mettricks donating all of the takings from a limited edition charity cocktail. Attendees were entertained with music from locally-based student artists (shout out to Charlie Hawkins, Aaron Lewns and Archie Combe) and tucked into wholesome dishes from Mettricks’ menu. I nearly went home with one these happy chaps, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about a bar crawl around Southampton’s finest. I might have to start my Christmas shopping soon instead!

Why not hold a fair trade shopping party of your own? You’ll find more information about their Freedom Parties here.

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My Ethical Fashion Journey from School to PostDoc

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This is a re-post from the wonderful site Just Stories where I was asked to contribute a post about my ethical fashion journey. JustStories.live is a new blog set up to share individual’s stories as they attempt to live a more sustainable and/or socially just life. I think Just Stories marks a return to a more honest blogging style. Many blogs have become just as monetised as other forms of media and blogs have become a projection of an ideal image rather than a realistic depiction of ordinary people muddling through. Just Stories isn’t trying to sell anything; Sarah, the brains behind it, just wanted a platform for people to share their experiences, and if it also inspires others then that’s great.

Here’s my story. It also provides an update on what I’ve been doing this summer (which, you may have noticed, hasn’t been much blogging).

I have a love/hate relationship with fashion. On the one hand I love the vibrant colour of a kaleidoscopic digital print, the luxurious feel of thick velvet and the innate power of a little black dress. On the other hand, I hate the fact that new stock hits high street stores on a weekly basis, that there’s an estimated 3.6bn items of unworn clothes hanging in British wardrobes and that, on 24th April 2013, 1134 people in Bangladesh failed to return from their garment factory jobs because they had been crushed to death making cheap clothes for us consumers in the West.

The general gist of this won’t be new to you. We all know about sweatshops, and how, twenty years after Nike and GAP first hit the mainstream news accused of child- and sweatshop labour in the early 90s, the Rana Plaza collapse brought it all screaming back. I was at school in the late 90s and like many young girls I loved clothes, with my heart set on a career in fashion by the time I was 13. When I was 16 I did work experience at Sugar magazine and chose my A-level subjects based on my desire to study fashion at University. To me a career in fashion was glamorous, bold and fun – basically the opposite of how I felt as an awkward teenager.

It all went to plan for a few years (although I wasn’t cool enough to get into the London College of Fashion) until I started to become interested in ethical fashion in my second year of Uni. I really can’t remember a trigger; I don’t think I watched any particular programme or anything, I just became aware of the fact that there was an ugly side of fashion, hidden from public view. I researched this for an entire year, writing my final year dissertation on sweatshop labour. By the end of Uni, when I needed to start looking for jobs, I remember telling my housemate how disillusioned I’d become with the industry and how I wasn’t sure I wanted to work in it. The problem was I’d spent the best part of a decade planning my career in fashion, it shaped my academic choices and work experience, what else could I do?

I had a few options. I applied for jobs but the only ones I got interviewed for were fashion-related (shocker!) and once I started getting interviews it did renew my enthusiasm for the industry. I applied for an MA in international business and intercultural communications thinking it could broaden my options; I was still interested in fashion and retail, I just knew there must be a better way. In the meantime I was also contacted by my undergrad dissertation supervisor. She had been awarded funding for an ethical fashion project and wanted me to be her research assistant, so that’s what I did. I also did an MPhil in ethical fashion, switching from researching labour, as I had done for my undergrad dissertation, to researching the environmental impacts of cotton production and ethical marketing.

I started my blog emmawaight.co.uk in 2010 where I compiled a directory of ethical fashion companies and continue to provide commentary and reviews. I wrote for other websites too, and volunteered for the Ethical Fashion Forum just as they were getting started. As a regular consumer so much is hidden from us but it’s very difficult not to care once you know, when you’re researching something full-time. That said, I wasn’t and am still not perfect. I still shopped on the high street, with token purchases from ethical brands.

