Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MIND & BODY: ETHICAL FASHION: You are what you wear

'The reputation I really don't want is 'woolly". So speaks Ali Hewson, the wife of rock-and-roll legend Bono, and the co-founder of socially conscious clothing company Edun (www.edun.ie). She has nothing to fear: 'woolly' is hardly an image she has garnered. Although Hewson has preferred to stay out of the limelight throughout her 23-year relationship with U2 frontman Bono, her image is sleek. It hardly fits the stereotypical 'eco' mould.

Hewson, Bono and designer Rogan Gregory launched Edun eight weeks ago with the goal of providing sustainable employment for factory workers throughout the developing world. For its customers - who include Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Helena Christensen - it's about beautiful, edgy, Art Nouveau-inspired fashion for men and women.

'We know that no matter how much people want to dress ethically, nobody's going to wear a hair shirt,' says Hewson. 'They want to look good and feel good. That's the point of Edun: you buy the design first. The good story behind the clothes is secondary.'

Today's clothing industry relies on 'fast-fashion', where designs are manufactured quickly, at cheap-and-cheerful prices. Cheerful, that is, for the consumers at the end of the chain. 'One thing the fashion industry doesn't have is loyalty', says Hewson. 'It will keep moving for lower labour costs, from continent to continent and from season to season. Producers in Africa can't keep up, which means they can't offer regular employment to their employees. So everyone's living on a knife-edge economy.'

Edun is different. Hewson and Bono source factories in developing countries that pay their employees a decent wage. Rogan designs with those factories' facilities in mind. And, crucially, Edun stays loyal. But it is not a charity: it hopes to succeed in commercial terms, thereby providing a business model for other fashion companies and proving that it is possible to produce beautiful clothes beautifully, and at a profit.

If Edun achieves this, Hewson admits that there is a further stigma to overthrow. Ethical fashion has a reputation of being overly worthy. This doesn't sit comfortably in the chichi world of fashion. But impressive new technology means that more versatile, ethically made fabrics will soon be available. We're talking gossamer silk blended with hemp; lush taffeta made from corn; soft, supple organic cotton which has been farmed without using pesticides and fertilisers, without polluting the environment. According to a survey by the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic fibre products jumped 22.7 per cent in 2003, with women's clothing the fastest-growing category. For the ethical fashionista, a consumer heaven awaits.

PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; www.peta.org) have had an eye - and, as often as not, a paint-bomb - on the fashion scene for 25 years. Although they support all aspects of vegetarian dressing, their most prolific campaign rallies against fur. PeTA have been let down by both former spokeswoman Cindy Crawford, who later signed a contract with a fur company, and by Naomi Campbell, who contradicted her pledge that she'd 'rather go naked' by wearing fur on a 1997 catwalk. But PeTA's campaign remains defiant. Supported by the likes of Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker and Charlize Theron, PeTA forces fashion giants to choose between celebrity endorsement and fur.

Stella McCartney (www.stella mccartney.com) is a dedicated supporter of vegetarian fashion: refusing to use fur or leather has done her no harm in sales or image, either at her own label, or when she reigned supreme at Chlo. In 2000, McCartney hit the headlines by turning down what anyone might well assume would be her dream job: because of their widespread use of leather, McCartney snubbed Gucci.

Even when it comes to the ultimate vegetarian fashion dilemma - footwear - McCartney remains true to her principles. While high street company Kurt Geiger will launch its Terra Plana line this autumn, with shoes made from recycled Pakistani quilts, sustainable wood and vegetarian tanned leathers, McCartney has already offered slinky plastic heels, parachute silk slippers, plush velvet sandals, and even a flesh-free range for Adidas. All of which is good news because there's little alternative.

The Vegetarian Shoes store in Brighton (www.vegetarian- shoes.co.uk) does a roaring trade, selling to celebrity veggies including Paul McCartney and Joaquin Phoenix, but owner Robin Webb acknowledges that his styles are more led by practicality than fashion. 'You need a lot of confidence to predict trends. We are better sticking to basics,' he says. Men can get essentials there, go to McCartney for best, and head to Converse, New Balance, Vans or Blackspot (www.adbusters.org) for vegetarian trainers.

