This week has been Fashion Revolution week. Across twitter, by postcard and letter, on instagram people have been taking photos of the label in their clothes, and asking the brands 'Who Made My Clothes?'. It's come from a response to the terrible tragedies in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, that I've blogged about in the past. But what do we expect to gain from this?
It's not actually about naming individual workers - that would be sweet, but probably score higher on gimmick levels than efficiency. It's about transparency. If the spokesperson for a brand can't start to answer then they're probably so far removed from the making of the clothing that they don't even know what country the clothes are made in. And they certainly have no idea what the conditions are like in the factories. And everything we know about the garment industry suggest that if you're not checking, then they're probably cutting corners, and those cut corners are wrecking people's lives.
So I drew some little doodles to explain why it matters, and what the differences are between the big brands that can't answer this simple question, and ethical brands like Lost Shapes.
Yeah, I'll stick with screen printing, but they make the point:
First, how the BIG BRANDS work:
And Lost Shapes:
And that's why Lost Shapes customers are so happy to say 'I Know Who Made My Clothes'!
NB. There are companies bigger than Lost Shapes that do it even more directly - established ethical pioneers like People Tree, who visit factories themselves and directly help development in the area, or small businesses who have built up from meeting artisans directly and importing their products. But we all share the same principles - our style should never be the expense of others.
Sometimes things just work together, and sometimes you can tell from the beginning that they're going to. So even though it was a busy December when Jamie from Glen Lyon Coffee phoned to ask about working on a t-shirt for them, and I don't often take on commissions, I caught enough of their vision from the conversation to come back to it after Christmas.
Glen Lyon are speciality coffee roasters based in the Scottish Highlands. One of the surprising similarities between clothing and coffee is transparency of supply - both are industries known for exploiting the people at the source of the product, but both offer the opportunity to rise above this. I love the fact that Glen Lyon know which farmer produced their beans, and they pay them premium prices. The coffee tastes really good too.
Keen explorers of the Highlands where they're based, they wanted a t-shirt to sell along with their coffees, featuring mountains and the John Muir quote 'The Mountains Are Calling' in the hand cut stencil style that they'd seen on other Lost Shapes designs. When we talked some more it felt important that it featured Schiehallion, a mountain not far from their roastery, so I studied images of this, and worked them into a sketch. Once approved and details perfected (I didn't share the version where I accidentally wrote the wrong phrase underneath...) I carefully cut it out of stencil film, and then printed onto gorgeous garment-dyed army green organic t-shirts - you can get a glimpse of the printing here on instagram.
The t-shirts are available from the Glen Lyon Coffee shop and online store only, and I suggest you get some good coffee while you're there.
Don't know much about John Muir? Jamie's journal this week gave me a real appetite to find out more about him, as well as explore the mountains he loved so much.
And finally, what reminded me I was going to blog about this project: Stravaiging Around Scotland shared this image to mark John Muir's birthday. Beer, coffee and t-shirts - now that is a nice combination.
Sometimes you get to be at the forefront of something very exciting, and for Lost Shapes, that time is now! Watch the video where I explain the exciting new breakthroughs launched today.
Not exploiting others has always been one of the guiding principles of Lost Shapes - so much at the heart of what we do that it was only recently I thought to spell it out more clearly. But there is always the knowledge that we might be able to go that bit further, be that bit fairer. And now we've found a way.
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.’
Any government that cares about its people is going to make sure they get a decent minimum wage, right? Surely? It's a human right after all! But what if that government prioritises winning International business, and the best way to compete is to keep their costs low? And those costs are people's wages? Sometimes we hear clothing companies guaranteeing that they pay minimum wage, and that sounds kind of reassuring: but minimum wage is very different to Living Wage. Living Wage is calculated on what a worker should earn to cover basic needs and those of his/her family, without working more than 48 hours. Labour Behind The Label have worked out some numbers for Asian garment makers, and it's pretty shocking - let's look at the countries where most of our Lost Shapes garments are made:
In Bangladesh the Living Wage is worked out at 29,442 takas a month (approx £300): the minimum wage would cover just 18% of that.
India is slightly better, with a living wage of 18,727 rupees a month (approx £231), and the minimum wage covering 62%, but that still leaves a monthly shortfall of 38%.
