‘The True Cost’: a film exploring the impact of the global clothing industry on people and the planet

“Each one of us has the power to do something. This is a game-changing moment”

Andrew interviews Livia Firth of Eco Age & the Green Carpet Challenge

Andrew interviews Livia Firth of Eco Age & the Green Carpet Challenge

That is the optimistic end to the trailer made by LA-based film director Andrew Morgan. Andrew wants to produce a feature length documentary focusing on the global fashion industry. While the price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, the human and environmental cost has escalated. It is the goal of this film to explore how we got here, what exactly are these human and environmental costs, and the hope filled prospect of choosing a different future.

Andrew has rounded up an amazing team of experts, including Scott Nova from the Worker’s Rights Consortium, Safia Minney founder of People Tree, John Hilary War on Want and Pietra Rivoli author of ‘Travels of a T-shirt’. The 4:35 minute teaser film features clips of interviews that Andrew has done to date, and he now needs to raise cash to go ahead with the full-length documentary. The Kickstarter project fund launched today with a target of $75, 000 by 11th November 2013 for costs associated with principal photography and the post-production process. I defy you to watch the teaser and not feel moved. Andrew captures the emotion and urgency of the cause, making me, the viewer, feel frustrated and angry but also hopeful, and certainly empowered.

Andrew interviews John Hilary of War on Want

Andrew interviews John Hilary of War on Want

How DID we get here? How did we become so disconnected from the production process that we don’t know where our clothes are made and how did shopping become a weekly leisure pursuit rather than an act of provisioning? As Livia Firth is quoted in the film “unless you change the model, you can’t change anything”. The fashion industry as it stands cannot be sustainable, it’s far too big. Change is needed and everyone needs to be a part of it – shoppers, retailers and suppliers. It is terribly sad that it took a tragedy like the Rana Plaza factory collapse to catapult this issue to worldwide news but consumers really have no excuse to feign ignorance anymore. We just need to keep the conversation going, keep putting pressure on retailers and ensure that shoppers can make informed choices.

I really, really hope this film goes ahead. It will surely be pivotal in this ‘game-changing’ moment we now find ourselves in. Fast fashion won’t disappear as quickly as it arrived but I do think there is hope for change; we just have a struggle on our hands to get there.

Check out the teaser film here

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Shopping at Whole Foods Market the Way Nature Intended

Whilst in Cheltenham for a weekend break, my friend spotted Whole Foods Market amidst a crowded retail park on the edge of town. Having previously visited one of their stores in New York she raved that they were a super exciting place to shop so we decided to call in for a look (and for lunch). I didn’t know what to expect from Whole Foods but suffice to say, once inside I was like a kid in a candy shop. It’s like Whole Foods has curated all of my favourite things and put them under one roof – loose teas available by the weight, organic beauty products, amazing cakes, refillable wine and grains and cereals lined up like pick-and-mix. Whole Foods provides a more sustainable and ethical way to do your weekly shop and I love it.

I did some research once I got home and the business started in the US and now has a growing number of stores across the UK. Currently mainly situated in London, I really hope that they expand here, and quickly (Hampshire/Sussex would be great thanks!). I really, really hate packaging. I can see why supermarkets feel the need for it but we could all be buying many of our basics in the old fashioned way – in loose form, by weight, in refillable containers. The Whole Foods Market I went to was definitely smaller than your average supermarket but it still had all of the staples. What it didn’t have were the abundance of convenience foods and copious freezers full of ready meals that fill the shelves of all of our other supermarkets, because really, they are the things we can certainly live without. Just picture your local supermarket’s collection of toilet roll – do we really need all that choice? No.

Whole Foods also had a selection of ready-to-eat hot and cold foods – pizza, a salad bar, curry. You could take the food away or sit in their cafe area where they also sell hot drinks and cake. I could keep prattling on but the pictures say it better than I can. Happy days.

beauty

grains

wine

tea)

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High Street Futures: 2nd Expert Scoping Panel Workshop

Mary Portas put the British high street on the general public’s radar when she was commissioned by the government to produce the ‘The Portas Review: An independent review into the future of our high streets’ in 2011. As part of the government’s Growth Agenda, the purpose of the review was to explore new business models for high street management and look at ways in which town centres can encourage economic growth, job creation and improved quality of life for communities. Everyone knows that the high street is struggling. In 2012 Peacocks, La Senza, Comet, Game and JJB Sports were just a handful of the retailers who entered administration leading to store closures. Following on from the Portas Review, The University of Southampton’s Prof. Neil Wrigley and Prof. Michelle Lowe were awarded ESRC funding for the High Street Futures project which aimed to produce a forward-looking and agenda-setting academic study which evaluated alternative visions of the future of UK high street.

Oxford City Centre

On the 7th Feb. 2013 the High Street Futures team hosted an invitation only expert scoping panel to discuss the future of the high street. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to go along to the event which was attended by retail consultants, town centre planners, retailers and academics. Presentations were offered by the likes of Kantar Retail, Accessible Retail and the Association of Town Centre Management. It was a really thought-provoking day and reignited my excitement for retail, which, as I’ve become more and more interested in ethical consumption has waned. Why has it waned? Well, because retailers want to sell us stuff and in the main, we all have enough stuff! I would never now be comfortable working for certain retailers, yet there’s sense in the idea that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. The high street is full of multinational retailers; they can offer us what we need and at a good price. I am conflicted by the desire to see a healthy economy and thriving high street, with the knowledge that we shouldn’t be encouraged to buy yet more mass-produced things, yet the high street of the future as envisaged by experts on the day doesn’t focus solely on retail and shopping, but on other ways to breathe life back into towns.

