Eco Fashion: Guest post from the US

Just before Christmas Jessica got in touch from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry with a guest blog she thought would interest my readers. I’m very happy to post it here as it discusses three brands/designers I hadn’t heard of. Zem Joaquin is editor of Ecofabulous on the Huffington Post US – well worth a look. Next, Project Just builds on the ‘who made your clothes?’ question to create a wikipedia of fashion. You can search a particular brand for easy to understand info on their labour and environmentally record before making an informed choice whether or not to buy from them. All sorts of brands are listed from adidas to Chanel. Finally, Lara Miller creates ethical fashion locally in Chicago. The vibrant designs are really fun and choosing to focus on local US manufacturing makes this brand stand out.

by Jessica Johnston, Environmental Sciences student at SUNY ESF.

“Going Green” isn’t just for the environment anymore, but sustainable trends are making tremendous inroads in today’s dynamic fashion and home design industries. Zem Joaquin, Annie McCourt, and Lara Miller are three women who support saving the earth by taking their love for the environment and design expertise to new heights. These three eco-designers create environmentally-friendly high fashion and housing for socially responsible consumers by using recyclable and sustainable clothing and construction materials. Their philosophy is simple: a healthy, sustainable environment doesn’t have to be sacrificed for high quality design.

Zem Joaquin

Founder of Eco Fabulous, an insider’s guide to stylish, sustainable living, Joaquin, has a strong conviction about fashion and interior design that doesn’t harm the environment. Joaquin says, “I want to look super glamorous, but I don’t want anyone suffering for my glamor.” In 2009, Joaquin discovered her two children were suffering from asthma caused by household toxins. Her quest to make her home eco-friendly led to the creation of a blog called EcoFabulous and a commission as a sustainable designer for the Dwell on Design show. Today, Joaquin has become an eco-chic guru—sharing sustainable design solutions with A-list celebrities and e-commerce giant Ebay. She also works with an environmental nonprofit, Global Green USA.

JUST

Just logo

Project JUST, is a new start-up hoping to make the fashion supply chain more transparent by connecting suppliers with designers and consumers through their online database. The co-founders, Shahd Al-Shehail and Natalie Grillon, had a main motivation when creating JUST, they wanted to enable the fashion industry to create not only beautiful but inherently ethical clothing. JUST has created a “buy one give one” model. Brands of a similar mission such as, TOMS and Warby Parker Sunglasses, JUST has a social mission that they want to accomplish. By creating their online database where designers can engage and contact suppliers and their customers comfortable sleep environment possible. Logo source Projectjust.com

Lara Miller

Lara Miller eco fashion

Chicago native and sustainable designer Lara Miller recycles vintage patterns and scrap fabric to create a clothing collection Elle.com described as “sultry, sophisticated, and as endlessly variable as the woman who wears them.” Drawing inspiration from the Chicago skyline, Miller incorporates geometric shapes, innovative lines, and eco-chic styling into dresses and separates that go from comfortably casual to steamy and sophisticated. Crafted from eco-friendly organic cotton, hemp, vegan silk, and hand-loomed bamboo, the entire collection is nothing short of stunning. Miller is passionate about eliminating waste in the fashion industry and uses only recycled patterns, scrap craft paper, scrap fabric and low-impact reactive dyes manufactured from minimal amounts of petroleum byproducts and water. Photo source Laramiller.net

There are many other influencers and designers that are doing amazing work in the field. Who are some of your favourites?

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Mainstreaming Ethical Consumption

stairs-mall

The above was the title of Ethical Consumer Magazine’s annual conference, providing much food for thought on how ethical consumption could become mainstream and whether in some sectors, it already is. I went along to Amnesty International’s London office last Friday to hear from a wide range of speakers representing the likes of the Fairtrade Foundation, Forest Stewardship Council, Soil Association and Divine Chocolate.

Two days later I finally got round to watching The True Cost, a feature length documentary on fashion industry supply chains that featured on my blog back in 2013 when the film was crowd-funding. I’m so glad the documentary came to fruition because it casts a powerful light on all of the key industry concerns industry, from the plight of the cotton farmers living in poverty and the carcinogenic links to cotton pesticides, to factory workers across South East Asia and the insatiable appetite of the West (you can buy the film or watch it on Netflix). I wanted to cry with frustration by the end of the film because, in the six or seven years since I started looking into ‘sweatshops’ for my undergraduate dissertation, what has changed?

Well, according to Mintel’s 2015 report, 76% of UK adults say the ethical and sustainable credentials of products and the reputation of companies or brands behind them are important when making a buying decision.