Principled fashion is becoming de rigueur, says i-D fashion journalist Liz Hancock, who is now launching Project, a socially aware lifestyle magazine (www.project-magazine.com). 'We want to appeal to everyone from light to dark green; from people who have been wearing vegetarian shoes for years to those who just want a magazine with a little more integrity', says Hancock. All the labels featured in Project fashion shoots pass the magazine's standards in terms of ethics and style: they are environmentally, ecologically and socially responsible, and they hit the cutting edge. Hancock explains: 'We highlight which labels subscribe to which system of ideals. It's not passing a judgement, it's just showing people what they're buying into.'

'The cheaper the clothes, generally, the less was paid for them in the beginning', admits Ali Hewson. 'But we can charge a reasonable rate and still make a decent profit. There really is a revolution that can happen on the ground. People are starting to put pressure on the clothing industry to create great designs that they can wear and feel good about themselves - in every way.'

For the humbler wallet, there are mail order lines such as Howies (www.howies.co.uk), American Apparel (www.americanapparelstore.com), Loomstate (www.loomstate.org), and Sienna Miller's favourite, People Tree (www.ptree.co.uk). Meanwhile, shoppers who love their labels as well as their world can shop at Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, Katherine E Hamnett (from September - the 'e' is for 'ethical'), and, yes, at Stella McCartney.

'People are beginning to realise that you can make real change with the money in your pocket', says Ali Hewson. 'How you spend your money says a lot about you. People want to know that their clothes weren't made out of despair.'

Cosmetics

With a ban on animal testing of cosmetics throughout the UK, the Netherlands and, soon, Belgium, it seems a safe assumption that we can shop for cosmetics without worry.

However, throughout the EU, an estimated 35,000 animals are used in cosmetic tests every year. Until the EU bans on cosmetics animal testing (2009) and on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics (2009 - 2013) come into play, ethical shoppers need to take care.

It's also worth noting that that cosmetics that haven't been tested on animals are not necessarily vegetarian. Animal products crop up in soaps and lipsticks, and even make-up brushes are usually made with animal hair, although Origins (www.origins.com) and Urban Decay (www.urbandecay.com) use synthetic alternatives.

by Jessica Moore
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Ethical Clothing Company Story

It may sound like a talkative monkey, but Gossypium is something even stranger- a clothing company that puts farmers first.

Their name comes from the Latin for cotton, and expresses their unexpected belief that the way clothes are made is as important as how they look. All their clothes are made from 100% organic Indian cotton woven on handlooms to prevent wasting energy and the build up of cloth mountains and without the use of any GM seeds.

The cotton they use is grown by farmers supported by the Agrocel farmers centre. Based in Gujerat, Agrocel helps farmers grow their crops completely organically with technical advice, support and regular visits. The 60 farmers are paid a fair, above market price for their produce, and have a long-term sustainable relationship with the company.

Abigail Garner, a director of the company, set up the first clothing collection for Traidcraft and knew how important it was to treat not just the farmers well, but the earth too. Instead of chemical colours, Gossypium uses vegetable dyes, a time-consuming but high quality alternative. No waxes or chemical treatments are used to spin the cotton.

The clothes are stitched in India and Gossypium is working towards total transparency and independent monitoring. Thomas Petit, a company director explains that in the meantime they visit the factories themselves, We try and use the same factories as fair trade organisations use. Where this isnt possible we visit the factories ourselves?. They have also set up an education fund linked to the garments, each item stitched means more money to buy books for local schools.

Gossypium has its own fashion and print designer who adds a fresh edge to the ethical and environmentally conscious company. Their yoga collection is particularly popular because wearers know they are helping others while they reach their higher plane! The collection is already stocked in 30 shops throughout the UK. Its growing fast and is very popular, says Tom.

Their childrens clothes are perfect for sensitive babies and their sensitive parents who prefer not to wrap their offspring in chemicals, and the hardwearing material withstands the games of the most robust kids. For adults the emphasis is on simplicity and comfort, but never at the expense of fit or style. We especially like their slash neck tops and strappy vests.

Gossypium is bent on not just altering the fashion industry but turning it on its head to give power to the producers. Because of this, all profits are shared between Agrocel and the design/sales part of the company. The aim is to get as many farmers into Agrocel as possible, giving them the freedom to work without endangering themselves with pesticides and to be paid fairly for their work. The unique combination of ethics and style will ensure pretty soon everyone will be talking about Gossypium.

