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]:
October 18th, 2013
September 24th, 2013
Sustainability joined the fashion set’s buzzwords as the cognoscenti swarmed into a rainy London for London fashion week.
Fashion is a foreign land with its own language. Shop talk is peppered with phrases like “on trend”, “directional”, “architectural”, “I’m loving…” and “so over that”. Clothes “scream” about something or other and the biggest compliment you can pay someone is to ask if you can photograph them for your blog.
Following Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,129 people, and Labour Behind the Label’s report on malnourished Cambodian textile workers (around 33% of whom are medically underweight), I wondered if any of these stories had affected the fashionistas.
“Sustainability is very important,” cooed trendspotter Yvan Rodic. We were standing in a press queue with a host of other journalists, bloggers and blaggers all hungry for an “in” to what is rising on fashion’s horizon. “It’s good for a designer to have something eco-friendly in their collection.”
So it’s “a good look”. The UK throws out 350,000 tonnes of clothes into landfill every year. Surely sustainability isn’t just about having something eco-friendly, but about whether we even need all those clothes?
“The fashion and textile industry comprises many other industries from agriculture to communications. It has enormous impact,” says Orsola de Castro of Estethica – the British Fashion Council’s ethical fashion wing. “It’s a tough industry to change because there are so many elements to it. But it is also an industry that can really make a difference.”
Jocelyn Whipple is an environmentalist who works with designers and industry to guide them down a more ethical route. With over 10 years’ experience, her pet-peeve question is whether people have to compromise style over ethics. “Ethical designers compromise on ‘the look’ as much as ‘unethical’ designers do,” she says. “There are some serious design atrocities out there with zero style and zero ethics.”
Jocelyn’s colleagues at the Green Carpet Challenge – an initiative to get A-list celebrities to wear sustainable fashion on the red carpet – put words into action by launching a capsule collection with online retailer Net A Porter. Ten gowns designed by Christopher Kane, Roland Mouret, Christopher Bailey, Erdem and Victoria Beckham were unveiled at the uber-posh Apsley House with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Anna Wintour in attendance. You couldn’t be further away from the unwashed-hippy-in-hemp cliché.
“We have proven that ethics and aesthetics are a match made in heaven,” says Green Carpet Challenge founder Livia Firth. “Design has nothing to do with unethical production and low impact environmental materials.”
However, optimism about sustainable fashion has its limits. Orsola de Castro doesn’t think a fashion week where all designers are sustainable is likely.
“Yet. Or ever, even. The concept of a fashion week is pretty environmentally unfriendly. But a fashion week where most designers incorporate elements of sustainable design innovation is something I can see in the near future.”
It’s in a designer’s interest to know where their materials are sourced so they know what they are working with.
“If there are two ways of doing something and one was more sustainable, we’d go for it,” explains Jayne Hemsley, a designer who has devised a novel way of fitting both a digital tablet and a dog in a handbag. “We know the men who pick out the skins, the tanneries and the women who cut and sew in the factory. It should be a more innate responsibility in a company, not just a social phase. There’s a lot of opportunity for designers to work more sustainably, but it should always be the less expensive option. Oftentimes, it isn’t.”
Later in the week, in a less-salubrious West London exhibition hall, The Sustainable Angle held their Future Fabrics Expo. Amid European wholesale traders who seemed to specialise in market-stall tat (think Lurex with more petrochemicals) were soft nettle fabrics, waterproofs made of coffee waste, Icelandic fish leathers and water-soluble swing tags from sticky-label makers Avery. The idea is not to negate traditional cotton, linen and wool but to offer unexpected additional options for designers.
“If a business wants to futureproof itself, it has to have a sustainability plan,” says The Sustainable Angle’s director Nina Marenzi. “This planet has resource constraints; natural fibres are bound to be more expensive in future. Supply chains will have to use what costs less.”
Some fashion retailers release up to 300 new styles per week. These are styles knocked off the catwalk with lead times as short as 13 days. Clothes are mass-produced in factories manned by workers who get their material from other factories manned by more workers who get their raw material from farmers and cultivators. This part of the chain is usually faceless.
Conversely, we also have designers who produce in limited quantities and take pride at knowing at least a part of their supply chain. Most of whom I spoke with all admitted they could do better. Many young fashion students still in the “canary-yellow wearing” phase surprised me with their eloquence about the environment and workers’ rights.
