March 17th, 2014

A Swedish denim label wants to change the way we wear our jeans

Swedish denim label Nudie Jeans recommends people don’t wash their new jeans for at least six months. It has also opened satellite repair stores around the world where customers can take their knackered trousers in for a free fix up.

Nudie wants to be a fully transparent company. “Caring capitalism” may be an oxymoron but Nudie appears to be shifting the public gaze towards something akin to responsible consumerism.

The website claims that they “do not envisage a trade-off between profit and people, or between manufacture and environmental responsibility”. Fashion is still very much an industry and you won’t find people screaming for the takedown of capitalism here. Not too loudly anyway.

I sat down with someone who was there at the start of Nudie – its CEO Palle Stenberg – and asked him to explain their business model. “I first met Nudie’s founder Maria [Erixon Levin] when she was working at a small shop outside Gothenburg. She’d been working with denim for many years.” Some years later, he adds, “she said ‘Palle, let’s do our own jeans’. She was fed up with the commercial side of things because everything was looking at the short term. Her idea was that instead of just looking at profit, let’s do the jeans the way we want them. I said ‘yeah, let’s do it’”.

Stenberg says Nudie started out with the ethical side hard-wired into the business model. “Those ethics have always been part of us … The look and the fit is important – otherwise nobody buys them. But the social responsibility and taking care of nature was also there from day one. We wanted to know that everyone who worked with us would go to sleep at night having an OK life.”

“We became 100% organic a few years ago, our next step is to be 100% transparent – to show everybody everything. We’re just working out the way to do it.”

In India, where Nudie gets some of its cotton from (it also sources from Italy and Turkey), Palle says they pay their workers living wages, not just minimum wages. He also takes great pride in Nudie’s manufacturing – 90% of which happens in Italy. “Italy is a part of the EU and we pay the same taxes, their salaries are like the ones we have here in Sweden. I think that’s where the big difference is. I think our margins are more or less like other brands … maybe even a little worse. But we’re a profitable company. Shoppers are really behind us because of our core values.”

Nudie Jeans are becoming popular and not everyone buys them for the ethics, but they soon get the hint. At a visit to one of their flagship stores in London, I was taken through their range, where their jeans came from and how to care for them. Their repair shop is in the front window next to the till.

You get the sense that the average Nudie customer wouldn’t be seen dead with a dream-catcher listening to the Grateful Dead. Everyone who worked there and who walked in was effortlessly cool. The price point is cheaper or equivalent to most designer denim labels.

“We have three shops in Sweden, one in Berlin, one in London, five in Japan, five in Australia, one in Zurich and one in Barcelona,” says Stenberg. “And then online. We also have distribution in 26 countries around the world. The cool thing is that the same people who started the brand twelve, thirteen years ago are still here.”

Stenberg acknowledges that Nudie aren’t perfect. It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. “It’s no secret that the cotton industry is one of the worst industries in the world. We only work with organic cotton, and the people we work with reuse their water and they don’t use pesticides to grow it.”

When I ask about his own waste flows, Stenberg gets up and fetches an older-than-old pair of jeans. “Everyone wants to know what difference we make,” he says. “Here is a pair I’ve been wearing every day for at least two years. Can you see the repairs? If I turn it inside out … you can see repairs. That’s the idea. Buy a pair of organic jeans, never wash them and you wear them and wear them and wear them and they become like a second skin. You save water because you’re not washing them too.”

The Nudie business model is based around not washing your jeans? “Your jeans break, you come to the store and we repair them for free. You wear them for another six months at least, you bring them back, we repair them and so on and so on until you don’t want to wear them anymore and we take them off you. You choose a new pair and we use your old pair to fix other pairs or we sell them to people,” he says.

“It’s not about how much we spend to make one unit. It’s about how long you can make a single pair of jeans last. People sometimes say that we’d earn so much more if we didn’t have this service … yes we could, but that’s not the point. We think long term.”

