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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UN Climate Summit and the Place of Ethical Consumption Research

Last week (23rd September 2014) saw the UN Climate Summit, where global leaders from Government, business, finance and civil society came together to announce their commitments to action in areas that are critical for keeping global temperature increases to less than two degrees C. The 8 proposed Action Areas were Agriculture, Cities, Energy, Financing, Forests, Industry, Resilience and Transportation. I’m not going to provide a summary of the summit because there is plenty of information online but it has prompted me to share some thoughts from two conferences I went to this summer.

carbonmap

Have a look at this climate map from the Guardian (click here). Watch how, as my friend said, the world ‘breathes in and out’ as you flick between highest population data and highest consumption – or consumption and all levels of highest vulnerability to climate change. It comes as no surprise that the countries with the highest levels of consumption are not the countries with the highest population, nor those at greatest risk of problems associated with sea level rise and poverty.

The inequality is both startling and disgusting, and world leaders at the summit did appear to be concerned about the tangible effects of climate change in the form of severe weather events. In a press conference following Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s speech, Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters that “weather extremes have greatly affected the Chinese people.” According to a report by the European Commission, China’s carbon emissions increased by around 10% PER YEAR in the decade prior to 2013 at which point it slowed to a 3% increase, whilst the EU had a 4% decrease.

In order to slow CO2 emissions we need a greater commitment to more sustainable consumption, at all scales, from personal to global. Whilst we do drastically need to cut carbon emissions, I think this could be framed more positively through a holistic sustainable consumption approach rather than focusing on carbon emissions per se. Lots of research is being done to try and learn more about consumer behavior and the motivation behind individual action. With climate change now regarded to be a critical policy issue, what’s the place of social science research in this agenda?

I attended two brilliant workshops/conferences over the summer that got me thinking about just that:

Ethical consumption and the globalising middle-classes: Philosophies, policies and practices, Durham University

Sustainable consumption and lifecourse transitions, University of Surrey.

They were only a week apart, so it was great to immerse myself in these overlapping topics and tease out the key themes across the two. The content of course did differ, as did many of the approaches with Durham being mainly geographers and Surrey mainly attended by sociologists, however I certainly got a sense of where future research is headed, and which directions we should steer it in.

The key theme for Durham was ‘globalising’, the argument being that most of the research conducted on ethical consumption is exclusively from the point of view of the West. Such research utilises a Western take on what it means to be ethical to consider the role of the consumer in the Global North and the producer in the Global South. Events like the UN Summit on climate change rely on a global agreement to produce any effect; therefore we cannot continue to be bound to this north/south dichotomy but should instead look at different variables and viewpoints. A couple of particularly interesting points to take from this workshop for me were –

How are ‘ethical’ products marketed within the Global South and what does this say about different attitudes and values?

What do we mean by ethics? Can we start laying judgement on ethical endeavours elsewhere without an understanding of the different cultural definitions of ethics?

As an example, a well-known chain/department store in Bangladesh called Aarong states on it’s website that it “is dedicated to bring about positive changes in the lives of disadvantaged artisans and underprivileged rural women” yet according to Prof. Nicky Gregson, there is no mention of this message in store. The growing middle-class (30m people) in Bangladesh are shopping to keep up with the latest fashions. Status as exemplified by taste is of utmost importance, and shopping at Aarong enables a form of distinction for this group. The ethics are silent though, rather than capitalising on ethics for commodity value, Aarong is an example of consumption with ethical effects not ethical consumption as a route for political action.

This is quite a different way of thinking through ethical consumption, which at least in the Global North, is considered a purposeful act to play out identities, politics and status. As discussed (but certainly not proven) during the workshop, perhaps such explicit reference to ethical production/consumption is too close to home in Bangladesh. With cheap clothes accounting for around 78% of total exports, the garment industry is both a source of ethical contention and a major factor in the increasing wealth of the growing elite. Similarly, in South Africa and Kenya locally sourced fair trade brands sell to their own middle-class not by focusing on a message to help the poor but on ‘love Africa’. Place, and therefore geography, is critical in forwarding this work and expanding the definition of what it means to be an ‘ethical consumer’.

