Category Archives: Fibre/Material

Message from Earth: Organic Matters

At Farm Aid  25, Anvil Knitwear, a sustainable apparel manufacturer, released this short film entitled Message from Earth: Organic Matters.

In it, Anvil tries to get across the dangers of pesticide use in conventional farming.  They also remind us that we, as consumers, have a choice to make: we can be part of a negative cycle of  degradation or part of a positive cycle of growth.

It’s up to you.

ATTEND// Organic Exchange Sustainable Textiles Conference

Organic Exchange is presenting this year’s Sustainable Textiles conference in New York on October  27th-28th.  Check out the plenary speakers!

Yvon Chouinard | Founder & Chairman, Patagonia

Eileen Fisher | Founder, Eileen Fisher

Tensie Whelan | President, Rainforest Alliance

The workshops and discussions include:

The list of companies attending:

  • Anvil Knitwear
  • Bergman Rivera
  • C&A Buying
  • Chico’s FAS
  • Control Union Certification
  • Deckers Outdoor Corporation/Simple Shoes
  • Disney Consumer Products
  • Egedeniz Tekstil
  • Eileen Fisher
  • Esquel
  • Evolve
  • Fountain Set, Ltd.
  • Gap, Inc.
  • Genencor
  • Green Textile
  • Greensource
  • G-Star
  • H&M Hennes & Maurtitz AB
  • Hemp Fortex
  • Hermann Buhler AG
  • Huntsman
  • ICCO
  • Kowa, Inc
  • L.L. Bean
  • Lenzing
  • Li & Fung
  • Mountain Equipment Co-op
  • Nike
  • Nordstrom
  • Orta Anadolu
  • Patagonia
  • Portico Home + Spa
  • Pratibha Syntex
  • PT Indorama
  • Remei AG/bioRe
  • Shell Foundation
  • Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative
  • Thai Alliance Textile Co., Ltd.
  • Vertical Knits SA DE CV
  • Walmart Stores, Inc.

Clearly, this is a major industry event!  There is a registration fee for this conference.  To learn more click here!

Wind Powered Knitting Machine, by Merel Karhof

Check out this Wind Knitting Factory by RCA grad Merel Karhof.

But don’t just stop there—also check out Karhof’s Energy Harvesters: broaches that are worn to illustrate the amount of personal wind power harvested as you walk around!

The knitted material is harvested from time to time and rounded-off in individually packaged scarves. Each scarf has its own label which tells you in how much time it has been knitted and on which date.” (Merel Karhof)


Click here to visit Core77, where Lisa Smith has more details. According to Smith, this is “quite a smart way to think about all the ways we can harvest the potential around us. especially if applied at the scale of a factory.”

We agree! This is a brilliant project–and the images and videos are wonderful!

Source: Core77

Interview with Hare+Hart

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I emailed Hare+Hart some interview questions which they promptly answered.  Company founders, Jennie Engelhardt and Emily Harrison, are doing some very inspiring work in the leather business and have taken the time out of their busy schedule (including moving and preparing for a two month trip to Argentina to work on their upcoming line) to answer our questions.  Thank you Hare+Hart.

SA:  Let’s start at the beginning, how did you end up in Argentina making leather garments?
H+H:  There are more cows living in Argentina than people.  Historically, Argentine culture is centered around the cow, and Argentina is one of the largest beef exporters in the world.  Subsequently, leather is also a significant part of their cultural history and is regarded as some of the finest in the world.  I first learned this while studying abroad in Buenos Aires.  As a Spanish major, Emily moved to Buenos Aires to work in the wine industry after graduating, and because of our mutual affinity for fashion and Argentine culture, we have been talking about starting a company bringing Argentine leather to the U.S. since she arrived.

Last summer, I went to visit Emily in Buenos Aires and was having a leather jacket custom made.  While I love the jacket, we couldn’t help but keep brainstorming new leather jacket ideas, we soon realized that we had an entire collection thought out.  So after years of dreaming about our own company, we decided to actually do it.  And since Emily is living in Argentina, and I am in New York working and had been working in the fashion industry, it seemed like the perfect time and way for us to combine our love of fashion and Argentine culture and create Hare+Hart.

SA:  So there’s been a lot of hype over your label being “ethical” but to some it may be an oxymoron to use the word “ethical” to describe leather. How do you respond to that?
H+H:  We realize that there are people that will always be opposed to the leather industry, but what sets us apart from other leather producers and from manufacturers of other furs and skins is that we are taking the hides from cows that are already being used for consumption.  The cow is an integral part of Argentine culture and identity, and beef is the core element of the Argentine diet – and Argentines eat ALL parts of the cow, not only the cuts that we are familiar with in the United States.  We are creating a product from what would otherwise be waste from the beef industry.

