How your cashmere jumper may be causing desertification

goat-cashmere
It’s nearly Christmas so if you haven’t got your Christmas jumper out yet you’re sure to have spotted others wearing theirs. Whether you’re wearing, giving or receiving knitwear this winter though, it’s worth giving a thought to where that jumper came from. It’s all too easy to think that stuff just ‘appears’ in our favourite shops, but the supply chains behind these commodities can be long and complex. Cashmere is particularly pushed by retailers at Christmas as a luxury, yet increasingly affordable, product. But how many people know where cashmere comes from? I’d like to tell you the story of cashmere, and the journey might not be as plush as you imagine.

Cashmere fibre comes from a specific breed of goat. Traditionally it has been very difficult to get hold of cashmere, as three to six goats are needed to make just one medium sized sweater. Only twelve regions in the world have the right temperature and terrain to accommodate cashmere goats, the best spots being in Mongolia, China, India and Iran. To survive freezing temperatures, the goats develop a thick protective layer of hair, over a downy coat of super fine hair (the cashmere). Unsurprisingly, cashmere has long been an exclusive, luxury item. Until now that is, when you can pick up a cashmere sweater at the supermarket for £30-£40, but how?

Much of our cashmere used to be spun in Scotland, but by 2004 restrictions on cashmere imports had been lifted and spotting demand, China rushed in and flooded the market with cheap cashmere sweaters. There are now more than 2000 cashmere companies in China who source their cashmere from one of two means. PETA warn that many Asian cashmere goats live in atrocious conditions on factory farms. Others, whilst left to wonder free, are having disastrous effects on the environment due to their large numbers. There are simply too many living in the same place but farmers have found themselves in a vicious cycle. Stripping the land of pasture leaves nothing for the goats to eat and undernourished goats produce less fleece, forcing farmers to put more and more animals on dwindling land . It’s a problem found in other areas of livestock rearing and agriculture, but few solutions have been raised.

The Alashan Plateau, which extends from the Tibetan Plateau northward into Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, was home to 2.4 million Gobi goats in the 90s and now accommodates 26 million. As well as their grazing potential (eating 10% of their body weight a day), the goat’s hard hooves pummel away at the rest of the land. What should be grassland areas are turning to dust and desert at the rate of 400 square miles a year, disrupting the ecosystem and causing severe dust pollution. According to a study, 80% of this desertification can be attributed to overgrazing livestock. Already desertification is causing millions of rural Chinese to migrate from their villages because the land cannot sustain their livelihoods.

So what can consumers and retailers do? “Our industry’s challenge is to change this unsustainable system and put new, sustainable practices in place,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Companies need to recognise that their business depends on natural capital and also impacts many livelihoods at the base of their supply chain.”

In the world of fashion, cheap often is far from cheerful. For ethical alternatives try the Oxfam Online Shop for second-hand cashmere (even cheaper than the supermarkets!) or check out Brora and Izzy Lane, both of which source sustainable cashmere.

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Solving the Packaging Problem for Unique Gifts

christmas-presents

Could 2015 be a second-hand Christmas? There’s certainly been a flurry of activity around second-hand shopping this year. TRAID ran their #Secondhandfirst Week in November inspiring people to buy, swap and wear second-hand clothing. I joined in on Twitter and Instagram, posting pictures of my favourite second-hand pieces including a vintage Chelsea Girl tea dress, Florida thrift shop frock and bargain charity shop Christmas top. As well as lots of Instagram activity, events were held across London and the UK, and we were all encouraged to pledge to source more of our wardrobe second-hand.

There’s also the second-hand Christmas campaign by Truly Gifting’s founder and MD Tiia Sammallahti. I had a chat with Tiia last week to find out more about her new venture into sustainable gifting. ‘Truly Gifting’ are, quite literally, selling the second-hand ethos. What started as an MBA business plan has quickly been put into action by Tiia and her passionate team as they produce packaging and labelling to make second-hand gifting a viable gift giving option. I’ve written about the etiquette of giving second-hand/used/vintage gifts before. For my PhD research I interviewed mothers about their habits for buying second-hand childrens’ clothes, toys and equipment and it came up that some would give second-hand items as gifts to other people’s children but only if they looked nearly-new (or new) and/or they knew the parents well. There was an etiquette of gifting second-hand.

trulygifting selectionboxes
necklacebox

For many adults gifting second-hand items is a no-go. This is different of course to regifting presents, which three-quarters of people find acceptable. Yet there is a rise in environmentally conscious consumers and voluntary simplifiers who don’t want to buy into the commercialisation of Christmas. For them, a carefully selected second-hand book, necklace or retro wall clock is a thoughtful gift and a way of asserting their beliefs. As a long-standing study on gifting suggests, ‘We give, receive and reject gifts strategically, thereby symbolically predicating identity’ Sherry et al. (1983:159).

The team at Truly Gifting recognised the need to make second-hand gifts more socially acceptable if we are to move towards a more sustainable future. They have created a range of packaging items that make it easier for us to gift second-hand pieces that would normally be devoid of labels and bubble wrap. A range of boxes, made themselves from recycled and responsibly sourced paper, offer a neat way for us second-hand shoppers to gift something unique. They are also great if you make your own gifts and need a way to present your handmade creations. Furthermore, the boxes come with little message cards describing the Truly Gifting ethos – ‘we extend the lifespan of products and reduce the burden on the planet’.

