Thursday, 18 November 2010

Open-source fashion

Opensource software and games, crowdfunding business startups and crowdsourcing have pushed their way into public conciousness in the past few years.

The benefits of these methods are many, but all are based on the basic principle that together we are stronger. By opening up projects to the public, they tend to attract the input of those who are most passionate and knowledgeable. Drawing on a much larger pool of ideas, unlimited by geographical distance, can create the most well-planned and resilient projects.

So it's good to see that there are various initiatives underway to take up these methods in the usually egotistical and individualistic world of fashion.

EDUfashion is, in its own words, "a two-year project for the development of a collaborative platform for fashion creation and continuous education emphasizing skill-sharing and ethical branding."

It aims to connect individuals and groups and develop an alternative fashion industry in which small, sustainable and sef-managed enterprises all come together under a single opensource brand, (Openwear), whose benefits will be shared.

Here's a video about an event organised by EDUfashion which took place in Spring this year. Eight designers were invited to take part in co-creating the first Openwear Collaborative Collection. This collection will be released under the Creative Commons License, when members of the Openwear Community will be able to download them and produce and sell the garments under Openwear collective brand.

One of the designers that took part in the above project was Berlin-based Pamoyo. Founded in 2007 by designers Frans Prins and Cecilia Palmer, it has an environmental aspect, using organic fabrics. However, what sets Pamoyo apart is the fact that all of its designs are published under the Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

Other designers and artists are invited to enrich the label with their own creations, and Pamoyo pledges to ensure the high-quality and sustainable production of every product made under its name. The company is currently preparing designs and patterns for download from the Pamoyo site, and ultimately it aims to make it possible for customers to share their own creations and patterns as well.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Fear the dreaded 'mushroom head' no more!

I for one am guilty of cycling without a helmet, for no reason other than that they look incredibly silly. At the moment my upturned cycle helmet functions as a keys-holder at home. Now you don't need to tell me that it's not going to save many lives there.

As much as I chastise myself for vanity, and remind myself of the potential risk to my life each time I saddle up, I still cannot bring myself to strap that thing onto my head.

I have excuses to carry me through all seasons. In summer it is too hot, and when it rains, my peak-free helmet does nothing to prevent driving rain dangerously impeding my vision. With winter comes my favourite excuse - cold ears. In the freezing cold, woolly hats beat gappy plastic helmets hands down. And please don't remind me at this point that some clever dick has invented a balaclava-like garment made from a thin performance fabric which covers your ears and fits under a helmet. I know. They look even sillier.

At this point, I hear my mother's voice echo in my head; "Better to look silly than be dead. Or brain damaged."

And of course, she does have a point.

So, imagine my excitement to discover THIS little piece of genius.

Working in a similar way to an airbag, it contains an inflatable device, a helium cartridge, and a sensor unit. On impact, it instantly inflates into a huge protective helmet. When not inflated, it looks like the zipped-up collar of a jacket, and can be hidden completely under a scarf.

The manufacturers are quick to point out that, "The Hövding can tell the difference between falling from a bike and bending over to tie a shoelace." Well thank goodness for that.

I don't dare find out how much they cost though, and wouldn't be surprised to discover that they're made in ethically compromising conditions. But still, great idea. I might have asked Father Christmas for one, were he not returning my mail to sender.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Channel 4’s Dispatches reveals appalling working conditions at clothes factories supplying the high street

After last year’s Primark scandal, which exposed similar sweatshop conditions at a supplier factory in Manchester, you’d think the high street would have made steps towards cleaning up its act.
However, as Channel 4's Dispatches documentary shows, these terrible conditions are (and have long been) rife in many garment factories in Leicester and no doubt throughout the UK.

More excuses

In response to the programme, campaign organisation Labour Behind the Label point out that the lack of provision for workers in local law is the oft-quoted excuse used by companies who are failing to provide reasonable working conditions (a living wage, reasonable working hours etc.), for workers overseas. If that is really the case, then how can exploitative operations such as these still be in business here in the UK, where the law offers a much greater level of  protection for employees? The companies exposed in this programme are deliberately exploiting vulnerable illegal workers, paying them less than others, and less than half the legal minimum, because they know they cannot complain.

“We didn’t know nuffink!”

The language used by the high street companies in response to Channel 4’s discoveries exposes an attitude among them that their best course of action is to discipline the suppliers who are subcontracting work. However, it cannot be that these companies are unaware of how their orders are fulfilled. The garment industry has long worked in this way, and it’s the same across the globe. As one of the workers in this documentary said “No one gets paid more than £3.50 / £4 an hour. It’s the same wherever you go.”

Denying that subcontractors exist isn’t going to help anyone. Instead companies must work with their suppliers and subcontractors to find ways to provide better conditions for their workers.

