You know I'd be pretty keen to see an exhibition dedicated to t-shirts, whatever the situation. T-shirts are my thing. But when it's in London's Fashion and Textile Museum, and it features two Lost Shapes designs, then it's hands-down unmissable. Even TimeOut included it in their 8 museum exhibitions we can't wait to see in 2018, and they're not biased like I am!
T-shirt: Cult - Culture - Subversion launched last Thursday, 'charting the history, culture and subversion of the most affordable and popular item of clothing on the planet'.
Featuring big names in fashion like Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett, and iconic band and political t-shirts from the last few decades and new digital technology, being picked out for the exhibition felt a bit like suddenly being allowed to play with the big boys. And along with the great reassurance that not only did others GET the designs, they valued them too (the two designs featured were my favourites from last year, but at the design stage I couldn't work out whether people would love them like I did), came the inevitable Imposter Syndrome - Did they mean to ask me? Do they know I'm not a real fashion designer?
Sometimes (okay, this might be the only time) the best way to get over yourself is just to put it out there and wear it on a t-shirt. So a couple of days before the private view I printed myself my new favourite tee. It worked pretty well in the first class train carriage too.
Carefully and imaginatively curated by the Fashion and Textile Museum in partnership with the Barnsley Civic, the exhibition is less a systematic history of the t-shirt than a rowdy celebration of its many forms. Although a timeline t-shirt rail gives a potted history - did you know that US underwear makers Hanes started producing the t-shirt in 1935, but they were a commercial failure? - it is the thematic organisation that makes it really interesting. Media coverage is inevitably focusing on the big names, with a whole slot in Newsnight interviewing Katharine Hamnett and visiting the exhibition, but I loved the democracy of the display. Indie designers like Lost Shapes are displayed alongside work from the Vivienne Westwood collection, and mass-produced commercial pieces such as the Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. And the heat-sensitive Global Hypercolor t-shirt from the early 90s, of course - that would have been a serious omission...
The Over Optimistic t-shirt is displayed in the environmental section, amongst t-shirts and placards from Vivienne Westwood's Climate Revolution campaign and 'Single Use Plastic is Never Fantastic' slogan tees from Henry Holland. The power of the protest slogan forms a key part of the exhibition's political section, and especially Katharine Hamnett's 'Demand a Second Referendum' themed t-shirts and speech. "If you want to get the message out there, you should print it in giant letters on a T-shirt."
The Last Words section - 'the T-shirt's most resounding arguments and unanswerable questions', finishes by sandwiching 'We're All Doomed' between Vivienne Westwood's 'Up Green Europe' and Philip Normal's 'What Other People Think Of You Is None Of Your Business' in a bizarrely eclectic collections of statements.
You need to see the exhibition yourself if you're any kind of t-shirt fan, but my last words are a quote from curator Jenna Rossi-Camus, 'Wearing t-shirts is an intervention in public space - choose well and wisely!'.
Safia Minney is one of the true pioneers of the Fairtrade movement and a leading light in ethical fashion. So when I heard she was speaking at the Oxford Fairtrade Coalition AGM about her experiences of founding a Fair Trade Fashion Company on Monday I thought it was definitely time to pay my Oxford-based sister-in-law a visit. Other fellow fans who couldn't make it asked if I could share any insights, so this is less a cleverly crafted blog post or interview and more a summary of my notes - complete with omissions, misinterpretations and listener's bias!
Safia's background is covered on her own website, but she's best known for founding ethical clothing company People Tree over 25 years ago and her current role as Managing Director of ethical shoe company Po-Zu. She's also the author of several books including Slow Fashion and more recently Slave to Fashion, and she played a big part in the development of the True Cost Movie, which I've gone on about before, and will continue to go on about.
I was quietly pleased to hear her Fairtrade journey started with Oxfam shops, much as I described in a post last year. She undersells the massive drive and determination that must have taken her on from that point to travelling around the world setting up supply chains that honoured and supported workers and their skills; 'Surely economics could do better? We have an international mandate to deliver [ethical trade]'.
