The Perils of Fast Fashion in Interiors

Interior fashion cycles are getting faster with the gap between the catwalk and interiors stores getting shorter all the time.  Associating interiors brands with celebrity and high fashion can be good if this lifts the perceived value of an item, which is then treasured for its aesthetic and its quality.  The manufacture of heirloom pieces is great for building long-term robust and sustainable value chains.  When true craftsmanship is rewarded and quality materials are sought after then the people that grow fibre, sew garments and weave carpets and fabrics all can share the rewards.

It all falls apart however if we follow the fast fashion business model. If textile mills and retail outlets focus on fast turn-around of low quality items from non-sustainable value chains we end up creating waste, using more energy than is required and supporting the throw-away society.

It is better to create beautiful textiles from sustainable materials and to build them well so they last a long time, rather than to manufacture oil based products with the promise to recycle them one day.

The fast fashion culture encourages corners to be cut and lives to be endangered, think Rana Plaza.   This is not just an apparel issue.  There are carpet schemes that guarantee no child labour, but do not take care of the children that are banished from the rug mills.  Those children sometimes move to more dangerous factories.  No we don’t want six year olds making our carpets, we want them in schools paid for by the sale of carpets.

There are rug retailers that push so hard on price that the weavers are forced to use extremely low quality materials and pay very poor wages.  Eliminating unnecessary waste and reproduction is the best thing we can do for the planet and for the people that live here.  Buying something cheap with the aim of throwing it away is the worst legacy we can leave behind.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

Integrity and happy sheep

Happy SheepNew Zealand has a reputation for producing clean white soft lovely wool.  Recently via Facebook someone asked “Yeah that’s all OK but how do you treat the sheep?”

I think this was a fair question, although it did get some social media responses as it was read as a little insightful by some.

The short answer of course is “Really well” Our farmers want their animals to be healthy and happy.  They sign up to a wool growing integrity programme with important rules on the environment, social responsibility and Animal Welfare.

Our animal health and welfare manual has firm objectives to ensure that our wooly friends are provided with five basic freedoms.

1. Proper and sufficient food and water.

2. Adequate shelter.

3. The opportunity to display normal patterns of behavior.

4. Physical handling in a way, which minimizes pain or distress to the animal.

5. Protection from and rapid response to any significant injury or disease.

Our wool growers are very aware that if carpet buying people have uninformed views on animal treatment it can put them off purchasing animal fibres.

The growers’ practices are externally verified through an audit process, which they gladly do in order to qualify for our Integrity programme.

Farmers tend to be animal lovers, they don’t want to see any animal suffer and they know that healthy happy sheep grow better wool.

Happy Sheep in New Zealand

Happy Sheep

Fashion Revolution

I don’t normally talk about Fashion, I am an interiors bloke.  But this is important.

April 14 2014 will be Fashion Revolution Day.

On the 24th of April this year 1,113 people were killed and over 2,500 people injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka.

All of us are going to change this situation,  It is time to get involved in a positive way.

On the 14th of April we will celebrate fashion as a positive influence.    It will simply ask “Who made your clothes”

Wear a garment in-side out , take a picture and post it, everywhere.  Use the hashtag #inside-out.

In the mean-time find your favourite garment and write to the manufacturer, ask the question “who made my clothes” and post the answer or lack of on your social media spaces

Only pressure from us citizens of earth can change the world.  What are we aiting for?

Go to http://www.fashionrevolution.org/

Of course It’s not just about fashion.  To be truly sustainable we have to aim higher than zero (waste).  We have to plan to  make a positive impact on the people who make our products and the people who use them.  There are plenty of low-cost furnishing retailers who also need to improve their game with regards to ethical trading.   Why not ask your furniture store who made your kit set coffee table?  Who grew the wool in your rug?

p.s.  No image on this post – try a google image search for “Rana Plaza”  It will shock you.

The Integrity of Fluffy Things

The UK retail sector is looking for UK manufactured textiles, both apparel and home textiles, that have integrity.  Big retail brands don’t like being associated with sweatshops and poor quality raw materials.  Consumers are demanding to know more about where things come from.  Retailers want speed, quality and service.  The government wants to create employment…

Currently only 20% of the textile home ware goods on sale in the UK are manufactured in the UK.

This all means that there is growing opportunity for UK textile mills.  And there lies the problem.   The UK is no longer the powerhouse of textiles that it once was.

Over recent decades two things happened.  UK business people sent manufacturing to Asia and Eastern Europe and synthetic fibres crept into people’s lives.

Short-term profitability undermined the integrity of the products themselves, which reduced the experience of the products and subsequently the value.  It seems short-term low cost ends up as long-term high-cost.

Now we have textile resurgence.  There are little green shoots appearing with the remaining mills reinventing themselves.  I know of several UK companies working on new luxury brands and filling their goods with natural fibres.

There is nothing wrong with imported goods, so long as those goods have integrity and you have the exported goods to make up the trade balance.  (80% imports is not balance)

The government, the retail sector and now the manufacturing sector are all gearing up to create textiles in the UK and to create jobs.  Great!   Will the people respect quality, service and pay a fair price, or will the people buy the cheapest sweat shop produced, or plastic filled jersey or carpet and continue to wonder where all their jobs went?

Of course unless a product has added value, innovation, a point of difference and fluffy integrity, why should they buy it?

dye house

Part of a new dye house helping to fill retail stores with lovely fluffy things.

Emerald

Its Emerald year, At least it is according to Pantone.

Emerald Pantone

Colour of 2013

Thanks to 17-5641 “Emerald” 2013  is going to be amazing so long as we all replace our carpets, paint our walls and dye our hair Emerald.

Sarcasm aside, there is something in creating your own sell fulfilled trends.