The ethics and morality behind sustainability don’t run contrary to fashion, although it may grate against the foundations of fashion industry. The noise off the high street can make us forget that the styles we wear are cogs in a £680bn ($1.1tn) business machine reliant on ever-decreasing natural resources. Something’s gotta give.
This article first appeared in The Guardian, 24 September 2013.
September 5th, 2013
got an emergency phone call from robin at 38 degrees.
“you know about this gagging law thing?”
yeah, i do. the lobbying bill – the thing that will silence the unions and stop third party organisations (or anybody) from criticising the government a year before an election. massive threat to democracy and free speech.
“not everyone else does. can you make us a film in a day or so to tell people about it?”
and here it is
July 29th, 2013
…made in collaboration with Dr D, “BOB: or the Wealth Fair State” might be one of our most bad-taste political projects…at least this side of Christmas and the diazepam….
July 23rd, 2013
It’s Greenpeace. They’d like me to come in to make a film about something “big”. One of their major campaigns at the moment is to stop a multinational oil company, Shell, from drilling in the Arctic. Big in this context usually means enormous.
A series of “phones off, no notes, and from now on you only refer to this project as xxxx” meetings commence. I’m to turn up at Greenpeace’s North London warehouse in the beginning of June to begin filming what would become the most daring urban climb this side of King Kong.
I met Liesbeth, Ali, Victo, Wiola, Sabine and Sandra. Six women selected from around the world who “climbed a bit” and wanted to save the Arctic. So they decided to use the tallest building in Europe as a massive billboard directed at the public and – crucially – Shell. A picket outside an AGM is alright, but those are usually ignored. Scaling a mahoosive glacier-like structure in the middle of London over climate change and Arctic drilling would grab far more attention – and seal itself into the public consciousness.
Working with Greenpeace is a bit like signing an environmentalist official secrets act. And because nobody really knows what everyone else is doing until they’re about to do it, you become accustomed to talking in coded circles – which I’m told is part of life on planet Greenpeace. “Sigmund” was the project’s code name…a well-thought-out Freudian pun. And one of the climbers has a serious fear of heights. But there is very little else I’m sure I can tell people…and there’s very little that needs to be said.
Here’s the film.
And here’s how you can sign up to help save the Arctic: http://iceclimb.savethearctic.org
July 15th, 2013
Transparency and traceability were top of the agenda at the SOURCE summit, but what will it take for the fashion industry to tackle the destruction it leaves in its wake?
Ethical fashion’s movers and shakers met at the Ethical Fashion Forum’s SOURCE Summit last Friday. Calling itself “the most important event for fashion and sustainability“, this was a one-day industry convention held at The Crystal in London.
It was a day where people working in the ever-growing ethical fashion ghetto could network and discuss the issues that colour the sector. As with any growing field, the future was discussed and debated at length along with the sustainability of sustainability, how to hit the mass appeal zeitgeist and, crucial to all this progress, transparency.
Like most things fashion, buzzwords abounded. “Ethics”. “Sustainability”. “Rana Plaza” – the Bangladeshi factory used to make clothes to feed the international demand for fast fashion which collapsed killing 1,127 workers this April. The reverberations from the tragedy run deep in this part of the fashion sector. Virtually every speaker mentioned it and there was a genuine sense everyone wanted to do something about it. However, very few people had the individual power to wish away the constructs that made that building fall apart.
Another burning concern was how to change an industry with industrial and worker exploitation embedded in the heart of its profit-making model.
“If you buy unsustainable fashion, you are telling brands it is okay to be unsustainable,” says Belgium fashion designer and former art director for Hugo Boss, Bruno Pieters.
“Reputation is important. If you look at luxury brands, they gained their consumer trust when they were small and hand-crafted. Everything was done to a high quality. Sure, you paid for it but you knew what you were getting.
“The disconnect happened when their production became industrialised. You were no longer getting the bespoke service but the markups remained the same. So now the heritage of what people are buying into isn’t what is being delivered.”
Pieters used to run Hugo Boss’s Hugo line and is a fashion industry ‘name’. Now running his own label, Honest by, which claims to be the first 100% transparent fashion brand, Pieters is a stealth hippie. His clothes and poise disguise a Gandhi-quoting vegan firmly committed to ensuring customers know what they are getting.
You can find out exactly what goes into all his clothes – from the farmers who grew it, the factories that made it and, controversially, what kind of profit he makes when he’s selling it to you.