Her research for Slave to Fashion revealed children of twelve are still working as bonded or indentured labour in India, with women having to move on from factories frequently to escape sexual harassment and threat of rape. Research has also shown that very few high st brands are not involved in some way with unfair labour. There are glimmers of hope though - simple, cheaper smartphones have made them affordable for female garment workers, making it easier for them to report violations of labour or building standards.
In both the main talk and answers to questions she spoke about responding to the interest of the market. In the early days of People Tree, potential customers in Japan were more excited about craft, materials and sustainability than the human rights aspect, so she used this area of interest to draw them in, whilst ensuring it was also Fairtrade. When asked about trying to get quality indigenous textiles into a British market she pointed out the difficulties in a country where textiles are not highly valued. Asked where consumers are at now, she was enthusiastic about the eco-concept store to do ethical products justice, where aesthetics are well considered, stories behind brands told, and wider 'lifestyle opportunities' on offer. Storytelling came through repeatedly as key for brands to successfully convey the social impact of what they do. Brands should also look at collaboration, she says, speaking of the success of People Tree Japan's collaboration with Vogue and high end designers, People Tree's line designed by Emma Watson, and Po-Zu's breakthrough Star Wars collaboration (have you seen the Porg high tops??!) that continues to raise their profile.
Questions and answers also frequently touched different points of the enormous subject of what 'ethical' - a term that she says she initially avoided as it felt like a watering down of Fairtrade - means: When is it green-washing?; how do you choose between Fairtrade and sustainability when sourcing?; how do we keep Fairtrade pure as companies like Sainsburys develop their own accreditation?; how do you measure impact? These discussions could probably fill a blog or two, but Safia points to the importance of good grass roots organisations like the Fairtrade Foundation or Fashion Revolution to keep setting the standard and challenging companies, and encourages those of us committed to Fairtrade to keep buying from the pioneers like Traidcraft.
The final question from the audience was 'What next?', and while she may have given some hints (and we may have all interpreted them in different ways to suit our hopes!), I think we're going to have to wait and see. I'm just grateful that someone with that level of drive, stamina and skills uses it to break ground for human rights and make a way for the rest of us.
Read a new interview with Safia Minney about plastic micro-fibres in tap water here.
That's it now until Jan 2nd. If you're new to Lost Shapes because you were given something for Christmas - hello and welcome to the home of Lost Shapes' hand printed ethical clothing. On the questions page you'll see a sign up form for the mailing list - emails don't appear very frequently, but when they do you get first dibs on sales and special offers, so I recommend signing up now, ready for the January sale...
It's two weeks since we launched the 'Keep on Asking' slogan t-shirt, and now I'm asking: Why? What difference are our questions making? Are big brands even listening?
It was fantastic to see actress Lauren McCrostie (Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, Falling) wearing Keep On Asking this week, and prompting her fans to ask 'investigative and inquisitive' questions about the clothes they buy and where they came from.
Meanwhile, on her blog, Tolly Dolly Posh gave us 10 Simple Ways to Keep on Asking, including using your voice in the places you can be heard, and how to avoid being greenwashed.
So, what do we hope to gain from these questions, beyond a right-on feeling of being conscious and the fun of being a rebel?
Does change ever happen from ordinary people making a bit of noise?
I'm feeling optimistic. Here's why.
How I became a tea addict
Way back in the 1990s I was off to university with the beginning of an awareness of ethical trade - having dressed in Oxfam's finest for a few years due to lack of funds and a generally scruffy grunge style, I had also discovered their Fairtrade dark chocolate. And like drugs, one thing was leading to the next, and I was considering moving onto the hard stuff: Fairtrade tea. Fairtrade was pretty niche then, but it seemed to be a good way to show how mature and principled I was now my 'End Apartheid' poster wasn't relevant. So I bought a box of Fairtrade tea from Oxfam, and that lasted my the whole first year, as I didn't actually drink tea. However, sometime early in the second year that changed, I developed the tea addiction that still rules my life now, and I promptly dropped the Fairtrade for something cheap that I could buy easily in Asda.
Jump 20+ years, I'm firmly back on the Fairtrade mark, and most supermarkets sell a choice of Fairtrade products, including their own branded teas. Universities, offices and even towns (thanks, Devizes Fairtrade Group!) have become 'Fairtrade' due to their commitment to buying fair for their coffee breaks, and almost one in three bananas sold in the UK is Fairtrade.