Pantone’s mission is to set themselves up as the authority on colour in order to give themselves credibility as a colour reference system.  You have to admit it, it’s working.

If you make a statement, tell enough people and back it up with some convincing rhetoric people believe it.  I spent a decade as a carpet designer, so my job at that time was to get in front of international design trends and to predict the next big thing.  This sounds daunting but what I learnt was that we the designers, product designers, policy designers, no matter what experience we create we are all designers..  We designers do not follow the trends we create them.

2013 is Emerald year because Pantone said so.    Now there are Pinterest boards, blog posts, key rings and everything cashing in on the rush to be seen as up with the trend.

What year shall we make it next year?   2014 Purple Wool Year!

Or maybe we should all get making Pinterest Boards like this.

Emerald Interior

Lovely Emerald Room

Lovely Ethical Woolly Things

How do we know wool is ethical?

This week I have been asked that question by New York Knitwear Designer, Jennifer Raish.

Jennifer is a pioneer in the new industrial revolution which is about niche produced quality items distributed internationally and sold digitally.  Jennifer wants to know that she is providing her customers with ethically produced goods and her customers want to trust her.   As the world moves rapidly towards digitally shared information and niche markets customers want to know more about who made their thing.  These customers want to feel special about their purchase.

Jennifer’s fantastic things are on Etsy..  you should take a look… www.etsy.com/shop/rosetung

Lovely wool by Jennifer Raish - click to see at Etsy

Lovely wool by Jennifer Raish – click to see at Etsy

Quality, Niche, Personalised & Exclusive have replaced Average, Mass, Standard and Boring.

This is how things are from now on, if you own a large factory you need to think long and hard about this and who will be your customers in 5 years from now.

Jennifer is not alone in her quest to create a wonderful special and woolly experience for her customers.  I have also been discussing all things wool and ethical with Katrin who runs another on-line experience www.woolandfelt.co.uk.  As the name suggests Katrin sells 100% natural wool and felt.

This is something I had been searching for a while as craft shops often only sell sheets of  polyester pretending to be felt (Felt must be made of wool but often other products are marketed as felt)  So I was delighted when Katrin made contact.

I asked Katrin to comment on why its important that her wool is ethically produced.

“My customers ask where the wool fibre we sell comes from, I ask the suppliers where the wool fibre they sell to us comes from… this is important because it makes us all more aware that it really matters in today’s world, we want to know and want to make informed choices.”

“One of the suppliers makes it easy, they sell only certified organic felt, guaranteed free from harmful substances and from organically kept sheep. She and her husband also dye the felt with natural dyes and create 15 different shades of colours. What never ceases to amaze me, is, that you can combine any of these colours you like and they never clash, they always harmonise…”

“Making your own felt is extremely satisfying. You can play about with the texture of wool and the colours and you get your hands really soapy and everything is a bit messy, just like being a child again but nobody can really tell you off when you are an adult in your own home.The results are often a surprise, the product evolves as you go along and you go along with it. I would call the process therapeutic.”

So why did Katrin decide to start an online shop (www.woolandfelt.co.uk) selling pure wool felt?

“Because I believe in the product wool, the sustainability of it, it’s wonderful properties which you will not find in fibre created from petrol-chemicals, it’s ability to self cleanse ( woollen sweaters after a heavy days work indeed just need to be aired for some time and any smells that might have clung to them will evaporate). These days it is ever harder to find pure wool products because people are after easy to care for items. But in many ways woollen products are just that, they are water repellent, dirt resistant, fire resistant and harmonising when it comes to temperature. I for one do hope that wool will celebrate a huge come back, and I am not just saying that as a store owner. It will help the UK farmers as well, who until recently could not even pay the sheep shearer with the money they received for the fleeces that came off their sheep’s backs!”

Wool and felt from Wool and Felt

Wool and felt from Wool and Felt

Back to ethics

 Both Jennifer and Katrin are on a mission to provide an authentic experience with wool.  And both have concerns about where the wool comes from, is it truly ethical?  Do the sheep suffer?

If it is New Zealand wool then readers of this blog will know that the Kiwi farmers really care for and nurture their sheep.  Organisations like PETA have highlighted the practice of mulesing as cruelty to animals.  PETA are a little bit naughty with their tactics,  and like any extremist organisation they tend to only show the facts that work in their favour.  The truth is often inconvenient.  In saying that we need pressure groups to do exactly that, create pressure so that things do always improve.

The new pressure group is the customer,  if they don’t trust the product they simply won’t buy it.

Mulesing is illegal in New Zealand unless it is done to help an animal that is deformed in some way.  Even then it must be carried out by a vet and using anesthetic   It is extremely uncommon for a sheep in New Zealand to be mulesed,  it probably does not happen at all but it is technically legal under extreme circumstances for the good of the animal.

The practice is common in Australia as the climate is much hotter and the risk of fly strike much higher.   Australian sheep are mainly Merinos which have been bred to have folds in their skin,  This increases the surface area for growing wool, and is a real problem if you are a sheep.   But NZ sheep do not have this issue.   It is considered by Australian farmers to be kinder to mules a sheep than to let it have a painful slow death via fly strike.  Also the Aussie growers are spending millions on research and development to find alternative methods of protecting sheep from fly strike.

New Zealand farmers do not mules sheep as it not required due to the cooler climate and different sheep breeds.

In the marketing of lovely ethical woolly things we tend not to talk about negative stuff, but we also must be completely transparent and open if our customers are to trust what we make for them.

Go and take a peek at Jennifer and Katrins wonderful stuff,  Click the pretty pictures above to see their on-line stores.

Oh and one last thing.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!   Go an buy an ethical  present for someone you love.