Davinos Greeno

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eco-friendly Fashion

Eco Friendly. Fret not: Our spotlight on the new, eco-conscious style guard has nary a burlap sack in sight (although many designers do incorporate sustainable, environmentally friendly materials like, yes, hemp).

Chic without the suffering: fashion displays its ethical face! Sworn Virgins Clothing "pure eco fashion"

Is Green the new black? Meet the designers of Sworn Virgins, a hip new eco–friendly clothing line whose stylish creations are made from bamboo. Gorgeous clothing. Available at spoiledbrat.co.uk With Sworn Virgins, fashion goes green. Every piece in this beautiful, eco-friendly collection of knit tops and dresses is made from ultra-soft, naturally fluid (and 100% biodegradable) bamboo jersey and bamboo/spandex blends. Minimal chemicals are involved, and even the water used in manufacturing is reclaimed and reused. Of course, Sworn Virgins is as true to fashion as it is to Mother Earth, with up-to-the-minute trends and classics in universally flattering, curve-hugging cuts. If you’re as environmentally conscious as you are style-conscious, Sworn Virgins is for you. Do good, and look good doing it!


For handbags choose Littlearth's stylish Family of eco-fashion Brands!

When Rob Brandegee and Ava DeMarco founded Little Earth Productions, Inc. in 1993 they had a simple but revolutionary idea: design and make fashionable, unique and trendsetting purses and belts by reusing and recycling materials that would otherwise be overlooked or thrown away. Not only did the idea work, but it introduced the world to a new term: ecofashion. In proportion to its popularity, Littlearth has grown from a small company working out of a suburban home into a multi-building design and manufacturing complex in the SoHo district of Pittsburgh. Now in its 15th year of business, Littlearth products from the Littlearth family of brands are starting conversations all over the United States and all over the world with distributors in Australia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom

stuart maclaren
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ethical Fashion

It’s like that old joke about the shortest books in the world (Italian War Heroes, Swiss Comedians etc etc). “Ethical Fashion” could be the shortest story in the world because it really doesn’t exist.

There are ethical clothes — baggy, beige T-shirts made in Third World worker co-operatives from organic Fairtrade cotton — but not proper fashion.

OK, there are pockets of conscience. Vegetarian Stella McCartney with her stand against fur and leather. Easton Pearson manufacturing all their clothes (apart from the Indian embroidery) in Queensland. Err … and then my mind goes blank.

That’s not to say the fashion world is totally devoid of conscience. There is a lot of tireless work for AIDS and breast cancer charities, but when it comes to the real business of fashion, everything about it is fundamentally counter to current ethical concerns.

It is an industry based on fuelling consumption for things which are defined by their built-in obsolescence; on making people want things they don’t need and buy more than they can really afford; and on seducing us into believing that owning a material object can change our lives.

It is certainly one of fashion’s ironies that while spending $100,000 on a single dress might seem the very apogee of its decadence, it is at the peak of the fashion mountain that you will find the most ethical employment conditions. The “petite mains” (little hands) working in Paris couture salons are treated very differently from the almost slave labour in some Asian clothing factories. The Parisian master craftspeople are valued for their skills and the couture customer can pay the price for it.

It is at the other end of the market where the real horrors lurk. The current trend for cheaper and cheaper great clothes — which I confess I have been guilty of promoting in these pages — marvellous fun as it is for the Western consumer, is inevitably linked to terrible conditions for the people who make them. If we’re not paying for it — someone else is. Sorry if I’ve just ruined the jolly weekend shopping spree you were looking forward to, but that is the fact of it.

And it gets worse. Before you even get on to the conditions in a Thai sports shoe factory and the problem of knowing which big brands really use the ethical labour they — or rather, their contractors — claim, there are the environmental nightmares associated with the textile industry.

Take cotton — actually, don’t. Because the world’s favourite “natural” fibre is not, in fact, “pure and simple” as we have grown up to believe. Lovely as it is to wear and sleep in, cotton is one of the most pest-prone of crops, meaning that to produce it cheaply in industrial quantities, enormous amounts of chemicals have to be thrown at it.