• This article was amended on 17 March to add that Nudie gets its cotton from Italy and Turkey as well as India.

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This article was first published in the Guardian, 17 March 2014.

March 17th, 2014

spinning sour milk into silky fibres

A German company is spinning fibres out of milk. Qmilk, was founded by Anke Domaske as she was looking for non-allergenic fabrics for her cancer-sufferer father.

After having seen a YouTube video on milk fibres, she found that the old process was too chemically laden for what she needed but that a more environmentally friendly process could produce a fibre so innocuous you could eat it.

It works “like a big noodle machine,” according to Domaske. “You add the protein powder – it looks like flour – to water and you mix it into a dough. Then there’s a nozzle at the end with teeny tiny holes that put out textile fibres instead of noodles.”

“You can use any kind of milk but the safest, right now, is cow milk that’s just turned sour.

“We need to have it sour to separate the protein. We get ours in powder form from dairies but we’re revamping our collection system. ”

The University of Berlin has found that Germans throw away around 2m tonnes of milk each year. Milk consists of more than 200 vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be processed and turned into resources. If the future of food waste is turning it into something useful, then Qmilk fills a gap in a market that might unwittingly turn a blind eye to sustainable options.

A reliance on sour milk might not seem scaleable but Domaske is adamant that current German dairy waste is enough to dress the whole US in a t-shirt.

It feels like silk and if the mildly erotic promo video on their site is anything to go by, you can stick a naked model in a milk bath and have her come out of it dressed in a flowing Athenian frock. One of its major advantages is it’s antibacterial properties. Like silk, it’s also temperature regulating, light, absorbent, compostable and flame resistant.

“We only need a maximum of two litres of water and an 80°C temperature [to make 1kg of textiles]. We have low waste and the process takes five minutes. Everything in the manufacture of Qmilk uses 100% natural and renewable resources,” Domaske stresses.

“We have a transparent production chain. The press is welcome to film it and we know where all our milk comes from. To be sustainable we understand that people want to look behind the scenes.”

“Our vision is to have a zero waste process that stretches right back to our resources … so who supplies us. What we do at the moment is turn our waste into powder which either goes back into our research or is delivered as a biological additive for the plastic industry.”

“I would like to build our collection system and spread the idea worldwide,” she says in a hurried exchange.

“Milk has over 200 ingredients which gets wasted when milk isn’t sold. I’d like to use this as a resource.”

 

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This article was first published in the Guardian, 17 March 2014.

March 17th, 2014

alice walker for “this is palestine” festival

so we got to meet and hang out with alice walker the other week.

we spoke about a load of things – and tried to set the world to rights while I figured out how to fix the sofabed in her hotel room – but the most important of which was the importance of art in palestinian culture. it was for the “this is palestine” festival in dubai.

here’s a film we shot of her…a short promo thing…and she kept leaning forward out of the light when she spoke.

but you can’t get too pissed off with alice walker.

 

March 2nd, 2014

sans serif typeface wltm serif typeface for friendship, dialogue, maybe more

Hermit_light_medium_bold

Meet Hermit. Hermit is a lively, readable sans serif font who would like to meet a complimentary serif font for a long term relationship on all the material, onscreen gubbins and publicity for The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold.

Hermit would need someone who is solemn with gravitas but who also understands irony and can deliver quips at lighting speed. Simplicity and readability are “musts”. Might consider a fling with Bodoni or Bembo.

Helvetica serif and Lucida Grande need not apply.

March 2nd, 2014

Barbie in Sports Illustrated? Time to challenge gender marketing to children

Barbie Sports Illustrated

Toy manufacturer Mattel’s recent marketing campaign in Sports Illustrated proves nothing quite kicks off an argument on the internet like the subject of children and advertising. Thanks to an advert taken out by Mattel, you can now get your scantily clad swimsuit edition advertised by Barbie.

