Say it with a t-shirt: the new political discourse in ethical fashion

Bee Maverick Tee, Deborah Campbell, £32. Fair Wear certified, £5 donation to Womens Aid

On 17th April I went to an ethical fashion and beauty event hosted by Southampton Solent University Fashion student, Anna Macken. The PR event, developed for part of Anna’s final major project, showcased four fantastic ethical fashion or beauty brands. Know the Origin and Willow Beauty both presented their products at the event, along with Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup. Representing the latter two brands in person were the two respective founders, and listening to the two founders deliver talks to the audience, a common theme rose to the fore. Both were producing garments in a responsible manner, but, more than that, they both wanted to say something through their designs. Unlike some creative endeavours, these messages weren’t meant to be subtle fashion statements; both brands were using slogan tees to take a stand.

Slogan t-shirts aren’t new. Although Katharine Hamnet is often hailed responsible for popularising the radical slogan tee in the 1980s, clothing had been used to silently demonstrate political standing earlier than that. T-shirts are universal items: democratic, cheap, and unisex. They are the perfect canvas to communicate something more. High fashion designers were incorporating political ideas into their collections in the 1970s (think Vivienne Westwood) and more recently, Dior sent a model wearing a ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirt down the catwalk, directly referencing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We should all be feminists’ book. It seems, when Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director of Dior in 2016 she wanted to make her mark. The feminist tee certainly did that, but not for all the right reasons (plenty complained about the undemocratic price tag of £500). That aside, Dior’s t-shirt perfectly encapsulated the mood of the moment. Clothing could once more be used to political effect.

Fortunately, Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup come in at a more accessible price tag than Dior, and with a more interesting profile for that matter. Their founders are driven by purpose, integrity and creativity. After years working in the fast fashion industry, Deborah Campbell started her eponymous brand by producing beautiful printed dresses, tops and skirts drawing on the work of contemporary artists. Her current focus lies in statement t-shirts and charity collaborations. Deborah works with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and Women’s Aid. The latter charity inspired her ‘Future Female’ campaign – a range of ‘Future Female’ tops and corresponding blog championing gender equality.

Future Female tee, Deborah Campbell

Deborah says: “Future Female promotes every day gender equality through conversation. I became aware of casual sexism, and soft mysogynistic behaviour after hearing Emma Watson launch the #heforshe campaign and I really started listening to every day conversation. And what I heard was, littered with casual sexism and stereotyping that holds women and men back. The need to change the everyday is key because I believe these small changes in behaviour and attitude will lead to bigger changes and women and men will begin to see freedom from gender in-equality and we will see humans evolve to be more united”.

The impact of everyday conversation can’t be underestimated. What we wear can be a conversation starter, and so can what we post on social media. Deborah has made the most of these platforms to create her own movement, using her fashion brand as a springboard. It’s a feature reflected in the mission of Maison de Choup. Maison de Choup, also at the Southampton event, was founded for a specific reason – not to produce fashion per se, but to lift the taboo on mental health. Conceived in 2014, Maison de Choup is the creation of George Hodgson – a young artist who found the strength to be able to draw something positive from his own struggles with mental health. T-shirts adorned with slogans such as ‘Warrior not worrier’ and ‘Words fail me’ have touched the hearts of many as the profile of mental health has increased in public discourse. Maison de Choup works with many charities and offers a percentage of proceeds to YoungMinds.

Maison de Choup is taking a stand on mental health

Both brands use organic cotton and ethical sourcing to develop their respective ranges. One might have expected them to talk about this at the ethical fashion event, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they have so much more to say than that. Sustainable sourcing was taken as a given, and these passionate founders want to use their products to say more. Fashion has always been a vehicle to communicate and it’s interesting to see true ethical fashion merge with other worthy causes. Whether you call it fashion, politics, ethics or culture, more and more of us (propelled by social media) are using clothing as a platform for debate. With this trend, ethical fashion is taking on a whole new meaning.

https://maisondechoup.co.uk/
https://www.deborahcampbellatelier.com/

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Sustainable Fashion and Beauty Pop-Up Event: Southampton, 17th April

Purest.PR is a virtual PR agency with the aim of supporting ethical and sustainably minded fashion and beauty brands. The idea of the agency has been developed by Anna Macken for her BA(Hons) final major project in Fashion Promotion and Communication at Southampton Solent University (my old Uni!).

Under the Purest.PR name, Anna is hosting an ethical fashion and beauty event at Mettricks, Southampton on 17th April 2018 – open to all those with an interest in environmentally and socially responsible shopping. The event, which I shall be attending, will showcase four fantastic brands:

Deborah Campbell Atelier: One of my absolute favourite ethical fashion designers, Deborah designs stunning painterly prints and charity tees.

Maison de Choup: “The fashion brand with a mental health cause at its heart”.

Know the Origin: Wearable and affordable, responsibly-sourced garments from a LCF graduate determined to do fashion the right (ethical) way.

Willow Beauty: Organic bath and beauty products.

The event aims to have a relaxed and friendly vibe, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions to the brand representatives. Products will be available to touch and buy.