About 150 grams of pesticides are used to cultivate the cotton for one T-shirt (that’s the equivalent of one cup, and it takes two and a half cups for a pair of jeans) so perhaps it’s not surprising that, according to a 1995 report into the industry by Allen Woodburn Associates, a quarter of all the world’s insecticides are used each year to grow cotton.

And when you add in the various soil sterilisers, fumigants, herbicides and defoliants also used to grow this “natural” fibre, we are talking about some of the most deadly chemicals in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, 20,000 people die each year in developing countries as a result of sprays used on non-organic cotton. In Benin, West Africa, 24 people died as a direct result of poisoning from cotton pesticides in 2000, including 11 children.

And that’s just the agricultural part of the textile cycle. At least 8000 chemicals are used at the next stage of processing, to turn raw material into clothes, towels, bedding etc, and some of the substances involved are known to be harmful to human health and wildlife, say environmentalists William McDonough and Dr Michael Braungart.

How are feeling about your “pure” cotton T-shirt now? Of course, all that chemical business happens before the shirt gets on your back and, like so many eco nightmares that are happening somewhere else, it’s easy to block it out.

But there is a growing sense of concern that the chemical toxicity associated with cotton production might not stop at the soil and unfortunate Third World labourers.

Call it the nicotine patch construct, but there is a body of thought that says by having such a highly processed product next to our skin we may absorb residues — such as the formaldehyde used as a dye fixer and anti-wrinkle finisher in some countries — into our bloodstreams. These uncomfortable ideas are contributing to a growing market for organically farmed cotton and naturally processed fabrics of all kinds. It might seem cranky and alarmist now, but I am certain it will one day be as normal to expect an organic option in your clothing as it is in your vegies, or your face cream.

Just like the boom in organic food, awareness of uncontaminated textiles is taking off at a grassroots level, with parents seeking organic cotton baby clothes, towels and bedding for their newborns. If we could absorb chemical residues through our gnarly adult hides, the thinking goes, how much more at risk is the superfine skin of tiny babies and their delicate systems?

It was this concern — as well as environmental impact — that prompted children’s wear designer Annette O’Donnell to launch her range of Gaia Organic Cotton baby wear in 2000. It’s now sold throughout Australia.

“I realised that the very fabric I was using was having a detrimental effect on our environment,” O’Donnell says. “I’d always thought of cotton as pure, but as I learnt it was a chemically intensive growing process, I felt the need to re-look my design direction.”

Russell Lamb and Tim Ower had a similar epiphany about the sheets and towels side of things, which they used to import in large volumes from China. They founded Eco Down Under, a gorgeous range of naturally produced and organic cotton items, sold at Holy Sheet and many other outlets, including their own store in Rozelle.

So that’s the baby and the bathroom sorted out, what about the rest of your organic cotton needs — like actual clothing? Well, this is where it gets tricky. Most of it is pretty yuk. Because Prada, Country Road et al just don’t do organic gear.

In fact, the only prominent designer I have ever known to speak out on the topic is that well-known political animal Katharine Hamnett.

“I thought we were just silly fashion designers not doing any harm, making silly clothes,” she says. “How wrong I was. I did some research into the environmental impact and it made for horrific reading.

“The [fashion] industry does not give a damn, yet research shows that consumers would prefer organic textiles if sold at the same price — and this is possible now. But no one buys sustainably produced clothes because they are worthy. They have to be desirable in their own right.

“That whole granola look has done the whole organic cotton movement a great disservice,” she says. “It’s so unnattractive, it’s foul.”

She’s right. Just as organic food has to be a more pleasant experience to eat than the processed variety, or no one would be willing to pay the premium price, organic clothes will need to be just as stylish as the conventional processed variety, or we won’t buy them.

If you hunt around on the internet, you will find some basic sportswear and underwear lines that are acceptable — greenculture.com for example, which brings them in from the US — but that’s about it. Sorry, I wish I had better news.

So what can we do? If we want change on this issue we have to get active.

First up, support the firms that are producing organic cotton items now because if small organic clothing companies start to do well, and there’s money to be made, the big guys will want a piece of it.

In just this way, the world’s biggest food corporations are now all creating their own organic brands; so the organic pasta sauce you buy, in its ethical looking packaging, may well be owned by Heinz.