When you get over the initial shock of a hypersexualised plastic toy selling sun, sex and sand, you start to unpick the symbols behind it. It’s creepy. A child’s doll – which is no stranger to its own controversy of marketing an unrealistic body image to young girls – is being used to sell a magazine bought by (mostly) men in search of titillation.

Comedian Bill Hicks called on everyone working in advertising or marketing to kill themselves. “There is no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourselves.”

Why the hate? There’s something of the “social control” model when it comes to marketing to children. For instance, only 5% of US women have the body type portrayed as the ideal in advertising, yet 69% of teenage girls said that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. Contrast this with a Yale University study which found that the more fast food ads children were exposed to, the more likely they were to eat the stuff.

“If you look at TV commercials, you start seeing how product is marketed by gender,” begins Jennifer Pozner, a media literacy educator and author of Reality Bites Back: the Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV.

“Boys’ products tend to be sold with dark colours, language that stresses immediacy and usually focuses on a lone boy dominating his play world. Girls get lighter colours: the pinks, the lavenders. The language is more about nurturing, friendship, popularity and consumption.”

Goldieblox, a new toy unleashed to the US market by engineer Debbie Sterling says it is out to disrupt the “pink aisle” by inspiring young girls to become engineers. The model of play takes the kinetic and building functions of K’nex and other construction toys and ties in a storyline. But wait a moment, if Goldieblox is meant to redress the gender normative imbalances of the toy industry, why is it all in lavender and yellow?

“We’re not here to say pink and princesses are bad,” says Sterling. “My goal is simply to give young girls the options that I never had, so they might consider pursuing engineering at a much younger age than I did.”

So does gender-specific advertising create or reinforce stereotypes about men and women? Research carried out by Professor Judith Blakemore at Purdue University claims that the development of physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills occurs more with less gender-typed toys. But marketing experts argue that is down to parenting.

“The critical factor is the adult who buys the product – the shopper,” says John Nevens, co-founder of marketing specialists Bridgethorne. “It could be that they want their daughter to focus on an engineering type activity, or that they want to indulge her or they may just buy without any real thought to gender. A brand has to meet the shopper’s need, yet so many brands are focused on the consumer.”

Erin Simons, a social media consultant at Caliber, questions the effect of fashion marketing and whether those too young to understand advertising should be targeted by it. Children have “grown up with social media. Inspired by celebrities and fashion models, many young girls feel pressured to upload highly sexualised photos of themselves in order to receive validation from peers. Fashion marketing is no longer restricted to billboards or magazines, but entering into a seemingly personal space where vulnerable young girls look to emulate it. Brands enforce the perceived importance of image and identity among a very impressionable demographic.”

Professor Alex Molnar is publications director of the National Education Policy Center and one of advertising’s biggest critics. He gives an example of how marketing capitalises on gender identity.

“When the full-page Barbie ad ran, it looked like Barbie was taking on a pro-feminist view. Saying that girls and women are free to be whomever they want, and saying that real women don’t wear high heels or appear in swimsuit [magazine] issues is regressively confining women. That kind of thing is something that marketing does very well. And the best marketing is like the best propaganda – it always contains a kernel of truth.”

Although Mattel and Sports Illustrated have yet to reply to our request for comment, Barbie herself is, if you believe the marketing,“#unapologetic”. The Barbie Twitter feed says girls should not be “judged by how she dresses, even if it’s in heels”.

This more nuanced way of marketing to girls and women contrasts with ads a generation ago that prescribed a woman’s role in society as that of a homemaker. The saying that a woman must be a maid in the parlour, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom probably still rings true, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re “free” of that. So you can guiltlessly accept marketed gender clichés such as “girls like pink and glittery things” because, you know, feminism.

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This article was first published in The Guardian, 27 February 2014.

February 17th, 2014

the cotton film dot com [new taster]

Well hello there.

We have a new taster for the film.

