Shared Talent India encourages “fashion designers to exchange expertise with other protagonists across the supply chain, transcending traditional divisions, be they linguistic, geographic, or discipline based.” (Shared Talent India)
Designers can now access much needed information on opportunities and limitations of materials in India such as cotton and silk (among others). While designers may feel discouraged when they learn that genetically modified (GM) cotton “has found its way into almost every Indian supply chain,” they will no doubt understand the opportunity for change, as it exists in India, when they learn that “[s]eed exchange projects empower farming communities” (Shared Talent India).
The project also provides information on the historical and cultural significance of skills such as weaving and knitting, dyeing and printing, embroidery, etc., as well as information on their processes. And, most important to designers, Shared Talent India presents a platform not only for education, but for engagement with direct access to suppliers on the ground.
“Workers’ children in the area are not admitted in the Government schools in Delhi as they cannot provide the documents the Delhi Government Schools ask for.” (Worker X, Case Study: Taking Liberties)
Labour Behind the Label and War on Want are reporting gross violations of workers rights in two Delhi factories producing garments for M&S, Debenhams, Next Monsoon and Arcadia.
Taking Liberties, cites exploitative labour practices such as unregistered living in slum housing, precarious labour through non-contractual temporary employment, threats and violence against workers through hired security in anti-union workplace environment, poverty wages (workers paid less than ½ a living wage), and forced overtime.
The report is asking M&S, Debenhams, Next Monsoon and Arcadia to:
1. It’s expected that in an attempt to cut costs, producers, brands and retailers will probably increase the use of cotton blends and synthetics in their lines.
2. Component materials like thread and buttons are also being examined for cost savings.
3. Many companies (sticking with tradition) are placing their orders with manufacturers in lower wage and lower duty tariff countries like Bangladesh, and Cambodia; both of which experienced massive garment labour unrest over their workplace conditions.
1. The financial crisis: lagging consumer demand was met by a decrease in supply but when consumer demand rebounded slightly, supply hadn’t caught up which put a lot of pressure on inventories that were already low because of the low consumer demand that we started with.
2. Bad weather in… pretty much every place where there is cotton production…floods in Pakistan, droughts in China, Australia and Russia. This means that supply will continue to be low for a while and inventories will not be restocked i.e. shortages in cotton.
3. Speculators saw these factors as good indicators of potential increases in cotton prices and entered the cotton market (i.e. bought it all up) and drove prices even higher by further increasing demand .
Interesting how volatile the cotton market has been this year! You know what The Daily Show has to say about the “perfect storm”:
Given the volatility of the cotton market, what can a company do to prevent price fluctuations?? One thing that brands, retailers and suppliers can do is learn from other industries dependent on volatile commodities. Two classic examples are coffee and cocoa.
As you can see from the graph below, the coffee market is incredibly volatile.
Trends and variability in international coffee prices (annual averages) (FAO, 2003)
The FAO Commodity Market Review for 2003-2004 concluded a chapter on lessons learned from the international coffee crisis with this statement:
In 2009, Mars announced their aims to have a completely sustainable cocoa supply chain by 2020 and is working with the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified to reach this goal. It is the first chocolate retailer to do so and when asked the reasons behind the decision the response is remarkably similar to that of Starbucks:
For both industries, large players realized that the long term consequences of price volatility include an unstable and shrinking supply. The response was to develop a strategy that included a long term investment in the environmental and social sustainability of farming communities. This investment should pay back as a sustainable, stable and consistently priced raw material central to the survival of these companies.
Cotton faces the same conditions as both coffee and cocoa in terms of price volatility and demand-supply fluctuations. I think it might be time for the big players in the apparel industry to talk to the big players in the coffee and cocoa industries. The only similar initiative I know of in the apparel industry is H&M’s commitment to sustainable materials.
“Over 75% of fashion businesses think it is important for new recruits to have knowledge regarding social, environmental and ethical issues.” (FEI)
Over the coming year Fashioning an Ethical Industry (FEI) will be working with Scottish universities and colleges to establish a network interested in teaching, learning and sharing about ethics in the fashion industry. With the support from FEI the Network will host events, develop resources and share best practice related to corporate social responsibility in the fashion industry. Find out more and join the network.
FEI student workshops will equip your graduates with information and skills in this important emerging area. Staff training sessions will give teaching staff the resources and confidence to effectively deliver the subject area. For further information and booking please see the website.
