Reblog: Will Gen Z help the fashion industry clean up its act?

I found this article on the Guardian’s Fashion page, and found some of the points raised about the way we’re thinking about our fashion shopping very interesting. It’s encouraging to see the wave of new brands catering to ethical production of our clothes, and demonstrating that the slow fashion movement can match seasonal trends and styles.

Here’s my Evernote clip of the article, where I’ve highlighted important snippets of information.

I’m trialling this method of reblogging and sharing pieces from the internet, and hope it works. I’d love to hear your thoughts – on the piece and the idea that the younger generation, especially younger millennials, might be our greatest allies in pushing for ethical fashion.

https://www.evernote.com/shard/s36/sh/b2cffbd9-6466-4888-9389-d3aacfcd185b/0f1c248f35ce81364c1625d39a64f796

 

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Hungarian Artisan Christmas Market

My office recently held a Christmas fair, inviting the NGOs and craftspeople we support to sell handmade crafts and food. It was an incredible chance for us to meet groups from across Hungary working on many different issues, and to learn more about what drives them. I had the chance to speak to some of the sellers about their work, and thought I’d share their stories and some photos with you. If you’re looking for traditional crafts from Hungary, made by hand and with care for their communities, look no further!

 

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These candle holders are made out of recycled paper, by workers at Búzavirág Alapítvány (Cornflower Foundation). Búzavirág works with visually-challenged communities in rural Hungary, to enable them to live independently, since they receive little support from the local authorities.

They’ve been working towards self-sufficiency for the visually impaired since 1997, with the goal of providing financial independence and the self-confidence that earning your own money provides, through promoting traditional craftsmanship and teaching self-sustainability to its artisans.

They make pottery, baskets and carpets, and provide the necessary marketing and business skills to their artisans, enabling them to sell these goods at different craft markets. Find out more about the group’s mission, and the beautiful items they sell here.

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Real Pearl Foundation) has been working towards community development in eastern Hungary since 1999, and provides members of one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country with art education, vocational courses and builds community cohesion through family care. The organisation is split into an art school and a foundation, which works directly with the entire community while the art school is for children from the 12 nearest municipalities.

Children of all ages, from municipalities in Hajdú-Bihar county learn graphic design, handicrafts, enamelwork, painting and dance. All proceeds from sales of art school goods go back into the foundation’s work to provide community development to families, many of whom are also Roma and face multiple layers of discrimination and exclusion, particularly in this region of Hungary.

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Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Zsuzsa Formanek, an artist and founder of Budai Rajziskola, designs and creates unique decorative and practical works of art using recycled glass. Check out more of her work here.

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Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

What do you think? Everything available in the market was beautiful, made with love and gave back to their communities. This is part of the reason I love Christmas – the push for meaningful, ethical presents for loved ones is strongest towards the end of the year, and it’s always great fun to wander around a market!

Fair Trade and Millennials

I came across this article today, and was intrigued. It quotes this NPR piece from earlier this week, which (full disclosure) discusses the findings of a Hersheys-funded survey.

In essence, millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1996) don’t practice what they preach when it comes to ethical consumption. This is interesting for many reasons, not least of all because of the social media onslaught we’re responsible for, talking about the importance of buying goods that are handmade, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, etc etc. As it turns out, we may care more about being seen to talk about it than actually putting all that concern into action.

Let me add here, this isn’t altogether surprising. I care deeply about the story behind the goods I consume, and it bothers me that our electronics still can’t be sourced ethically, without harm to or loss of life. But I can’t afford to put that care into all aspects of my life, either because of practicality – no one makes ethical computers – price, or availability. So I’m typing this on a MacBook, despite the fact Apple has been accused of exploiting child and bonded labour in their Asian factories. They’re working on it, but progress is slow.  

In a survey of participants ages 18 to 35, millennials reported caring about ethical issues like environmental sustainability and social responsibility in chocolate production. But when choosing chocolate privately, these self-proclaimed ethical shoppers were all chocolate bark and no bite. (Sorry.) Most showed little preference for labels advertising ethical sourcing and instead preferred labels with ingredients they recognized — items like “chocolate” and “butter,” rather than “tertiary butylhydroquinone.”