This is why I'm really excited to be moving over to FairShare garments for Lost Shapes. They are still the same great quality and cut and still 100% organic cotton, but now they're made from Fairtrade cotton too. And for every t-shirt we buy from the supplier we pay 10p extra FairShare premium, which goes directly to the poorest workers in the factory in India, to help bring them up to the Living Wage - just 10p!
And to make it even better, we're choosing to absorb this extra cost ourselves, so the price to the Lost Shapes customer stays the same. Good really keeps getting better.
Nb. This is going to be a gradual change, limited by availability of styles, and progressing as we run down current stocks. Individual product listings will tell you what you're getting. Either way you can be reassured that we're taking the needs of the people who make your clothes very seriously. And we'll carry on making great clothes greater..
To be honest, I'm quite repetitive. I've said all this before, last January and the January before.
THE SALES are based on the idea that at the end of a season, no one wants those clothes anymore, and the retailer needs to get rid of them quickly, so they can tell you what new things you need to like now, and you can buy them. That was all very well once upon a time, when the seasons kind of timed in with, well, the seasons. But now, with many high street brands having 52 'micro-seasons' a year, we can end up buying way more than we possibly need. Leading to us discarding hundreds of thousands of unwanted garments, flooding landfills and developing countries with low quaity cast offs.
So I'm all for Ethical Consumer's campaign to use what you have rather than shop the sales.
BUT. But I live on a fairly low budget and I love a bargain. I mean, I really love a bargain, to the extent that I think a heart monitor would show an actual, real, excited response when I see the word SALE
in a shop window. I have trained myself over the years: to buy better quality less often; to wait and buy more ethically when possible; to question how many times I would actually wear it. But the sales are a good way of making more ethical choices affordable too. Ethical bloggers like Moral Fibres often share guides to the best sales around, so you can discover really good brands and try them out for cheap.
And the innner turmoil is similar with Lost Shapes: On one hand, the clothes stand the test of time, people are still happily wearing the tops they bought when I launched 4 years ago (I have to admit the jumper above is starting to look a bit rough after 4 years of heavy duty wearing, washing and a fair bit of bike repairing). On the other, I have more ideas for designs and styles, and I have loads of repeat customers who rely on me to keep them looking good on top! And sometimes I get really carried away with something that turns out not to be so popular, or too much of one size, and I just need to shift them.
And so, after all that, we have a LOST SHAPES JANUARY SALE. And I'm even excited about this one, despite that making no financial sense as I'm the one giving the bargains not snapping them up: I'm excited about clearing some space on the shelves; I'm excited about future plans; I'm excited about rewarding loyal customers with a chance to get some quality goodies for a low price; I'm excited about the new customers who will try Lost Shapes for the first time, and get hooked on the wonderfulness of organic cotton, and the unique character of Lost Shapes.
One for the locals here. If you're somewhere in the Wiltshire/ Somerset/ Bath kind of region and fancy a nose around the bijou but fun-packed studio, here's your chance! Most excitingly, as I'm a bit of a perfectionist, there are a lot of prints that don't quite make the standard and I'll have them all there for you to buy at bargain prices.
And I don't mean the physical act of putting their arms in the sleeves and all that (although sometimes in the mornings that might be more efficient than waiting for them to manage it themselves...).
I guess it's two questions really: Are there any clothes out there for teenagers? And will they care if they're ethical?
Do ethical clothes for teenagers even exist?
I could give a pretty short answer to this one:
I assumed for a long time that there must be ethical (fair trade/ organic/ fair wear certified/ sustainably made...) clothes for older children around somewhere, I just hadn't spotted them. I started up a pinterest page to gather them together for reference, so I could share with others... and a year or so on there's still hardly anything on it! I'll be really grateful if anyone wants to correct me on this, but even directories on some of the great ethical parenting or fashion blogs seem to peter out around 8 years. It seems there really isn't much out there at all beyond then until you're ready for adults sizes.
This is why I've deliberately carried on having older kids' ranges in Lost Shapes, even though from a financial point of view I can see why other ethical companies decide to stop. Interestingly, it's the parents of the 10-13 year olds that I get the most enthusiastic feedback from:
'My boys don't worry much about what they wear but when we chose and ordered the Glitchy and Pop! T-shirts they were really taken with them - the designs and the soft feel of the organic cotton.'
'13yo LOVES the *glitchy* T.'
'My son called last night and is completely thrilled with his pigeon sweatshirt!'
And new to Lost Shapes is the teenagers section, where I've gathered products from the adults' range that offer smaller sizes, or have fits or styles that are particularly teenager friendly. I'm especially excited about these new 100% organic cotton baseball tees, that start as small as xxs and have a brilliant retro youthful vibe.
