Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Earlier this month I was at a conference about online fashion retail. Among the many 'nuggets', as an old friend used to call wise advice, I came away with was that shopping is an emotional experience for women (check), it is as much about aquisition as socialisation (can't disagree), referrals from trusted sources (your friends, me, blogs/sites that insist on 'no pay for play') are increasingly important as choices proliferate (true). All this means that any successful retail enterprise on the net needs to locate itself firmly in a like-minded community. Its visitors can that way socialise, refer, discuss, emote and so on while (hopefully) putting the ching-ching in ka-ching (££$$) as they (in a way only women can) multi-task.

Made me think a bit harder about the DeviDoll 'community' -- I know who the like-minded retailers are out there, but what about the rest of the community: the advisors, referrers, informers, discussers? Two things emerged --

1) Most of the community is widespread across the blogosphere. Everyday new and interesting blogs spring up with new things to say and DeviDoll's current 'we-know-you' list is to the right hand side of this entry. But among them as far as women-centric goes Eco-Chick is the only one that comes to mind. But then EcoChick is relevant to everyone not just women even if its roots are from there.....

2) There simply aren't that many sites that (a) are geared to all those things about shopping that define women and which para 1 talks about here (b) are portals that put all this together. I did, however, find one (I think relatively new - though if not, then apologies in advance) that comes quite close:
Ethics Girls
There is alot going on on this site that aims to SET THE EXAMPLE on how to shop and care about the future of the planet AND to socialise about all this and more. They have customer recommended items, a magazine, ethical money, food, fashion (and more) tips/insights and interviews with like-minded women who are making a difference. Most interestingly, they operate like a cooperative. Keep an eye out for what these Girls do next...

Happy as I am to have discovered them, my little reccy mission has spawned another one: to find 'social netoworking' type ethical lifestyle sites. First lets find them and then lets see how many are savvy to the most emotional shoppers of all.....

Stay tuned....(and if you know names I am missing, PLEASE direct me there).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


So some news that is not very surprising: turns out Primark was working with suppliers in South India that used child labour. Also not surprising is Primark's outrage at having been deceived “We are appalled, we feel let down and we are taking all the action we can to prevent this happening again.”(Times Online). Hmmm...perhaps they should have investigated the 'suspicions' they already had about these same suppliers before the BBC's Panorama team (effectively) forced them to. Then maybe the outrage wouldn't seem so contrived.

What are we to make of this debacle? Well here are 2 ideas to start with:
1) Question Primark's assertion that its labour costs are unrelated to the low prices it offers its fashion at. Is it really believable that high volume, low mark-ups, absence of big ad budgets and low overheads have alone contributed to Primark being the fastest growing part of Associated British Foods and the 2nd biggest clothing retailer (in volume terms) in the UK?

2) Question the genuine ethical cred of a company that, having been 'outed', cuts and runs. What of those children and their families now? We'd rather not dwell on the fact that they probably prefer very little money to none at all and so, in a perverse sense, were probably better off slogging for Primark than not at all. Odds are they are devastated by the turn of events. If it wasn't for such dire circumstances, the complicity that Primark says its a victim of, between workers, middlemen, subcontractors and others wouldn't exist.

Rather than be appalled and get out, Primark needs to invest resources in engaging with issues on the ground in places it chooses to take its business to. This means pressuring the Indian government to do more, supporting the best NGO efforts in children's welfare in India itself and monitoring the entire supply chain rather than just factory conditions. It is simply not enough to take your business to places like India and be an ostrich about what you are walking into. We now know too much about labour conditions in these countries to accept just this much from any company doing work there.

So basically its not rocket science: all of the 'right' thing to do involves taking time off notching up the bottom line and putting it to responsibly engaging with the labour and labour conditions you locate yourself in; and further, to taking, on the chin, the effect this has on your budgets and overheads. Some might say this is just putting your money where your mouth is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We've all heard of recycling but we hear less (unfortunately) about 'upcycling'. Whats the difference? Well, 'upcycling' --coined by McDonough and Braungart in their seminal (2002) book 'Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things' --means transforming used things into other usable things of great (or greater) value. Intrinsic to the concept of upcycling is the notion that there is embedded value in things that allows them to be remade into further usable things again and again so that eventual waste is minimized massively AND this is all done without further damage to the planet and/or energy usage.

And herein lies the rub: recycling is, according to the book, an example of 'downcycling' because the re-made items are often not related at all to the original thing so that in the re-creation excessive energy/resources are used AND in recycling, recreated items lose value with each 'life' a and are thus likely to end up eventually as waste. So upcycling is a more mindful and authentic way than recycling to reuse what we consume (but don't be spooked and give up all recycling attempts you may be currently involved with. Just think it through and if you need ideas there are great ones here and here.

The whole issue of re-use is B-I-G in fashion - as it well should be...without serious thought about how to deal with the byproducts from the fashion industry, our consumptive behaviour being what it is, we'd charge the earth costs it simply cannot meet (these charges are being levied as I type....not in some distant future).

But what aspects of fashion are amenable to upcycling? How does upcycling sit with the desire to be 'fashionable', ie, wear well-made, attractive clothing as defined by 'mainstream' fashion society? With all the current interest in eco/ethical/green fashion what is authentic re-use and what is lip-service? What prospects does upcycling have for fashion at different points in the process - textile creation vs finished product? These are all very good questions and are all likely to get very good answers from the group assembled on July 18 at the Chelsea College of Art & Design.

The College's Textile Environment Design (TED) program is holding a 1-day symposium on (basically everything you want/need to know about) upcycling and textiles. Following on from last year's Ever & Again: Experimental Recycled Textiles exhibition, they've gathered the best practitioners from this space, including upcycled fashion's grande dame and founder of From Somewhere label Orsola De Castro; Kerry Seager of Junky Styling fame, Emmeline4Re's Emmeline Child and several others, and put together a fantastic program of talks, audience interface, theory and practice.

It is through efforts like this that sustainability in fashion can become an everyday reality and TED gives us the chance to meet those who daily live and work to bring us closer to this reality. Great opportunity not to be missed.

Other details you need to know --
Ticket price (£35 or £15 for students) includes organic picnic lunch and early evening drinks reception.
The symposium will be held at the Millibank campus.


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