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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Organising a Conference: Ethical Fashion Futures

It’s too late to turn back now, together with fellow PhDer Ellie Tighe, I am organising an ethical fashion conference ‘Ethical Fashion Futures: Changing Habits in Retail’. We came up with the idea of planning a conference in spring 2012 when we attended a one-day event run by some of our colleagues. Ellie went away to Dhaka for a couple of months over the summer and when she came back we set about planning our own one-day event.

As much as people like to think I’m doing a fashion PhD, I’m not. My PhD is about retail but it’s about a very specific type of second-hand retail of baby things, so I can’t say that the conference is directly related to my research. It is however, clearly a major passion of mine and I felt that not only would it be a great networking opportunity to organise my own event, there is also a real need for such an event to bring together academics, industry professionals and other interested parties to discuss the future of ethical fashion. Ethical fashion has certainly gained a huge amount of momentum over the last few years, but there is a long way to go to change the way we make clothes on a mass scale and shop. I’m not expecting instant solutions, but I am hoping the event will at least generate discussion, debate and ideas.

We started out with a thought, to organise a one-day event geared up to postgrads and early career professionals, and things fell into place quite quickly. We put a funding bid into our faculty at the University of Southampton and won enough money to cover speaker expenses on the day. It was a great feeling to have the backing of the faculty and academics within the department. Drawing on our joint contacts we now have a number of speakers lined up for the day (Saturday 9th March 2013). These include Charlie Ross from the Offset Warehouse and Clara Vuletich from the Chelsea College of Art for the morning session, and Dionne Harrison from Impactt and Dr. Kanchana Ruwanpura from the University of Southampton for the afternoon session. In addition, we hope to attract a representative from a major high street retailer to discuss their ethical trade policies.

Rooms are booked, food is ordered and registration is live. If you are a research student we are currently accepting abstracts for posters or talks (email e.j.waight@soton.ac.uk for more info) or if you work in the industry we’d love to share promotional literature with our attendees so feel free to get in contact if you’d like to send us anything.

Registration is £10 which covers lunch and refreshments. Click here to book.

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Fashion’s Dirty Secrets Exhibition by Ms Wandas

As part of the 2012 E17 Art Trail, Ester Freeman, aka Ms Wandas, curated an exhibition of photography showing the dirty secrets of the fashion industry. I popped along in the week to see the images up close and visit the Ms Wandas pop up shop which was raising money for the non-profit organisations that had donated the photographs. If you missed it, you can still see the ten images online and read the stories behind the pictures.

The images were donated by Greenpeace, Traid, Action Aid and Anti-Slavery International. The river in China is polluted by factory waste so hazardous that it peels off skin. There is the story of a young boy, made to work 12 hour shifts in a cotton mill in Tamil Nadu, India with little food and rest. Images of young women in a Sri Lankan factory referenced with quotes such as “The security men in the factory stopped my parents and brothers from visiting me. When I refused to do over time, I got shouted at. It was worse than prison.” Anagha, 20.

Copyright: Qui Bo/Greenpeace

If you would like to see the exhibition in full, there is still time tomorrow evening to join in the fun at the Rose & Crown pub in Walthamstow. As well as the exhibition they’ll be music, drinks, cakes, raffles and more. See the Art Trail website for more info.

Copyright: Anti-Slavery

See the images online here

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Fashion Books and Second-hand Kids Clothes

Here are my two latest Oxfam Fashion blog posts.

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/fashion-blog/2012/07/like-a-kid-in-a-charity-shop
http://www.oxfam.org.uk/fashion-blog/2012/08/hunting-for-fashion-and-textiles-books?cid=ScM_TW_Shop

I was inspired to write about second-hand fashion and textile books after finding St CYR Vintage in Camden Stables Market when hunting for London’s best vintage shops. Alongside a beautiful range of vintage clothes they have hundreds of second-hand fashion and textiles books, well worth a look. It was also an opportunity to show off my scrummy 1930s needlecraft book. Take a look at the blog post here.

My July post was closely related to my PhD topic – the sale of second-hand baby clothes, toys and equipment. For the Oxfam post I didn’t go too deeply into the things that I am exploring for the PhD but I will be looking at mother’s emotional attachment to baby things and how the material harbours identities of women as mothers, allowing them to strengthen their role as nurturer and provider. Does consumption aid women’s transition to motherhood? The NCT nearly new sales that I am using as a case study provide a great opportunity to buy and sell second-hand baby things. There will be autumn/winter sales running across the country during October and November.

My sister, nephew and niece feature in this post! Like a kid in a charity shop.

