The ethical fashion revolution

As London Fashion Week approaches, the hype behind ethical fashion is going through the roof. But how many of our favourite high street shops offer fairly traded clothes? Amita Mistry investigates.

“Young girl working fairtrade Young girl working on a loom in Aït Benhaddou, Morocco in May 2008” - image is courtesy of NationMaster.com

“Young girl working fairtrade Young girl working on a loom in Aït Benhaddou, Morocco in May 2008” - image is courtesy of NationMaster.com

Are you wearing or do you own anything from the high street giant Primark? If so, find the label and read where it was made.

Done? If you’re still looking, it’s because Primark’s labels don’t reveal the location of the garment’s origin. The company argues that there is no law requiring retailers to state where the clothing is made.

Primark is every bargain hunter’s candy shop, full of cheap clothes that can be thrown away when the latest trend is phased out. Last June, it was investigated by undercover reporters from the BBC who revealed that the retailer used child labour (allegedly without their knowledge) to make their products. It was claimed that clothes were created by underpaid factory workers, many of whom took their work outside the factory to family members and children.

After BBC1’s Panorama made the issue public, the head of Primark spoke to a journalist about the allegations. Primark director Breege O’Donoghue said: “We detest that children have been used; we do not support that children should be used in our supply chain. These children are not in our factories. These three factories had stringent audit and inspection in the last 18 months these children were in unauthorised production.”

She added: “It’s against our terms of trade to employ children. Our code of conduct was breached, our standards were breached – this is why these factories will no longer be doing business with Primark.”

Developing countries reportedly rely on the forced labour of thousands of 10-to15-year-old children, who pick cotton to create clothes for western countries like ours. Each September, school children are forced to miss classes for up to two and a half months for cotton-picking. The children spend up to 11 hours a day working in the fields and earn less than two US dollars.

I decided to visit Primark in Nottingham to find out what the paying public thought about this. Hordes of shoppers wondered around with trademark blue baskets full to the brim with clothes. The long queue for the tills made it feel like it was Christmas Eve, while the staff stood at their folding stations as customers sifted through the piles of jeans desperate to find their size.

Asked about Primark’s reputation on garment production, one student shopper from Nottingham said: “I do wonder how they can charge so little, but I’m well into my overdraft and can’t afford expensive clothes. Primark has high fashion at affordable prices, which is what draws me in.”

Another customer remarked: “I guess ‘throw-away fashion’ is a bit of a waste, but in the current economic climate people are hunting for bargains more than ever before. It’s a shame, but I suppose we are keeping the people who make the garments in employment.”

Although Primark has made changes to stop child labour by shutting down the factories in India, this now leaves thousands of people unemployed. It seems as though they are more concerned with the reputation of the business rather than the need to help and support these underprivileged workers.

Fortunately, some people are doing their best to change the situation. At this season’s forthcoming fashion events, movers and shakers from the high fashion world are creating, promoting and showcasing ethical clothes.

Along with London Fashion Week’s estethica, which exhibits fashion by eco-loving designers (February 21-24), Pure London has also introduced Ethical Pure as part of its campaign to promote the designers who produce clothing that follows eco-friendly guidelines (February 8-10).

Meanwhile, February 23 to March 8 sees the annual fortnight dedicated to highlighting the work of the Fairtrade Foundation, a charity that seeks to ensure everyone can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood. Since its launch, the Fairtrade mark has not only changed the way in which corporations deal with their suppliers and how consumers shop on the high street, but it is also transforming the lives of millions of farmers, workers and their communities.

The desire to make even a small contribution towards helping the environment and the social welfare of others is a trend that has been embraced by many companies, from small specialist stores to big high-street chains. Debenhams, Monsoon and Marks & Spencer, for instance, all stock a Fairtrade cotton range.

Another outspoken campaigner is Jane Shepherdson, the retail guru who catapulted Topshop to star status. Now chief executive of the Whistles chain, she is also the non-executive director of People Tree (www.peopletree.co.uk), one of country’s first eco-chic brands. In addition, Shepherdson is transforming Oxfam’s charity shops into must-have destinations for eco-fashionistas.

These are just a few of the examples of people making waves in the ethical clothing movement. Yet, while much progress has already been made, there is still a significant way to go. Does the future of fashion lie in fairly traded clothes? Only time, and our shopping habits, will tell.

Let us know what you think by posting your comments on our MySpace page www.myspace.com/freeqmagazine.

