Category Archives: Animal Rights

VOICES // Sourcing Change — Charlie Ross, Offset Warehouse

This post was written by Charlie Ross, Founder of Offset Warehouse and tells the story of one woman’s determination and drive for change. VOICES // a feature space on SA where community members are invited to share their journey in responsible design. What’s your story?

The first time ethical design came onto my radar was whilst I was studying for my BA in Fashion and it immediately struck a chord. Inspired by a friend to find out more about the social and environmental horrors underlying much of the fashion industry, I made an early decision to do everything I could to avoid contributing to it myself, with my own designs.

Having made the decision to ensure that everything I produced was as ethical as possible, I quickly discovered first hand how problematic this can be.  I was desperate to ensure that my graduate collection was both environmentally and socially responsible, but I soon found that trying to find ethical suiting fabric light enough, let alone affordable, was impossible.  Even hours of pleading with suppliers for sponsorship was to no avail (which, incidentally, is why I’m so keen to begin our sponsorship scheme, and have started a mailing list for all those interested!).

The closest I came to fulfilling my ambition of being truly ethical, was when I was given an opportunity to work with Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno in Japan.  She supplied me with recycled polyester for my shirts, and a recycled content fabric that could be manipulated with heat.  The collaboration also came with a free ticket to Tokyo, so I attended the opening night of the exhibition where all the pieces were on display.  The whole experience was inspirational and made me realise that my dream of a world of ethical fashion could become a reality.

The second part of my studies was a Masters in menswear design at the Royal College of Art.  As wonderful as the opportunity was (and we all know how many famous designers started their careers there) I found myself constantly swimming against a strong current of professors and peers who didn’t agree with or understand my “green” thinking.  It certainly didn’t correspond to their idea of “fashion”, but undeterred, I set to work creating a collection that would challenge their preconceptions: I would create a collection that was ethical and beautiful and fashion forward.  And according to most, I succeeded.

But my commitment to being ethical meant I doubled my workload. As most of the fabrics I chose were organic, and therefore only came in neutral tones, I spent hours dyeing them to match my colourways, whilst at the same time ensuring I had used the minimum quantities I needed, to limit the amount that would be put back into the “cycle”.  I also ended up spending hours sifting through recycle banks to reclaim textiles – not to mention, the weeks of research it took to source the fabrics and services I needed.  I had to find leathers that were by-products and vegetan, spray paint old tarpaulins to make into jackets, source vintage buttons and pieces I could use for clasps … and all this before I even started the pattern cutting!

I realised very quickly that there needed to be a central source to go to for materials and information, if there was any chance of convincing those less committed than myself to take the ethical route in fashion. Yes, there were plenty of forums, but no solid solutions.

So, when I graduated from the RCA, I set about finding solutions to all the problems I had been faced with and Offset Warehouse was born.  My idea was to make a wide range of ethical textiles available to buy in one place and also to offer the resources needed for research, as well as access to the ethical services and businesses needed to be able to manipulate the textiles – ethical dye labs, embroiderers, fair trade manufacturers, laser cutters, pattern cutters… you name it!

And of course, as proof that ethical fashion can be fashion forward and affordable, I also decided to include a boutique. It’s also proving a great solution for ethical students who want to sell their graduate collections!

I had a few struggles initially.  Funding, of course, was a particular concern, but I finally decided that given the global nature of both my suppliers and potential users of the service, the most sensible place to set up the business was online. So that’s what I did and in turn, lowered the overheads of the business considerably.

Has it been an easy road?  No, by no means. Surprisingly perhaps, in this day and age, I have found being a woman and only 26 has caused problems.  It probably doesn’t help that I look younger than I am, but it makes me mad when I am patronised by individuals who assume that I am naive about the business.  More fool them! Attending the RCA allowed me experiences far beyond those one might expect of someone of my age. I’ve had exposure working alongside and pitching to companies including Umbro, Brioni, Thierry Mugler, Zandra Rhodes and Vogue.  Not to mention one to ones with the head designers of Versace, Givenchy and Valentino, and styling the rather difficult, Jonny Borrell (Razorlight) amongst other musical talents. Of course, it’s also part of my nature – I approach life with not just a “can do” attitude, but an “I can do it all” attitude.  Since I launched Offset Warehouse, I’ve become my own buyer, a journalist, a web designer and developer, law copyrighter, marketeer, PR person (including making my own promotional videos), and SEO writer… it’s amazing the things you can learn from a few books, free workshops and youtube!

But this immensely steep learning curve shouldn’t have been necessary – I’m a great believer in passing on knowledge, which is why Offset Warehouse promotes learning and presents its own lectures and workshops.  Knowledge is power, and understanding all aspects of being ethical – from the market, to what makes a fibre ethical, is, in my opinion, key to being a successful ethical designer.  Passing on knowledge is central to our ethos, and we don’t just lecture about ethical issues, but also present workshops that will help designers further their careers – we review lots of CVs and portfolios of designers who want to be part of the Ethical Directory, and you wouldn’t believe how many applications could be improved with simple tricks!

Since our launch, we’ve had a huge response.  It’s clear that we’re filling a gap in the market.

One unexpected development has been the demand for Offset Warehouse to provide consultancy. In response to the many requests we have had, I decided to establish a pool of consultants, all experts in their fields, who we can call upon to provide support to our clients.  Ranging from referring a fair trade manufacturer (which we don’t charge for), to developing a range of ethical accessories.  It’s been a fantastic addition to the business – and has left me wondering where we might go next… watch this space!

