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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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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Can minimalism make you happy?

girl-minimalism happiness

Oliver James, in his book, ‘Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane’ argues that mass consumption is leading to mass depression across the Global North. This is the exact opposite of course, of what brands want us to believe as they try to sell us our dreams in the shape of a flashy new car or designer perfume.

With many western households now at a point of ‘material saturation’ (Arnold, Graesch et al. 2012) a growing movement of minimalists or voluntary simplifiers are seeking to destabilise the capitalist economy in pursuit of the good life. Extreme minimalists strive to get-by with minimal belongings, living in small, simple homes or even as nomads. Rather than derive status from what they own, they gain status from what they can live without; like Dave Bruno who set himself the challenge to limit his possessions to 100 things and then wrote a book about it, ‘The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul’. In this manner minimalism becomes a cleansing ritual, a way to take control of both the self, and, the external political economy. Similarly, 35 year-old Fumio Sasaki describes the familiar tale of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and the impact this had on his happiness. Freeing himself of most of his things freed himself of the idea that life’s milestones should be marked with yet more things – the car, the house, the designer pram. He now lives ‘each day with a happier spirit’.

At the less extreme end of the scale there is evidence to suggest we are already becoming less materialistic, being instead more focused on experiences. This suggests that we are constructing and expressing identities and building relationships by doing rather than having. These consumers are called ‘experientialists’ and share many of the same values and beliefs as minimalists. That said, there has been much criticism about the instagram generation and how we curate our lives on social media simply as an extension of the social status traditionally attached to other stuff.

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So minimalism: could you do it?
And would you want to?

Material objects are critical to wellbeing, even if we just consider the basic needs of warmth and shelter. The question is, what are the tipping points between happiness and depression in relation to material possessions? Psychological studies on materialism to date consistently state that those who pursue materialistic values report lower emotional wellbeing (Von Boven and Gilovich 2003). According to James Wallman (2013, p.7): “Instead of feeling enriched by the things we own, [we] are feeling stifled by them.” Yet, this sentiment is in contrast to a growing body of social and cultural studies literature that cites material culture as a fundamental feature of everyday life, source of comfort and a way that we ‘manage’ our lives.

The contrast between extreme minimalism and the everyday clutter that fills many of our homes is stark, but the notion of counting (a minimalists’ obsession) and getting on in the 21st Century without the conveniences contemporary life dictates could be considered stressful in itself. More manageable for most of us is a bit of de-cluttering, made popular by Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizational consultant. Having fewer things means less to clean, less to sort, and potentially more cash to spend on other things (or alternatively, less debt). Here are a few tips to get started:

• Make the most of moving. Moving house can be stressful but rather than pack up everything and ship it to the new place, take the time to go through things and work out what you really need. You can hire a company specialising in house clearances to clear out a room and alleviate some of the stress.

• Put your things into boxes/clothes in a suitcase and every time you need something go get it out. With anything still sitting in the box after 3-6 months ask yourself, do you need it in your house? Or can you borrow/hire things for special occasions instead?

• Talking of hiring, familiarise yourself with different ways to loan goods rather than owning them. Girl Meets Dress can fulfil your shopping desires, tools can be hired for that occasional DIY, and parties can be catered for by tableware hire rather than holding onto twenty wine glasses.

• Give away one item each day. That’s what Colleen Madsen did in 2010 with her 365 day resolution to donate, sell or bin one item from her home every day for twelve months.

• Set yourself a challenge. There are a few to help minimise your wardrobe in particular, like Labour Behind the Label’s six item challenge. The idea is to pick six items form your wardrobe and wear only those for six weeks. Sounds extreme? I agree it’s not easy but it’s a good way to get creative with your look and learn to enjoy the ease of not having to rummage through your wardrobe each day. You can have unlimited access to underwear, shoes and accessories, as well as a separate gym kit.

For more inspiration I thoroughly recommend the documentary ‘Minimalism’, available on Netflix.

References/Further Reading

Arnold, J. E., A. Graesch, E. Ragazzini, and E. Ochs. (2012) Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families
Open Their Doors. Cotsen Institute Press: Los Angeles.
James, O. (2007) Affluenza. London: Vermilion
Wallman, J. (2013) Stuffocation: Living more with less. London: Penguin Random House.
Van Boven, L. and Gilovich, T. (2003) To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 85(6)

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The shifting nature of charity shops

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I’ve written a lot about how much I like charity shops, both here and as an Oxfam Fashion Blogger. I even did a PhD on second-hand consumption although not precisely about charity shops. In particular, I’ve written about how charity shopping provides the ultimate guilt free shopping experience; reusing goods is environmentally sustainable, inexpensive, and every purchase delivers a donation to a good cause. It’s seems a win-win (for a more in-depth look at some of the contentious aspects of charity retailing, see Andrew Brooks’ work), but it’s easy to forget that charity shops are a very British affair. Whilst the US do garage sales and Europe have flea markets, no other country has the same kind of high street charity shops we do. Every year charity shops raise over £270m for a range of causes in the UK, so how did they start? And how has their purpose changed?

Charity retailing is the most conspicuously placed form of second-hand consumption with much fuss made over how they’ve increasingly encroached on the UK high street (they are exempt from the business rates that hold back many small retailers). Charity retailing can be traced back to the late nineteenth-century, when William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army organised for donated goods to be collected from well-off Victorian homes to then be sold at ‘salvage stores’ across London (Horne and Maddrell 2002). The primary purpose of this was to provide household goods and clothing to the poorest families, it was in itself a form of charity, but the idea has since been appropriated as a fundraising activity and way for charities to increase their public presence. The first of these sort of shops was opened by Oxfam in 1947.

