Infographic: Fast vs Ethical Fashion

When it comes to buying a fresh new t-shirt for the weekend – or any item of clothing for that matter – many don’t give a second thought as to how it arrived on the rail, and at what cost.

A new infographic by Shirtworks demonstrates the true cost of producing a typical t-shirt; from cotton farming to how local workers are treated and paid.

For example, did you know:

• There are roughly 40 million garment workers worldwide; most of which are earning less than $3 per day, with the majority earning less than 25% of the recommended living wage.

• Over 50% of non-organic cotton farmers do not have the correct safety clothing and equipment to protect themselves from harmful chemicals used to produce cotton in bulk. In Pakistan, 74% of female cotton workers suffer from partial pesticide poisoning.

• It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt – that’s the equivalent of over 2 and a half years’ worth of drinking water for a single adult.

Clothing produced through ethical supply chains help to protect the local and wider environment, and offer dignified jobs for local garment workers, who are paid a fair wage and operate from safe, clean working conditions.

Take a look at the infographic below:

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The Ethical Gift Box: Easy, friendly, gift-giving ideas

August 2017 – Jeremy Stone sets off to Asia with his wife Tina and three kids in tow, home schooled on the road as they backpack their way across the continent. Their mission – to teach their children about countries and culture as well as sow the seeds for a new business idea. Exactly a year later they land back in the UK all set to launch a new business; The Ethical Gift Box.

The Ethical Gift Box sells beautifully curated gift boxes containing products with a positive social and environmental impact. Pre-made boxes are creatively designed with individual recipients in mind; For Him, For Her, and for different interests (Cooking, Travel, Lifestyle, Relaxation, Well-being). Customers also have the option of designing their own box of goodies. Most boxes are in the £25-35 range and include a selection of thoughtfully-made things together with a presentation card detailing the story behind the makers. Customers can personalise the box with a message of their choice and their favourite colour in raffia ribbon. 12 globally inspired box bands, ranging from Balinese to Moroccan, finish the look.

Values are core to the enterprise: fair trade values, environmental values and family values too. A life long traveller, Jeremy has always been passionate about fair trade. He is inspired by Andre Gunder Frank’s Dependency Theory and influenced in particular from a long period travelling across the Indonesian Archipelago back in the late 1980’s from East Timor to Sumatra.

Jeremy told me, ‘Indonesia is typical of countries in Asia where you receive so much warmth, kindness and generosity from local people who live from day to day without any long term security. It’s impossible for you not to want to give something back! What’s more, seeing how local crafts people are terribly exploited by middlemen and international traders seeking to maximise profits only motivates us more to instil fair trade principles into our business and ensure that crafts people get paid fairly for their creativity. The delight in selling is not in the selling itself but in being able to go back to a supplier and place a bigger order knowing the knock on benefits that it has to the local community.’

Jeremy has also experience installing environmental values into a major multinational; having worked as Global Environmental Manager for Cadbury Schweppes. He has a wealth of knowledge therefore not only in environmental management but also in global communities and social enterprise.

The integrity of The Ethical Gift Box comes through clearly in the way in which products are presented and described. How often do you see a photograph of the maker next to an online purchase? That’s exactly what you get if you buy this upcycled cushion, handmade by Lamai in Thailand. Whilst many of the products come from connections Jeremy and his family made in Asia there are British made products too, such as candles and miniature bottles of Raspberry infused gin.

Pre-made gift boxes include ‘For Her Vegan Wash Box’, ‘Wine Lovers Box’ and ‘Kids Baking Box’. You can buy products individually too with products filtered by ethics, for example fair trade, recycled, vegan. I love the wooden twig spoon; it’s little things like this that bring me daily joy! Whilst the product range isn’t huge, bath time, stationery, homeware and jewellery are all covered.

I’ve just had four family member’s birthdays in the space of two weeks, six if you count the dogs (and they certainly get presents too!). I always find it a challenge to balance gift giving with my own values; what if what they want is from a store you’d normally avoid for ethical reasons? There’s also the time required to source good quality, interesting and ethical/sustainable gifts – tricky when everyone’s birthday comes at once! The Ethical Gift Box makes this process a lot easier and spreads the love further. After all, it’s not just your loved one who gets a great gift box, but you are contributing to the livelihoods of the talented makers and their communities too.

