Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The real cost of distressed denim

Distressed denim may be all the rage in the fashion world at the moment, but the style comes at an environmental and human cost. In Tehuacán in Mexico it is the local people that pay price for our fashion. Once famous for its mineral springs and spas, Tehuacán, the ‘City of Health’, is now home to around 700 clothes manufacturers, many with little or no environmental controls or standards. Workers are routinely exploited, their employee rights ignored. The worst environmental culprits are the dozens of factories that make the faded or distressed denim that is so fashionable right now. The chemicals used in the process are discharged into the rivers and streams around the factories, turning the water blue and damaging the crops that depend on the water systems.

The main chemical used is potassium permanganate, a strong bleaching agent that was once used to induce abortions. Mariano Baragán, a local farmer said: "As well as being blue, it burns the seedlings and sterilises the earth." The government agencies that should be monitoring the factories are allowing this to happen, probably because the local economy depends on the factories, and their foreign corporate customers. It is these corporations that should be enforcing stricter controls on their client factories to protect both the workers and the environment. We as customers ultimately have the power to change this with our buying power. We chould only buy products from ethical
and fair trade companies.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Topshop uses 'slave labour' to create garments

The Telegraph featured an article yesterday about Topshop's use of slave labour to produce their garments. This is not really much of a shocker, Topshop is part of the Arcadia chain, who are hardly the most ethical of retail giants. Unlike other well-known high street retailers, they haven't even signed the Ethical Trading Initiative, which sets bare minimum standards.

Asian workers are being paid a mere £4 a day (40% below the local average wage) to produce the latest Kate Moss range. The factories supplying billionaire Sir Philip Green, employ hundreds of Sri Lankan, Indian and Bangladeshi workers in Mauritius, where they are subject to unhealthy and unfair working conditions, including 12 hour days for six days a week. Prior to this they are snapped up by self-employed agents who grossly exaggerate the wages they will be receiving. Workers then have to cough up seven months earnings, amounting to £725, to secure the job. In one firm salaries are paid according to race. Workers are also set targets and subsequently suspended if they fail to meet them.

Treating workers in this way is abominable, but sadly I don't think it will change to any drastic degree unless consumers radically transform their buying habits. The best thing any of us can do is signal our disapproval by taking our custom elsewhere, to more ethical outlets and stores. I used to be a Topshop devotee, but now I aim to shop in a more ethically and environmentally responsible way, wherever possible. I know I've mentioned other Arcadia stores in previous blogs as a source of ethical clothing, because if you are going to buy from these outlets it's better to opt for the more 'just' option. If enough of us vote with our pockets, perhaps retail magnates will reconsider their treatment of workers. Here's hoping!

Friday, 10 August 2007

Be a shining example of ethical chic with Onagono fashion

onagono.jpgEthical fashion brand Onagono is introducing a new collection called Shining, designed by Tomomi Kojo Robertson, which will be unleashed in September. This simple, high quality and incredibly stylish jersey wear collection reveres the planet, having been constructed from 100% organic fair trade cotton and featuring nature inspired printed artworks by Phoebe Eason, Rohan Daniel, Rupert Smyth and Richard Ardagh. Garments from this new collection will not break the bank with t-shirts starting from £23 a piece.

onagono2.jpgOnagono was born out of Tomomi’s desire to fight against the unfair cotton trade, by providing an ethical alternative. Recognising that her background in mainstream fashion and interest in creative cultures and the environment were at odds, Tomomi developed an ethical label that makes the most of organic (certified by SKAL) fair trade cotton. Onagono will be showcasing a full Spring/Summer 2008 women’s wear collection at the September Pret-a-Porter exhibition in Paris.

