The Corner Shop – Felt Groceries by Lucy Sparrow

I met Lucy Sparrow in Southampton last month and was really interested to hear about her forthcoming shop opening in London. She’d been busy planning the launch of The Corner Shop for months, but this was a shop with a difference; all of the groceries were to be made from felt!!

As a textile artist, Lucy mainly works with felt and wool creating over-sized soft versions of existing objects and major art works. The Corner Shop is her latest project and has received wide-spread media attention, and for good reason, it’s brilliant! Felt fruit and veg, newspapers, tins of soup, packets of biscuits and pick-and-mix sweets are just some of the goods you’ll find there. You can buy items online made to order or by filling out an order form in the ‘store’. Open until the end of the month, you can visit this cute corner shop in Bethnal Green at 19 Wellington Row E2 7BB. It will then be moved to Brighton in October 2014.

You can find Lucy at: sewyoursoul.co.uk/

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Chemical Kidswear: A Little Story about the Monsters in your Closet

'Detox Our Future' Mexico

I’ve become increasingly interested and concerned about our daily contact with chemical, toxic substances in our homes and workplaces. Quite simply, we do not know what the long term impacts of such toxic exposure may be. Greenpeace recently published a worrying new report looking at the chemical substances traced in children’s wear. The report ‘A Little Story About the Monsters in Your Closet’ tested 12 well-known clothing brands and found children’s products to be containing hazardous chemicals at each and every company.

Thankfully, awareness of the people making our clothes is gaining traction (not least due to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh where more than 1000 garment workers died in 2013) however, the environmental impact of textile and clothing production often remains hidden. Environmental pollution from the textile industry is a major problem, particularly in China which produces more textiles than any other country. Greenpeace have published a number of reports as part of their ‘Toxic’ campaign, the latest of which found little distinction between the levels of hazardous chemicals in clothing made for children – a group particularly vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals when released into the environment – and adults, when compared to previous studies.

Adidas, American Apparel, Burberry, C&A, Disney, GAP H&M, Li-Ning, Nike, Primark, Puma and Uniqlo were all subject to toxicity tests as part of the investigation. Among the results one adidas swimsuit contained higher levels of PFOAs (can cause adverse impacts on the reproductive system and the immune system) than permitted in their own Restricted Substance List, while printed fabric on a Primark children’s t-shirt contained 11% phthalates. Not only are such chemicals toxic to the environment, both through production and through later waste water seeping back into the environment after laundering, we have very little knowledge of how toxins affect our bodies.

Chih An Lee, Detox Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said “This is a nightmare for parents everywhere looking to buy clothes for their children that don’t contain hazardous chemicals. These chemical ‘little monsters’ can be found in everything from exclusive luxury designs to budget fashion, polluting our waterways from Beijing to Berlin. For the sake of current and future generations brands should stop using these monsters.”

Want to know more?

Watch the video ‘Detox: How People Power is Cleaning Up Fashion’ and check out the Greenpeace Detox reports available online.

Want to take action?

Sign the Detox Manifesto and Tweet the brands directly.

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Bored of Shopping? Christmas and Stuff

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Having now studied shopping for a few years, I think I’m finally well and truly bored of it – the act that is, not the research. It’s something that I’ve particularly noticed this year, as I wander round shops alone or with friends, my thought process is entirely different to how it was pre-PhD.

Although I’ve had an interest in ethical fashion for at least five years, ever since my undergraduate dissertation, it’s only in the last two years that I would say my shopping practices have radically changed. When I first started blogging about ethical fashion, I was still shopping quite a lot, buying the odd bit of fair trade fashion to supplement my normal clothing. It’s only in the last two years where I’ve delved deeper into the theory of consumption, the links to material culture and identity, the reasons behind why we shop, that I’ve been able to step back and look at my consumption decisions more subjectively. And it has taken the fun out of shopping.

I was lucky enough to win some John Lewis vouchers so I did much of my Christmas shopping there. It was a Thursday evening two weeks before Christmas, I had a list and wanted to get in and out pretty quickly. Back home, I put the shopping bags down in my living room, sat on the sofa and literally just stared at them for a while. I was trying to remember the last time I’d bought so much stuff. I’d also bought a couple of things for myself – new shoes and a duvet set from M&S. I felt like I had to make the most of being in a shopping mood and buy myself something whilst I had the chance.