Visit www.ethicalgiftbox.com

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Micro-fibre pollution: why what you wear matters

Whilst pollution from plastic bags, coffee cups and microbeads has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, another microplastic pollutant is passing under our noses on a daily basis. This pesky plastic is barely detectable to the eye, yet is polluting our ocean ecosystems at a terrifying rate. It is synthetic microfibres, and it’s a macro problem.

These microfibers come from the synthetic clothes and textiles so prevalent in daily life. It’s been estimated that 700,000 fibres could be released into wastewater on an average wash and spin load. Whilst natural fibres like wool and cotton are biodegradable, synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon are not. These fibres are manmade from fossil fuels so, not only are the CO2 emissions from polyester production 3x that of cotton, but the fibres hang around for a loooong time.

Take a look at the clothes you’re wearing now, what are they made of? Mine are mostly cotton (it’s a lounging kind of day), but my Sweaty Betty yoga top is 50% Merino wool, 34% Tencel, 16% Polyamide. It’s an interesting example because this includes all three of the fibre types; wool is natural, Tencel is a regenerated fibre from wood cellulose and Polyamide is manmade, very similar to polyester. In fact, polyester can be found in 60% of our clothing and it’s easy to see why; polyester is cheap, durable, crease-resistant and easy care. In some ways it’s more environmentally-friendly to produce than cotton because it has a lower water footprint and there’s no need for pesticides, but it does have a bigger carbon footprint.

Despite polyester’s useful properties I tend to prioritise natural fibres over synthetics because they are exactly that – natural. I have been aware of the ability to release microfiber pollution through the process of washing our clothes but it wasn’t until I spoke to Gintare from Amberoot that it really hit home. Gintare has a close affinity to nature and is passionate about reducing plastic pollution. Based in Brighton, UK, Gintare left a job in banking to set up a sustainable and ethical online clothing shop. Her goal is to encourage consumption behaviours that do not have a negative impact on the environment, other people or animals. Although she works with brands that emphasis holistic ethical work practices, the story behind Amberoot isn’t one of fairtrade or organic clothing per se, but instead is focused on shunning the pollution caused by synthetic fibres, turning instead back to natural ones. Natural fibres doesn’t mean just cotton and wool either; there is a growing list of exciting options from bamboo to orange fibre!

Gintare says: “The research regarding the microfiber effect on soil, air and health effects on humans is currently ongoing. There was some research regarding the health effects of inhaling microfibers and on health effects for soil and eventually us. But this is just very beginning, more studies are surely to come.”

The environmental impact of washing synthetic fibres has attracted a few studies but results are not conclusive. A study by the University of Plymouth for example found that more microfibers are released in the first four washes a new garment receives and that fabric composition and detergent choice also affect the amount of fibres released. Polyester-cotton mix consistently shed significantly fewer fibres than either polyester or acrylic. The addition of bio-detergent and fabric conditioner increased the numbers of fibres shed. Another study from earlier this year found that worn (old) fabrics shed more in the wash as did looser textile weaves.

Based on the research there are things you can do to limit your microplastic fibre footpoot:

1. If you need the performance of polyester, try poly-cotton mix (or something like my Sweaty Betty top) rather than 100% synthetic fibre.
2. Wash at a lower temperature. In the aforementioned study by Imogen Napper at Plymouth, washing at 40 degrees led to more fibres shed than at 30.
3. Try a GuppyFriend washing bag.
4. If you know a plumber, you could attach a filter system to your machine. It seems to me that manufacturers should be working towards this as standard. Maybe they are.
5. Look for natural fibres, care for them and wear them for years to come.