There was a fascinating experiment run in Berlin last year for Fashion Revolution Day (now held annually on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse) where a €2 t-shirt vending machine was placed in the city centre. When passers-by inserted their money for a tee they were shown images of the shirt’s production at sweatshops around the world, before being offered the chance to donate their €2 to help incite change. Despite not even being told where their money would go, 90% chose to donate rather than take the t-shirt. Knowledge empowers consumers, without it we lethargically consume more and more without a second thought.

Source: Fashion Revolution

Source: Fashion Revolution

After my MPhil I went on to a different university to do a PhD in Human Geography. It was a steep learning curve (turns out GCSE Geography, even an A*, doesn’t get you very far) but Geography soon became my home. My PhD was about mothering and second-hand consumption of children’s things, so still shopping, but not ethical fashion. I kept my toe in the water though, continuing with my blog, starting a new ethical fashion website that has since ceased, organising a one-day ethical fashion conference, being one of the first Oxfam Fashion volunteers and co-founding a clothing ‘swap shop’ at the University. As my research interests have become more varied however, and I’ve become more time-pressured by work, I feel like I’ve lost my way a little. One of the reasons I closed down my second website, apart from lack of time, was that I started to doubt myself. I haven’t been involved in academic research on ethical fashion for years, I don’t work for an NGO or ethical enterprise, I haven’t seen a garment factory with my own eyes, and yet, others introduced me as an ethical fashion expert. I preferred the word advocate; I didn’t feel like an expert, or even an activist – I wasn’t doing enough.

As is the curse, the more I had learnt the less I felt I knew. I met people who went to garment factories in Bangladesh and India and said they weren’t that bad. I listened to the ‘at least they have a job’ arguments and ‘factory work empowers women’ narrative. It’s true, Western consumption supports millions of jobs in the Global South. I don’t always know which retailers are good or bad. I don’t know what I even mean by good or bad. I was getting more and more emails from people who wanted to start ethical fashion enterprises of some sort but I knew even the biggest ethical fashion companies weren’t making any money. I wanted to help publicise them but I didn’t have time to write a blog about every one, and I didn’t want my blog to be a series of adverts, so my blog writing slowed down considerably.

I was asked to write this blog at pivotal time. I recently sold my flat and moved back to my parents because I couldn’t rely on fixed-term research jobs to pay the mortgage. I’m focused on the academic job hunt, all my spare time spent working on job applications, research proposals and paper writing. The ethical fashion stuff has felt like a distraction from that, something I could easily leave at the wayside as I start the next chapter of my life. Although I’ve let my campaigning slip my personal consumption habits are more focused than ever. Shopping is democratic; we vote every time we buy something. Personally, I don’t want to give my money to fat cat company executives who exploit everyone else down the supply chain, I want to give my money to enterprises like Assisi Garments who supply People Tree. Set up by Franciscan nuns, they provide training and employment for deaf, mute and economically disadvantaged women in India. Transforming lives through trade – that’s where fashion’s real beauty lies.

The same week that I was asked to share my story here, I attended a session on ‘Scholarly Activism’ at a major Geography conference in London. With academics, fashion designers and campaigners all in one room sharing ideas, I realised I didn’t need to choose one or the other. The ethical fashion movement has gained huge traction; sustainability and corporate social responsibility are beginning to be integrated into education and messages are becoming clearer but there’s still a long way to go. Capitalism as we know it has failed us in many ways. This month, the major Fashion Weeks will be trying to sell the same garments we’ve had for centuries, just mashed together in a different way. We can choose to be part of that, or we can choose not to.

If you choose not to there are LOADS of alternatives. Brands like Nomads, People Tree and Monkee Genes offer excellent quality, style and are not necessarily more expensive than your regular stores. EthicalConsumer.org have a super website were you’ll find brands ranked on their ethical credentials. I have a long list of ethical brands on my own website too, and I’ll try to blog more, I promise.

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Thesis online: The social, cultural and economic role of NCT nearly new sales

nctposter

My entire PhD thesis is available online so if you are interested you can take a look here: THE SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC ROLE OF NCT NEARLY NEW SALES: Second-hand consumption and middle-class mothering

Many thanks to the participants and NCT branch volunteers who supported and contributed to the research. The project was funded by the ESRC’s Retail Industry Business Engagement Network and sponsored by NCT.