Clothing wise, I don’t think I’ve bought anything more than a couple of t-shirts from ‘normal’ shops for myself this year. Oh, wait, I remember buying a dress from Monsoon! But I like Monsoon. I bought a couple of things online from People Tree, a couple of second-hand pieces on eBay, and a lot from charity shops. I’ve done really well with charity shops. The funny thing is I used to spend hundreds of pounds a year on clothes and this year without even trying, I clearly haven’t. I tried to buy myself a new dress for the Christmas parties but as I wandered the shops I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Everything I liked was £150+ and I’d rather spend that money on doing something fun (or a bread maker – perhaps it’s an age thing!), not on something I’ll only wear a few times if I’m lucky. The cheaper dresses, I just didn’t like them/don’t trust where they came from. All those sequins, how did they get there?

Every time I spot a new skirt I like in the shops, I just remember that in a couple of weeks’ time it will just be another skirt in my wardrobe. And in a couple of years’ time it will be just another skirt in the pile to go to the charity shop. I think about where it’s been made, where my money’s going and what I could spend that money on instead. I think about the branding and whether I want to give that company the satisfaction of buying into their brand. Essentially, I think far too much.

In conflict with this, I think shops are amazing places. So much goes on in the space of a shopping centre. Friendships are solidified or stretched, we learn a lot from our surroundings, we interact with others, we create or break down our desired image and display our identities through where we shop and what we buy. It’s because I know all this that part of the fun is taken away, but it doesn’t mean I’m exempt. Give me the choice of a Cath Kidston tablecloth or a floral one from Sainsbury’s and I’ll take the Kidston. I don’t even mind spending more money on it because whilst there are many clubs I don’t wish to belong to, the middle-class, British homely club is one I’ll happily be part of. So maybe, I’m not some kind of eco-warrior but actually just a snob?? I actually own no more than a keyring by Cath Kidston, but I’m just saying – if I had the choice.

I still like stuff; I just don’t like unnecessary consumption. This year my first port of call for shopping has been second-hand – this goes for anything from an on-trend tartan skirt (wool Aquascutum found in Winchester charity shop) to a glass chopping board (found in Horsham charity shop). It’s a politicised form of shopping, allowing me to meet my material needs without adding to my carbon footprint or to the profits of corporate companies who think they know me. It draws on cultural capital as much as financial capital – it’s alternative consumption, about being ‘in the know’. Christmas has been a good time to reflect on this, I still enjoy being given stuff and I enjoy giving gifts in return. I find material culture fascinating and I think I’ll be studying it for many years to come, although if I can’t quite put my finger on my own motivations I don’t know what hope I have of tracing other people’s.

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Ethical High Street has Launched!

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My new website Ethical High Street has launched! I came up with the idea some months ago for an easily accessible online resource which helps your average shopper navigate the British high street more ethically. I felt that other resources are often aimed at heavily engaged consumers and can be quite hard on the high street chain stores when the fact of the matter is that 99% of shoppers use them and aren’t going to actively seek out ethical brands online. So Ethical High Street actively promotes the high street and all of the shops you’ll find there – chain stores, department stores, indies and charity shops by highlighting the more ethical or sustainable options. Rather than trying to find the worst in brands, we try to show the best. It’s all about compromise.

www.ethicalhighstreet.co.uk

Ethical High Street will be a slow burner. I have other things on at the moment, like my PhD but I do have various ideas for growing it in the future. So up on the site already we have:

Myself talking about the history of modern shopping and how the way we consume has changed over the decades.

Wendy from Moral Fibres provides some great tips on shopping ethically on the high street.

Didi from Sublow Clothing talks about starting her own sustainable fashion brand.

Stephanie asks how your sportswear shapes up and reviews the brand Howies.

I talk about food co-operatives, the return from e-commerce to bricks-and-mortar stores, and more! Coming up I will be looking into Clarks shoes, People Tree, charity Christmas cards and ethical Christmas decorations.

If you’d like to contribute to the site, get in touch at emma@ethicalhighstreet.co.uk
Follow us on twitter @EthicalHighSt or Facebook.

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Ethical High Street Spotters: I need YOU!

You may have noticed that I have a new project. I haven’t talked about it much until recently, but it’s got to the point where I can’t shut-up about it now. I already had a vague idea when I went to the Innocent Inspires entrepreneurship event at the end of July, but it was Innocent co-founder Richard Reed’s simple advice ‘just start’ that got me going. Just take one step and things will start rolling forward (what d’ya know, it was true!). For me, that one step was to contact a web developer to find out if my idea had legs. It does, and I’ve done a lot over the last few weeks although I don’t feel like I have much to show for it yet.