So here we are.  Looking back, we have come farther than I could have dreamed at this point.  It has not been an easy ride by any means and, looking forward, there is a long way to go for the industry to truly make a difference to the way it operates and the way it is perceived.  I personally am very proud of how far we have come but Offset Warehouse still has much to do and I suspect the challenges will be different but no less demanding.  Bring it on!

New York Fashion Week vs. the Ready Made Garment Sector in Bangladesh: whose interests are protected when ‘special’ police hit the streets for fashion?

The fashion industry is often seen as a complicated paradox. So much so that many professionals working in the field of worker rights and environmental security frequently shy away from using the word ‘fashion’ itself. In its place, they vote for ‘garment,’ ‘apparel,’ ‘textile,’ etc. While it’s natural for industry jargon to vary—different circles will have their own set of terminology—it is important to recognize that in the end we are all talking about the same thing: fashion.

Fashion, after all, designs the stage and sets the pace for the performance. For our part, if we cannot connect human and environmental security issues taking place within the industry’s supply chain to the fashion runway, we haven’t dug deep enough.

We were reminded further of this truth this week with a recent Ethical Style post on the special NYPD ‘fashion’ police slated for New York Fashion Week. According to the article, the plain clothed officers are placed amongst the crowd (positioned on either side of the runway), to keep the peace from anti-fur activist protesters.

Continuing our coverage on Bangladesh, we’ve been meaning to write a story on the government’s reported consideration of a special “industrial police,” dedicated to keeping workers in the ready made garment (RMG) sector in line with an “iron hand,” according to a newspaper in Bangladesh (Clean Clothes Campaign).

So, on either side of the supply chain, the industry flexes its muscles against unrest. But, when it comes to the systemic oppression of basic human rights, coupled with unchecked environmental degradation, whose interests are being protected?

The truth is, when it comes to security there is no real paradox—the violations may be clear as mud, but we know where there are and how they got there.

Image Source: Anna Wintour targeted by PETA via Ethical Style and Bangladeshi garment workers via Fashioning an Ethical Industry

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.

Social Alterations// Slides

Nadira and I both promised to make the slides from our presentations at the FEI conference available online, and here they are, along with a slideshow of some of the images we captured from the event. I’ve reposted the videos of the presentations for convenience.

Thanks to everyone who offered feedback, we were so grateful for your considerations. Please, keep let’s keep the conversation going!

Be sure to contact us with any questions!

Social Alterations @ FEI from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

CSR Trends in China’s Apparel Supply Chain from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Find more photos like this on Social Alterations

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!

Midway: Message from the Gyre

We’ve lost our sense of outrage” (Chris Jordan, TEDtalk, June 23, 2008).

How do we change? We change through behaviour, says photographer Chris Jordan.

His book, Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait, is available for direct purchase through his website, and also via Amazon, through the SA [reading list].

This short film speaks for itself:

Jordan presents his research and master imagery in TEDtalk: Picturing Excess:

Source: chris jordan photographic arts

A New Approach to the Issue of Living Wages

Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders[Worker sowing at home. India, 2009. © Ankur Ahuja/ Clean Clothes Campaign.]

One of the root causes of poverty wages in the industry is the power of global buyers to constantly relocate production in search of ever lower prices and better terms of trade. This power is used to exert a downward pressure on wages and conditions – labour being one of the few ‘production costs’ or ‘inputs’ that can be squeezed. 

The solution

The basic idea of the Asia Floor Wage is to put a ‘floor’ under this, thereby preventing this competition from forcing wages below poverty levels and making sure gains are more equitably shared along the supply chain. The Asia Floor Wage alliance have formulated a unified, regional demand for a minimum living wage which is decent and fair and which can be standardised and compared between countries. This regional collective bargaining strategy will unite workers and their allies from different Asian countries behind one wage demand. 


The goal is to attain this standardised minimum living wage for workers across Asia through negotiations between garment industry employers and workers’ representative organisations, and with the mediation and support of governments, inter-governmental organisations and social movements.

The report constructed by the Asia Floor Wage organisation is available here.

Source: Asian Floor Wage

Social Alterations: Fibre Analysis


We’re working on developing some ready-to-use curricula for fashion/textile/apparel instructors and designers.

First up, is the Social Alterations “Fibre Analysis: Possible Social and Environmental Impacts.” Data for this document was aggregated from resources you will find in the “Works Cited” section, on the last page of the PDF. This document is licensed and protected through the Creative Commons, which basically means that you can use it wherever/whenever you want, assuming you do so within the guidelines outlined in the Creative Commons licensing for which this document is registered (see below).

This is only the beginning folks; Social Alterations has mandated itself to deliver online curriculum to aid in the development of socially responsible fashion design education.

You can get involved by joining the Social Alterations Forum to share your experience in socially responsible fashion design education.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns or requests please contact us.

Fibre Analysis by Mary Hanlon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.

Click here to download the resource: Fibre Analysis, Social Alterations

An October to Remember// Upcoming Events

October will have you wishing you could be in more than one city at the same time.

If you find yourself in Paris, Chicago, Providence, Portland, Hong Kong, London or Seattle this October, be sure to check out these amazing events. Click on the event you are interested in on the Events Calendar and we should link you straight into the events homepage.


Also, if you are near London in Oct. Nov. or Dec., be sure to stay tuned into the London College of Fashion, for Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion and Science.

Clash! Creative Collisions in Fashion & Science


Last but not least, if you have an upcoming event you think are readers would be interested in, be sure to drop us a line.

Social Alterations is now on Ning!



You can use this space to share and upload curricula ideas, lesson plans, visual aids, research and projects, or to just discuss the current happenings in the industry with respect to social issues and environmental concerns, as well as the latest trends in socially responsible design.




“See” you in the Forum! Oh…and don’t forget to pick up your Social Alterations Badge!


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