But this is bigger than Lost Shapes. I'm committed to ethical fashion beyond the remits of this business, and in particular to trying to dress my family ethically. I say trying - we're not all 'if you can't buy it organic then sew it out of sack cloth', and there's certainly a whole lot of un-sustainable fibres in my husband's collection of nasty cycling lycra! But as part of this attempt, I've developed a vague clothes-buying flow chart, and this is how it shapes up for teenagers:
So you need some new clothes?
Mend/ adapt/ upcycle/ pass on
Cut off jeans to shorts. Develop a culture of passing down clothes amongst kids in your community.
Buy second hand from a charity shop
It reuses what’s already made, gives money to charity, gives you new things for cheap – win win win
Buy second hand from ebay (or similar) or a vintage clothes shop
I find it hard to get fashionable teenage stuff at charity shops, but it's great when you do! For when you need something specific and don’t have the time for charity shops, specific search terms on ebay really help - not having ever found an ethical jeans option for mine, this has kept the boys in skinny jeans for the last few years. If they're label conscious this is probably your answer too.
Buy new from ethical brands
As well as the ethics in the making of the product, money spent tends to go to actual people rather than big corporations, and helps keep these businesses going - let me know if you find more that work for teenagers - we tend to Lost Shapes for tops!
Buy the fairtrade/ organic/ recycled range from high street shops
The companies aren’t faultless, but it’s a move in the right direction, and it demonstrates demand. When we've exhausted the options above, we favour H+M's organic basics, or M+S sometimes have fairtrade polo shirts for school.
Buy from high street shops that have better ethical policies
The ‘least worst’ option. See ethical consumer for guides – some papers (ie Guardian) or websites like Moral Fibres summarise these from time to time.
But will they actually care?
Surely teenagers are so introspectively focused on their own instagram filter or trying to ape mindless celebrities that they're not going to care about who made their clothes and how? They're struggling with important issues like not getting up in the morning and despairing of their parents - how can I possibly think a worthy cause like ethical fashion will ever engage them?
So I'm biased - I really quite like teenagers, and have even chosen to work with them (paid and voluntary) for the last 10 years. But I'm optimistic. Teenagers tend to get, more than other ages, that there's a story behind what you wear. The story might be 'I'm trying to fit in so I'm wearing the same as everyone else', 'I'm showing you how dark I feel sometimes', or 'this is the tribe I identify with'. I remember when I was in 6th form my main aim when I dressed in the morning was to make sure no one else could possibly be wearing the same as me. Look at clothing brands on instagram - it's all about story, much of it false, and teenagers know instinctively that they are buying into more than just a garment when they choose what to wear.
Teenagers also have a wonderful tendency to see things with a clear and passionate morality. If it's wrong, it's wrong. When we get older many of us avoid these strong beliefs by over-thinking ourselves into inactivity, or excusing ourselves from taking small steps because the big picture is too demanding. This is pretty frustrating for teenagers, who can often see through this and become strong and successful campaigners. And in a world where your biggest power is what you consume and the money you spend, clothing is probably one of the few chances they have to exercise this power.
So how can we engage our kids/ friends/ relatives/ pupils/ youth club?
First stop, get them to watch 'The True Cost' movie - obviously if you're a parent and want them to feel strongly about it there's no way this suggestion can come from you - download/ buy the movie, talk in hushed tones about how it would be way too graphic and upsetting for them to watch, them accidentally leave it around. Or watch it really late in that time period where they're fascinated by anything you do and really want to just chat because you recently told them to go to bed.
Moving beyond that, Elizabeth Stilwell in The Notepasser blog has some fantastic advice on talking to teenagers about ethical fashion - there's absolutely loads in this post.
For inspiration from teenagers themselves, start with 16 year old fashion blogger Tolly Dolly Posh, who describes herself as 'Attempting to become more ethical and sustainable every day!' in her bio. Bright and confident, she mixes outfit posts, ethical fashion book reviews and her own designs.
And finally, get them thinking early. For age 10+, Threads by Sophia Bennett weaves real life issues of refugees and child labour into a fantastic fashion fairytale.
Some of you may know I have a complicated relationship with camping. I might have ranted a little bit here when I got back from holiday last year, and I might have said we'd do something different next time.