Happy reading!

Second-hand childrenswear at an NCT sale

Second-hand childrenswear at an NCT sale

Abstract: NCT nearly new sales are held across the UK as a service for local parents to buy and sell second-hand or used baby clothes, toys and equipment. This thesis investigates the social structures influencing participation, individual consumption practice at the sales (and of mothers at home) and the social role of the sales. With an emphasis on mothers as co-consumers, the study utilised a mixed-method approach of participant observation, interviewing and a quantitative survey across 13 sales/branches in the UK.

Findings suggest that the typical middle-class demographic participating in the sales are not financially or socially excluded from conventional first-cycle retail but rather attend the sales in order to get the best value for money and to buy extra, non-essential baby goods, as well as for social and moral reasons of reciprocity. The thesis explores the tensions and responsibilities of motherhood as enacted through consumption practice and structured by the themes of social class, thrift and co-consumption. As a diverse retail space, attendees with higher levels of social and cultural capital benefit most from the sales and are able to mobilise the sales for both material and social/cultural resources as a space of bonding and learning. Whilst not common, the sales can encourage further involvement with NCT as a parenting charity and in local parenting networks.

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Live LAGOM Project Update

recycle-logo

It’s been three months since I picked up my sustainable living stash from IKEA (see here for my first post about it). Because I live on my own in a small flat it was a struggle to spend £500 (I didn’t spend it all) – I wanted to pick things that really would be useful. The changes I’ve made have been small but I’ve become a lot more conscious about everyday living. The bulk of the money actually went on soft furnishings to keep my flat warm because with old electric heaters and no double-glazing it did get chilly! I picked a huge soft rug for my living area which made the world of difference, it was really noticeable how cold my feet got elsewhere in the house. I also put up new blackout curtains in the bedroom and blind for the kitchen. The blind was a bit tricky because I had to cut it to length so that it fit snuggly in the window. This involved sawing through the (very thin) metal rod and cutting the blind with a Stanley knife. I have a recommendation for IKEA on this – print squared guidelines on the back of the blind to make it easier to cut straight! It’s a very inexpensive way to improve the look and warmth in the kitchen though so was well worth taking the time to fit it properly.

Me enjoying the view more than DIY

Me enjoying the view more than DIY

My New Year’s Resolutions

My resolutions were 1) zero food waste 2) stop wasting heat 3) achieve 100% recycling 4) save water. I’ve already discussed saving heat so let’s think about food. First, I’ve been popping down to my local weekly ‘Veg shed’ whenever I can. Not only is it supporting local growers but it’s great value for money and means I get things in season and at their best. I’ve been far more careful with portion sizes and had a clear out of the cupboards and freezer so I could keep track of exactly what I had.

On to recycling . . . Now, I don’t think I can say I’ve reached the 100% recycling zone but I’ve certainly been trying. I took the time to visit the city council website to see exactly what could go in my recycling bins (magazines – yes, gift wrap – no) and I’ve been washing out my jars and plastic tubs rather than lazily throwing them in the bin. I found out the council even have a recycling app with all the important info and collection dates. I also had a sort out and visited the City Depot Recycling Park. It was fantastic to see so much going on. I took years’ worth of broken and unusable electronics – old kettle, lamp, laptops, things that can be broken down and disposed of/reused safely.

And finally for my saving water efforts. The main change I’ve made is to reserve baths as a treat and stick to showers. I just felt so guilty sitting in a huge tub of water. I also realized that I often took a bath to warm up when I got home but by taking the steps to keep the flat warmer anyway that wasn’t so necessary.

My plans moving forward are to keep going as I have been and as spring comes start foraging more for food!

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The Health Hazards Lurking in Sanitary Products

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I need to talk about tampons. Not the prettiest subject but that’s probably why we don’t talk about them very much. And why I haven’t thought about them very much.

Sanitary products have been around since the 1930s and women everywhere are forever grateful, but the materials they are made of have barely changed in that time. Conventional products are made of Rayon – the man-made fibre created from cellulose wood pulp (cue the slaying of many trees), non-organic cotton (bad for farmers, waterways and wildlife) and synthetic materials like polypropylene (non-biodegradable). That’s not to mention the widespread use of plastic tampon applicators that take 25 years to biodegrade, littering our seas in the meantime.