Click the image, sign up to get the taster code and watch away.

The Cotton Film Taster Screengrab

 

You’ll need about twelve minutes to watch it.

If you’d like to help us out, then please click donate and do please give what you can.

The first few who give over £25 will get a special thank you present from us and subvertising maestro Dr.D.

If you can and would like to be a bit more generous, please feel free to email us on info@thecottonfilm.com for various incentives we can offer you depending on how much you would like to give.

 

Thanks for watching, reading, sharing and all of that. You lovely people.

January 29th, 2014

E-cigarettes: helping smokers quit or glamourising a dangerous habit?

e cig

Smoking is cool again. At least, electronically. The electronic cigarette (e-cig, vapouriser, fake fag, digital cancer) is, if you believe the adverts and scare stories in the press, the new black.

No longer happy with the adverse health effects of smoking analogue traditional cigarettes, a large swathe of smokers are hanging up their lighters and picking up little metal sticks loaded with a battery, a metal coil, propylene glycol, glycerine and nicotine.

“In one year, its use has doubled,” says Iain Quinn of ILoveVapour.com. “In 2012, there were around 500,000 vapers in the UK. Now there are 1.2 million.”

The ubiquity of the digital cigarette is undeniable. As a new convert to vaping – a reference to the smoke-like vapour the unit emits when you suck on it, I seem to find them everywhere. People use them in offices, in bars, on public transport. And, although some quizzical looks are thrown when you puff out a cloud of smoke, faces calm once people realise you’re not smoking an actual cigarette.

Since England’s smoking ban in 2007, smokers have had to duck out of buildings to get their nicotine fix. Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) estimates that two thirds of the UK’s 10 million smokers would like to quit. Medical advice varies from GP to GP, but mine suggested I give e-cigarettes a go after its cousin, the inhalator – a plastic tube filled with a nicotine-soaked sponge – made me feel I was sucking on a tampon.

From 2016, the electronic cigarette will be classed as a medicine. This means it will be regulated by the MHRA and doctors in the NHS will be able to prescribe it to help smokers cut down or quit.

Yet this seeming official acceptance of vaping cannot quell fears that it is not only normalising smoking, but glamorising it. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus chuffed on one at the Golden Globes and celebs are papped walking out of bars with them. Advertised as the healthy way to smoke and seeing a gap in the market, companies are now being acquired by tobacco manufacturers that want a stake in the £200m industry – for example, Skycig’s acquisition by Lorillard.

Vapour liquid comes in flavours from chocolate to piña colada, leading schools in the US to ban it because they fear it will act as a gateway drug to the real thing.

“Smokers are addicted to the nicotine but it is the smoke that kills them,” says Martin Dockrell of Ash. “Nicotine is often part of the solution rather than the problem, and we know that nicotine replacement therapy combined with skilled support makes smokers four times more likely to quit successfully.”

For a smoker, the benefits are clear. You can feed – or wean yourself off – your addiction to nicotine. You don’t have to inhale the 4,000-7,000 toxins a regular cigarette sends down your throat. It’s cheaper. A unit costs a little more than a packet of cigarettes and refills are just over a pound each and claim to have as much nicotine as 20 smokes.

You don’t lose the social aspect of cigarette smoking either. Variations in nicotine doses and tastes seem to be an easy topic of conversation from the darkest of Soho members’ bars to the rainiest of Hackney bus stops.

There are downsides.

Legal experts, such as Alex Bonner from London’s Blake Lapthorn, say it’s up to employers to make their own policy decision as to whether or not to allow vaping at work. “Employers have an obligation to provide a safe place of work,” says Bonner. “The long-term health implications of the e-cigarette are not yet known, and it has even been suggested that they may not currently meet appropriate standards of safety and quality.”

A University of Sterling and Cancer Research UK report on the trend raises questions about the safety of some of the doses of nicotine in some models as well as the propylene glycol used to suspend it.