The need for consistent terminology also came up at the Surrey conference and is particularly important if we want ethical/sustainable consumption research to successfully span different countries, cultures and disciplines. We discussed whether more interventionist research is indeed ethical as I proposed it as a helpful way to move forward in understanding how to change consumer behaviour. It’s one thing trying to find out why we act the way we do, but what about ‘nudging’ individuals to do things differently? As the title of the workshop suggests, we discussed lifecourse transitions, moving into the metaphysical realm of postulating how views of life after death may alter what we do in life. Maybe its philosophy we are missing? There are many ways to approach research on sustainable/ethical consumption/lifestyles and I think we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg. The important thing, is to keep sharing ideas not just with each other but with policy makers and society at large too – globally.

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In Search of Sustainable School Uniform

Website_ecooutfitters
A few weeks ago I was in the FAIR shop, Brighton, chatting to owner Siobhan about the perils of kid’s school uniforms. Manufactured in their masses and worn five days a week by children in the UK they are a significant part of the clothes economy. Parents also have little control over what they must buy as most schools have designated suppliers, and certainly regulations on colour and style. Most suppliers focus on price and practicality, resulting in cheap synthetic materials which might wash well but could be uncomfortable and unhealthy to wear, and manufactured with little ethical regard for people and planet.

Just days after this chat I heard from Ecooutfitters, the first independent school uniform brand. Ecooutfitters school uniforms are made of ethically sourced, 100% organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), ensuring that production meets rigorous environmental and social standards. Thus an Ecooutfitter uniform cares for every individual in the chain not least the children that wear them. The entrepreneurs behind the brand, Marina and Irina, are both mothers themselves and were inspired by the desire to dress their young boys in natural, healthy fibres every single day, not just at the weekends. They said ““When you consider that our children are forced to wear these harmful fabrics for some 36.5 hours a week, running around all day, getting hot, sweaty and agitated, at a vital stage of their development, we knew something had to be done and Ecooutfitters was born.”

The British Skin Foundation has reported a dramatic rise in the number of children in the UK suffering from irritable skin conditions, with at least 10% of children suspected to suffer from eczema during their childhood. Many items of children’s clothing is Teflon coated to repel stains but such chemicals can irritate delicate skin and detrimental long term effects on health aren’t really known. Whilst Marina and Irina were motivated by the desire to banish such chemicals from their children’s wardrobes, they quickly learnt about the hugely devastating effects of the non-organic cotton industry on the communities and the environment around the world.

ecooutfitters shorts

Production of a single cotton T-shirt requires a third of a pound of dangerously toxic pesticides, the effects of which result in 77 million cases of poisoning recorded every year, 20,000 of which result in death. These revelations put ethical production at the heart of the Ecooutfitters mission and since organic cotton doesn’t use dangerous pesticides, protecting farmers’ lives and the environment, it became an obvious choice. “Our uniforms are not only healthier, comfortable and ethical, but competitively priced, durable and practical, disproving the widely held belief that cotton uniform cannot withstand the playground test.”

For more information, to buy or to nominate your school to offer the Ecooutfitters uniform, go to www.ecooutfitters.co.uk

For more information on the concerns about chemicals found in children’s wear, take a look at Greenpeace’s Little Monster campaign

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Ethical High Street Spotters: I need YOU!

You may have noticed that I have a new project. I haven’t talked about it much until recently, but it’s got to the point where I can’t shut-up about it now. I already had a vague idea when I went to the Innocent Inspires entrepreneurship event at the end of July, but it was Innocent co-founder Richard Reed’s simple advice ‘just start’ that got me going. Just take one step and things will start rolling forward (what d’ya know, it was true!). For me, that one step was to contact a web developer to find out if my idea had legs. It does, and I’ve done a lot over the last few weeks although I don’t feel like I have much to show for it yet.

