Monday, 20 June 2011

Sweatshops do a very good job, says Jeff Banks

Wideboy Jeff Banks elbowed his way into my consciousness last month when he unleashed his ego on the unwitting British public during an interview on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. He had been drafted in to debate the issues surrounding Lucy Siegle’s new book “To Die For: is fast fashion wearing out the world?” with the author.

If, like me, you had forgotten the man existed until this point, allow me to summarise his career highs:
  • 1966 – opened ‘Clobber’ boutique
  • 1970 – created the British Fashion Council (BFC)
  • Late1970’s - opened high-street clothing store Warehouse
  • 1984 - started Bymail, the UK’s first mail-order catalogue
  • 1986 – 2000 – the Clothes Show was broadcast on BBC One, created and presented by Banks
  • 1996 – founded incorporatewear, which supplies workers uniforms to companies such as Premier Inn and Barclays bank.
Banks may also be known to you (if you’re long enough in the tooth) for his famous “paraffin from a pram” venture, or perhaps from his visit to Swindon’s Designer Outlet Village just last month.

Fashion to the masses
Jeff Banks has been on a quest to bring fashion to the masses since his career began, about 300 years ago. Britain’s best-known trash-fash blabbermouth has previously stuck the boot in to high-end designers, childishly dismissing Stella McCartney’s clothes as “amateurish” and Alexander McQueen’s as “unwearable.” In fact, he has recently been heard ranting that the whole of London Fashion Week is “irrelevant”. I might be inclined to agree with him there, but you’d expect a little more compassion from the bloke who set up the BFC, the driving force behind the event.
Wildly contradicting his own opinions (designers don’t make clothes for real people), he’s also slammed Kate Moss for designing for Topshop.
And it seems Banks is equally as happy to wade in in defence of sweatshops.

‘Intense labour’, not sweatshops, apparently
During the Woman’s Hour debate, in what would appear to be typical contradictory form, he ranted that accusations of the fashion industry having no conscience are wide of the mark, while simultaneously admitting that consumers are “greedy”, and companies are “ruining global resources just to move money around”.
At one point he regressed to a pantomime-esque “No I didn’t! Yes you did!,” when scrambling to rebuff Siegle’s charge that cheap clothes are, well, crap. Banks spluttered that “economical” clothes from Asda, Primark or Matalan, aren’t poor quality, backing up his argument with this absolute stonker;  “The amount of intensity that goes into manufacturing that product is very high.”
Sounds like a sweatshop to me Banks.
“And it’s not based on sweated labour, it’s not based on low moral standards, it’s actually doing a very good job.”
A very good job?
Having just read the brilliant book ‘Fair Wages’, I can assure him that most “economical” clothes probably are based on sweated labour. The book reveals that many garment workers in China (where 60% of global clothes are made) aren’t paid even the local minimum wage (which itself is often not enough to cover basic needs), never mind a living wage. I doubt that these workers would take kindly to some fat cat Western businessman telling them they’re doing a very good job.

Ambassador for the poor
Aside from Banks’ blatant fast-fashion propaganda, what really gets my goat is this slimy, self-centred toad masquerading as an ambassador for the downtrodden underclasses.
All they want is to buy a pretty dress every now and again – why are we miserable sods so determined to stamp out the one glimmer of joy in their otherwise bleak existences?
He may have come from a poor background, but Banksy’s made millions from fast fashion, and it’s clear as day that the only reason he defends it is to protect his own bank balance.

Whatever you do, don’t mention jeggings
Like a flapping and sweaty bug-eyed frog on a caffeine overdose, Banks got so roused by the debate that at irregular intervals his voice would fly to number 11 on the volume dial. And never more so than when Lucy Siegle dared to name jeggings the “style antichrist”. The poor guy’s heart nearly imploded. "JEGGINGS??! JEGGINGS…  HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR 30 YEARS!!"
And so have you Jeff. Longevity isn’t necessarily a stamp of quality.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ninety workers' rights activists murdered in 2010

Last year saw numerous reports of clashes between garment workers and police around the world.