I want to create an online resource to help consumers navigate everyday shops with more of an ethical conscience. I’ve been involved with ethical fashion for the last few years and have seen it grow exponentially but am astonished when I talk to some people that it still has hippie connotations. Shoppers think ethical fashion is expensive, unattractive and not easily accessible. They just don’t know where to start. People often tell me that I should start an ethical brand, but I think the market is saturated right now. Until more people are going out looking for that thing, we need to go back to basics.

Most of our shopping is done in the same chain stores and supermarkets, so rather than have this them-and-us divide I want to fill the gap in the middle. I think it’s better to get 50 people to make one change rather than one person change their entire life. Not least because over time those 50 people will hopefully go on to make one more change, and another, and another. I want to encourage shoppers back to independent stores with a bricks and mortar street presence, because ethical stuff shouldn’t just be online. I want to tell people that it’s ok to buy things from chain stores if you’re thoughtful about it. I want to give shoppers easy to understand and positive information about retailers rather than focusing on the politics of ethical consumption. And I want to do this across the whole high street, not just for fashion but for home and gifts too. Oh, and I want it to be stylish, not like some of those other ‘green’ websites.

There is plenty I can do with Ethical High Street; I’d like news features, shopping guides and an interactive community. I’ve since met up with another developer who had some really exciting ideas. I have a pen and notebook glued to me right now, but there is a load to do. This is where I need your help. I can’t be in ten places at once so I need all of you lovely people to keep your eye out for great products. If you’re reading this then you’re already part of those ‘in the know’. A fashion chain has launched a charity tee? A stationer has started selling recycled cards? A new ethical indie has opened in your town? Please let me know! I need a team of spotters who can tweet me or email me (pictures!) so we can start sharing tips as a community. I am also looking for contributors to write for Ethical High Street so if this is you then please get in touch.

Want to be an Ethical High Street spotter? Want to blog? Email me: emma@ethicalhighstreet.co.uk
Or Tweet: @EthicalHighSt

Still shopping; but better.

PS. Have you seen my competition? It’s not very often I just give things away you know . . .

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Win a Carbon Neutral Tee & Screen Printed Tote Bag from Meva Clothing

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Meva Clothing have achieved a lot in a short space of time. The Cornish based brand launched their first clothing collection just this year. Meva Clothing proudly hails from Mevagissey, an old British fishing harbour and a heritage which inspires their product designs and underlying Earth-loving ethos. They sell men’s, women’s and children’s casual clothes as well as home items. Meva Clothing products are organic, fair trade, carbon neutral, ethically sourced AND hand printed but what I really love about them is their bricks-and-mortar presence in the town. Unlike many ethical brands where you can only buy products online, if you happen to be in Mevagissey (it sounds rather lovely so I don’t see why you wouldn’t) you can pop into their shop seven days a week. Plus, you can see the crafting in action at the print shop. All of their products are hand printed on site with silk screens and non-toxic water-based inks.

For summer Meva Clothing stocked polo shirts, vests and hoodies, plus very cute children’s clothes. Colours were inspired from around the harbour; navy, white and grey. Their Autumn/Winter range is set to be released by mid-October. Customers can look forward to an expanded range including shirts, trousers, skirts and some fantastic Cable Knit and Aran woolly jumpers.

I’ve teamed up with Meva Clothing for a fantastic giveaway. You could win a grey polo shirt and hand-printed tote bag. The ladies polo*, worth £32.99 is 100% certified organic cotton, carbon neutral and produced under fair working practices. Carbon neutral means that the industrial greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to pre-industrial levels through low-impact organic agriculture and carbon neutral industrial manufacturing, achieved by using renewable energy from wind turbines and solar power. This reduces the carbon footprint of the T-shirt by up to 90% compared with your average t-shirt.

All you have to do to win is follow @Meva_Clothing and my all-new singing and dancing enterprise @EthicalHighSt on Twitter or Facebook (it doesn’t actually sing and dance although I have personally been known to have my moments) and click to enter the e-raffle below. It sounds faffy, but it will only take a moment I promise.

*size large – suits UK 10-14 depending on preferred fit.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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