For more information on Fairtrade Fortnight, visit: www.fairtrade.org.uk or http://www.bbc.co.uk/thread/blood-sweat-tshirts.

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Organic Tote Bags – EarthPositive

This is the latest addition to the EarthPositive® product range: organic and low carbon, screen printable, Tote Bags.

earthpositive1

There is a growing demand for ethically and environmentally credible bags, as more and more retailers, brands, corporate and promotional users are no longer content with using cheap cotton carriers as an alternative to plastic bags.

The rising levels of awareness mean the users of such products demand the same high values of the bags as they do of their cotton clothing.

Corporate and retail brands wish to communicate their ethical messages using an equally ethical communication medium.

The EarthPositive® Organic Shopper Tote (code EP70) is a plain weave, fine gauge canvas bag in undyed natural cotton, in the standard shopper tote dimensions (38x42cm) with long shoulder straps. The smooth fabric provides an ideal surface for screen-printing. This is the ultimate ‘sustainable’ shopper bag.

The EarthPositive® Organic Fashion Tote (code EP75) is a premium weight, twill weave cotton bag, with quality stitching detail, produced in a range of seven vibrant colours. This product is designed to meet the demand for a bag as a ‘fashion accessory with a conscience’ in a market place where the vast majority of similar products are produced in cheap quality raw fabrics of unknown origin. Again this bag is perfect for screen printing.

View our main website: www.october.co.uk
T shirt printing, screen printing, embroidery

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Taller Flora – Design – British Council – Arts

Taller Flora

Taller Flora

 

http://www.britishcouncil.org/spacer.gifWork with Mexico’s leading ethical fashion label

Carla Fernandez, 34, is the founder of Taller Flora, a fashion label and mobile laboratory that travels throughout Mexico visiting indigenous communities, including those that specialise in handmade textiles. Taller Flora has developed a unique style, and is a leader through its business model of a fair-trade network and environmental policies that encourage responsible practice in the fashion industry.

Carla was chosen as the winner of the British Council’s International Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award after giving a presentation to a UK panel of leading industry figures including Colin McDowell MBE, Suzanne Tide-Frater, Julie Pinches, Alberto Bartoli and Alison Moloney. The winner had to demonstrate a keen understanding of and vision for the fashion industry in their country.

The judges stated that “She has a clear and distinct design philosophy, which is highly personal and representative of her cultural identity, while speaking to the international fashion industry. The IYFEY prize is a financial award to be spent on a project tailored to the winner’s specific interests while developing the relationship between the winner’s country and the UK. Carla’s project is to recruit a printed textile designer and menswear designer from the UK to work with her and the Taller Flora team in Mexico for five months. For more information about IYFEY and Carla’s work please click here.

Menswear Designer – Taller Flora is looking to recruit a talented and driven menswear designer to work with Carla Fernandez to develop tailoring within the Taller Flora label. The designer will be working with the artisans of the co-op Charro Mexicano, who are skilled in the traditional tailoring and embroidery skills of the national ‘charro’ suit. Two lines of clothing will be developed with Carla: Haute Couture, preserving the manual tradition; and ready-to-wear, in collaboration with Tramex, one of Mexico’s biggest menswear manufacturers.

Requirements:

·         Applicants should have a BA or MA in fashion or be a talented designer. Demonstrable competence of pattern cutting is mandatory

·         Ability to work independently

·         Team player with good interpersonal and communication skills

·         Knowledge of and an interest in ethical fashion

·         Knowledge of Spanish would be an asset

·         Must be a resident in the UK.

Textile Designer – Taller Flora is looking to recruit a textiles designer who will work on the printed textiles designs inspired by the work of artisans from the indigenous community of Tenango de Doria. This project will commence with a creative workshop with artisans who draw and embroider Tenangos, to help Taller Flora translate their traditional practices into contemporary fashion design. Two lines of clothing will be developed with Carla: Haute Couture, preserving the manual tradition; and ready-to-wear, translating drawings produced in the workshop into prints for mass-production. Requirements:

·         Applicants should have a BA or MA in textile design or be a talented print designer

·         Excellent freehand drawing skills

·         Knowledge of PhotoShop is mandatory

·         Silk screening experience

·         Ability to work independently

·         Team player with good interpersonal and communication skills

·         Knowledge of and an interest in ethical fashion

·         Knowledge of Spanish would be an asset

·         Must be a resident in the UK.