But, hey! Time heals all wounds, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and various other cliches including, mostly, money doesn't grow on trees. So May half term we were loading up the Bongo, the same leaky tent from last year covered with a fresh new layer of waterproofing and a whole lot of optimism.
And you know what? It did (of course) pour down, but the tent didn't leak. Want to know why that isn't as good news as it sounds? Cos we got back after prolonged hours in cafes sheltering from rain to find the tent door wide open, rain water and food wrappers everywhere, and a floor of mud, popcorn, barbecue crisps and couscous. We were raided.
And this is where the title comes in. If I'd raided a tent and eaten 6 Tunnocks caramel wafers (with wrappers), a whole pack of those lovely Dutch caramel waffles, a bag of popcorn, family pack of crisps, created a little muddy puddle by the doorway and given anything else available a serious trampling, I'd be laying low for a while. I certainly wouldn't be bringing all my mates back for more with the owners in full view:
In case there was any element of doubt (I also haven't mentioned the incriminating "let's make a bit of space for more caramel goodies" donkey poos round the back of the tent), my husband woke the next morning to the sound of a tent zip opening and a donkey's nose in his face. Let's just say that they won't be back again after the volume of that yell!
Turns out I had packed way too many treats for a normal family to consume in 4 days anyway so maybe they were just doing it for the sake of our waistlines? Surprised the campsite don't capitalise on that in their marketing. Maybe they don't need to: thieves aside it's actually a wonderful site, right in the middle of the New Forest with plenty of space to find your own corner, and ponies, cows, and of course, donkeys wandering free. Find out more about Roundhill Campsite here.
Lucky really that I still like camping, as I've just released a new Lost Shapes design all about it. Inspired by that 'life is good' feeling you get as the sun sets across a campsite, it features all the classic camping options in simple cut-out silhouette. Available for men and kids in heather blue or maize yellow, and women in melange grey - all 100% organic cotton from fair wear certified manufacturers, of course.
If you're not in a public place right now, turn your clothes inside out and have a look at the labels. What brand are they? Do they say where they were made? Do you know WHO made them?
Because the fact is, even in these crazy modern times, clothes aren’t made by magic, or even robots. It’s still people sewing them. So if you look at a pair of jeans, every seam, every pocket detail is guided through the machine by a person – yes, in production lines for efficiency, but it’s still people doing it. Which, over the last few years as clothes have got cheaper and cheaper, has made a lot of us wonder how it can possibly work.
3 years ago on Apr 24th, the deadliest garment factory accident in history happened in Bangladesh, when an eight storey building, the Rana Plaza, collapsed, crushing the hundreds of workers who were in it. By the time the search for bodies was stopped 3 weeks later, the death toll was 1,130. Approx 2,500 were injured too. This came in a year when approx. 800 people also died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh, caused by overcrowding, blocked fire escapes, unsuitable buildings, cheap building materials.
While we can't be over simplistic about the causes of a desperate situation like this (bad building, bad regulation, bad government, mega-bad building owner all played a big part) the Rana Plaza disaster was a wake up call to the world. People died making our clothes in unsafe factories, and they weren't even being paid much to do it. We started to realise that there is no such thing as cheap clothes*, it's just someone else paying the price. Clothing companies giving in to pressure to admit involvement and pay compensation made us realise that as consumers we have power, but also responsibility (I think Spiderman had something to say about that too...).
*that's not to say expensive clothes are any better - one of the things that struck me about this situation was how price, and perceived value, of high end brands didn't translate to any increase in pay or working conditions.
One of the campaigns that came from this was Fashion Revolution, whose simple message #whomademyclothes aims to start a revolution in the clothing industry that will make us realise how connected we are, and push brands to improve conditions and accountability. I encourage everyone who knows this is the right thing to join the campaign and ask some questions.
"Who Made My Clothes should be a simple question. Most people would expect a brand to at least know the final factory where their garments are cut and sewn. The Behind the Barcode Fashion Report published last year found that 48% of brands hadn’t traced the factories where their garments were made, 75% didn’t know where their fabrics came from and 91% didn’t know where the raw materials came from. " Carry Sommers, founder of Fashion Revolution on ethical.market blog.
And finally, you'll be relieved to know that Lost Shapes is in the 52% who do know where our garments are made, so I drew a little poster to fill you in! Detailed assessment of the garment suppliers we use can be found on the Fair Wear Foundation website.
Irregular musings and pretty pictures from the heart of LOST SHAPES.