I want to create an online resource to help consumers navigate everyday shops with more of an ethical conscience. I’ve been involved with ethical fashion for the last few years and have seen it grow exponentially but am astonished when I talk to some people that it still has hippie connotations. Shoppers think ethical fashion is expensive, unattractive and not easily accessible. They just don’t know where to start. People often tell me that I should start an ethical brand, but I think the market is saturated right now. Until more people are going out looking for that thing, we need to go back to basics.

Most of our shopping is done in the same chain stores and supermarkets, so rather than have this them-and-us divide I want to fill the gap in the middle. I think it’s better to get 50 people to make one change rather than one person change their entire life. Not least because over time those 50 people will hopefully go on to make one more change, and another, and another. I want to encourage shoppers back to independent stores with a bricks and mortar street presence, because ethical stuff shouldn’t just be online. I want to tell people that it’s ok to buy things from chain stores if you’re thoughtful about it. I want to give shoppers easy to understand and positive information about retailers rather than focusing on the politics of ethical consumption. And I want to do this across the whole high street, not just for fashion but for home and gifts too. Oh, and I want it to be stylish, not like some of those other ‘green’ websites.

There is plenty I can do with Ethical High Street; I’d like news features, shopping guides and an interactive community. I’ve since met up with another developer who had some really exciting ideas. I have a pen and notebook glued to me right now, but there is a load to do. This is where I need your help. I can’t be in ten places at once so I need all of you lovely people to keep your eye out for great products. If you’re reading this then you’re already part of those ‘in the know’. A fashion chain has launched a charity tee? A stationer has started selling recycled cards? A new ethical indie has opened in your town? Please let me know! I need a team of spotters who can tweet me or email me (pictures!) so we can start sharing tips as a community. I am also looking for contributors to write for Ethical High Street so if this is you then please get in touch.

Want to be an Ethical High Street spotter? Want to blog? Email me: emma@ethicalhighstreet.co.uk
Or Tweet: @EthicalHighSt

Still shopping; but better.

PS. Have you seen my competition? It’s not very often I just give things away you know . . .

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Glastonbury Festival 2013: Good, Green Fun

It’s been a couple of weeks since Glastonbury ended but I’m still revelling in the positive energy. It’s just a happy place, like Never-Neverland but without the threat of pirates. It was my forth time at the festival, the first was 2007 – one of the wettest and muddiest on record yet still I had the time of my life. I wouldn’t put up with five days without showering anywhere else, but at Glastonbury I couldn’t care less. At Glastonbury anything goes, and for a few days you can just focus on pure, hedonistic fun.

View of the site on Thursday - slightly overcast

View of the site on Thursday – slightly overcast

As much as I don’t feel a need to justify blogging about such adventures, I will pull it back to the theme of my blog – its eco/green credentials. Clearly when 170,000 people descend on an area normally left as fields, it’s going to have some kind of impact, but Glastonbury has its roots in the free festival movement (some might say hippie) and as such remains committed to limiting negative effects on the environment wherever possible. After lazy campers left behind a bumper crop of tents in 2007 leading to the death of one of Michael Eavis’s cows after it ingested a metal tent-peg left in the soil, the Festival devised its ‘Love the Farm, Leave No Trace’ campaign. The campaign encourages and reminds revellers to respect the environment and clear up after themselves. New initiatives in 2008 included biodegradable tent pegs handed out free to all campers and biotractors running on waste vegetable oil. These new efforts were rewarded with The Greener Festival Award in 2008.