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Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

Ideally I would have posted this before the New Year, however better late than never, here is my view on where I’m at. It is the first year in a few that I feel pretty content that I know what I’m doing and where I’ll be for the entire year. In Southampton, continuing to work towards my PhD in Retail Geography. I’m six months in to the doctorate, I think its going well but I do tend to live in la la land sometimes, but by the end of the year I should have some preliminary results to share. Some people wonder why I bother with the ethical fashion thing, seeing as I don’t get paid for it and its no longer directly related to my studies (I did an MPhil in ethical fashion). The thing is I cannot imagine not being involved with it, because I love fashion and always have but the current fast fashion industry is simply not sustainable and I can’t sit back and watch something as beautiful as fashion have such negative consequences on the world around us, people and planet. It is a dichotomy that I find fascinating.

I was able to make some great contacts in 2011 with other ethical fashion bloggers and business people. I’ve interviewed them for my blog, gone to conferences, lectures and tradeshows. I was thrilled to start guest blogging for the Oxfam fashion blog and work with them at the Clothes Show Live. I also had a fab time working with social enterprise WhoMadeYourPants? at Vintage at Southbank. Plus I ran a WWF stand at Ikea Southampton, and worked with the textile collection at Guildford Museum.

I started writing for www.clothes.org.uk in 2011 which has become far more of a commitment than I ever planned. I applied at the start of the year to write a few blogs a week, now I write a couple a day, plus guest blog to increase traffic. I believe there are plans to turn this into a far more dynamic fashion website/social network community so watch this space. Although, being a fashion writer was always my dream, dreams change and my stance on fashion has changed so I do sometimes feel like I’m ‘selling out’ as my blogs affectively encourage people to shop! That said, I try to feature ethical brands wherever I can, I write a lot about high fashion, and just on principle rather than anything else I don’t mention Primark. Maybe if I can save enough money from writing to start my own ethical fashion business I can realign my morals.

2011 was quite intense both personally and professionally and I’m hoping for a mellow 2012, but considering my inability to rein in my enthusiasm and slow down a notch, I fear that won’t be the case! I must say many thanks to all my friends and family for putting up with me babbling on about work stuff, it is much appreciated. If there’s one thing I would encourage people to do this year, its buy less and buy better (clothes, food, furniture whatever) and if your jeans only cost £15 from Primark*, please, please don’t tell me :-).

Work hard, play hard.

Lots of love,
Em x

*Just to be clear, my problem with Primark (and I have shopped there myself as a student) is not necessarily about sweatshops or child labour. I don’t know enough about their supply chains, and certainly some brands that have been in the news for exploitative practices in the past (Nike and Gap for instance) now have some of the best codes of conduct in the business. I interviewed the ex-head buyer for Primark and she said that some of their clothes were made in the same factory as Armani. Primark will use hundreds of factories, and all this shows is that a name means very little. My problem is that for me they epitomise fast fashion, which isn’t sustainable, and it’s started to make me really, really angry. People go in and literally buy handfuls of clothes that they probably don’t really need, or that won’t last. And I know people argue that value retailers provide for those that can’t afford to shop elsewhere, but in terms of being able to get the essentials, that’s a minority. I am far from perfect when it comes to shopping but maybe this will be the year that I can put well-laid plans into action.

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Why You Should Swap to Organic Perfumes

The sheer volume of perfumes available these days is mind boggling but perfume in some form has been around for centuries. The word perfume comes from the Latin per fume ‘through smoke’ and its early use was the burning of incense and aromatic herbs in religious ceremonies. The Egyptians were the first to incorporate perfume into their culture and it was one of the first uses they found for glass bottles.

Perfume has moved on a bit since Cleopatra’s time. It could be argued that branding is as important as, or even more important, than the actual smell. According to an article in The Ecologist, up to 97% of the cost of perfume for the consumer could be from marketing, packaging and advertising. We live in an era where we are constantly breathing in chemical compounds from air fresheners, cleaning products and cosmetics. Shouldn’t we be trying to limit the amount of these foreign bodies that we spray so freely on a daily basis?

I’ve been able to sample a few organic perfumes over the last few months. Luckily organic perfumes have improved so much in recent years, they now have more staying power and there’s more choice (although you have to go looking for them, you won’t find them in Boots). Organic perfumes are made with essential oils from flowers and leaves, and the best will only use sustainable ingredients (Sandalwood is a protected species). Embrace by PG Organics is one of my faves. It has a musky but feminine scent of exotic amber with floral notes of iris, neroli, mimosa, rose and yang yang. Certified by Ecocert, 100% of the ingredients are natural and 97% of those are from organic origin.

For lots of choice try Rich Hippie for a wide range of organic perfumes made using traditional methods. They hail from the California, using local organic grapes for the alcohol base. From the racy, sensual scent of Rock Star, to the bohemian waft of Marrakech, there’s something for everybody, plus you can get samples for $15. Closer to home, Jo Wood Organics has a range of four organic eau de toilette scents. My personal favourite is the earthy scent of Usiku, and they come in really pretty bottles.

Also worth looking into are

http://www.florame.co.uk
http://www.thenaturalstore.co.uk
http://www.theremustbeabetterway.co.uk

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