What went wrong?

We know the story of the recession – spending and borrowing was out of control. Hundreds of well known retailers grew to epic heights by cashing in on our materialist desires. Then the economy went belly-up, consumers slowed down their spending and suddenly retailers had to work harder to win our hearts over the competition. Furthermore, the competition was made tougher by the growth of supermarkets, out-of-town shopping centres and online shopping. Now, towns on average across the UK have non-occupancy rates of 15%. When Woolies went under, the country mourned (even though most people hadn’t stepped inside for years), but it was our fault in a way, as shoppers. Retailing is a democratic industry, we vote with our feet, and increasingly we are heading to Tesco and Amazon rather than long-standing high street stores. Generally the retailers we’ve lost have been bad retailers having failed to evolve, adapt or offer good customer service – a retail Darwinism if you will. Branded goods and retailers with a strong target market, as well as discount stores, have been some of the best performers over the last few years.

What needs to happen in the future?

The day wasn’t as bleak as you might think. The high street can survive as long as it adapts and all parties work together – retailers, landlords, councils and communities. Household spending may be flat but the economy is set to rise marginally this year. Town centres need to become places not just to shop, but to dwell, to live and to enjoy. I live in Southampton but only go into the city centre when I really need something, and even then often it is the bank, or to meet someone rather than to shop. But, I go to Winchester for no other reason than to wander and have an enjoyable time. What is it about Winchester that attracts me? It’s the aesthetics, the culture, the fact that you can sit in the cathedral grounds as a break from shopping, the up-market stores that make for great aspirational shopping, and the charity shops which sell cast-offs from the affluent residents. Winchester has the whole package. If I need serious shopping I might go to Gunwharf Quays or Westfields a couple of times a year because local high streets can’t compete with these mega malls and discount outlets.

Local towns need a USP and this comes from ambiance, events and independent shops. Indeed, indies should be encouraged to thrive and there was little, if any, representation from indies at the panel day, despite experts saying that towns need to offer something a bit different. Coffee shop culture is booming. You can’t walk far without seeing a Costa or Starbucks in most local towns and if this brings people in then all well and good. Town centres should be meeting places and encourage people to hang around rather than rush in and out. Parking and transport is obviously is an issue, and although free parking rarely seems viable or environmentally agreeable, I do think town centres should offer half an hour’s free parking if they want to encourage spending back from the convenience of the supermarkets.

We seem to be aware of the issues now at least, and lots of people are working on research and planning to keep town centres from crumbling anymore. The future of the high street lies with everyone – the retailers, planners, councils and of course, all of us consumers*.

For more information on the project: http://www.highstreetfutures.co.uk/

*Disclaimer – I would only ever encourage ethical consumption

Me with Gerard Dericks (LSE) and Paul Newton (Sainsburys)

Me with Gerard Dericks (LSE) and Paul Newton (Sainsburys)

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New Shoes! Clarks are Comfy but are they Ethical?

Fed up of getting wet feet, and of shoes with flimsy soles, I decided to invest in some ‘sensible’ shoes this week. And so the first place I thought of was Clarks. Having been brought up on Jones shoes before moving onto New Look (way over that phase), Topshop, Office and River Island, I only brought my first Clarks shoes last year, and boy, are they comfy.

Clarks lived up to expectations with plenty of good quality, sturdy, stylish and well-priced options. I picked up these brown leather and Harris Tweed brogues for £50 and beige leather, low-heeled Mary-Janes in the sale for around £27. Both are very cute, comfortable and should keep my feet dry. As I was justifying them to myself at the till, my thoughts were three-fold. A – I knew that they are a long-standing British brand (not that shoes are manufactured in the UK but it’s a start), B – I knew that the shoes should last, therefore they are more sustainable than buying countless cheap ballet pumps, and C – I remembered that Clarks had created these cute desert boots last year using organic yarn to create a hand knitted cuff (vaguely ethical?).

With my purchases safely back home I thought I had better check Clarks out and happily they do have a social responsibility section on their website. Some of the work they do includes the following:

• Following recommendations by Greenpeace Clarks do not use leather in their products produced from cattle raised in the Amazon Biome (a reason for deforestation).
• In 2009 they contributed to the inaugural ‘Forest Footprint Disclosure’ report. This initiative champions sustainable and sound business practice in the key commodities that, if managed badly, can encourage deforestation: soy, timber, cattle products, palm oil, and bio-fuels.
• Some of their shoes are made by women trained through Soul of Africa, a self-sustainable charity initiative that helps orphans affected by AIDS.
• They support the Shoe Biz appeal which asks consumers to donate old shoes for reuse to raise money for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi. Collection points in more than 500 Clarks stores.

So is Clarks ethical? Ethical Consumer Magazine scored them down for supply chain management as they failed to provide evidence of a code of conduct which addressed workers’ rights within its supply chain.
But in considering sustainability, Clarks are made to last, and although it would be nice to have an excuse to keep buying new shoes, I think my Clarks shoes will put me in good stead to last the winter and beyond.

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