This is MEANINGLESS. It doesn’t translate into action. At least the other 24% were honest in saying they don’t give ethics a second thought. This correlates with Ethical Consumer’s research; they suggest that 5-10% of consumers are ‘always ethical’ and 20-30% don’t care. Even that 5-10% are doing better than me if they can claim to be always ethical. But then isn’t ethical a subjective term in any case?

Fairphone have tracked the minerals that go into making our electronic devices, to make a better version.

Fairphone have tracked the minerals that go into making our electronic devices, to make a better version.

A better way to measure the mainstreaming of ethical consumption is to look at sales. Interestingly, although UK sales of Fairtrade products and sales of organic products are now fairly equal, at £1.6 and £1.8bn respectively, their journeys to this point are rather different. Fairtrade sales have steadily increased over the last 20 years, experiencing their first dip only last year. Organic sales, in contrast, were severely affected by the financial crisis, losing more than £500m in sales value between 2008 and 2011.

Fairtrade is more ubiquitous on consumer products than organic. For example, 85% of tea sold in supermarkets is fair trade, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s only offer bananas that are Fairtrade and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was the first mainstream chocolate brand to go Fairtrade in 2009. In contrast, I can’t think of many brands that have suddenly gone 100% organic, rather, that market has been serviced by less mainstream, specifically organic brands. Therefore, consumers have greater autonomy (or should we say responsibility) when it comes to choosing organic whilst the choice to buy into Fairtrade has often been made for them. I’m sure much of the sales revenue for Fairtrade comes from big business making the decision to change on our behalf. Fairtrade towns, schools and workplaces are evidence to this effect.

The mainstreaming of Fairtrade cocoa forced Divine to focus on branding and product, whilst retaining co-operative principles.

The mainstreaming of Fairtrade cocoa forced Divine to focus on branding and product, whilst retaining co-operative principles.

Certification bodies like the Fairtrade Foundation have supported business in pursuing greater transparency in supply chains, ethical business practice and sustainable initiatives. It was interesting to hear from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) who have worked very hard with big retailers like Homebase and WH Smith so that they can offer customers wood and paper products certified as coming from sustainable sources. These organisations and their logos provide a guarantee that customers trust to a far greater extent than they trust the actual business (let’s not mention VW . . .).

It’s safe to say that ethical/sustainable consumption is more prevalent when consumers don’t actually have to make a choice. Change has come from certification bodies and grassroots campaigning, but certainly not government. Retailers and brands have worked on lowering their carbon footprint and swapping to more sustainable business practices, when it suits them. For example, Pepsi-Co’s recent claim that since 2010, it has reaped $375 million in savings due to its sustainability initiatives, namely saving water and energy costs. This financial motive is no bad thing so long as we are seeing change. Other brands, like Innocent and Lush, have had sustainability and ethics engrained into their business model from the start and their profits have only benefited from doing so, appealing to the ethically conscious consumer as they do.

Lush Cosmetics has always been staffed by activists, but fear of consumer stigma meant they kept this quiet at the start

Lush Cosmetics has always been staffed by activists, but fear of consumer stigma meant they kept this quiet at the start

Ethical food including organic and Fairtrade is big business compared to ethical fashion, which is lagging far behind. It’s not that there aren’t ethical fashion brands, because there are many, but unlike in the food industry, specific ethics and sustainability initiatives have stayed on the periphery of mainstream consumption. You will find organic foodstuffs on every high street and in every supermarket, but not an organic t-shirt. There are many reasons for this including lack of supply (there isn’t enough organic cotton to meet demand), costs, complex supply chains and consumer demand. Consumers (including me) are vain, and cost conscious. This isn’t such a problem when you are choosing between two types of tea, but choosing a new coat is obviously different. Plus, although cotton can be certified Fairtrade, a t-shirt, i.e. the production process, cannot. It can be certified as fairly-traded, but there are so many different certification schemes for that, the average consumer does not have one label they can rely on across the industry.

Easy access to ethical products is the only way ethical consumption can become mainstream. For that, all parties are responsible: the government, retailers and consumers. I’ve been writing about ethical fashion for six years. 124 years ago Benjamin Harrison, then President of the United States said, “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth or shapes it into a garment will starve in the process”.

What’s changed?