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Charity shops as they exist today boomed in the 1980s and there are now estimated to be over 11,000 shops in the UK linked to a whole host of local and national charities. Stores have become more professionalised and more closely aligned to first cycle sites of exchange, borrowing many standard retail practices such as size ordering of clothes, mannequin displays, online sales and selling new goods such as Fairtrade food, cards and batch items donated by major high street brands. A significant way in which charity shops are run differently to other retail outlets however is their strong reliance on volunteers. It has previously been estimated that charity shop volunteers alone contribute approximately £150 million worth of labour annually, calculated at the UK national minimum wage (Goodall 2000).

Although the primary purpose of charity shops is to raise funds for the charity concerned, there is still a suggestion that these types of shops have a duty to provide for the less well-off in society. The shift to more professionalised services however, has led others to muse over the prices of charity shop goods. I remember seeing a worn Primark dress in a London charity shop for £9. It seemed steep, but the volunteers expected it to sell to an overseas shopper, unaware of the Atmosphere label. Is this ethical? Where should the shop’s priorities lie? Do you think they should do whatever they can to fundraise for the charity or do they also have a moral obligation to serve the local community? The charity sector have little reason to change their model because it works. Despite the easy availability to inexpensive new goods, and the growth in online second-hand economies, the British love affair with charity shops shows little sign of waning.

Goodall, R. (2000). “Organising Cultures: Voluntarism and Professionalism in the UK Charity Shops.” Voluntary Action 3(1): 43-57.
Horne, S. and A. Maddrell, A. (2002). Charity Shops; Retailing, Consumption and Society. London, Routledge

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Where did fast fashion come from?

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Last Monday 24th April was Fashion Revolution Day, the day that marks the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Bangladesh, 2013. Over 1,100 workers died that day, made all the more tragic by the fact that many had protested outside the building just that morning on the basis of the factory being unsafe. They’d noticed cracks in the walls, they knew something wasn’t right, but they were forced to go to work anyway.

The factory was producing fast fashion for consumers in the West. Brands linked to the factory included Primark, Walmart, Bonmarche and Matalan, as well as some US, German and French companies. Globalisation has enabled complex supply chains so it’s conceivable that these companies didn’t know they had direct links with suppliers so blatantly flaunting safety precautions. All they needed was cheap clothes to sell to the West on mass.

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So, where did fast fashion come from?

For most of history fashion has been slow, very slow. When you had to make your own clothes, or a new dress cost a few months’ wages, there wasn’t going to be anything fast about it. Then the machines started to make light work of spinning, weaving and even sewing, and by the 1920’s the U.S. faced a problem – overproduction.

In the sixty years since the civil war ended in 1865, the U.S. population had increased threefold, whilst output had increased twelve times. By 1927 the textile mills could produce enough cloth for the population’s needs (and by need, I mean actual need, not consumer desire mistaken for need) by operating for just six months of the year. Rather than think, “How wonderful! We can holiday (sorry, vacation) for half the year!” They saw it as a problem of surplus. Their solution, led by the likes of Herbert Hoover, was not to produce less and enjoy the shorter working hours afforded by the Industrial Revolution, but to make the public consume more. By creating a consumer desire for more stuff, they were able to shift more of the new consumables they were producing in the factories and boost the economy: which was needed, because in 1929 the US entered the Great Depression. John Maynard Keynes’ ‘age of leisure’ never came to fruition, as a consumer culture was posited as the route to increased productivity, competition and profits. It was a move that proved popular for consumers, who were promised improved happiness, health and social approval if they only bought more stuff, made all the more accessible with increased access to credit.

Clothing retailers quickly caught on and by the late 1980s were able to offer fast fashion to the masses. As wage costs soared in high wage economies Western retailers relocated assembly offshore, first to places like China and India, and then Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal. By capitalising on the low-cost skills in emerging manufacturing economies, Western retailers were able to plough their labour power into marketing and essentially driving a new consumer culture. This led some economists to believe that it was the suppliers who were set to gain because the increased demands on productivity would make them more efficient and competent and therefore, hold more power than the retailer.

Sadly, the opposite happened because overseas manufacturing facilities developed at a similar rate and the growth in concentration of Western retailers allowed for greater buying and bargaining power on their part. As factories became ever more dispensable to retailers, power dynamics tipped heavily to the brands who were able to place large orders as a way to push piece costs down. Producers had become subordinate to those who design, market and retail fast fashion in the West. The media and retail industries became increasingly entwined, bombarding us with messages to buy, buy, buy, so we’re all working as hard as ever to keep up. We now use shopping as a way to reward ourselves for all those hours at work.

There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with shopping per se. Manufacturing and retail is a huge part of the global economy and provides jobs. Yet fashion is an industry of binaries: producer/consumer, global south/north, rich/poor, shiny/broken. Ethical fashion advocates want to break down these binaries and ensure that the fashion economy works for the benefit of all and promotes craftsmanship and ethical business practices.

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Fashion Revolution encourages consumers to challenge brands on their corporate ethics. This year the campaign has shifted from a one-day event to a seven day ‘Fashion Revolution Week’. This means there’s plenty of time to get involved and ask brands ‘Who made my clothes?’ The more consumers use their voice, the more retailers have to listen. The easiest way to get involved is to take to social media and show your label.

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