*The contents of this post was directly sourced through the FEI Bulletin*
Summer Rayne Oakes – Eco-Trends: The Art & Science of Sourcing Sustainably
Summer Rayne Oakes, Image via Jute & Jackfruit
BIO// Summer Rayne Oakes is a model-activist, author of bestselling style guide Style, Naturally and a young entrepreneur focused on environmental sustainability in business. She has developed more environmentally-preferable collections with a variety of brands, including Payless ShoeSource’s zoe&zac line and Portico Home & Spa. Her unique positioning as both a brand ambassador and environmental strategist keeps her busy on and off camera, advising and consulting on various aspects of design, production and practice. She is now launching a new company called Source4Style, which is an online marketplace that allows designers to purchase more sustainable materials from around the world.
Vanity Fair has named Oakes a “Global Citizen,” Outside called her one of the “Top Environmental Activists,” and CNBC called her one of the “Top 10 Green Entrepreneurs of 2010.” Summer Rayne is a graduate of Cornell University with degrees in Environmental Science and Entomology and is a Udall environmental scholar.
– Background – grew up in NE Pennsylvania country. Brought home insects, etc…. A lot of people in cities never have these experiences!- At University studied sewage sludge; toxic organic contaminants from laundry chemicals, food, body products.
– SRO wanted to reach more people than possible through entomology so headed for fashion.
– She headed a beauty shoot with a model and bees in order to highlight the plight of bees – 3 billion dead in the last four years.
– Style, naturally – book by SRO. Talking about sustainability good but to get through to fashion, needs a whole infrastructure to support i.e. fabrics available, etc.
– Case Study – Payless Shoes
– Zoe & Zac $30 and less sustainable shoes. Using water based glues, organic cotton, recycled rubber and cardboard. Recycled packaging, sales of reusable bags with $1 per bag to planting trees in Brazilian forest; $1 per tree
– Shipping by rail not air
– Portico home
– Products get ‘in’ i.e. pillow offers 20% more sleep, plus bonus environmentally friendly. Film campaigns make organic & natural etc.
– Source4Style – ‘we source, you design’. Designers spend up to 85% of time sourcing. Market research on annual budget and yards purchased
– B2B (business to business). Based online because not all designers make it to tradeshows. Images include close-ups etc. 30 suppliers, 1000+ materials. More coming.
– Big brands are signed up ! Adidas, levis, sears, lululemon, MEC, Barneys NY etc
– What is sustainable? Organic, recycled, biopolymer, process from farm to factory environmentally friendly, fair trade, fair labor, handmade, traditional,.
– Sustainability is a moving target. Continued Improvement is required, full disclosure and transparency required. Ask the right questions to find out what’s really going on with factories etc.
Do you work with existing suppliers only or are you looking to expand?
– Both. We’ve got the known ones and are open to developing newer ones. Consumer demand dictates this a lot.
How does a eco friendly shoe for $30 not impact labour costs?
– Payless shoes is 50 years old. They have standards. Zoe & Zac has to be tame in terms of design in order to be able to sell and make money and keep design costs down.
As a consumer, I was sceptical of Zoe & Zac being sustainable and ethical because it’s so cheap and sold at payless.
– I wanted to work with companies who’re already trying to become environmentally responsible. Big companies who aren’t like that but are at least making an effort are worth helping.
What do you see in the future?
– More brands will be doing this. Eventually brands won’t say ‘green’ or ‘eco’, it’ll just be part of it.
Do you have contact with fashion schools?
– Once the website is up and running, this will be a good project. My book Style, naturally is used as a teaching aid and several universities have signed up. Students are the future and so this is very important.
“The action taken by Cambodian workers does not stand alone. Across Asia, workers are contesting poverty wages and deplorable working conditions.” (CCC)
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), are calling for action, requesting an urgent intervention in Cambodia.
“In recent months, worker stoppage and demonstration are happening in Bangladesh, Burma, China, and Vietnam, which underlines the necessity for brands and retailers to start working on a living wage.” (CCC)
According to their report, Cambodian garment workers went ahead with an organized strike (scheduled and announced to appropriate parties, 2 months in advance) on September 13th. The strike was called off on the 16th when the government invited unions to a negotiations meeting, schedule for next week (September 27th).