The report also addressed the issues of corporate power and tobacco companies’ actual commitment to harm reduction through their exploration of the e-cigarette market. They have long been trying to push low-tar and “safer” cigarettes. As the cigarette market deteriorates, does their recent investment maintain rather than reduce harm?

“I know a few people who never smoked cigarettes but are now hooked on e-cigs,” says Mohammed, a 30-year-old sound engineer. “I’ve done a few Bengali weddings and even the women are puffing away. It’s a cool thing to do.”

What happens to discarded e-cigs and refills is also a concern as they contribute to the volume of global e-waste. “How soon will these products end up on the shores of Africa and Asia?” asks Michael Jones of the United Nations’ Safe Planet campaign.

The fact remains that we may be moving away from tobacco, but, as long as we have nicotine, we’re just finding new ways of dosing up with the drug we’re addicted to. And as long as there is demand, someone is going to supply.

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This article was first published in The Guardian, 29 January 2014.

December 17th, 2013

Christmas, the most wasteful time of the year

santa waste

Christmas is a time for giving, receiving –and chucking packaging and unwanted stuff in the recycling box.

The UK produces nearly 300m tonnes of waste each year. It’s estimated that every Christmas tree bought in the UK this year put end to end, would be the equivalent of a return trip to New York City. Combine that with the 4,500 tonnes of tin foil, the 13,350 tonnes of glass and enough wrapping paper to go round the equator nine times, and we’re talking about a huge amount of rubbish – and that doesn’t even touch on the gifts and gadgets that are chucked away because they’re broken, old or ugly.

The recent launch of DEFRA’s Waste Prevention Programme, produced in partnership with WRAP, is meant to instruct consumers and industry on how to reduce waste at whatever point they happen to be in the supply chain.

I was recently invited by the United Nations university to view its e-waste Academy (EWAS) – a kind of bootcamp of academics and researchers specialising in what happens to all the gadgets and goods we use once we’re fed up with them or a new model comes out.

The aim is to lay the seeds for global solutions to a problem that has its roots in the supply chain of everything we encounter – everything we use has to be made somewhere and in that process articles are commonly disposed of.

Waste issues go beyond the consumer, they start at the raw materials stage and continue after disposal stage. You even encounter “illegal transboundary waste flows”, when one country lacks the capacity to get rid of a certain type of rubbish and sends it on for another country to deal with. This can either be done legally through export or illegally by forwarding it on to developing countries, sometimes in the guise of aid donations.

We discussed the “urban mine” – the idea that electronic waste can serve as a very profitable source for stock metals such as copper, aluminium and iron. The UK produces around 915,000 tonnes of e-waste each year.

“Instead of heading to countries to mine for precious raw metals, recyclers can extract already processed metals from the gadgets we throw away for repurpose,” says Fanny Lambert a process engineer from Belgium on the EWAS programme who specialises in polymetallic wastes.

WRAP estimates that by 2020, electronic items purchased in the UK would total 10m tonnes, including over 400 tonnes of gold, silver and platinum that has an estimated market value of £1.5bn.

A visit to a recycling facility in Altdorf, Switzerland, run by defence company RUAG took us through how e-waste is processed. It is manually sorted by type and then funnelled through the factory where workers separate and sort what they can from each item. “We get some benefits from running recycling but the real money comes from waste byproduct,” says RUAG’s Daniel Keller who took us on the tour. “I can’t really tell you how much it is worth to us.”

It’s clearly a lot. A defence company that prides itself on low-emission munitions surely wouldn’t get in on the game unless there was money to be made. He wasn’t too keen on answering a question about whether metals extracted from domestic items in the recycling facility could end up elsewhere in RUAG’s product line.

So how much waste will Christmas produce? Swico Recycling – the not-for-profit electronics take-back scheme RUAG has partnered with to help with recycling e-waste – has an insight.