Additionally, we ensure that we use hides from cows that were grass-fed and free roaming, so that the cow had a high quality of life.  We also care that the people involved in creating our products are treated with consideration and fairness, so we only work with manufacturers and artisans that pay their worker fair wages and benefits and provide healthy working conditions.

SA:  So, other producers of leather garments are using hides and wasting the rest of the animal?
H+H:  Often when cows are being raised in large feed lots for beef, only their meat is considered.  Their diet is based upon the cow growing to provide the most amount of meat possible and they are butchered in a way that produces the most amount of beef in the easiest and cheapest methods possible.  This ruins the hide and makes it impossible to use it to create leather products.  It is more expensive and labor intensive to slaughter a cow to take advantage of both the beef and the hide, and therefore, it is not always the standard practice.

SA:  Just to be clear, how do you define fair wages and benefits, and a healthy work environment?
H+H:  We do not work with manufacturers that provide sweatshop-like working conditions.  We will only work with manufacturers that pay their employees fair wages based upon the standard of living for Argentina and provide paid vacation and maternity leave.  The environment of the manufacturer must be clean and not pose a health threat to any of the workers.

SA:  Do you have a Code of Conduct?
H+H:  We do not have an official Code of Conduct, but since it is important to us personally to make ethical decisions, we carry that through to all aspects of our company.

SA:  You two seem like very trustworthy people, but how can consumers trust that your claims about the production process and your materials match the reality on the ground?
H+H:  As consumers, we think it is very important to make well informed purchases.  We try to make our production process as transparent as possible, so that consumers know all aspects of the Hare+Hart products that they purchase.  We also feel that it is important to not make blanket statements about being an ethical company.  Rather, we inform our consumers about the steps we are taking to be environmentally friendly and humane, so that they can decide for themselves whether or not our products work with their belief systems.

SA:  Do you plan on making this information available to consumers through the Hare+Hart website?
H+H:  We have an “About” section on our website that explains the steps we are taking to make our company as ethical as possible.  Also, as we begin to develop our Spring 2011 line, we plan on blogging about the process and the decisions that we face.

SA:  As designers, do you believe that it is your responsibility to consider the social and environmental impact of the garments you produce?
H+H:  We believe that it is our responsibility as individuals to consider the social and environmental impact of everything we do, so naturally we extend this belief to our brand as designers.

SA:  Quite frankly, conventional leather tanning processes have a reputation for being
particularly harmful to both people and planet.  Are your processes within the
Hare+Hart supply chain different from conventional methods?
H+H:  While most leather manufacturers use harsh chemicals throughout the entire tanning process, we use vegetable dyes to color the leather and only use finishing agents to stabilize the color and finish.  The tannery we use, has also passed rigorous environmental standards (ISO 14001:2004) regarding the chemical process they use to finish the leather.  We are  also researching chemical-free methods of finishing leather and hope to be able to find a method that is not cost restrictive and incorporate it into our process in the near future.

SA:  Is this a solo project or are you working with your tanners on it?
H+H: Since we are not leather scientists ourselves, we are working with a chemist at a tannery to develop methods of softening leather for apparel use without using chrome.  It is possible to use leather that is dyed with 100% vegetable dyes, but it is still finished with chrome.  Currently there is no method for producing a leather that is pliable enough for apparel without using chrome or another harsh chemical in the finishing process.

SA:  Do you feel that it is the designer’s responsibility to know what these certifications mean?  Are you visiting the tanneries and making sure that their standards match your requirements?
H+H:  For us, we feel it is important to know about the materials we use and where they come from.  This includes knowing about environmental certifications and visiting tanneries to learn as much about the tanning process as possible.  We are in the midst of updating our website to include full disclosure on our production methods and materials.

SA:  Could you walk us through your design process (from conception through to consideration for end of product life); at what point or stage does the notion of consequence impact your design choices?
H+H:  We start our design process by sketching ideas for possible products, which we scan and email back and forth.  We then source different leather and lining options for our designs and only consider those which are environmentally sound.  We only work with tanneries that use vegetable dyes and have passed certain environmental standards, and we use natural linings such as tencel and acetate.  We try to select linings that are made as close to Argentina as possible in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

We are also creating reusable dust bags from recycled materials, and we try to run our business as environmentally friendly as possible.  We use recycled shipping materials and paper products, we work with a printer that is powered by wind energy and we reuse old documents for scratch paper for our designs.  We try to make ethical decisions in all aspects of our company because it is important to us and our belief systems.

SA:  Did you use any particular responsible design resources that guided you through the process?
H+H:  Unfortunately, there are still no go-to responsible design resources for us to use in creating our line.  We spend a lot of time researching responsible production methods and brainstorming ways in which we can improve upon industry practices.  This is an ongoing part of our work; as technology increases, so do the means of ethical production, and we want our products and company to be as ethically conscious as possible.

