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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Panchachuli – Interview

Panchachuli is a women’s weavers co-op founded in 2005 and based in India. They make beautiful fabrics and pashminas using natural fibres and traditional techniques. I first came across Panchachuli at the Eco Luxe exhibit during London fashion Week in 2010 and later heard Mary King, UK agent, speak at the Ethical Fashion Forum Source Expo. Panchachuli provides opportunities for training and employment for marginalised women, currently working with nearly 800 women in 32 villages. They have a waiting list of girls hoping to start training and the enterprise has enabled schools and a hospital to be developed. Mary answered my questions below.

1. What does your role for Panchachuli in the UK involve on a day to day basis?
In the U.K. I liaise with designers and retail outlets to sell the items which I import from India. Admin takes up a considerable amount of time as well as meeting customers.

2. In what way does the Panchachuli women’s weavers’ co-op help the women involved in the enterprise?
It has empowered the women totally in a remote and economically backward region of India. Before the co-operative these women would not have been employed in this way. It also provides health care, eight schools and a hospital for the entire community so benefitting not only the women but their families as well.

3. What do you think these workers in Almora would be doing if Panchachuli had not been established?
They would be leading extremely difficult lives. A recent World Bank study concluded that Panchachuli should be used as a model for socio-economic change. The problems range from alcoholic husbands, single parent families, and other social issues. Today a Panchachuli woman stands for an independent wage earner.

4. Where do the raw fibres come from for Panchachuli products?
Lambs wool from New Zealand. Cashmere from Mongolia. Local products are Oak Silk, Himalayan Nettle and Sheep wool.

5. What is the biggest challenge Panchachuli has faced as an enterprise?
Persuading the local population to accept the changes in lifestyle and training the women to export standard.

6. What does the future hold for Panchachuli?
More expansion. It is hoped to train a further 500-1,000 women across the area.

7. How are the products and the enterprise as a whole marketed to consumers?
All labels are beautifully hand painted and name the weaver and village. In the U.K. the business is “ethical luxury” and works with The Ethical Fashion Forum so it adheres to ethical guidelines and banking.

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What is a Social Enterprise?

Having a bit more time on my hands to pursue other areas of research, I have zoomed in on the work of social enterprises within fashion and textiles. I will soon be featuring some interviews on my blog with representatives from both UK and overseas social enterprises so I thought it best to provide an introduction before the interviews get under way.

So what is a social enterprise? I have to admit, I had barely heard of the concept before I started volunteering for social enterprise whomadeyourpants? in 2009. According to the Social Enterprise Coalition “Social enterprises are businesses trading for social and environmental purposes. Many commercial businesses would consider themselves to have social objectives, but social enterprises are distinctive because their social and/or environmental purpose is absolutely central to what they do – their profits are reinvested to sustain and further their mission for positive change”

Social enterprise can be traced a long way back, but it only really came into mainstream society in the 1990s. Social enterprises don’t want to be thought of as a charity, they make their money by selling a product or service. In ‘What comes first: your business message or your social mission?’ Chris Smith emphasises the need for having a high quality service or product because you cannot do social good without having a viable business behind you. This made me think of my interviews with Continental Clothing for my University research. Continental Clothing created the world’s first Carbon Reduction Label for a t-shirt and were always keen to highlight the importance of having a fashionable, good quality product in parallel to considering the ethical impact.

Many UK based social enterprises are providing a service. Perhaps this is an easier model to adopt, or maybe it just makes sense because social enterprises often help those from a disadvantaged background, and what better way than providing jobs, experience and a greater sense of community for those involved. The recent budget provided extra resources for entrepreneurs such as tax breaks and less red tape. Grants and extra assistance have been available for many social enterprises for a number of years, much of that help coming from UnLtd. The challenge is ensuring self sufficiency once those grants run out, and that involves really engaging the public towards the cause.

I find the idea of social enterprises within fashion and textiles particularly fascinating. An industry often thought of as exploitative and wasteful being used for a positive impact. Of course this is the direction that fashion needs to be going if we are to move towards a more sustainable future. These enterprises often use the native skills of workers in developing countries. Indeed my own MPhil survey found that fair trade fashion has connotations of sourcing items from countries such as India, Peru, and Bangladesh. Places renowned for embroidered textiles, hand weaving and such. Anyway, this is a continuing research project for me. I’ve come across some wonderful enterprises at ethical fashion events but if you know of any more or can help my research in any way, please let me know.

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Ethical Fashion Resources

This list of resources includes some of the key texts that I have come across over the last two to three years. It doesn’t cover every area of ethical fashion as the selections are based on my own research interests. The main areas not covered are the ethics of wearing fur, and recycling/waste, although these areas are touched upon in some of the generalised books.

Books

Prehistoric Textiles. Barber, E.J.W. 1992, Princeton University Press

Information on early textiles, relevant to explore how textiles have been important in our lives for thousands of years.

Design for Sustainability: A practical approach. Bhamra, T. 2007, Gower Publishing

Covers sustainable design in general, covers the whole life cycle.

Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox. Black, S. 2008, Black Dog Publishing

Key ethical fashion text written by London College of Fashion professor, Sandy Black.

Future fashion: White Papers. Hoffman, L. 2007, Earth Pledge

Fantastic resource for ethical/sustainable fashion and textiles. Compilation of detailed academic papers covering most topics.

Sustainable Textiles: Life cycle and environmental impact. Blackburn, R.S. 2009, Woodhead Publishing in Textiles

Fantastic edited book of various journal papers. Extremely detailed and useful information, but book is very difficult to get hold of.

Environmental Life Cycle Analysis. D. F. Ciambrone 1997, CRC Press.

This is a very specific book for LCA, not needed for undergrads but useful for business or professional research purposes. Hard going without background knowledge, but essential for anyone trying to compile a comprehensive LCA.

Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys. Fletcher, K. 2008, Earthscan.

Fantastic book by Dr Kate Fletcher of London College of Fashion. Covers whole textile life cycle, really useful read.

The Textile Book. Gale, C.; Kaur, J. 2002, Berg

Puts textiles into a social and creative context. Great final chapter called, ‘Ecology’ which covers ethical issues.

Ecological Intelligence, Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy. Goleman, D.
2009, Penguin Group

A great read on consumption and ethics in general. Detailed discussion on LCA.

Sustainable Fashion, Why Now? Hethorn, J.; Ulasewicz, C. 2008, Fairchild Books

A collection of critical essays, fantastic. Something for everyone.

Ethics in the Fashion Industry. Hillery, J.L.; Paulins, V.A. 2009, Fairchild Books

A slightly different angle on ethics, concerns more the decisions that fashion professionals have to make. Retail/human perspective.

The Apparel Industry. Jones, R.M. 2006, Blackwell Publishing

Not specifically from an ethical angle, but a detailed look at the global clothing industry including a chapter on UK production, labour issues, offshore production and trade barriers.

Eco Chic: The Savvy Shoppers Guide to Ethical Fashion. Lee, M.; Hamnett, K. 2007, Octopus Publishing.

Nice read, good background info but not an academic text.

The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy. Rivoli, P. 2006, John Wiley & Sons

As the title says. Very interesting look at production stage from cotton farms to consumer.

Slaves to Fashion. Ross, R. 2004, The University of Michigan Press

American perspective, history and impact of sweatshop labour. Essential for labour studies.

Explaining Environmentalism: In search of a new social movement. Sutton, P.W. 2000, Ashgate Publishing

Provides theoretical basis to justify ethical fashion perspectives.

Trigger Issues: T-shirt. Wells, T. 2007, New Internationalist Publications

Ethical issues in producing a cotton t-shirt, pesticide use, sweatshops.

Eco Fashion. Brown, S. 2010, Laurence King

A catalogue of ethical designers, great resource for case studies.

Making Sweatshops: The globalisation of the US apparel industry. Rosen, E. 2002, University of California Press

An historical analysis of the US clothing industry and the rise of sweatshops.

Reports

Environmental Assessment of Textiles. 2007, Danish Environmental Protection Agency

Scientific study, only needed for detailed assessment.

Public Understanding of Sustainable Clothing: A report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Cooper, T.; Fisher, T.; Goworek, H.; Hiller, A.; Woodward. 2008, Defra

Defra report, very useful for consumer study data.

Ethical Clothing. Mintel, 2009, Mintel Group

Respected market research, look out for future updated reports.

Are We Well Dressed? Allwood, J.M.; Broken, N.M.P.; Laursen, S.E.; Rodriguez, C.M. 2006, University of Cambridge.

Excellent reference report looking at UK textile industry and LCA for different products.

Fashioning the Future. 2008, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion

Documents the debates raised from a conference, therefore more of a conversation amongst key representatives than an informative report.

Fashioning Sustainability. 2007, Forum for the Future

A useful and very readable summary of all ethical fashion issues.

Websites

http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/

A fab source for resources, designers and events.

http://www.fashioninganethicalindustry.org/

http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/

http://www.pan-uk.org/

http://www.forumforthefuture.org/

http://www.sustainable-fashion.com/

http://www.waronwant.org/

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/products/cotton/default.aspx

http://slowtextiles.org/

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/fur.aspx

http://www.trackmyt.com/

http://www.soilassociation.org/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/thread/

http://www.ecochiccollection.co.uk/magazine/

http://www.ecofashionworld.com/

http://www.offsetwarehouse.com/

http://www.peopletree.co.uk/

I haven’t included a list of journal articles because I would only be able to list specific papers that I have used, missing many out. Newspapers, magazines and trade magazines also have helpful news stories, especially Drapers.

If you know of any other key resources please let me know! Leave your additions as a comment below, this list certainly isn’t exhaustive.

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Survey Results

I got my MPhil survey results back months ago (how time flies!) and I’ve been busy analysing and drawing conclusions from them. The online survey was the second part of my MPhil methodology for the communicating ethical fashion project and I targeted individuals within the age range of 18 to 30 who either work or study at the University. Choosing the sample was hard enough because ideally I would have liked to have had a sample representative of the whole of the UK, but of course that would be near impossible for just myself to complete. The reason for choosing the sample I did was because I had easy access to this group, young people generally shop regularly, and they have a whole lifetime of shopping ahead of them. They can more easily be moulded perhaps . . . the new ‘sustainable’ generation.

I had 89 responses which I was slightly disappointed with, however that changed when I began analysing! I had to get to grips with statistical testing for the first time, something I am keen to get better at if I want a career in research. I coded qualitative answers into themes, worked out means, medians, calculated scores and compared variables. Although I had touched on many of these areas before, it was still a steep learning curve.

As expected, it is difficult to draw significant conclusions from a fairly small sample; there were certainly no statistically significant points to variable changes. However, it was encouraging to see a strong ethical agenda and environmental awareness. When it came to shopping for clothes, the majority were regular and engaged consumers. There is definitely potential there to lead them to greater tools of communication. I was surprised how many respondents had heard of a number of ethical brands, not just People Tree but the smaller brands too. That said, not many had shopped with these ethical brands. A fair number of respondents described ethical fashion as bland, unfashionable, expensive, or hippie-ish, not an unusual connotation but still frustrating as there are so many beautiful/cool ethical garments out there. There was a reasonable awareness of terms like ‘organic’ and ‘fairtrade’ which was great, but a lack of specific responses.

To be honest, consumers shouldn’t have to be the ones making sacrifices, all garments should be ethical.

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