[for more information on Ethical Consumer's market research and ethical shopping advice head to http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/]

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Mother’s Day: Just another greeting card day or a chance to say I love you?

original_love-hearts-card

When I popped into my local shop this morning to pick up the paper there was a queue of people in front of me buying flowers, chocolates, and greeting cards. It could be any celebratory day: Valentine’s, Christmas, birthday, but it is in fact, Mother’s Day. Over on Ethical High Street I wrote about gift ideas for Mother’s Day that didn’t involve buying a lot of stuff, but that doesn’t mean buying stuff for special occasions is a bad thing. Consumerism is often thought of as a dirty word and ‘greeting card days’ just a chance for shops to push their well, greetings cards. What though, if we consider shopping as an act of love?

This is exactly what Danny Miller proposed in his book A Theory of Shopping (1999). An anthropologist at University College London he was the first person to talk about shopping in this way; shopping as a way of showing love. Miller argues for the importance of the relationship between people and things and how this affects every day social and family life. The type of shopping that Miller talks of is not so much shopping for televisions and fashionable party dresses, but rather the type of shopping needed for everyday provisioning such as for food and basic clothes. Miller argues that everyday consumption practices are more than just fulfilling the most basic physical needs, but they are also linked to social relations, love and care. This is just the kind of shopping a mother does, so on Mother’s Day it’s no surprised we’d want to give something back. Flowers and chocolates say ‘I’m thinking of you’ and a simple ‘thank you’.

Whether we’re buying food for the family or jewellery for a friend’s birthday, shopping is both a form of nurturing and a message to say we care. It’s a way of spreading love through something material. If we give the right gift it can be something the receiver keeps forever, as a reminder of a particular time, place and person. Memory lockets are an example of a thoughtful gift because they are timeless. The same is true for collectable items, books or family heirlooms. Although I’m sure the best gift a mum could receive is the chance to put her feet up.

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Competition: Inspire the Next Wolftress Collection

Native Roots by Wolftress

Native Roots by Wolftress

Wolftress is an Australian fashion label that discovers traditional textiles hidden among indigenous cultures and aims to preserve the dying crafts through fashion. By collaborating with local artisans Wolftress support these crafts and give us all the chance to buy into their beautiful cultures. Each Wolftress collections aims to support the economic sustainability of the producers, whilst supporting the environmental sustainability of the environment.

The 2014/15 collection featured the Highlands of Ecuador. Alpaca plain weaves were created in the town of Quinchuqui where Wolftress collaborated with one single family to spin the cloth. Intricately woven colourful cotton weaves were created in the town of Agato and hand moulded felt hats were created in a town called Iluman. The result of these collaborations was a rich and intricate collection of alpaca cover-ups, trendy fedora style hats and solid silver contemporary jewellery.

So what’s the competition about?

Wolftress are on the hunt for their next inspiration and want your help. Where should they travel to next? Where will they find hidden talents of artisan craft?

Wolftress also design jewellery

Wolftress also design jewellery

How to enter the competition

Starting today, you can inspire Wolftress by sharing a travel photo on Instagram of a place where you think Wolftress should explore for theirr next collection #inspirewolftress and tag @wolftresspack

The image that inspires Wolftress the most will be the location where Wolftress will explore and base their upcoming collection on.

The winner receives a $150 voucher to spend on the upcoming collection.

The winner will be announced on the 25/03/15.

www.wolftress.com

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What are the Options for Ethical Footwear? Eco- Trainers & Veja

I needed* some new trainers recently and it presented quite an ethical dilemma. Generally if I want such a specific item I will have a look on eBay to see what’s going second-hand however, I wasn’t that keen on buying second-hand trainers. It’s strange because I don’t mind buying second-hand shoes although I know a lot of people are a bit funny about it, but trainers I did have a problem with. This was for two reasons; firstly hygiene – I felt that trainers can get pretty sweaty and not everyone has lovely feet; secondly – trainers are often well used and can become well-worn easily, the lining starts to come away etc. The hygiene thing is slightly silly because I could just put them through the washing machine, but still I decided to see what ethical alternatives were out there.

Sports brands regularly come under fire for producing their goods in unethical circumstances. This makes concerned consumers particularly uncomfortable I think, because the brands in question charge top dollar for their fancy footwear and instead of passing this profit onto the factory workers they pay huge sums to their executives and spend millions on shiny advertising campaigns. Research from the international campaign Playfair found workers in China who were employed by Adidas suppliers earned as little as £20 per month making sports shoes which cost up to £50 a pair. So if I wanted to avoid these companies and I didn’t want to source my trainers second-hand, what were my options?

VEJA immediately sprung to mind; a brand I had heard about but not seen up close. Veja is a French brand who produces ethical trainers, bags and purses for men, women and kids. They use organic cotton, wild Amazonian rubber and eco-tanned leather in their products, whilst keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum. I bought the Grama, a simple sneaker shoe in blue. I particularly liked the sound of wild Amazonian rubber. The Amazon is the only place on earth where rubber trees grow in the wild. Veja work with Amopreab, an association of Seringeiros – ‘the rubber tappers’ who live in the forest and harvest from the trees.