We can’t see the survey itself, so we can’t see the wording, but let’s not presume to think ours is the only generation that’s ever cared about environmental sustainability and social responsibility. If you believe in climate change and know that we are responsible for most of the increases in greenhouse gases in recent decades, and that our thirst for faster and cheaper goods has led to a significant drain on the livelihoods of other humans, it’s only natural you’ll want to turn to goods that try to counteract that.

(Tertiart butylhydroquinone, by the way, is a preservative used with unsaturated vegetable oil and animal fat. Thank you, Wiki.)

Young hypothesized that millennials also set aside ethical concerns when choosing to indulge, despite a reputation in the food industry for caring about responsibly sourced food.

With funding from The Hershey Co., Young set out to test his hunch. First, the researchers conducted eight focus groups, each consisting of eight to 10 millennials. They found that younger millennials ages 18 to 20 expressed little concern about anything other than taste in their chocolate preferences. But older millennials expressed concern about whether chocolate was organic, fair trade, GMO-free and environmentally sustainable.

I’m guessing the older millennials are more likely to be those who absorb global news more often, read more, travel more, and likely also work in the countries producing the goods we consume. Information is the first of many steps to being able to do something about a situation you find oppressive, so this again is no surprise. I’m not discriminating against these high school/university groups either. I remember what I was like at that age. In between essay deadlines, parties, MUN meetings and just enjoying being young, how many of us set aside the time to go into the backstory of all the goods we consumed, how they were produced and the rights of those who made them?

Then the researchers presented another group of 214 millennials with unbranded, unpriced labels varying in traits — such as ingredients used, fat content, and ethical endorsement (for example, a label indicating Rainforest Alliance certification). Each millennial was asked to choose between side-by-side label comparisons of varying chocolate products — roughly 400 times. Most participants consistently paid attention to whether or not they could pronounce the ingredients in a bar, but only a small, socially conscious group — representing 14 percent of participants — showed strong preference for ethical labels.

The findings “confirmed what I thought,” says corporate sustainability specialist Sandra Rousseau from the University of Leuven, Belgium, who was not involved in the research. She cautions that the study disproportionately sampled college students but says the findings make sense. “You interview young people, and they tend to be quite aware of social issues and environmental issues. But if you push a bit harder, it’s a lot of talk, but not always action.”

That’s not to say that millennials are secretly truffle-munching, Nietzsche-reading nihilists.

Young says millennials are likely more concerned about ethics when buying goods that aren’t as indulgent as chocolate. Millennials still care more, he says, about ethical food production than older generations, who grew up before many of these issues were mainstream concerns.

Time to also remind ourselves that these younger groups are less likely to be employed full-time (especially in the samples the survey used, in the US), which makes their disposable income that much smaller than people my age, who are more likely to have a full-time job, and who can afford to implement their philosophy in their everyday lives.

This is by no means a defense of my generation, or a condemnation. I firmly believe that anything anyone does to consider the sources of our consumption, or to even think about why we buy certain things from certain companies or countries, is a step forward and more progress than we were making 30-40 years ago.

We can’t all afford to buy organic coffee, but if yours is drunk at home and not out of a disposable cup, that’s one less plastic-coated paper cup that will end up in the throat of a sea turtle.

Growing your own herbs at home cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing them from distant countries, who may not pay their farmers adequately, transported in climate-controlled freights.

Buying second-hand or vintage clothes can help reduce our dependency on sweat-shop labour.

See what I mean? It’s not all about going to the organic aisle, or being seen to do something. Who knows what these younger millennials do in their non chocolate-eating time to care about other people, or the planet?

There is a very important fact to consider here. The first Fairtrade coffee landed on supermarket shelves over 30 years ago (in the Netherlands via Mexico) – a number that nicely fits in with the millennial generation (defined as people born 1980-1996).

This means that for millennials, the concept of fair trade has been on the radar their entire lives. They came of age with the organic and local movement. Ethical buying is not an add-on, it’s not a marketing ploy, it’s an expectation.  And for many of them, the travails of coffee farmers have been well-documented.

What’s important to note is that this study shows that the millennial generation cares more than others about the social and environmental implications of our consumption. You could argue that caring alone isn’t going to do anything, but I’d say it’s enough.

Young university students who care grow up to become young, informed people who have the power to do something. I’d always rather err on the side of optimism here, rather than dismissiveness. Every generation looks down on the one following, and I’m probably more likely than most my age to do this; but let’s not ignore the potential of awareness and information-sharing to translate into more responsible decisions.

