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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Record Numbers Swap Clothes as Part of M&S and Oxfam’s Latest Shwopping Event

joanna-shwopping

Swishing/swapping parties have taken off big time over the last couple of years. Giving the opportunity for people to swap clothes that they don’t wear for clothes that they do is a fab idea. It’s sustainable and quite often totally free (although some parties might charge an entry fee, often donated to charity). What’s more, if you took part in one of the recent Shwopping events by Marks and Spencer’s and Oxfam, you will have received a £5 M&S voucher, amazing!

The One Day Wardrobe Clear Out was held on Thursday 9th May and asked customers to help ease the landfill burden by bringing their unwanted clothes into M&S to swap for pieces donated by other customers. 435,000 used and unwanted items were shwopped over 12 hours – the equivalent of 604 items a minute.

The event, as part of M&S and Oxfam’s sustainable fashion initiative Shwopping, will see every item left donated go on to be re-sold or recycled by the charity, cutting waste and raising much-needed funds in its fight against global poverty. The record number of items shwopped will raise an estimated £504,600 for Oxfam.

Adam Elman, Head of Marks & Spencer’s Plan A Delivery, said:
“It’s amazing to see so many people taking part and shwopping their clothes to support Oxfam. 435,000 clothes donated is a fantastic achievement; this is by far the most successful clothes-recycling event we have ever had! It doesn’t stop here, with over 1 billion items sent to landfill each year in the UK, we hope that customers will continue to adopt a ‘buy one, give one back’ culture when they shop and help us to build a more sustainable future.”

Since its launch in April last year, Oxfam has received over 4.3 million items of clothing thanks to Shwopping, worth over £2.8 million for the charity. All money raised by Shwopping, fronted by Joanna Lumley, is used to support Oxfam’s projects around the world. Don’t forget to check out the Oxfam Fashion blog and remember you can shop for Oxfam pieces online.

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Ethical/Sustainable Sale Bargains

Have you been shopping the post-Christmas sales yet? I hope you weren’t one of those mad people who got up at 4am on Boxing Day to hit the shops . . .

A common complaint for shopping ethically is that it is more expensive, and often it is pricier than the alternatives but that is because the alternatives might be made unsustainably. Part of ethical shopping is simply to buy less but buy better, therefore you can spend the same amount on one great thing that will last rather than two or three badly made things which won’t last. In the sales though, everything suddenly becomes much more accessible. Here are my top sale picks:

People Tree have a fantastic sale on women’s and men’s wear and their clothes are beautifully made from sumptuous fabrics. The Yellow Orla Kiely Trench Coat is now half price (£75) and will see you through spring. And the gorgeous Dragonfly Skater Dress is 75% off, now £13.75 from £55.

Designer label Edun have up to 60% off men’s and women’s wear. This men’s Cable Mix Hand Knit Sweater is now around £265, from £440.

Chinti and Parker have 30% off their winter cashmere and cotton knitwear and luxury basics. Their cashmere Boyfriend Sweater is now £227.50. Monkee Genes, the fair trade, organic denim brand have up to 40% off. Ascension have a whopping 75% off. Ethical Superstore have a sale with saving of up to 50%. These pretty fair trade Christmas baubles are half price, now £6.50.

Nomads have 50% a wide range of traditional styles, and there are some sale bits in ASOS Green Room, such as on the jewellery by Made. Pants to Poverty have 33% off these pink panties. If you know of more great bargains, tweet me!

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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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Culture of Online Trading of Used Goods: Study of eBay Germany

One of the sessions at the Sustainable Consumption Conference was focused on the culture of second hand trading and in particular a study on the buyers and sellers using eBay Germany. This was particularly relevant for me considering that my PhD is based on second-hand retail culture. Online trading of second-hand goods on auction sites and online marketplaces can significantly increase the life span of a product, thus acting as a key means of sustainable consumption.

In the selected study the environmental impact of private online trading of used goods is quantified by a social-ecological approach with three core elements (some of which I will discuss here):

1. analysis of primary, secondary and tertiary environmental impacts on the layer of single products and society,

2. interviews with eBay users to broach the issue of trading of used goods, and

3. undertaking an environmental life cycle assessment (LCA).

Overall, it was found that buying and selling used goods online is rarely linked to ecological motives, but there are more pragmatic reasons for taking part in this type of exchange such as making space and generating income. To date, the positive environmental effects caused by online marketplaces are unintended side effects.  

‘Auction culture’, described by the researchers is a relatively new phenomenon which emerged from the year 2000 onwards. It (arguably) has begun to replace the dominant ‘throwaway society’ of the 1980s-90s and the ‘culture of accumulation’ 1950s-60s. Sales on eBay are approximately half new products and half used. The researchers conducted two online surveys of private sellers and interviews with different demographics.

They found a highly positive attitude towards conserving the environment but a low awareness of the positive relationship between online trading of used goods and environmental health. Women showed a higher level of environmentally friendly behaviour but there was no statistical difference in motives or attitudes in relation to age, education or income.

Five modes of consumption were identified:

  1. Price orientated used goods buyers (20%)
  2. Used goods sceptics (20%)
  3. Environmentally orientated buyers (22%)
  4. Online buyers (15%)
  5. Prosumers (23%)

You can read more about each type in the paper referenced at the end. ‘Prosumer’ is a term coined by Alvin W. Toffler in 1980 to describe consumers that have a strong orientation towards reselling. Prosumers will buy and sell regularly on eBay but not be professional traders.

I imagine that the results of this study are very typical to eBay users across the Western world and not confined just to eBay Germany. It is of no surprise that environmental motives are low on the list for eBay users however, if they are using eBay to trade used goods anyway, does it matter what their motives for such practice are? I think future studies are best focused on the consumers who are not currently trading in their used goods, because prolonging the lifecycle of all objects has to be a priority.

Further reading:

Blättel-Mink , B. et al. 2010. Contribution of Online Trading of Used Goods to Resource Efficiency: An Empirical Study of eBay Users. Sustainability, 2

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Searching for Alternative Hedonism: Reflections from a presentation by Kate Soper

Kate Soper, a professor in philosophy at the London Metropolitan University, presented twice during the Sustainable Consumption Conference – at the young researchers pre-conference and as a key note speaker in the main conference. She spoke about her concept of ‘alternative hedonism’ in her key note, ‘Towards sustainability flourishing: Democracy, hedonism and the politics of prosperity’.

Put simply, alternative hedonism is the practice of finding pleasure in things other than consumption.  It identifies self-interested motivations for less environmentally destructive practices. We are constantly bombarded with media representations of how consumption can bring us happiness; make us successful, attractive and wealthy, but is consumerism really good for our long term future wellbeing?

Soper sees a contradiction between economic and ecological promises and a denial by politicians who tell us we have to consume more to help the economy whilst trying to reduce our carbon footprint. For a truly sustainable future we need a radical transformation of the global economic system and a re-think of the ‘good life’.

Soper made the completely true point that we work hard to spend the money that we work long hours to earn to enable us to consume luxuries to help us relax and buy time. We might buy a huge flat screen television because we feel like we deserve it for working hard all day. Just like I explained in a previous post, many of the items we purchase are allowing us to ‘buy time’, therefore creating this cycle of work and consumption. If only we slowed down, Soper says, and allowed ourselves to enjoy the simple things in life, then maybe we wouldn’t need to consume so much.

To make the idea of decreased consumption more appealing, we must not advocate a restricted and reduced mode of living, but emphasise the pleasures consumerism denies and the displeasures it generates. Affluence itself is compromised by stress, time-scarcity, obesity, ill-heath and pollution. We could each work for fewer hours, and allow more people to be in employment, thus sharing out the wealth. As Soper states, alternative hedonism responds to the current crisis as an opportunity to move towards a fairer and more life enhancing use of resources. Her ideas might be optimistic, but her reality is far from it. Soper is well aware that a radical overhaul of the current system is unlikely, but I for one found her ideas inspiring. Perhaps regression to a more sustainable future, and therefore a return to the ‘good life’ is the only way forward.

Recommended reading:

‘Alternative Hedonism, Cultural Theory and the Role of Aesthetic Revisioning’, Cultural Studies, Vol.22, no. 5, September 2008

‘Conceptualizing Needs in the Context of Consumer Politics’, Journal of Consumer Policy, volume 29, number 4, 2006, pp. 355-372

The Politics and Pleasures of Consuming Differently, co-editor with Lyn Thomas and Martin Ryle, Palgrave, 2009

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