Amberoot is well worth a browse because Gintare has curated a range of beautiful brands, many of which were new to me. What’s particularly useful about the website is you can shop by accreditation (e.g. Fairwear, B Corp, PETA) as well as by brand. Buying natural, biodegradable fabrics means that you can avoid the pollution effects scientists are now discovering are caused by synthetic fibres. Amberoot stocks men’s and women’s clothes as well as home goods. I’m very tempted by the Motumo loose-fit linen dresses (see above)- yes they will need ironing, but I just wouldn’t wash it all that often! I also love the lingerie and nightwear by AmaElla and knitwear by Izzy Lane. The latter is knitted from the undyed wool of rescued sheep. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, I don’t know what will.

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Josefin Liljeqvist: Changing the way we source leather

Josefin Liljeqvist is an award-winning Scandinavian luxury fashion tech brand. The business model uses a technological solution to improve traceability in the leather industry, working on the premise of sustainability and improved animal protection. The company developed their own software to trace the leather supply chain, allowing customers greater insight into and connection to the way in which their product was made. An initial luxury leather menswear shoe (ANDREW) has been designed and launched to consumers in order to test and showcase this software. ANDREW is a luxury menswear shoe (certainly not cheap) but Josefin’s ultimate goal is not to just be a fashion brand but actually change the leather industry to make it more sustainable. And we all know a key way to be more sustainable is to buy far fewer, better quality things.

There are a range of environmental problems associated with leather production, many of these overlapping with the meat industry more generally. While some people (i.e. vegetarians and vegans) choose to shun leather altogether, Josefin Liljeqvist is targeting a different market on the premise that if we are to continue raising animals for meat and leather (a byproduct) then we can at least work to do it better.

The limited edition ANDREW shoe is produced from fully traceable leather, tanned in an eco-tannery in Sweden and an expert tannery in Italy. Made to order and crafted by Stefano Bemer, Josefin has plans to launch two more shoe styles next year. Meanwhile, she hopes the system she has developed to track the leather supply chains can be adopted widely across the industry in Sweden and worldwide.

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Phasing out fossil fuels: a step in the right direction

Guest post by Leanne Thompson

“Clean growth is not an option but a duty.”

Those were the words spoken by Theresa May following the release of the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy last October; a plan that aims to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy through the 2020s.

And she’s right.

The warming of the Earth from burning fossil fuels will have major repercussions at some point in the future: rising seas, mass extinctions, super droughts, increased wildfires, intense hurricanes, decreased crops and fresh water and the melting of the Arctic are expected. And that’s before listing the direct effects on human health.

Moving away from fossil fuels is imperative and as innovation in renewables and green energy continues, many sectors and areas are coming up with ways to help consumers become actively more conscious.

One of the more obvious sectors is the automotive sector, and the continuous surge of people buying hybrid and electric vehicles. Car manufacturers are investing a lot in developing both hybrid and all-electric vehicles so they are able to keep up with the onslaught of tightening emissions standards from governments.

It’s estimated that by 2030, there could as many as 9 million pure electric vehicles on the roads in the UK. Currently, there are 38 million vehicles on UK roads altogether. While this appears to be a great forward move (and, on the whole, it is), there is the issue that creating electricity often requires the burning of fossil fuels, which seems relatively counter-productive.

However, as Eco-Business reported, renewable energy actually became the cheapest form of electricity in 58 emerging economies last year, meaning creating electricity by clean means is beginning to look like it will soon become the norm. In the UK at least, renewable energy accounts for 26% of energy production (as of earlier this year), and even though wind speeds have been lower than in previous times, because wind farm capacity is increasing, energy generation is higher.

With these dramatic falls in the cost of renewable energies, such as solar PV, onshore and offshore wind, as well as battery energy storage technology, the prospect of complete decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity supply is now in sight.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, Chief Adviser for Renewable Energy and Climate Change at the National Farmer’s Union, has stated the importance that the farming sector will play in decarbonising the UK’s heat supply, explaining not only the opportunities for farmers and landowners that are available in producing low-carbon gas for energy, but of new technologies that are on the horizon.

Talking about the excitement surrounding electric tractors, which may be rolled out a soon as 2020 – at least ten years sooner than many had speculated – he said, “imagine a farm where electric agricultural vehicles are connected to charging points in large solar equipped ‘carport-style’ machinery sheds, earning additional income from so-called ‘vehicle-to-grid’ network balancing services while they are on-charge. This may be no longer science fiction, but instead the technology of the near future.”