So I think it’s safe to say sanitary products are bad for the environment, but that’s not all. Conventional products are also treated with a whole host of nasties. These can include chlorine to increase absorbency and make the products white and chemical fragrance. Rayon and viscose fibres can shed in use, leaving behind dioxins that cling to the vaginal wall. Not something I want in my intimate parts. The World Health Organisation claims that dioxins are highly toxic, interfering with the immune system and hormonal balance. The crazy thing is there is no in-depth scientific research on the impact of using these sanitary products (or is it that surprising really?) but for those of us who like to avoid toxic chemicals wherever possible there are alternatives.

TOTM make organic tampons and sanitary towels, 100% free from pesticides, chemical fertilisers, perfume and bleach. They only use cardboard applicators and their products are 95% biodegradable. Healthier for the planet and the women using them, they offer a subscription service so you can have supplies sent straight to your door (or you can submit one-off orders). A box of 10 regular applicator tampons cost £2.80 – more expensive than cardboard applicator Tampax but about the same as their fanciest pearl compak.

I’m converted.

Go to www.totm.com

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Book Chapter Published – Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies

book consumption

Edited by Emma Casey (Senior Lecturer Sociology at Kingston) and Yvette Taylor (Professor at Strathclyde), Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies explores the importance of consumption in shaping the intimacies of everyday life. With contributions from ten academics spanning sociology, anthropology and human geography, this volume develops debates surrounding the emotional and material labour involved in producing domestic and intimate spaces. It builds on previous volumes focused on everyday and gendered consumption including Jackson and Moore’s (1995) The Politics of Domestic Consumption and Casey and Martens’ (2007) Gender and Consumption – both key texts adopted during my PhD.

The edited book came about after a BSA Families and Relationships Study Day in early 2013, convened by the editors. It represented a key point in acknowledging the role of material culture in providing a sociological understanding of everyday life, at a particular point in time following worldwide economic austerity. I presented some findings from my PhD research at the event which led to an invited chapter in the resulting volume. The book was published at the end of 2015 and a launch event held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow on 29th January 2016. It was the weekend of storm Gertrude which made it rather more eventful!

The volume is in three parts:

Expanding the Field: Conceptualising Intimate Consumption
‘Sticky’ and Shifting Sites of Intimate Consumption
The Intimate Social Life of Commodities

Individual contributions include Julie Seymour’s look at the use of space and practices of display in commercial family homes (i.e. family run pubs and hotels), Sarah Wilson’s account of the significance of material objects in constructing a sense of belonging for young people in care and Rachel Hurdley’s investigation of making home in the workplace.

My own chapter considers the practices appropriated by middle-class mothers in negotiating the perceived risks inherent in consuming second-hand baby clothes, toys and equipment. Here is the full abstract:

Focusing on the mother as consumer as well as carer, this chapter considers mothers’ co-consuming practices related to used/second-hand baby goods purchased at nearly new sales. Citing second-hand consumption as an intimate and risky practice, the material negotiations and risk reduction strategies practiced by middle-class mothers as they engage in consuming second-hand baby items are discussed. Thirty mothers were interviewed, with the narrative of risk focused on two main themes: hygiene and safety. Concerns over hygiene were particularly prevalent when consuming textiles that were seen to harbour traces of the previous other or dirt that may contaminate the ‘pure’ child. Whilst practices of divestment and cleanliness in the home were not necessarily normalised (but were influenced by social factors) the second theme, that of safety, was heavily structured by social conventions and recognised guidelines and offered less scope for subjective mediation.

Waight, E. (2015) ‘Buying for Baby: How middle-class mothers negotiate risk with second-hand goods’ in E. Casey and Taylor, Y. (ed.) Intimacies, Critical Consumption and Diverse Economies, Palgrave Macmillian, London, pp.197-215.

I fully recommend the book for anyone interested in material culture, consumption, everyday life and relationships.

feet-baby

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