Unfortunately, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) fears that labour rights activists in Cambodian face judicial threats, calling for the employer association and the Cambodian Government to “cease any interference with, threats against and intimidation of trade unionist.” (CCC)
Research out of the Cambodia Institute for Development Studies shows that a wage increase to US$ 93 is necessary to cover the workers basic needs, concluding the following:
The current effective wage in the garment industry of US$79 per month, which includes overtime and other allowances, is not a living wage (as shown in Figure 9). If we exclude overtime, which is currently being reduced by factories at the moment because of the economic crisis, the average effective wage is US$67 per month. Overtime has played a very important role in enabling workers to cover their basic expenses and maintain a minimum living standard. This practice means that the living standard of garment workers is highly dependent on the economic situation. If the economy is in a good state, they get overtime, and their living standards improve; if the economy is in a bad state, overtime is reduced and the living standards of workers deteriorate even if they are employed. This set up provides no security for a decent living standard, which undermines industrial relations and the stability of the garment industry. To make the environment conducive for both employers and workers, there is an urgency to institutionalize the living wage, which should not be dependent on overtime.
According to our survey and calculations, the living wage of garment workers should range from at least US$90 per month to US$120 per month.
Commerce with a Conscious takes shopping for ethical menswear to the next leve1 thanks to the new CWAC Product Guide.
Here is how it works: “With the CWACPG, visitors can browse and compare CWAC-approved clothing and accessories based on the criteria of their choosing. The idea is have all of the best eco / ethical product in one place, thus taking the hassle out of socially responsible shopping.” (Brad Bennett, Editor at CWAC).
The CWACPG organizes items by “Ethical Attribute,” showcasing only clothing and accessories that have been “CWAC-approved.” Amazing.
Congratulations to CWAC on a fantastic initiative. Check it out!!
Aware of What We Wear: an Ethical Fashion Initiative
by Samantha Reichman,
Secretary of the Student Ethical Fashion Organization,
The College of William and Mary
How can fashion, a multibillion dollar flashy, frivolous, fickle industry, created to appeal to the whims of the consumer possibly be ETHICAL? Students of “Ethical Fashion” have discovered the answer to this question over the course of the 2009-2010 academic year.
The Sharpe Community Scholars Program at The College of William and Mary originated a service-learning, seminar-style course called “Ethical Fashion”, taught by Professor Regina Root. Designed for students interested in combining their concern about issues in the fashion industry with their desire for social justice, we signed up to engage the topic for an entire academic year. During the fall semester, we were challenged to discuss and research topics related to the global apparel industry: issues in production and distribution as well as workers’ rights and sweatshop labor. This semester, our focus has shifted to the creation and execution of a campus-wide project. We successfully hosted an ethical fashion show on April 10 to raise awareness on campus about this aspect of the worldwide fashion industry. On April 28, our classmates produced Josefina López’s “Real Women Have Curves” – a play about near-sweatshop-labor conditions in East Los Angeles to raise awareness of what is exactly going on in an industry that touches our lives every single day.
“Ethical Fashion” students are taking the next step in making this more than just a yearlong freshman seminar project. We are starting a movement. It began with an Ethical Fashion Report for the provost of the college, who understands the growing, changing nature of this issue around the world. Next, a constitution was written, resulting in the formation of an Ethical Fashion club. At our weekly meetings, we agreed the organization would be called SEFO: Student Ethical Fashion Organization. Blaise Springfield was elected the new president, along with an executive board on which I serve as secretary. This new student organization already seeks to partner with organizations as varied as Goodwill Industries, EDUN Live On Campus and Raíz Diseño, a transnational network of sustainable designers in Latin America.
At the first annual Ethical Fashion Show at William and Mary, we created a line of outfits from recyclable materials, utilizing one-of-a-kind pieces featured by our local Student Environmental Action Coalition for a fashion display on America Recycles Day. Students also worked with Goodwill, which donated clothing that was reused or upcycled for the fashion show. All in all, we showcased the possibilities of using recyclable materials to create functional, fun outfits. Yet other students designed and modeled their own creations made of plastic bottle caps, plastic bags, and corrugated cardboard.
In the theater of our Campus Center, the fashion show proved a great success and planted the seed for further community awareness and involvement in the burgeoning field of “Ethical Fashion”. With a little consciousness and some recycling, we can easily find ways to feel really good about what we wear!
“During the fall semester, we were challenged to discuss and research […] issues in production and distribution as well as workers’ rights and sweatshop labor.” (Samantha Reichman, Secretary of the Student Ethical Fashion Organization, The College of William and Mary)
“Real Women Have Curves” by Josefina López – a play about near-sweatshop-labor conditions in East Los Angeles
Samantha Reichman collected the plastic bottle caps that topped the various drinks consumed by her family. She used this dress as a kind of intervention -- to bring awareness of the waste produced through the consumption of bottled water.
