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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Parliament launched a review into the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry: here’s why it won’t work

The UK fashion industry contributes more than £28 billion to national GDP but not without consequences. A new Parliamentary inquiry is examining the social and environmental impact of the huge fast fashion industry, focusing on the environmental footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. The review was launched in June and is taking comments and evidence from the public until September 2018. It is chaired by Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. Speaking on behalf of the committee, Mary said: “Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.”

This raises a few questions for me:
• Does the industry want to remodel itself and if so, to what extent?
• How much remodelling are we talking about here? Isn’t fast fashion inherently unsustainable?
• Could/should a Parliamentary inquiry lead to more Government enforced regulation?

The inquiry will examine the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. It will look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution reduced. This is all because it’s obvious that circulating clothing through our wardrobes at the speed to which fast fashion retailers would like means a whole lot of resources, wastage and pollution.

So why not address the consumption model itself? Changes to address singular problems will not lead to significant benefits without addressing the economic system surrounding fast fashion and consumer culture. A focus on decreasing the environmental impact of fast fashion is only part of the issue, the bigger problem is consumer habits. Stores like H&M and New Look are doing good things to help make their impact less bad but ultimately, they still want to sell a lot of clothes. You’ve seen those in-store recycling bins in H&M, TKMaxx and M&S? This works to divert guilt – ours and theirs – but really sends a message that consumers can keep on consuming so long as they donate their unwanted clothes to charity (there are problems with this in itself as shipping our cast-offs to low income countries has been found to harm local employment and manufacturing industries).

Don’t get me wrong, the review is welcome and every change helps, but if we’re really talking about doing things differently an environmental impact audit isn’t the starting point. It’s the fast fashion model that needs to change and this is very, very difficult when the UK is run on a stifling model of capitalism. Success is based on economic impact – we need to earn a wage and we need to consume. Government doesn’t want to interfere with that if it upsets business. The fashion industry itself is a huge employer and source of creative and service (not manufacturing) export. Various strands need to come together to change the system. Some of these are:

• Education, education, education. I’ve written about this before and not just for fashion students but for all students there should be a focus on sustainability, CSR and alternative measures of growth incorporated into learning at all levels. Normalising a different way of working and living will filter into their own consumption habits as well as their work, and it’s already happening.
• Designers need to take more responsibility for resource use. Waste should be a massive taboo; closed loop production should be prioritised.
• Cultural change needs to come from the media, both mainstream and social media, to continue to shift the focus to experiences rather than material consumption and possession. While advertising works as it does this is unlikely to lead to a complete shift.

Sustainability is about viewing a problem holistically, something that needs to be taken into consideration with this Parliamentary review. Fast fashion is inherently unsustainable unless we think outside the box, like changing the look of our clothes digitally or designing pieces that are ‘throw-away’ in a different sense by being completely biodegradable. And why not?

Want to have your say? The Committee invites submissions by 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018.

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How Vegan Footwear is Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry

Guest post from The Lux Authority

When shopping for high fashion accessories, fashionistas have often sought apparel made from leather, suede, silk, and fur. The sleek feel, softness, and fit of leather made it highly desirable in the fashion world. The functionality of leather and fur can provide warmth without bulkiness for athletic types and nature lovers. Silk has been coveted for hundreds of years due to its smoothness on the skin and lustre to the eye, but unfortunately, the fashion industry’s gain is the animal world’s loss. In the past, for a majority of the fashion conscious, there was just nothing else like the fit and feel of genuine animal products. Fortunately, that has changed. At the request of the growing numbers of vegans and others adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, more designers are creating beautiful, stylish, and kinder alternatives to clothing made at the cost of animals and the environment.

As an increasing number of people are choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, there is a greater need for vegan options for fashionable clothing. For many years, artificial leather, suede, and fur were available, but they didn’t have the same look or feel as the real thing. Appearances are important, making it difficult to be able to be socially and environmentally responsible while looking great in haute couture. For far too long, it was nearly impossible to find cute, cruelty-free shoes. But now, vegan footwear is revolutionizing the fashion industry.

The vegan footwear brand, VEERAH, knows what it means to reduce and reuse. Why wastefully buy several different pairs of shoes, when you can make one pair look and function like many? Each pair of shoes purchased comes with a coordinating accessory such as a strap, tassel, brooch, or even fringe to change the style of the shoe from plain to fancy and casual to dressy. VEERAH straps can serve double-duty as fashionable bracelets. Their new long-lasting, durable shoe line, Appeel, is made using recycled apple skins to create a fabric more breathable than leather to lead the way in the slow fashion movement.