SA:  How do you view your relationships with the different businesses involved in your supply chain?
H+H:  We view our relationships with our tanneries and manufacturers as partnerships.  Both of our businesses depend on each other, and we want to support our partners as much as we can.

SA:  What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
H+H:  Customs!  We had no idea that there could be so many potential problems facing a shipment of samples from Argentina to the U.S.

SA:  As you move forward, what inspires you and what scares you?
H+H:  We are inspired by anything from a city, to music or food.  We create pieces that we ourselves want to wear, and we strive to articulate leather in unexpected forms and silhouettes.  Our values also inspire us to create new industry practices and establish new and more ethical standards.

What scares us the most is that consumers will continue to think about fashion without considering the environment.  Consumers have more power than they realize, and if they create a demand for ethical products, companies will start taking more steps towards more ethical practices.  We know it is not realistic that companies completely change overnight; however, we hope that more and more companies will realize the difference they can make by making even very small changes.
“The most important thing that we want people to learn is that small efforts can make a big difference.”

SA:  What are some of the key lessons coming out of this experience that you would like to share with this community?
H+H:  The most important thing that we want people to learn is that small efforts can make a big difference.  Designers often think that they have to go 100% organic in order to make a difference, but there are many small steps they can take that make a big difference.  If all companies in all industries start making small changes, it will have a larger impact both environmentally and socially than having only a handful of companies that are making large changes.  This also translates to the individual – environmentalism is not an all or nothing practice.  There are many small changes such as recycling, purchasing organic or local produce or turning off the lights that can make a big difference.

VOTE// Fashion Takes Action, Design Forward Award

Who’s your favourite responsible Canadian designer?

Fashion Takes Action (FTA) has officially launched Canada’s 1st annual eco design award, Design Forward.

I had the pleasure of working on this project, and I am so excited that Social Alterations could support this important initiative in Canada,  and I will explain the extent of our participation in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Here are the nominees:

All the information you need has been made available to you, the public, and you are invited to vote online for the designer you believe best represents ‘eco design’ in Canada. Once you have cast your vote, the decision will be left in the hands of the jury, who will select their winning choice from the top three finalists.

The criterion for voting is based on production, material, design, and special features. Take your time getting to know each designer: you only get one vote, so make it count!

Check out the prize, valued at approximately $50,000!

  • A free membership in Fashion Takes Action
  • A three-month national PR campaign, provided by Third Eye Media
  • Feature in EcoSalon – the number one green fashion blog!
  • Participation at Nolcha Fashion Week’s Ethical Fashion Preview in NYC in September 2010
  • Travel and accommodations for two, provided by Air Miles Reward Program
  • 75 meters of eco-friendly fabric, supplied by Telio (to make a sample collection to show in NYC)
  • Look book photo shoot with full creative team including photographer, models, hair & makeup and stylist
  • Look book graphic design by pencil design
  • $1,000 towards Fair trade and Organic certification, provided by Ecocert.

The voting will close @ midnight on Friday, April 16th.

To all the designers, we wish you luck!

World Water Day: 2010

March 22nd is World Water Day. Here are just a handful of stats out of the UN report World Water Day 2010: Clean Water for a Healthy World, “Water quality facts and statistics”:

  • Worldwide, infectious diseases such as waterborne diseases are the number one killer of children under five years old. More people die from unsafe water annually than from all forms of violence, including war. (WHO 2002)
  • Unsafe water causes 4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year, and results in 2.2 million deaths, mostly of children under five. This means that 15% of child deaths each year are attributable to diarrhoea – a child dying every 15 seconds. In India alone, the single largest cause of ill health and death among children is diarrhoea, which kills nearly half a million children each year. (WHO and UNICEF 2000)
  • Freshwater species have faced an estimated extinction rate five times greater than that of terrestrial species. (Ricciardi and Rasmussen 1999)
  • Point-of- use drinking water treatment through chlorine and safe storage of water could result in 122.2 million avoided DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years, a measure of morbidity), at a total cost of US$ 11.4 billion. (UN WWAP 2003)
  • 70% of untreated industrial wastes in developing countries are disposed into water where they contaminate existing water supplies. (UN-Water 2009)

For more stats and facts, and to download the full report click here.

Here is a video form charity: water, “a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects” on their campaign for Haiti.  

Unshaken – charity: water’s campaign for Haiti from charity: water on Vimeo.

Within the context of responsible fashion design, water consumption, pollution and contamination are endemic within the industry, make no mistake.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has done the math on cotton and water:

10,000-17,000 litres of water = 1 kg of cotton lint

6 pints of water = 1cotton bud

**This amount seems even more staggering when we consider that the cotton crop is only grown on 2.4% of the world’s arable land (EJF).**

Global cotton consumption has been estimated to be responsible for 2.6 per cent of the global water use, however, much of the impact is not felt in the country where the cotton is consumed, but where it has been produced. As a global average, 44 per cent of the water use for cotton growth and processing is not for serving the domestic market but for export.