Conditions of employment:

·         The appointment will be on a 5 month contract, ideally starting at the end of August (exact dates to be negotiated).

·         Taller Flora offers a tax-free salary which is competitive according to Mexican standards which is $1200 per month.

·         An economy-class return air ticket will be provided.

·         Accommodation is not included but Taller Flora promises to assist in locating an apartment near to their studio, which is located in one of the trendiest spots of Mexico City.

How to apply: Designers interested in the project should apply with the following materials:

·         A short, written statement (not more than 300 words) outlining why you want to be part of this project.   

·         Up to 12 photographs of your work

·         The name and contact details (including a telephone number) of one person we may contact as a reference

·         Your CV

The deadline for applications is 16 June 2008. A shortlist of 6 candidates will be interviewed the week beginning 30th June 2008 For further information you can contact Alison Moloney on 020 7389 3157, Alison.Moloney@britishcouncil.org or Carla Fernandez at carla@flora2.com. Please send your application

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Taller Flora – Design – British Council – Arts

A-Z of Ethical terms

With ethical issues dominating the headlines, we’re constantly being bombarded with cryptic acronyms that are difficult to decipher and words like ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ and ‘eco’ are banded around on a regular basis.

To try and diffuse this ethical minefield, Epona’s Juliet Bacon has broken down some of the more common terms into an easy to use A-Z guide and looked at why you might, or might not, choose to go for some of the eco options available

A

Azo free dyes. The manufacture and use of synthetic dyes are two of the world’s most polluting industries and azo dyes make up around 70% of all dyes used to colour fabric. There are serious concerns about the safety of azos. Most azos are water-soluble and there is the risk that carcinogenic chemicals from these dyes can be absorbed by the body through skin contact. Dye house workers have been know to suffer from asthma, allergies, birth defects and reproductive damage. Alongside the human cost, considerable environmental damage is caused by chemicals from these dyes. GOTS prohibits the use of all amine releasing azo dyes and many companies are choosing to ban azos themselves.

B

Banned substances lists cut out or cut down on harmful chemicals used to manufacture clothes. According to Greenpeace, among the most hazardous substances commonly used in the textile sector are lead, nickel, chromium IV, aryl amines, phthalates and formaldehyde. Marks & Spencer is the first major retailer to set its own standards that ban or restrict chemicals on the products it sells and has an Environmental Code of Practice for dyeing and finishing. Manufactures in the promotional industry have the opportunity to lead the way by introducing their own banned substances list.

Bamboo is an innovative ‘eco-textile’. It grows naturally and is sustainable, thriving without pesticides or fertilizers, and reproduces rapidly across large areas where it is known to improve soil quality in degraded and eroded areas of land. It is not really seen as a replacement for cotton, more as an alternative fabric that is particularly suitable for high end garments, due to its silky feel, and sportswear because it has a natural antibacterial quality which means the fabric stays around two degrees cooler in hot weather. On top of this, the garment will biodegrade, so it won’t clog up landfills once its product lifecycle is complete.

Biodegradable plastics degrade through naturally occurring micro organisms, such as bacteria, but there is no requirement for leaving “no toxic residue”. If you want a more environmentally friendly product, it is better to opt for a compostable plastic. Compostable plastics biodegrade and then disintegrate within a set period of time, without producing any toxic material and the compost left can support plant life.

Bluesign standard is a business-controlled environmental scheme to remove any substances that are potentially hazardous to human health or the environment from the entire textile supply chain. The standard takes into account chemicals from the ‘restricted substance list’, water and air emissions, resource consumption and workplace conditions.

C

Codes of Conduct. Most manufacturers now agree they have a responsibility to help improve the labour conditions of their suppliers. Many have developed codes of conduct or lists of labour standards they say they are meeting in their workplaces. The reality behind these codes however, is often still quite grim. Wages are too low to live on, 80-hour working weeks are common, and the health and safety of the workers, the majority of whom are women, is constantly being undermined. Workers have no security of employment, women are discriminated against and harassed, sometimes sexually. Workers are often not allowed to form trade unions. Sometimes this is because the right to organise is not recognised in the zone or country where they work. However, more often obstacles are put up specifically to prevent workers from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Some companies opt to sign up to one of the many multi-stakeholder ethical trading initiatives that oversee the implementation of specific codes of conduct based on the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions. Some of the better known initiatives include:

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

This is the largest UK-based initiative and is partially supported by the UK government. The main idea of the ETI is for companies to work in collaboration with NGOs and trade unions to learn the best way to implement codes. The ETI has its own code which is used as the basis for pilot projects. Corporate members must participate in ETI activities and provide the ETI secretariat with annual reports on their progress with respect to the code implementation.