“I created the brand because transparency was what I was looking for as a consumer but couldn’t find. I’m using it as a tool for change. Change doesn’t start with institutions. The pyramid of power in fashion has the designer at the bottom, then the CEO, the shareholders and at the very top is the consumer.”
Transparency was brought up on a panel about the future of ethical businesses to Vivienne Westwood’s head of couture, Brigitte Stepputtis, via a question from the floor.
“If Vivienne is so concerned about the ethics of fashion, why doesn’t she have a transparent supply chain?”
It was the first question of the day and immediately set the tone for subsequent queries. Brigitte, who works on the higher end of the Westwood line and is an artist in her own right, diffused the frisson and said she would relay all of these questions to the boss.
“Change is happening, but it is a process,” Brigitte continued when we chatted later on. “Sourcing ethically will be difficult until governments legislate for that process. One of the most important issues for us is to be able to work sustainably but to scale. We have a global brand.
“It is easier for smaller lines to be more transparent because they don’t have the scale that we have. And we don’t have the scale the likes of H&M have. Many ethical producers and artisans can’t keep up with the thousands of metres of fabric that we need in the short timescales that we ask from them.”
Then surely the question shouldn’t be about what you consume but whether you should consume at all? “Part of sustainability is durability so we make our clothes to last for years, to be anti-fashion and always look good despite trends. Fashion will eventually be ethical and sustainable. For us, the next five years will see some big changes towards this because you will see big changes in the supply chain.”
Having only spotted two pairs of Birkenstocks amongst the hundreds of attendees who took great pride in their “look”, the notion that ethical fashion looks like an itchy Laura Ashley-print orgy is on its way out. Vogue.com’s editor, Dolly Jones said “It’s all about design. If you show us pretty clothes, we’ll write about them.”
However, keynote speaker and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, Baroness Lola Young, said that “perfection can be a hindrance to progress”. She referred to a number of strictly puritanical activists who view corporate or mass media moves towards ethics with deep suspicion – the “go hard or go home” faction of ethical fashionistas who live the ideal and keep everybody in check. ASOS’s Ethical Trade Manager Alice Strevens echoes the industry line when she stressed the importance for the “sustainable agenda to sit with the commercial one”.
The shift towards a wider acceptance of transparency was thrown in to the spotlight after the deaths of over a thousand factory workers at Rana Plaza. But even before that tragedy, major brand agents like PPR – who generated over €9.7bn in revenue in 2012 – changed their name to Kering to reflect their changing values. Technology is getting a look in when Indigenous use QR codes to allow a consumers to trace their garment’s supply chain and MIT have a SourceMap that tracks global brands.
I can’t imagine swathes of fashionistas storming Topshop like its the Bastille and toppling Philip Green, but it will take a combination of radical thought, creative and directional design and a lot of consumer pressure to push governments towards legislation that makes transparency the business norm.
This article was first published in The Guardian, 15 July 2013.
July 6th, 2013
Peter Kennard and I have been doing a thing around the G8 this year. He had some images. I suggested sticking them on the t’interwebs, open sourcing them and then pasting them up on the street.
They ended up in Enniskillen – the town nearest to where the G8 Summit was being held. Here, the person posting them was arrested for sticking them up on David Cameron’s Potemkin Village – the part of the town he pasted up photographs of full restaurants and prosperous shops over the boarded up doors and windows of actual closed ones.
He was taken to the police station and whilst the officer registering him was keen on locking him up, the Detective Inspector turned out to be a bit of an art fan. The DI saw Peter’s “Casino Boy” image, asked for a copy and our friend was sent on his merry way.
The posters were also picked up and posted around Glasgow, Manchester, Omagh, Loch CantRememberCantPronounce and some really really lovely kids in Brighton ran off some very nice stickers which were put to good use in London and Brighton. They got into the New Statesman, the Metro and a load of other publications.
Take one dude with some harrowing visual messages of truth, add a walking megaphone of a journalist with a trouble streak and here is the result. Suck on this, bitch.
May 8th, 2013
The new quarterly magazine – STIR – has just published The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold as their lead story this month! With beautiful artwork by Matthew Carey Simos for my article, it is really worth buying a print copy.
STIR is offering Dirty White Gold fans free postage for those who live in the UK (saving 30%) on their first issue, so it’s only £3.95. You can pay via GoCardless, a great small and British alternative to Paypal, here: https://gocardless.com/pay/4VSK8C21 or if you prefer Paypal you can send £3.95 to their account, which is email@example.com with ‘Dirty White Gold’ in the notes.