As a result it has been estimated that nearly half of the water problems in the world related to cotton growth and processing can be attributed to foreign demand for cotton products. In this respect, it has been calculated that 84% of EU’s cotton-related water footprint lies outside the EU, with major impacts particularly in India and Uzbekistan.

Cotton production has a high impact on freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity through activities such as excessive water withdrawal for irrigation, runoff from fields, drainage, pesticide application, dam construction and land reclamation. The activities result in a range of impacts from salinisation, pollution to loss of soil and biodiversity.

The issue of bottled water is yet another side of the story. The Story of Stuff has launched a new campaign, and added a new video to the popular Story of Stuff series “The Story of Bottled Water: How “manufactured demand” pushes what we don’t need and destroys what we need most”. Click here for more information.

UN Water has a TON of interactive campaign materials available online, so be sure to check them out and help spread the word and get involved.

To learn more about the potential social and environmental impacts of cotton in this context, check out the SA Fibre Analysis.

Responsible Leather

Is there such a product?  According to Hare+Hart, there is and they’re using it to make beautifully designed pieces.  Company founders, Jennie Engelhardt and Emily Harrison, tell us on their website:

“we believe that the materials and production process are just as important as the aesthetics. We produce our collection in Argentina so that all of our cow leather is sourced from grass-fed, free roaming Argentine cows, providing a better life for the cow as well as preventing marring of the hide. We choose hides from cows that are also being used for beef so that no part of the animal is wasted.”

They then go on to address labour conditions in the production process saying that “we ensure that all of the craftsmen working on our items receive fair wages and benefits.”

Over at GretaGuide, the video below was posted showing Jennie and Emily talking about their company, its values and their vision for the future.

Hare+Hart: Ethical Leather Line from Greta Eagan on Vimeo.

Their look book is stunning with easy to wear, graceful everyday pieces.  I love, love, love their Schiller jacket and their Donelan tuxedo blazer.

It’s no secret that Mary and I are fans of their designs.  Mary has even become a fan on facebook!  Still, SA is a website dedicated to responsible design and it’s clear that Hare+Hart have the design bit covered, but we want to know more about the responsible part of their business.  So, I emailed Hare+Hart yesterday asking them for an interview and they have graciously accepted (thanks guys!).

If you have any questions that you would like me to ask, please let me know by email or on our facebook fanpage.  I plan to email the interview questions on Monday.  Stay tuned for an update to this story!!

WATCH// Social Alterations @ FEI

Here are just two of the videos we took at the conference. We have more videos to come, so stay tuned for those.

The first video is of my Pecha Kucha talk. I’ll be posting the slides and my notes a little later on. Please contact us if you have any questions on the works cited in the presentation.

Social Alterations @ FEI from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) held the table next to ours during the Market Place on day two of the conference. We asked them what exactly responsible fashion meant to the EJF, and for their thoughts on why designers should care.

FEI Conference 006 from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) was also there, asking participants “what organic cotton means… me”. Pictured above is Nadira Lamrad (right) with her answer.

Social Alterations @ FEI

So here we are in London for the Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference: Fast Forward. Today, Nadira and I will both be presenting at the conference, and with Katrine in attendance, this will mark the first time the SA team is all together in the same place at the same time!  

We will be doing lots of blogging and twitter (ing?) from the event, and will have our presentations uploaded later tonight for you to check out, so be sure to tune in.

Follow on twitter via @maryhanlon for that feed.

Wish us luck!

Bamboo// Continued Misconceptions

With the current spotlight on ‘green’ fashion over at Vogue U.K. via Livia Firth and the Green Carpet Challenge, we were surprised to see bamboo as designer Linda Loudermilk’s fibre of choice for Colin Firth’s suit at the premier of Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” in Paris.

Despite the comments out of Loudermilk’s office, we’re not quite convinced it was a responsible choice. Even if we were to believe that this bamboo was in fact not rayon, meaning that it was mechanically processed, not chemically processed, and that such mechanical processing was done without violating any human rights, we still think it’s an inappropriate fibre to showcase due to the global misconceptions on the use of bamboo as a responsible fibre both within and outside of the ecofashion movement.

Why not utilize the opportunity to showcase this design in linen, hemp or peace silk?

Here is a refresher on the potential social and environmental (not to mention cultural and economic) consequences of the use of Bamboo fibre, taken from our Fibre Analysis:

Still don’t believe us? Still not convinced? Read more on treehugger, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and Ecotextile News (re: FTC).

What do you think readers? When will the bamboo rayon train leave the ecofashion station?!?!

Source: treehugger and Vogue UK