And it’s not just the commercial large-scale industries and organisations that are transferring to electric based machines. With the power of the sun available to almost everybody now, with household solar PV panels available at diminishing prices, even luxury items like ride-on lawnmowers can be emission free.

“There are times in the summer, when I’m running my electric lawn mower, I realise I’m mowing my grass from the sun,” said a Mr. Sherer, a householder who’s had solar panels on his roof for 6 years. Making small changes, such as replacing a petrol mower with a cordless electric one, may seem insignificant, but as Jesper Berggreen writes in Clean Technica, talking about and recommending products like this with friends and neighbours “the likelihood that they will also make that choice increases.”

While there are many obvious products and sectors that can be revamped to become more green, there may be a huge one hidden in plain sight. Currency, and the printing of money, creates large amounts of emissions, however, as the cryptocurrency boom takes place, it seems that the future of money is digital.

This would eliminate the need to run factories to manufacture the currency, and while mining the likes of BitCoin may produce large amounts of emissions, there are countless other digital currencies that are produced by lower emission-producing means that could begin to catch up.

All in all, it is impossible to ignore the green direction that the world is headed, and with more companies and individuals getting on the bandwagon, the ball will keep rolling.

Leanne is a freelance writer with a passion for travelling and reading. When not exploring parts of the world, you’ll find her buried in a good book and relaxing with her dogs.

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Study on PhD student wellbeing: positive psychology interventions

I look back on my PhD as one of the best periods of my life. It was very demanding but I enjoyed the sense of ownership and progression, and I had a great ‘family’ of other PhD-ers around me. I watched some of my peers really struggle though, with all kinds of things including having family to care for, difficult supervisors and a general lack of motivation. I too found it an overwhelming emotional burden at times. However, I had already acquired certain skills and resilience to manage this. I’ve always been fairly good at self-motivation and I tried to look after myself with regular yoga, meditation and exercise.

At the beginning of 2016 I was employed on a three-month research project on doctoral student wellbeing and access to support. Our findings have recently been published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. Immediately after the research post ended I was pleased to be employed with student services at the University of Southampton to work on the implementation of recommendations arising from the project. This included the launch of a ‘5-Ways to Wellbeing’ campaign, new PhD support website, mindfulness classes and a draft of recommendations for supervisors. An earlier draft of our journal paper included an in-depth look at recommendations for supporting student wellbeing. It draws on the positive psychology literature to discuss resilience-building activities. Because it was cut from the paper I thought I publish some of this missing section myself here! But first, some context –

Student mental health is a pressing concern and whilst much of the emphasis has been on undergraduate students, a few studies have turned their attention to postgraduate students. We might expect that, being fully-fledged adults, PhD students are better equipped to deal with academic demands. However, when you consider that a full-time PhD usually lasts at least three years, requires a huge sustained mental effort, involves working alone or at least isolated in your thoughts, and leads to a very precarious job situation at the end, you can see why people struggle. On top of that, you’re at the age where you might have children to look after, want a mortgage and see your friends in well-paid ‘normal’ jobs. Many people now do PhD’s part-time whilst working, eurgh! Many leave their home country/city to do their PhD. And everyone, at some point, feels totally and utterly stupid.

The mental health of Flemish doctoral students was highlighted in a recent academic study (Levecque et al 2017). The data found 51 per cent of students had experienced at least two symptoms of poor mental health over the course of their research degree, and 40 per cent, three or more symptoms. Work-life balance was the strongest indicator of psychological distress according to Levecque et al’s study, closely followed by job demands (i.e. workload). This same study found that doctoral students were significantly more likely to be affected by poor mental health than the highly educated general population, highly educated employees, and higher education students in total. Our own study, which you can read about in the paper, found a prevalence of anxiety, stress and depression. 20% of our students said they’d been to their doctor about feelings of mental distress since starting their PhD and more than 10% had attended counselling. We concluded that the university needed a more proactive stance on mental health. Drawing on Positive Psychology was a fruitful approach to develop ideas for building resilience; thoughts outlined below:

Positive psychology reinforces the notion that psychological capital can build on an individuals’ strengths in order to provide the resources needed to form positive outcomes in ones’ relationships, wellbeing, academic and professional success. A focus on wellbeing, and thus psychological capital, has been increasing in the workplace over the last decade. Positive Psychological capital (PsyCap) is defined as:

“an individual’s positive psychological state of development characterized by: (1) having confidence (self-efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks; (2) making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future; (3) persevering toward the goals, and when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope) in order to succeed; and (4) when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond (resilience) to attain success” (Luthans, Youssef, et al., 2007, p. 3).