Veja Grama

They work better as fashion shoes rather than sports shoes. I won’t be running in them but I wanted them for fitness (toning) classes where I needed a less chunky shoe. What I REALLY wanted were these lovelies – the Greg Asner printed high tops. Greg Asner is a Stanford scientist who travels to the furthest corners of the Amazon rainforest and creates a novel way of mapping unknown species with photography, the shoes make use of one of his pictures.

Greg Asner VEJA Trainers

I bought mine direct from Veja but you can also get them on ASOS.

*wanted

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An Interview with Eco Boutique: Ethical, Printed Arty T-shirts

Eco Boutique was founded in 2009 as a London-based creative brand combining urban style with ethics. They create fabulous ethical graphic printed t-shirts made from 100% organic cotton. Each style comes in a limited edition run and each tee is numbered so you know just who special your one is. Priced at just over £30, this exclusive ethical style won’t break the bank either. I caught up with one of the founders Hayley Power to find out more about the fashion brand.

Eco Boutique

1. How did Eco Boutique get started?

Myself (Hayley Power) and my business partner, Lynsey Dickenson, worked together in advertising for ten years as an award winning creative team, before deciding on a new career and launching Eco Boutique. We were frustrated at the way the fashion industry was churning out fast, disposable fashion and we wanted to change people’s attitude to shopping.

We wanted to make a stand against the high street production line and encourage people to find their own individual sense of style, while being conscious of the effect the fashion industry has on the earth and the people that live on it.

We want people to buy less clothing, but cherish what they do buy. We hope that by creating limited edition prints, people will regard their t-shirts as works of art and love them more, meaning they’re less likely to discard them after just one season.

2. You work with some great contemporary artists. How have those collaborations come about?
They are people we’ve met over the years. When I meet extremely talented, lovely people I make sure I don’t lose contact with them! I think creative people feed off of other creative people and inspire each other. We’ve been lucky that our featured artists believe in our brand enough to collaborate exclusively with us, and it’s a huge compliment to us that they are happy to do so.

3. Your t-shirts are printed in the UK. Why do you think it’s important to support other UK businesses?
It’s important not only for the UK economy, but also to support our skills and to make sure they don’t die out. We don’t just want to be a country of retailers!
Another huge factor for us is shipping. Manufacturing abroad has huge environmental implications, and being an eco company we keep shipping to a minimum. If the UK produced organic cotton we’d manufacture our t-shirt in the UK too.

Eco Boutique

4. How do you measure the 90% reduction in C02 from your t-shirts?
The carbon footprint has been calculated in accordance with BSI PAS2050 methodology, and certified by the Carbon Trust. The 90% reduction has been achieved by a combination of low-impact organic farming, efficiency in manufacturing and transportation, and the use of renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel based grid electricity.

5. You sell vintage clothes too, is that a passion for both of you?
I’ve always loved vintage clothing, mainly because I like to be individual and hate the fact that the high street turns us all into clones. I like to mix vintage with high street to create my own style.
We decided to add vintage clothing to our website because it fits in with our ethos perfectly – firstly it’s eco friendly to re-use clothing and not throw it away, and secondly we want to encourage people find their own sense of style, rather than being high street sheep, and vintage does that perfectly.

6. The ethical fashion market is growing at a hefty rate, but is still a niche market compared to the big retailers on the British high street. What do you see for the future of ethical fashion?
I think the ethical fashion market will continue to grow, especially as people become more aware of the impact the fashion industry has on the earth and the people that live on it. However the problem is that producing ethical clothing costs a lot more than standard clothing – up to three or even four times more. As fashion is a business, people are in it ultimately to make money. If you think about the big retailers, they are run by huge companies and for them it’s ALL about profit. Unless the public makes a stand and refuses to buy standard clothing, then the ethical market will always be a niche market. Although I believe it will grow, realistically I don’t think the ethical fashion market will ever overtake the standard fashion market in size.

7. What is in store for Eco Boutique in 2013?
We’re concentrating on getting more stockists for 2013. Ideally we’d like to double or even treble what we have now. We’d like to secure at least one big name retailer, as it gives so much exposure as well as increasing sales. We’re also looking at wholesaling internationally and we’re currently in talks with an Australian boutique about stocking with them.

Eco Boutique is available online and through stockists including Rtister.com

Eco Boutique

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