Student modeling a dress recycled by Goodwill Industries, an organization with which the Student Ethical Fashion Organization partnered for the first annual ethical fashion show that featured a great deal of recycled apparel.
Group Photo: The first annual Ethical Fashion Show at College of William and Mary
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with Tamara Albu, Director of the A.A.S. Fashion Design Program at Parsons School of Fashion in New York to discuss Social Alterations, and the work we’ve been doing in developing free, open-source curricula for students and educators.
Tamara asked me to sit down with her more formally and explain the project so that students and faculty at Parsons might get to know who we are and the work that we are doing.
Speaking with Tamara in this virtual space was a complete honour, and I am so happy to share this edited video with you here, along with the interview transcript.
Tamara Albu (TA): Hello. My name is Tamara Albu, I direct the Fashion Design A.A.S. Program, at Parsons School of Fashion here in New York. We are here today, in a virtual space, creating a bridge between New York and Vancouver, so we can talk a bit about the Social Alterations online lab developed by Mary Hanlon, after completing her Graduate thesis.
Mary Hanlon is the Founder, Editor and Lead Contributor of Social Alterations, and the winner of this year’s Fashioning the Future Award for “Systems for a Sustainable Fashion Industry” through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.
Before beginning our conversation, I would like to thank David Goldsmith, one of our senior faculty, for introducing me to Mary.
It was fortunate that Mary Hanlon and David Goldsmith met recently at the Fashioning an Ethical Industry conference, in London. At the end of the event he talked about his strong belief that Mary’s website team and his research are a wonderful example of building the infrastructure for a “Fully-Fair” clothing and fashion industry. As he explained, Fully-Fair means being fair–not only in the limited sense of fair-trade,–but fair environmentally, economically, culturally, and socially.
Soon after this, I visited your website to learn more about your online lab, Mary. I was so taken by this project that I started thinking how can I make your ideas known to our students and faculty, here at Parsons, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What came to my mind, was we already had a lot of conversations online via Skype, so
I simply wanted to record our Skype discussions as quickly as possible and have them published on the Parsons’ School of Fashion blogazine.
So, Mary, before we begin our main discussion—I would like you to perhaps say a few words about yourself.
Mary Hanlon (MH): Hi Tamara! Thank you for speaking with me. It’s wonderful to talk with you here. Yes, I’d like to thank David Goldsmith for introducing us, first and foremost. I met David in early March, back at the Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference in London. We got to talking there, and, you know, we were speaking the same language. So, I just want to thank him for putting us in contact, and also thank you, both of you, for taking an interest in Social Alterations.
“It’s not enough to create great fashion, you have to understand why, what’s going to happen to that fashion later on, and what are the implications of what you’ve done” (Simon Collins, Dean of Parsons School of Fashion)
TA: I’m certainly very interested in Social Alterations, and that’s why we are here today.So, let me begin by asking you my first question: What exactly is Social Alterations?
MH: Social Alterations (SA) is an online lab built to educate fashion design instructors and students on the social, cultural, environmental and economic impact of their design choices.
It is an interactive website that, you know, hopes to create a space that will begin the conversation to bridge the gap between responsible design in theory and then responsible design in practice. So it’s a learning space, essentially, that wants to facilitate transformative design education.
I founded Social Alterations because my graduate research investigated the role of fashion design educators in teaching responsible fashion design. And, what I learned from that…you know, my research really showed that there was a knowledge gap within the industry, and I realized that there was an opportunity there to take the research I had done and put it outside of just the walls of my academia.
My passion for open-source learning guided me toward wanting to create an educational system that would be accessible to as many people as possible.
The Social Alterations Team is made up of myself, Nadira Lamrad, who is both a collaborator on this project as well as a contributing writer, and Katrine Karlsen, who is a contributor. It’s an international initiative. You know, while Nadira is based in Hong Kong, Katrine is writing from Norway, and I’m currently based in Vancouver, Canada.
TA: My goodness, this is a wonderful thing, they certainly are from all over the world; very interesting and exciting. Mary, let me ask you one other question,what do you mean by ‘transformative design education’ if you could develop a little bit more about that?
MH: Sure. I mean, we believe that interdisciplinary education is key to tackling these issues, because these are interdisciplinary issues. So our theme ‘Accessibility for Accountability,’ really shows that we want to help learners understand these issues by breaking down educational barriers: we want to provide them with the necessary tools to take on the challenge of responsible design, give them proper resources, create platforms for discussion, and build open-source curricula, within the interdisciplinary context. So when we talk about “responsible design,” we are talking about design that is educated on all of these issues.