I’m pleased to see such a variety of brands attending the event with no fair trade jute bags in sight. These brands represent the future of ethical fashion and beauty, encapsulating everyday basics, beautiful classics, and activist slogan tees. With brands of such integrity, Purest.PR is just the kind of PR and marketing agency we need. One that will be just as thoughtful in their approach and careful in their messaging as the brands they wish to represent.

The event kicks off at 5pm on Tuesday 17th.
Follow Purest.PR @purest.pr

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Retail Exhibition from Design for Ageing Project

shopping-cart-2523838_640 copy

From June 2014 to November 2015 I was a Research Fellow on the ESRC-funded ‘Silver Shoppers’ project based at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. The project explored the grocery shopping practices of older consumers (65+) in the UK and China (you can read about my trip to China here). Next week, some of the key findings and design ideas are to be displayed in an exhibition as part of London Design Festival. The event runs from 22nd to 24th September at 22 Calvert Avenue London, and is free to enter.

As part of the project I conducted ethnographic research in three regions of the UK with 30 participants. Participants were asked to keep a diary for 6-weeks and complete weekly shopping inspection cards. In addition, myself and the team visited each participant 2-3 times for filmed observation (mobile ethnography) and interviews. Findings were presented to Sainsbury’s and are currently being written up for journal publications. The designs on display include innovative trolley concepts, smart shelves and interactive shopping assistants.

The project and exhibition is lead by Dr Yuanyuan Yin, Lecturer in Design Management. Check the webpage for more info.

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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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#JustFriday #BlackFriday or #Friyay – your choice.

You’ll be fully aware of Black Friday I’m sure. Another ‘tradition’ to come across the Atlantic, Black Friday takes place the day after Thanksgiving, which is the fourth Thursday in November. This year, Black Friday falls on November 27 and kick starts the holiday shopping season with promotions and discounts. On Black Friday last year, British consumers spent £810m on online purchases alone. That works out to a rate of £9,375 every second. That said, some retailers are taking a softer approach this year and spreading their promotions across the week, or even, the entire period between now and Christmas. One such retailer is Asda who will be offering £26 million worth of promotions over November and December in a bid to avoid the media frenzy of 2014 when this video of shoppers scrambling over one another to get their hands on discounted TVs went viral.

Because I’d rather be asleep at midnight tomorrow rather than logged on to Amazon, I’m on board with Traidcraft who want to remind everyone that it’s #JustFriday. Traidcraft have been ‘Fighting poverty through trade’ since 1979 and this month they have put together a fantastic infographic below on the trials and tribulations of Black Friday and how we can all work to make it a little brighter. Black Friday also coincides with Second-hand First Week, an initiative by TRAID to promote second-hand shopping. I for one know my #Friyay shopping will involve little more than a mulled wine with friends at the local Christmas market. What about you?

justfridayinfographic

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Nominate your Eco Champions for Observer Ethical Awards 2015

Observer Ethical Awards 2015 - nominate image

I’ve taken an interest in the Observer Ethical Awards for years, but I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a nomination. Which is terrible considering a) how easy it is to nominate online and b) how many brilliant people and projects I know deserve recognition. Perhaps that’s why I never nominated, because I simply couldn’t choose one over others, but then that’s an awful excuse too considering you can submit multiple different nominations for each category. With this in mind, I don’t feel entirely comfortable sitting here and telling you to vote, but, you really should vote.

For a start, it’s the tenth anniversary year of the awards. And secondly, Ethical High Street (my ‘baby’) was asked to be an official supporter for 2015. Ten years ago the Observer Ethical Awards launched with the idea that a lot of good people were doing brilliant things for environmental and social justice in the UK and that such acts should be celebrated. Despite national policies to cut carbon emissions and support the vulnerable, it is often up to pioneering individuals and small enterprises to make a real difference to local communities and the environment.

The Observer Ethical Awards celebrate individuals, businesses and groups. You can check out all of the categories below. Nominations have been open since the end of January and are only open for another month, but who has the tricky task of picking the winners? Well, in part you do. Three of the awards will be voted for by the public, that’s,

Best Ethical Product of the Decade
Campaigner of the Year
Green Briton of the Year

The responsibility of awarding the other categories falls on the shoulders of an exceptionally strong team of judges, including:

Stuart Bailey, head of sustainability and climate change, National Grid plc
Dr Damian Carrington, head of environment, the Guardian
Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and chief executive, Kids Company
Liz Earle MBE, founder, Liz Earle Wellbeing
Ben Fogle, TV presenter, writer and adventurer
Livia Firth, creative director of Eco-Age Limited, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge®
Jane Goodall, primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace
And more!

They will be wading through the nominations for the ethical wildlife award, sustainable style award, community energy project, and categories for arts and culture, film and television and the Ecover Young Green Champion.

The results will be announced at a packed awards ceremony in July. Stay tuned for more updates and get online to vote for your favourites.

Find out more: ethicalhighstreet.co.uk/observer-ethical-awards-2015/

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