 

Fabrics from India

I was scouring Etsy a couple of months ago for fabrics from India. Being of Indian origin, I knew this would be the easiest country to get stuff from, so I started there.

I found a woman who makes bunting out of fairly traded fabric. I think she, like me, found it hard to get actual textiles from ethical sources, but finding handmade skirts using ethically-sourced fabric is oddly easier. Don’t ask me why.

Claire is a remarkably talented woman who makes stunning fabric works for the home, and also sells some of her knitting and crochet work. She was very helpful when I asked about fabrics – she didn’t have any scraps lying around, but she could give me bits of the skirt that she was taking fabric from. It turns out that her bunting actually came from a patchwork skirt itself, so we had a little giggle about the circle of life! 

The listing for the bunting itself is no longer available but here are some examples of Claire’s work:

 

 

 

She created a custom listing for this and it was with me within the week. Check out this beautiful skirt – my favourite part of it is the sheer range of colours available!

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Around-The-World Skirt

Disclaimer: I have never made a skirt before. I’ve used a sewing machine a couple of times to customise jeans, tops and dresses, sketching out ideas for how I want to add fabric, beads or paint on them. I have never looked at a pattern and made a piece of clothing from scratch. Time will tell if I’ve inherited any talent from my mother and my grandmother on this, I guess!

I’ve been wanting to make a skirt of this type since I was about 14, so I figured what better time than now to do this, especially now I’ve got more than a year?

Some ideas for patterns that I’ve been researching

It will be made with fabrics from around the world, but I don’t want to use anything mass-produced or cheaply available. Wherever possible, I want to use handmade, hand-spun, hand-dyed, environmentally-conscious and/or ethical fabric.

If this isn’t available, I will also be using scrap fabrics since that is recycled; but I’ll try to make sure that even these scraps contain some other ethical dimension.

I don’t want to buy bolts of fabric and if it’s avoidable, I don’t want to buy fat quarters since that creates more waste. However, I’m having so much fun thinking of what to do with them, I don’t think even a square inch will go unused!

I realise this has made the whole thing a lot more difficult for myself, but I think the skirt – and the process of making it – will be all the better for it.

Some ideas for patterns

I’ve been collecting these fabrics for some months, so wanted to share the incredible people and companies who make and sell these gorgeous items. I’m going to dedicate a whole category on WordPress to it, because I want to showcase each country or producer.

The fabrics will come from the countries I’ve lived in, visited or want to live in (So basically, it’s from virtually every country in the world! I said I wasn’t going to make it easy…)

I’ve found the process difficult and challenging at times, especially when I write to people and it turns out their materials are actually made in a factory in China. It’s also been challenging finding people willing to ship to Hungary, and to find materials from all the countries I want to get them – many are either in or next to war zones, have export bans on such things, or there simply aren’t websites dedicated to them. It’s not easy, but if the skirt gets made and looks awesome, how amazing will that be?!

I was lucky enough to visit the US in December, for work and I combined it with a few weekends with family. My patient and lovely cousin allowed me to order all manner of stuff and keep it in her room for about a month before I showed up! Have I mentioned I’m a little obsessive organised?

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Time will tell if this is going to be the biggest disaster of my life, or a triumphant success. Watch this space.

Op/Ed: Vivienne Westwood’s Climate Revolution – call to arms or empty gesture?

She’s famous for being daring, innovative and for giving fashion a well-deserved makeover during the 70s and 80s. But Vivienne Westwood’s latest collection of Menswear Autumn/Winter 2013, showcased in Milan on Sunday, stunned audiences.

The 71-year-old ‘punk’ designer has been an outspoken voice for the environment and sustainable practices in an industry that has been slow to adopt change.

Her fashion notes for the show read:

Climate revolution is the only means toward a sound economy. When the general public massively switches on to this fact we will win.

Inspired by global warming, and in connection with the United Nations International Trade Center Ethical Fashion Program.

Her message was simple – buy less, choose well, make it last.

But is this more of a symbolic gesture rather than a way to get the fashion industry to pay attention to climate change impacts?

For example, where is the talk of responsibly-sources, sustainable fabric? Or of reclaimed materials, donations to charitable causes, or the root issues behind climate change?