I borrowed my dad's 1987 camper van, not so eco-friendly I'm afraid

I borrowed my dad’s 1987 camper van, not so eco-friendly I’m afraid

This year, the festival organisers pushed hard for visitors to make use of public transport. Those who arrived by bike (as one of our crew did) had their own camping field complete with nice showers. And it wasn’t just the party-goers who were targeted; they also ran Green Trader’s Awards, commending traders for energy efficiency, ethical trade and sustainable food. Greenpeace used their presence at Glastonbury to highlight the plight of the Arctic. Sadly, I missed it but they had an Arctic Dome which offered people the opportunity to disappear through a crack in the ice and take a magical 15-minute trip to the North Pole, where ice towered and the Northern Lights danced, amazing! 4,000 people signed up to the ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign, the same one which had six female activists scale The Shard in London last week.

As always Oxfam had a strong presence at the festival, providing more than 2000 stewards who volunteered their time to help the smooth running of the event. The festival was the charity’s biggest opportunity of the summer to encourage people to show solidarity for the people of Syria who are suffering an unprecedented crisis. Oxfam asked visitors to show their support for the campaign by posing for photos sharing a heart symbol, wearing a badge, having their face painted and, most importantly, signing the charity’s petition. They collected 10,000 signatures over five days. They also had not one, but three Oxfam shops selling on manner of vintage clothes, accessories and fancy dress.

There’s so much to see at Glastonbury, you could never see it all. I had a fantastic time and was really sad to leave, but then I realised real-life is pretty awesome too and although Never-Neverland is great for a visit, I couldn’t live there forever, could I?

Not just about the music, we made candles!

Not just about the music, we made candles!

Me, still looking fairly clean

Me, still looking fairly clean

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Blog Update: Ethical consumption, organic living, sustainability, fashion & me!

My blog started nearly three years now, and since then it feels like everyone has a blog. I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was nine, so I guess it’s just an extension of that, except if I published my actual diary my stats would probably go through the roof (not that I’m saying I lead a particularly exciting life). Moving on . . .

My blog has evolved since first inception but not massively (I’m still totally indebted to Mike and Mic for helping me set it up, thank you boys!). It started as purely an ethical fashion site but I have since posted on various sustainability issues. Still though, I feel a bit limited in what I feel I can talk about despite the fact that in some ways I’ve become more interested in the ethical part rather than the fashion part of ethical fashion. Many of the blogs I really enjoy reading include interiors, foodie posts and organic living.

So am I going to stop blogging about ethical fashion? (whatever ethical/eco/sustainable fashion may be) No. But I am changing tack. I’m in the very, very early stages of developing a new website, and this will be a website not a blog. It will cover all kinds of ethical consumption topics, but in a way relevant to the average shopper (there, I said it, I have to do it now). This is some time off though and I don’t want to give much away to be honest, why spoil the surprise! This blog (back to the one you’re reading) will therefore be more about me, my life and anything to do with ethical and sustainable living that takes my fancy. Me is my PhD, my newly purchased flat, yoga, health and fitness, fashion and textiles, food and second-hand/old stuff. I’ll still be an ethical fashion chic, that’s part of the package, but I also have the platforms of the Oxfam fashion blog and Ms Wandas Wardrobe to talk about that, both of which I’m a regular contributor to.

Ethical/sustainable living is in essence what I will be writing about, so just like it is now, but with pictures of cake amongst the clothes. It’s quite new to me too, this ethical/sustainable living stuff, so I want to do a bit of exploring. I’m the ultimate supermarket convenience shopper and it’s only recently that I’ve grasped much context of what fruit and veg even cost, I’d just chuck it in the trolley. It’s difficult when you live in a tiny flat with no garden and money is greatly limited but I want to start thinking more about where my food is coming from, and rely less on chemical cleaners and plastics. I picked up this organic living book in Oxfam which I’m using as a starting point. It tells you how to make organic beauty products, natural cleaners, how to grow fruit and veg and erm, keep a cow. I’m not giving up my make-up though, oh no.

OrganicBook

Anyone got any tips? (on organic living, not keeping a cow)

Cake!

Cake!

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