Take a look at trulygifting.co.uk

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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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Crafty Advent Calendar

angel-christmas
I think I’ve only been without an advent calendar for one year, and even then I still had the reusable book style woodland advent calendar given to me as a child that I took into the office to stretch out for all to see. Popular belief links the first advent calendars to 19th Century Germany. Back then you’d only find a picture behind each door but of course nowadays the standard is chocolate, followed by an increasingly assortment of novelty calendars for kids and adults featuring beauty products, Lego, tea, beer and even, beard oil. Traidcraft have some lovely fair trade advent calendars featuring Divine chocolate. I however, have made my own and filled it with Lindt!

wooden advent calendar

advent

I was sent the calendar by Ocean loans who set up the crafty project for lifestyle bloggers to put their creative energies into preparing for Christmas. The calendar came from Hobbycraft, as did the Scandi-print paper I used to cover some of the doors and the advent numbers (although I’m missing a 15!). There’s still time to make your own advent calendar. If you want something easy, cheap and environmentally-friendly, try using small brown envelopes to make a basic wall calendar, or wrap individual parcels in leftover fabrics or brown paper and scatter them over a table.

Yay for Christmas!

advent train

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Brand Watch: Naturally Selina Scott Mohair Socks

It seems everyone has been a bit ill recently, including me, so it really cheered me up when I received a gift from Naturally Selina Scott. What better for winter than some cosy luxury socks, they have been worn many, many times already I can tell you. Knitted from a mohair/nylon blend, these socks are sustainably produced and ethically sourced and most importantly will keep my feet warm even on the coldest of days.

SelinaScott Socks

Famed as a BBC journalist and presenter, Selina Scott was one of the first female newsreaders in the 80s. It was whilst filming a documentary in Scotland twenty years ago that she came across and subsequently adopted 6 Angora goats! Back at her 200 acre farm in North Yorkshire, Selina decided to start selling beautiful Mohair socks, using the lustrous Mohair fibre from these gentle animals.

The business has gone from strength to strength and as her own goats have hit retirement (I’ve been assured they still live happily on the farm!), the Mohair is now sourced from selected farms in South Africa where the socks are also made. The brand also sells cashmere shawls and scarves from Outer Mongolia and hat, glove and scarf cashmere sets sourced from Afghanistan.

Mohair makes a great choice for socks. Sheared from Angora goats in ‘long glamorous ringlets’ twice a year, Mohair is a strong, sustainable fibre. It washes well, not that you’ll need to wash them every wear, the anti-bacterial properties of the fibre keep your feet smelling fresh for days! Providing warmth when you need it, but still being breathable, these are the most comfortable socks I’ve ever worn.

Ankle socks start at £9.95, Kids day socks are £14.95 and long walking socks are £17.95.

You can also buy their superfine cashmere shawls and support the Born Free Foundation. In super glam leopard and snow leopard prints, £25 is donated to the wildlife foundation for each £149 shawl. Cost per wear, I don’t think that works out too bad as I’d want to wear it every day.

https://www.selinascott.com/

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SWAGS World do Christmas with Sustainable Artisan Crafts

SWAGS World

Christmas is fully upon us. I know this because my weekly Sunday paper has doubled in size under the weight of branded gift guides, the Christmas market has opened in town and television adverts are united in a singular voice – buy our stuff for your best Christmas ever. We don’t have to partake in this commercialised view of Christmas though, should we want to do it differently. When it comes to buying gifts and decorating the home in the lead up to the big day, there are ways to give a gift that goes further than simply that received by the recipient.

Take SWAGS World for example. Buy one of their products – bags, sandals and dolls – and you are helping to empower a woman in South East Asia to earn her own income through her artisan craft. Joanne White founded SWAGS World (Simply Women and Girls Sustainable World) as a social enterprise offering affordable, accessible products for socially responsible shoppers, all handmade by women in South East Asia. The artisan women involved receive a fair price for their products through sustainable employment that will accommodate their family life and other commitments. SWAGS World pay 50% of the price of each item to the producers upfront, and the SWAGS Academy programme helps by providing training and support in creating a long-term artisan trade.

You can check out their products online. Their fabric covered Christmas tree decorations (£6) are absolutely gorgeous and are great stocking fillers. Each one has a special meaning, the globe symbolises celebration with family and friends. The recycled newspaper print shopper is practical, fun and classically designed, but my favourite product has to be the Harmony Dolls. Designed to spark curiosity in children, and an acceptance of diversity in the world, they are made by a co-operative of women on the island of Atauro, East Timor and are totally delightful.

SWAGS World christmas globe
SWAGS world recycled Handbag Newsprint

SWAGS World are based locally to me in Hampshire, so I got to ask the team about their future plans:

1. Where can we buy your stuff?

Our exclusive handmade products are currently available in our online store at swagsworld.com. We share the stories of the artisans we work with, so our customers can connect with the women who have created the products they are buying.

2. What’s the SWAGS Worldwide marketplace?

Our dream has always been to make ethical products desirable, accessible and affordable. With our Marketplace, we hope to offer a global collection of products for socially responsible consumers; an alternative to mass-produced, throwaway fashion, poor working conditions and undervalued labour. We will provide an online platform for consumers to purchase handmade items from artisans all around the world, with the knowledge that they are having a positive impact on people who really need it.

3. What would a real SWAGS world look like?

We believe a true SWAGS World would be positive, honest, educational, supportive and sustainable. We hope that with the continuing growth of ethical, sustainable brands and increasing choice for consumers, we are getting closer to this vision!

SWAGS World Harmony Dolls

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