“We have peak seasons, such as Christmas and when people tend to move house,” says Roland Haberamecher, Swico’s technical auditor at Altdorf. “We don’t have actual figures, but on the ground we see a jump from the end of December until the beginning of February. Lots of consumer electronics, televisions, unwanted stuff.”

“Because a recycling fee is paid when you buy a new product in Switzerland, people are encouraged to bring unwanted items back to where they bought them for recycling,” says Swico’s Anna Keller.

“All societies produce waste,” a DEFRA spokesperson told me. “Our first priority is to prevent waste, but where waste does arise we need to deal with it in the best way possible, and that often involves recycling.”

They argue that prevention and recycling are not at odds. Packaging regulations require that a proportion of packaging can be recovered and recycled, and their Sustainable Electricals Action Plan seeks to eliminate the “built-in obsolescence” we get with most consumer products (the reason why new toasters last a couple of years and the one your mum had in the 60s is still going strong).

Just how green is recycling? A recycling facility like RUAG’s produces around 3 tonnes of dust everyday. They have a process that extracts metals from that dust and then they burn the rest. So as good as a conventional recycling plant is, it still produces waste.

A step up from this is closed loop recycling – where waste and by-products are used to make something new. It’s a fascinating process that could mean manufacturers would never have to rely on extracting virgin materials from the earth. So your drinks bottle will be shredded to make another bottle, or a carrier bag and so forth. But all of this takes energy – and what powers green energy is another supply chain rabbit hole altogether.

With the UK’s national waste and recycling industry worth £23bn, you can make the case that overconsumption underpins outwardly eco-friendly measures. Will encouraging and legislating in favour of recycling make people more wasteful? After all, you can buy and dispose of whatever you like because someone is going to renew it in the waste stream for you, right?

Actual conservation and sustainability requires a systemic shift in how you view things of value and how you value things. To paraphrase the eminent popular culture philosopher Jessie J, perhaps it “ain’t about the price tag”.

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This article was first published in The Guardian, 17 December 2013.

November 8th, 2013

Bruno Pieters’ Honest By: a fashion label built on total transparency

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When it comes to driving forward sustainability and ethics in fashion, the consumer has all the power, says Hugo Boss’s former art director, Bruno Pieters.

He has put his money where his mouth is by launching Honest By, “the world’s first 100% transparent company”, in January 2012. Honest By shows people where materials come from, how much they cost, who made the product, where it was made and – crucially – how much money everybody earns along the supply chain, including Pieters himself.

Pieters says his model – which even records minute details such as how many buttons are on a shirt and the length of thread –”can be used by everyone”. But how does it work?

I first met Belgium-born Pieters when I interviewed him for an article on the Source Summit in London – a day out with the who’s who of ethical fashion. He cut a striking figure with his shock of hair, striking glasses and a slick style of dress that fashionistas call “architectural”.

He says it was the failure of heritage brands – Chanel, Versace and other “bling” labels you often see faked on eBay – to live up to their reputation that led to his interest in ethical fashion.

“Heritage brands kept the pricetag but changed the way they made things,” Pieters says. “You would think that if you bought a bag from a French heritage brand, you’d pay a few thousand Euros for it because you were buying into tradition – that whole Made in France thing… But it was being mass produced somewhere in India or China and shipped to Europe, finished off here and have ‘Made in France’ stamped on it.”

“For me, that was the reason to go transparent. When you work in this industry, everybody knows everybody else and you know that this is going on. You generalise and accept these practices as the way everybody does things. But you are still making things that have no relation to what the brand sells itself to be.

“Something is ‘luxury’ because of the design, the process, the materials. Most consumers don’t know where their clothes come from – regardless of the price range. If you’re buying luxury goods at luxury prices, you assume automatically that it is good. It’s not. And that’s crazy.”