Fair Labour Association (FLA)

The FLA grew out of the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP), an initiative of US President Bill Clinton, established to address labour standards of clothing sold to US-based colleges and universities. Approximately 1,100 suppliers are taking part in the FLA’s licensee program. The FLA is governed by a board of companies, universities and NGO’s, but trade union organisations pulled out after disputes over code content. The FLA accredits independent monitors that verify compliance through factory inspections and filing reports that are accessible to the public. Where non-compliance is identified, participating companies are required to implement a remediation plan.

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) aims to promote humane labour conditions in the garment industry. It is an initiative of business associations in the garment sector, trade unions, and NGOs. FWF was founded in The Netherlands, but is currently working hard to join similar initiatives in Europe.

Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) is an independent labour rights monitoring organisation, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel sold to the United States.

But does this really work? While it is positive that manufacturers are starting to sign up to these initiatives, it is hard to tell the extent companies are practicing the principles they’ve signed up to behind closed doors. Primark joined the ETI in May 2006. In December that year, War on Want published a report on workers at factories in Bangladesh that supply to ETI members Primark, Tesco and ASDA/George. These workers were typically paid 5p an hour and worked 80 hours a week. Sam Maher of Labour behind the Label says: “None of the companies can guarantee that all parts of their supply chain implement the ETI Base Code. The main issue is that there is no transparency – the reviews, criteria for inclusion and exclusion in the ETI are all confidential, so as a pressure group it is hard to know what to try to hold them to. However, when there is an urgent issue involving a specific violation, it’s much easier to get the companies involved to sit around a table and discuss it.”

Multi stakeholder initiatives are clearly a good start in encouraging companies to address problems with their supply chain, but the success of these initiatives is heavily dependent upon the genuine commitment of the company to implement and uphold significant changes.

Carbon Reduction refers to finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your company. If your organisation spends more that £50K per year on energy, the Carbon Trust will send out agents free of charge to suggest ways of reducing the amount of carbon you produce. The aim is to become as energy efficient as possible by using renewable energy, shipping rather than flying goods and cutting down on energy intensive processes.

Carbon Neutral: Once you have done this and worked out how much carbon you are still producing, you can become carbon ‘neutral’ by offsetting this amount. One way of doing this is to work with an organisation that funds projects to prevent other companies from producing carbon. To give an example, you might help a school in Africa to put in a wind powered generator rather than a diesel one. By preventing carbon from being produced, you are balancing out the carbon your company produces.

D

E

Eco-label is a European voAndyary certification scheme, represented by a flower logo, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of products, taking a ‘from the cradle to the grave’ approach. Products and processes are independently tested according to ecological criteria that includes: reducing the amount of toxic residues found in fibres, water pollution in fibre processing and the use of heavy metals and formaldehyde.

Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is a campaigning group that makes a direct link between the need for environmental security and the defence of basic human rights. They are responsible for the ‘Pick your cotton carefully’ campaign that encourages manufacturers to state where they buy their cotton from; White Gold, which highlights the plight of cotton farmers in Uzbekistan; and reporting on child labour throughout the world.

Environmentally Friendly? It takes around 8,000 chemicals to turn raw materials into clothing. Many of these cause irreversible damage to people and the environment. The bleaching, dyeing, sizing and finishing of textiles all result in large quantities of effluent, often containing highly toxic heavy metals that pollute the soil and water and damage aquatic life. Each year, the global textile industry discharges 40-50,000 tons of dye into rivers and streams. Add to that the carbon emissions and impact of growing non-organic cotton, which uses petrochemical fertilisers and leads to reduced soil fertility, soil erosion, water pollution and reduced biodiversity. Then there’s the high-energy manufacturing process and the clothes miles in transporting the fibre/textiles/garments around the world. Once bought, how an item is cared for and disposed of also has an impact on the environment. Manufacturers of promotional clothing have started to take these environmental factors into consideration by producing clothing that is both kind to the environment and to the garment workers.

Continues next month

For more information contact: Juliet@eponaclothing.com or go to the Epona website: http://www.eponaclothing.com/

Published: 01 May, 2008 Printwear and Promotion magazine

www.october.co.uk
t shirt printing, screen printing, embroidery