How did this change happen? Because customers asked them to. While the pioneering work ensuring fair supply and workers premium was done by the Fairtrade Foundation, the shops sell what customers will buy. And enough of us pestered and then bought the stuff for it to go mainstream. I see a lot of encouragement in that.
What about clothes?
There's been progress there in the last year or so too. Ethical Consumer Magazine's August report covers fashion, and they note big leaps forward in the reporting and transparency of the big mainstream clothing brands. We did that! Okay, not just us, but one of the reasons is thought to be the increase in consumer pressure - after factory disasters and news of the horrific conditions of garment workers, customers and pressure groups have asked questions: 'Were your products made there? Are your workers treated well?' and they simply can't answer without a clear idea of their supply chain. Ethical Consumer write: 'We were surprised to find that over half of the high-street retail brands investigated scored an Ethical Consumer best for their supply chain management rating. This was a huge improvement from 2011 when it was around 20%.'
The Fashion Revolution 2017 report shows a similar story, with a big increase in brands responding to their #whomademyclothes campaign. The big brands are listening to us, because they're nothing without good PR and loyal customers.
So are we done with the questions?
Does that mean all these big brands are fine now, and we don't have to worry about ethical clothes any more?
Ooh no no no no... here's why we're gonna Keep On Asking:
1. Publishing your policies is a very small step - it makes it easier for us to check what's going on, but it doesn't guarantee they actually comply with their aims. Read this investigative report on Zara, H+M and Gap in China, for example.
2. If it's about pleasing customers/ good PR, we can't let them think it doesn't matter now.
3. We haven't even started on sustainability and pollution...
"As citizens, we have more power than we think. Our questions, our voices, and our shopping habits can have the power to help change the industry for the better. United we are even stronger ...
The more people who ask #whomademyclothes the more brands will listen."
You can buy your own Keep on Asking t-shirt just here.
We've been having fun with a bit of anticipation building on social media, but today is finally release day for the Lost Shapes x Tolly Dolly Posh collab range.
Tolly is a teen fashion blogger with a strong passion for responsible fashion and ambitions to become an ethical and sustainable fashion designer spreading the word about conscious consumption. Here's where it starts!
I first came across Tolly just over a year ago, when I was researching a blog post about whether it was possible to dress teenagers ethically. Then I was recommending her for fashion loving teenagers, but her posts on the struggles and triumphs of dressing ethically, nuanced and insightful thoughts about the industry, interviews with designers and actors, positive attitude to body confidence and great styling have meant her blog is now one of my favourites. (I'll link to it in a minute, but I don't want you to run straight off and forget about me!)
We started talking about working together during Fashion Revolution week last April, and developed the range through skype, sketchbooks, and hundreds of emails. Tolly wanted something that would promote questions about supply chain and who made the clothes, whilst being fun and appealing in their own right. We worked through colour schemes, what works well with screen printing, what people tend to buy. We discarded loads of great ideas along the way too (who knows, maybe we'll come back to some), and we spent a lot of time deliberating on levels of transparency of colours when it came to test prints. I'll let Tolly explain the ideas behind the two designs over on her blog, but the transparency was key: for a great screen print effect of layering colours, and for what it represents in the murky world of fashion.
We're both really pleased with the results - 'Keep On Asking' and 'Many Questions' - two beautifully coloured unisex designs with a retro feel, important message and, of course, great ethics:
'Keep on Asking' is hand printed in the UK with eco-friendly inks onto organic, fairtrade cotton sewn together in Fair Wear 'leader' rated conditions. It is part of the award winning Fair Share scheme, which means I pay an extra premium per t-shirt which goes directly to the workers;
'Many Questions' is hand printed in the UK with eco-friendly inks onto organic cotton sewn together in Fair Wear 'leader' rated conditions. It is 'Climate Neutral' as it is manufactured solely using renewable green energy from wind and solar power.
You can buy the t-shirts here, and read Tolly's side of the story here. We'd love to see how and where you style your tops, so tag #lsxtdp on social media. Enjoy!
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.
Irregular musings and pretty pictures from the heart of LOST SHAPES.