VEERAH Shoe Set

Bourgeois Boheme also creates beautiful shoes from plant based products. Many of this British company’s high-end, luxury shoes are made from Pinatex, a textile derived from pineapple leaf fibers that remain and otherwise become waste after the pineapples have been harvested. Even legendary Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo has been influenced by the movement of using plant-based alternatives to more traditional fabrics. Famous for creating leather substitutes due to the lack of availability of the real thing during wartime, the company has released a collection in collaboration with Orange Fiber, a company specializing in making textiles from citrus skin. These textiles can replace lace, silk, and satin.

Another company making leather substitutes is Mycoworks. Using mycelium found on the underside of mushrooms, Mycoworks creates a fabric with the appearance and performance of leather. Not only can this be useful in creating vegan footwear, but similar technology can be used to make fabric that is thin enough for other clothing such as, dresses and jackets. The fabric is naturally antimicrobial and compostable making it eco friendly and sustainable in addition to being vegan.

These innovations in vegan products that were initially inspired by dreams of cute vegan footwear have led many celebrities and designers to move to an animal-free fashion philosophy. A growing list of vegan celebrities, including Zooey Deschanel and Jessica Chastian, have chosen to walk the red carpet in animal-free couture. Both Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway have chosen to be photographed wearing shoes from vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin. Stella McCartney has led the way for many other brands, such as MIAKODA and Cri de Couer, to eliminate animal products from their lines and adopt a more eco-friendly and sustainable approach to fashion.

Beyond Skin Martha Shoe

An increase in the number of people who wish to live responsible, sustainable lifestyles combined with a desire to look good while doing it has led to a revolution in the fashion industry. Leading the way is the innovative vegan footwear industry. In an attempt to get the benefits of textiles made from animal products without the cruelty, vegan shoes just might help save the world.

Kelsey is the Managing Editor at The Lux Authority and is trying to balance both her budget and her credit card balance. She likes to live lavish and treat herself when the opportunity allows it. She loves the newest tech, old cars, the smell of rich mahogany, and leather-bound books as well! When she isn’t working, Kelsey is an avid academic, artist, stargazer, blogger, and yoga enthusiast.

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Plastic Free Friday!

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth launched Plastic Free Friday. Buoyed by public awareness of the dangers of excessive plastic consumption, Plastic Free Friday asks us to ditch the single use plastic for at least one day a week. Sounds simple, right?

Plastic pollution has been a key public concern in recent months/years, with the award-winning series Blue Planet commended for raising public awareness across the globe. The 5p consumer levy for plastic bags, started in England in 2015, was a turning point in consumer awareness; making most of us at least more conscious about our plastic footprint. The number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets in England in 2014 stood at 7.64 billion – 200 million more than in 2013. Since the levy, the use of single-use bags has decreased by 90%. Now a report by the UN states that more than 50 nations have pledged to cut their plastic pollution. The report also outlines 35 potential plastic substitutes, presenting solutions to the problem of single use plastic.

As well as being a global concern, plastic pollution is something we are all responsible for. Friends of the Earth’s campaign is a great starting point for cutting down on single use plastic. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started:

1. Take your own shopping bags to avoid the single-use plastic ones.

2. Morning tea drinker? Check that your tea bags are plastic-free or switch to loose leaf. Several tea bags use polypropylene to seal the bags.

3. Pack your own lunch box to avoid buying a sandwich on the high street, and remember to take your re-usable mug for caffeine on the go. ECOlunchbox have a great range of plastic-free lunch box solutions.

4. Buying dinner? Buy fresh, loose veggies from the market or supermarket. See if there is a wholefoods store near you that sells loose food cupboard essentials to carry away in brown bags or your own reusable containers (rice, spices etc).

5. For post-work cocktails, tell the bartender to ditch the straw. Or at home (or even to take one with you) Poppy Bee make reusable stainless steel straws to replace their plastic cousins. Poppy Bee UK sent me their straws to try out (see said Friday night G&T above) and I am definitely a convert. They are the only LFGB certified reusable straws on the market (i.e. strictly tested for safe human use) and come with a cleaning brush, as well as being dishwasher safe. Buy them on Amazon.

Join the conversation at #PlasticFreeFriday

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