The discipline of positive psychology has three main concerns, understanding positive emotions, understanding positive individual traits and understanding positive institutions. This triad encompasses the holistic, joined up approach we believe is necessary for doctoral student support. As an example, positive emotions have been found to momentarily improve individual performance and broaden thought-action repertoires responsible for building enduring personal resources. With performance seemingly key to researcher wellbeing, it seems reasonable to assume that promoting positive emotions can improve doctoral experiences and thus success.

Positive psychology interventions (PPIs) are treatment methods or intentional activities that aim to cultivate positive feelings, behaviours, or cognitions. PPIs can, according to Donaldson et al (2015), be categorised into five key areas; mindfulness and meditation based, coaching interventions, strength-based interventions, affect-based interventions and gratitude interventions. They can be delivered on an individual basis, in groups or online. I will now focus on the first three here, starting with mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness is a popular intervention and its status as a recognised wellbeing technique has increased hugely in recent years. It includes various methods such as yoga meditation, mindfulness based cognitive behavioural therapy and stress-management programmes. Structured mindfulness training delivered as an incremental course has been found to have positive effects on stress management, resilience and subjective wellbeing in a range of groups, including students. Doctoral researchers in our focus groups asked for more opportunities to take part in mindfulness training. The challenge comes in offering this to a wide range of students with limited institutional resources, and in encouraging students to stay for the 8-week course. Such initiatives need to be embedded in cultural change whereby students (and staff) understand the benefits of taking proactive steps to support their mental health.

Another PPI highlighted by Donaldson et al (2015) is coaching interventions. Most of these were rooted in what they call a solution-based cognitive model; identifying areas of ones’ life that could be improved through dedicated steps. In a higher education setting we are more likely to refer to coaching as mentoring, again something raised in the focus groups as a preferred method of dedicated doctoral support. As a PPI, coaching has been found to increase cognitive resilience and hope, increase goal attainment and related feelings of wellbeing and enhance self-motivation and engagement.

The final PPI I wish to focus on is Strength-based intervention. This is about focusing on stengths rather than weaknesses. Proyer et al (2015) shun the term weakness completely, in favour of ‘lesser strengths’. The study found that focusing interventions on character strengths improved happiness and ameliorated feelings of depression. They used a list of 24 character strengths, suggesting that every individual possesses three to seven strengths that characterise them best. Focusing on activities that use these strengths promote excitement, increasing life-satisfaction, self-awareness and long-term wellbeing. This seems particularly interesting to consider in the case of doctoral researchers, who are often plagued with self-doubt and peer comparison. Strength-based interventions could be incorporated organically into postgraduate teacher training, benefiting both the doctoral student and their students.

Personally, I can’t imagine my life without yoga. I also practice general mindfulness and Autogenic Training. I learnt long ago to focus on what I have achieved rather than what I haven’t, and I know that stress is bad for my health and indeed my productivity so I try not to let things get to me!

Donaldson, S.I., Dollwet, M. and Rao, M.A. (2015) Happiness, excellence, and optimal human functioning revisited: Examining the peer-reviewed literature linked to positive psychology, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10:3, 185-195

Levecque, K., Ansel, F., Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J. and Gisle, L. 2017. Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46: 868-879

Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., and Avolio, B. J. (2007). Psychological capital: Developing the human competitive edge. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

Proyer, R.T., Gander, F., Wellenzohn, S. and Ruch, W. (2015) Strengths-based positive psychology interventions: a randomized placebo-controlled online trial on long-term effects for a signature strengths- vs. a lesser strengths-intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 456

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