A shocking report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) shows just what trade union activists are up against, with both companies and governments resorting to violent measures to repress the workforce.

Ninety of these activists were murdered in 2010, in countries including Colombia (49 deaths), Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Read a summary of the report (ITUC's annual account of violations of UN labour standards) and its findings here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ethical Fashion Dilemma #4: Men's suits - how sustainable is Savile Row?

Q: I know this sounds very indulgent but I am considering buying a Savile Row bespoke suit. However, I am not sure where their cotton/material comes from. Who has the most ethically sourced smart suits? Thanks for any tips, Hugh.  

A: Many of the Savile Row tailors are family craftsmen whose businesses have been handed down through the generations and who make their own suits right here on home turf. However, Savile Row is also home to suit-making garment giants, such as Ben Sherman. Our first suggestion would be to choose the family business over the giants.

We contacted 36 tailors on Savile Row asking them about the sustainability of the fabrics they worked with. We had a staggeringly underwhelming four replies, so are left to guess as to the sustainability of the remaining 32.

Here are the answers from those who did reply:

Do you use any certified organic/Fairtrade fabrics in your suits?

Anderson & Sheppard: Yes. Ardalanish cloth available. Sourced from the Isle of Mull, Scotland

Thomas Mahon: No

Dege & Skinner: On request

Nutters of Savile Row: No. In the process of collaboration with Goodwood. Aim to produce organic wool and leather goods from livestock on the Goodwood estate

 Do you use any fabrics with other environmental/social credentials?

Anderson & Sheppard: Yes, as directed by customer (Blend of Fair trade and non-Fair trade fibres, British fibre etc.)

Thomas Mahon: Endeavour to source material from UK

Dege & Skinner: Endeavour to source material from UK, (British wool tweeds, and 100% British wool for their country sports clothing, Blend of Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade fibres.)

Nutters of Savile Row: Unaware of any fair trade material suitable for tailoring on the market. Use Merino Wool from UK.

Do you offer 'Cut, Make, Trim' – making suits from fabric sourced by the customer?
All four said yes, with Dege & Skinner including the caveat that the fabric must be “suitable for tailoring and of sufficient quality”

Do you make all your suits yourselves? If not, where are they made?

All said yes, except Dege & Skinner who didn't respond to this question.

Does your business make any other efforts to be more sustainable?

Anderson & Sheppard: 90% of cloth woven in the UK, endeavour to use all fabric scraps and mend damaged garments.

Thomas Mahon: Recycle as much as possible.

Dege & Skinner: Not Answered

Nutters of Savile Row: In process of developing links with US (their largest consumer market) tailors who have the capability to Cut and Make up British cloth to the patterns devised with clients on Savile row in order to reduce transport requirements.

All the companies said they had no formal supply chain or environmental policies in place, with the exception of Dege & Skinner who declined to answer this question.

Other options

As the responses above show, there are sustainable options on Savile Row.  For those who live outside of London here are some other options:

One is simply to ask a local tailor to tailor a second hand suit, or make a suit from fabric you've sourced yourself. Bishopston Trading, Greenfibres, Eco Earth Fabrics and Hemp Fabric UK sell ethical and suit-able fabrics by the metre.

John Lewis currently sell Daniel J Hechter brand organic suits if you're happy to buy one off the peg.
Rawganique make organic hemp suits, but are based in Canada, so fittings and postage might be an issue.

Huddersfield-based Sustainable Tailoring repair or upgrade suits using sustainable fabrics such as organic/Fairtrade cotton, hemp and peace silk. (tel: 07854788240)
Junky Styling remake garments from old ones to your exact specification and recently won the RSPCA Good Business Award for fashion due to their emphasis on sustainability and ethically sourced materials. (tel: 0207 247 1883)

Both images from Sustainable Tailoring