TA: So, that leads me to a subject that is very close to me, but I’d like you to talk about it in relation to your project.Could you elaborate on what you mean by ‘open-source’ learning?
Mary: Sure. So, open-source learning for us is really about breaking down educational barriers. There is so much amazing research being done, that if we can harness this knowledge and aggregate the resources to deliver this through open-source systems. I mean, It’s exciting for us to imagine educators from across the globe coming together to discuss these issues. For example the open-source nature of Social Alterations allows educators and thought leaders from various disciplines (not just fashion design) to share their research in best practices for responsible design, but they can do so in real-time, online. You know, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in Hong Kong, or if you’re in Toronto, if you’re in Vancouver, or if you’re in South America, it’s not the point. Location isn’t the matter, it’s a matter of getting access to the information that you need as quickly as possible, because the consequences of not having that information are very large.
TA: You’re absolutely right, Mary. Can you tell us,what do you mean by ‘responsible design’?
MH: When we talk about “responsible design” on Social Alterations, we are talking about design that has considered, again, so environment, culture, society and economy to the absolute best of its abilities, at each stage of the design process.
Research has shown that so much of the consequences of design (you know, positive or negative) is actually known at the design stage. So while consumer education plays a huge role, of course, in shaping socially responsible fashion design, signals of deception, greenwashing for example, and unintelligent design, hidden ingredients….consumers basically are left to um, in many cases (of course not all cases), but in many cases, are left with no real choice—to pick from the best of the worst
But we believe the designer always has a choice at that design stage.
Material selection, for example is an obvious starting point. We have a “Fibre Analysis” that outlines the potential social and environmental consequences of commonly used fibres (that’s available online). And it’s this resource that we developed by aggregating resources that already exist, by pulling them together in one package so people have the answers they need right away.
Of course, the list of fibres in the analysis is no where near exhaustive, and so we’ll be working on further developing the content as we move forward. It’s an ongoing process.
TA: I’m so glad you mentioned all these, and I certainly hope that your project is going to continue and flourish and become, not only a source of inspiration but actually a source of information for so many designers interested in responsible design. Let’s go a little bit farther, and talk a little bit about the fact that you have argued that design educators have a responsibility to teach these issues. Could you explain?
MH: At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on the shoulder of the designer, primarily, because the designer is the creator of that product—of that garment
But if we go back and we think about the fashion design educator as having a responsibility—if we think of fashion design education as the point of intervention then the responsibility is lifted slightly off the shoulders of the designer and placed on the shoulders of the fashion/textile/apparel design educator.
So, to teach design practices that are culturally, socially, environmentally and economically supportive— that’s the responsibility of the design educator, is essentially what we’re arguing.
TA: Very well put. Okay, that leads me to my next question:what’s next?
Mary: Well,we’ll be looking to partner with various international stakeholders within the community (corporations, non-governmental organizations, environmental and Human Rights groups, social enterprises and educational institutions), and we’ll continue the process of developing the curricula, and pulling the resources together, and trying to deliver them in an edited capacity that makes sense—that people can use and absorb the knowledge that we’re presenting. I mean, it’s a really exciting time, because we have had such positive feedback coming from all sectors. There is a real opportunity for change here. I think that that’s pretty clear, so if we do the work, and we aggregate the resources, develop this content, and really pull it together for people so that they understand not just what’s at stake, but the choice that they can make moving forward to have control—take back control—is really powerful.
TA: Mary, I’d like to thank you very much for sharing this with all of us. I will certainly make sure that this information will be available online. Either our faculty and students will watch this video or they might prefer to read through the transcript, but the end result should be that we raise awareness for this project, and hopefully your website will be visited more and more, and that of course will mean that your projectwillbecome even more successful than it is now.
MH: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this project. I hope that your readers will find it interesting, and that they’ll come and support us. And I really look forward to continuing this conversation. Thank you again, very much for your time. Thank you. Thank you very much Tamara!
TA:Thank you so much for allowing me to enter your space and interview you, I just want to add that I have been talking today with Mary Hanlon who is the Founder, Editor and Lead Contributor of Social Alterations, and the winner of this year’s Fashioning the Future Award for “Systems for a Sustainable Fashion Industry” through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.
I hope that you’re going to get a lot of followers—and I’m certainly already one of them! So, great talking to you!