Stockists of Onagono have included Topshop, Behave and Family Tree in London, Beams and Ma in Japan, The Rise and Fall in New York and 90sqm in Amsterdam. For more information check out the
Onagono website which will have an online store up and running shortly.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Under the Canopy Ecofashion®

Stylish and ethical fashion need not come with a hefty price tag. Organic and ethical fashion label Under the Canopy are having a summer sale and you can pick up some great buys for as little as $19. Under the Canopy was established in 1996 with the intention of making a positive impact on the planet and utilising sustainable materials. Their products are crafted from innovative organic fibres and fibre blends, such as: organic denim, organic cotton and soy. Last year in the U.S. alone, over 84 million pounds of toxic pesticides were sprayed on conventional cotton crops. The production of conventional cotton results in poisoned people, plants, soil, air, waterways and ultimately a poisoned planet, so I applaud UTC on their ecologically sound practices.

UTC's Ecofashion® line offers luxurious and high quality fashion, minus the pollutants and harsh chemicals that put producers and consumers at risk. Along with garments for men, women and children, UTC also produce organic household products, footwear and accessories. If you want to check out UTC's eco-credentials, just ask and they will forward you a certificate of authenticity for every garment labelled as organic. The brand use low impact dyes, which are less damaging to the environment and their dye factory is powered with rice husks instead of fossil fuels. What is more UTC's garments are produced under fair labour practices and their factories in India and Peru use fair trade certified cotton, with products produced in fair trade certified factories. This means that their producers are receiving a better wage, healthier working conditions and a percentage of profits to re-invest into community development.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Exquisite summer fashion from Muumuu Heaven

muumuu.jpgGet in the mood for your summer holidays (if you haven’t already been and come back!) with some gorgeous hand-made, ethical, Hawaiian themed outfits from Muumuu Heaven, a family run business based in, you guessed it, Oahu, Hawaii.

Muumuu Heaven began with the concept of creating beautiful, high quality products, whilst maintaining corporate and social responsibility and without creating a detrimental impact on the planet.

Muumuu Heaven contribute 1% FTP to help preserve Hawaii’s coral reefs, use vintage and recycled materials to avoid wasting fabric and the brand is a favourite with the Hollywood rich and famous. You can purchase items from the label online at
BTC Elements and Shop Equita.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Dorothy Perkins doing their bit

Dorothy Perkins may not be number one or even 100 on anyone's list of ethical fashion brands, but they are beginning to produce more ethical items. In 2006 they introduced their O Line consisting of a small range of organic vests and tees. This year Dorothy Perkins signed a deal with the Woodland Trust to launch a collection of organic wellies, cotton T-shirts, vests, bags (and more recently flip flops!), with £5 from the sale of every T-shirt, vest and pair of wellies and £1.50 from each bag sold, going to the Woodland Trust. The overall aim of the collaboration is to plant 40,000 trees in the UK next year.

More recently Dorothy Perkins has introduced a range of recycled bags made from rubbish by a collective of over 200 Filipino women, who grouped together to tidy up the neighbourhood, collecting 50,000 packs a day. After collection the packs are sorted, clean, sanitized and woven together into rather interesting and fetching bags. Profits from this venture are divided between the co-operative.

Dorothy Perkin's endeavours are still a drop in the ocean and as part of the powerful Arcadia Group, they could do a hell of a lot better. Labour Behind the Label, No Sweat and Tear Fund have plenty to say about Arcadia's use of cheap labour and Lite Green who rank major brands based on their ethical endeavours and policies have not furnished Dorothy Perkins with a Lite Green rating (which indicates good ethical practices.) However, in optimism (which is quite unusual for me!) I am hoping that this situation will improve as consumers begin to demand more ethical fashion. Going organic is not enough, we need to push for more fairly traded items and hopefully big guns like Arcadia will respond with a more environmentally friendly and compassionate approach.

Below are three great ethical goodies from Dorothy Perkins. If you are going to shop on the high street, register your vote for organic and earth conscious fashion by making ethical purchases.

1) Green Woodland Trust Cami, 100% organic cotton - £12.
2) Woodland Trust Chocolate Flip Flop - £8.
3) Multiweave Tote Bag, 100% plastic - £15.