I admit it will be hard, at this stage, to find much to buy beyond T-shirts, so write to your favourite designers and shops to tell them you are concerned about cotton farming practices, and would like them to offer an organic alternative — or you might be forced to shop elsewhere.

Wherever you do buy clothes, ask the shop assistants if they have an organic range. They will probably look at you blankly at first, but if enough people do it, word will filter up to buyers and management.

Best of all, explore the possibilities of hemp clothing, which is the real answer to the whole problem. But that, as they say, is another story.

Written by: Sydney Morning Herald
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why Buy Fairtrade And Ethical Bags?

Why were the quintessentially English clothing company Mulberry selling African Bags? And what part do bottle tops play in the battle against Aids?

Bottle-top bags may sound like an idea straight from Blue Peter, but Mulberry's version is miles away from double-sided sticky tape and coat hangers. The bags, crafted in Africa from recycled wire and bottle tops are lined with luxurious Congo leather, contrasting perfectly with their eye-catching, deconstructed image. And these bags are not just the latest fashion accessory, but an inspired way of raising money for Action Aids HIV/AIDS campaign.

Mulberrys non-profit bags are the focus of their campaign to halt the rising tide of people infected with HIV/AIDS. The company hopes the bags, retailing at 99 pounds, could raise as much as 100,000 pounds. And just in case you find you have nothing to wear or your budget doesn't quite stretch to the bags, they have also brought out bottle top campaign T-shirts and key rings. Susan Mears of Action Aid is thrilled with the scheme, This is a dream come true project- the money will come in very, very useful.
DEATH SENTENCE

40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS, and the majority of them are young: between 15 and 25. The International Aids conference in July warned that in 30 African countries average life expectancy by 2010 would be 27 years of age. Karen Stanecki whose branch compiled the report for US Aid, told The Guardian these levels have not been seen since the end of the 19th century. Many of those dying today from Aids are financial providers, whose deaths leave poor families destitute- 14 million children have lost one or both parents to Aids.

The greatest obstacle to controlling Aids is the stigma surrounding it. In many cases people with the disease are shunned. Prisca, HIV positive for twelve years, has lost her husband, two children and three siblings to AIDS related illness and has been ostracised for speaking out about the disease, Up to this very day, I dont speak to my sister. She says I have tarnished our family name, she told Action Aid. This attitude can obstruct education, the most effective way to prevent the rate of infection rising.

Uganda is one of the few countries to subdue its Aids epidemic. The mobilisation of communities and a willingness to confront the epidemic led to falling prevalence rate. This is largely due to 5,000 projects throughout the country tackling the problem. Educating women and girls is essential in cutting the rate of infection. Unfortunately girls are often removed from education to care for relatives with Aids. In the last 5 years the number of women and girls infected has risen by 40% according to Oxfam.

Cameron, the son of Mulberry chairman, Roger Saul, experienced Ugandas effective education strategies first hand while teaching sexual health education for Students Partnership Worldwide. Anxious to find ways to support the charity, he found inspiration on the arm of a village girl: a bottle-top bag. He believed, once Mulberry-fied, the bag could raise the profile of Aids awareness. The attraction of the bags is partly their novelty, which he hopes will get people asking questions - theyre a fun way to engage people with the serious issues of AIDS/HIV. His father, Roger, visited him in Uganda and was equally pleased to have found such an original way to help the 14,000 people who are infected everyday.

FASHION CONSCIENCE

Action Aid plan to spend the money in Kenya, looking after the 730,000 children who have been made orphans by Aids and the more then 2 million who are currently living with the disease. The charity has fifteen years experience of pioneering prevention and community based care. They believe the best ways to change peoples attitudes and counteract the secrecy and ignorance allowing HIV to gain so many new victims is through loca groups. They support them through training, resources and advice to ensure the people most affected by the disease are at the centre of developing effective responses to the epidemic. SPW will also receive some of the money to allow them to continue to train students to give sexual heath education.

In East Africa, where the bags are made, there is another reason to celebrate. Not only are the bags created from recycling wire and bottle-tops and so are environmentally friendly, but Action Aid pledges the workers who create the bags are both paid and treated fairly. Let's hope Mulberrys bags set a trend for fashion without victims.

Indiann Davinos


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