Money, money, money

Insisting upon such short lead times and low prices can only mean that someone is losing out. And it’s clearly not our high street companies, who are raking in hundreds of millions each year.
Working conditions in these factories will never improve until companies start paying fairer prices for their stock. And it is unacceptable and unnecessary for this cost to be passed on to consumers – companies ought to be absorbing this themselves from their vast annual profits.

While it’s absolutely true that clothing supply chains are long and difficult to trace, this issue has to be tackled. If UK law is not protecting garment workers in factories like this, companies have a responsibility to find a way to keep a closer eye on how and where their clothes are made.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Smile… and keep smiling, all day… you’re on camera!

Having belatedly arrived on Skype, I’ve spent the past few weeks making many unnecessary calls, delighting in the fact that it's costing me not a penny. Unfortunately though, this enjoyment has not been completely without anxiety, for as I sit there watching my pal’s every move, I feel a twinge of guilt when they ask “So where are you now?.” For all they know I’ve moved to a beach hut in Australia and grown a second head – I don’t have a webcam. 
So this morning I resolved to get myself one. However, as someone who is generally reluctant to buy anything new, for ethical reasons (read: because I’m tight), the thought of going into Maplin for one was unappealing. 

Preferring to make do and mend, a brief dig around (a scrabble, more than a dig), on the world wide web yielded several tutorials for using your own camcorder or digital camera as a webcam. If you fancy having a bash, here’s one of them. I had a go at mine earlier without much success I have to admit, but if you’ve got the right kit it should be easy. 
Anyway, all this thinking about webcams reminded me of a story I’d read a few months ago which unveiled ASDA’s new webcams which it had installed in two Bangladeshi garment factories producing it’s George clothing range. They have since set up another one at a sock factory in Turkey. 

You can watch them here, if you’re so inclined.

With this initiative, ASDA are seeking to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that their filthy cheap clothes aren’t made at the expense of the basic rights of garment workers around the world.

I’ll admit, the workers in “George factory 1” don’t look exploited. Everything seems very serene as they just quietly get on with their work. What you can see of “George factory 2” also looks nice and clean. Ok, the work looks a bit boring, but we’ve all had boring jobs haven’t we? At least no-one appears to be nodding off through sheer exhaustion, or being refused toilet breaks or clean drinking water by aggressive supervisors.

That's right, no exploitation here.

That is if you don’t count constant surveillance all day, everyday at work as exploitation. Exploitation of privacy? No? Well, better to have your every move scrutinised from across the globe than to be paid peanuts and forced to work more hours than there are in a day, I suppose.

Asda will be well aware that most consumers now are conscious of sweatshops. I assume their target audience for this flimsy charade are individuals who’ll take one look at Exhibit A’s RSI-inducing job and happily clutch onto this as conclusive proof that George is sweatshop-free, and then continue on with a lifetime’s shopping at ASDA.
But really, I can’t see this little websham pulling the wool over many consumers’ eyes. At least I hope not.

Aside from the intrusion factor, this stunt backfires further because it seems to pile yet more responsibility for upholding decent working conditions onto the supplier in Bangladesh, allowing the company (ASDA) to sidestep the issue.
The term ‘audit fatigue’ is used a lot nowadays, because since the awareness of workers rights issues has grown, companies have begun bombarding supplier factories with audits, in order to get them signed off as compliant. With each factory often supplying goods to several companies, and undergoing an annual audit for each of them, it’s easy to see how this could get a bit much.

And it’s not like they even work. Over the past ten or so years, annual social audits have become standard practice, yet have we seen an improvement in working conditions? In many cases, the information shown to auditors has been faked by suppliers looking to tick boxes without the hassle or expense of improving working conditions. In South East Asian sites assessed by auditors Impactt, 83% had double books and 40% coached workers to give the ‘right answer.’

This process leaves suppliers feeling bullied, but yet ultimately makes no difference to workers’ situations and also allows companies to continue getting away with the trading practices that cause these problems in the first place – short lead times, last minute in changes to specifications of products and aggressive price negotiation.

So no ASDA we don’t buy it. We'd rather you spent your money on improving your auditing systems and sourcing practices, not on covering up problems with 21st century gimmicks.

A new briefing by Oxfam says ASDA are starting to do just that, so we'll be looking forward to seeing some real improvement soon.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Hand-Me-Down Heroes #7

Hand-Me-Down Heroes isn't about buying garments, it’s about treating garments like heirlooms, keeping it in the family, dragging fashion kicking and screaming through the generations, and still looking stylish while you do it...

Brightening up this grey Autumn day is Hand-Me-Down Hero #7, Emma from My Daily Clothes Fix...

Jumper: Austin Reed, passed on from former boss (free)
 Necklace: present from John and Anne
Belt: La Redoute (£20)
Wrap (worn as a skirt): Warehouse, bought in a charity shop in Cumbria (£1)
Boots: bought in Magpie Swop (£8.50)