Imagine that a fancy brand sells a handbag at £2,500. People buy it because that design house has a reputation for being dangled off the wrists of everyone from Jackie Onassis to Beyoncé. The fancy brand has a website that tells you its products are steeped in tradition. What you’ll see is a glitzy product alongside the rough hands of a tanner amid piles of hide – possibly in a countryside setting.

The reality is that a team designs a bag – usually as they try to predict what will be “hot” two seasons from now (that’s a year in normal-speak). Someone then sources the material, finds a factory, sends the designs off with whatever security they feel is needed so that high street brands can’t steal the idea.

“If you buy the same bag style for £50, you can often find that the materials to make it come from the same people and the same suppliers,” Pieters says. “They sometimes use the same factories. Nothing is totally made in Europe anymore. Try to find a zip that isn’t made in China.”

His words echo something I found when I was filming in India. A factory was making sports shirts for a major UK outlet and a more upmarket brand. Same fabric, different colour. Even identical styles. The only difference was that one shirt got a £15 price tag and another got a £65 one.

Pieters says higher up the food chain this happens less and couture dresses are still handmade in Paris. As for the ready-to-wear clothes, where they come from is a mystery. Even though labour may be cheaper in some countries where it is produced, these brands are still charging the same prices, giving them a huge profit margin.

“I started Honest By because I wanted to be proud of my work. Total transparency is easy. The only reason it doesn’t happen is because consumers don’t understand that they can demand it. If people asked for it, it can happen tomorrow.

“In terms of the research that goes into our supply chain, now suppliers just email it to us. They know we ask for it. We’re small compared with somewhere like Hugo Boss. We can do it because whatever the client wants, the supplier will supply.

“What corporations say is that transparency hurts their markup – their profit – which is already huge. The effect won’t be great, but every cent matters to them. They pass the higher cost of organic cotton to the consumer because they don’t want to sacrifice a percentage of a cent. That’s how it is. But as the demand grows for organic cotton, it becomes cheaper.

Pieters insists that the consumer can use their wallet to get through to fashion brands and that it is pointless to blame brands for the way the world is today.

“Companies don’t anger me because they are not people… If you make brands responsible for bad things, then that means you aren’t responsible for them and you won’t demand that brands change their ways. If brands are responsible, then you are just a meaningless consumer. And that’s not what you are.”

Every interview about sustainable fashion invariably steers towards the events in April at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where 1,028 workers died when a garment factory collapsed.

“Each time you buy something, you are communicating with corporations,” he says. “They are already on the back foot over this agreement over Bangladesh but look at what they are agreeing to – to ensure the buildings don’t collapse or catch fire? These should already be standards, not things you have to sign up to after the deaths of thousands. They’re only agreeing to what should already be the basic right of workers. “

Fashion question: there’s this pair of trousers I really like, but they are not made ethically. What do I do?

“Ask questions,” Pieters says. “These companies have so many people to do market research – to find out what the customer wants. If people go into stores, ask questions and say what they want, these companies will get the message. Say something like, ‘I really like these but can you tell me when you are going to make them with organic cotton …’”

But does that actually work?

“A woman came into the Hugo Boss store in Berlin asking why they had discontinued a bow on a dress. The shop assistant told their manager who told head office who told my boss who told me to work the bow back in. So changing things as an individual going into a shop does happen. Never feel ashamed about asking the store where their clothes come from – what goes into the process, what dyes are used, what the workers get paid, whether their material is organic. It is their job to know. And it is their job to tell people in the company what customers have been asking for.

“One of the problems is that people feel that they don’t matter. They do.”

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This article was first published in The Guardian, 08 November 2013.

November 5th, 2013

As the Lords has a gander at the finer details of the Lobbying Bill – which could scarily curb freedom of expression for anyone with a vested interest in a) changing the world or b) being pissed of with whatever current government is in power, I’ve been asked to make a few films on this here gagging law again.

Here’s one for 38 Degrees – you can also sign the petition here:

And here is another for the Civil Society Commission [which needs your £££ so head here]: