Friday, 17 October 2014

Inequality is Never in Style!

In 2007 Blog Action Day was created as vehicle for bloggers worldwide to come together each year to discuss one important global issue. This year's topic is Inequality. There are so many forms of inequality at various levels, for example between species, countries, genders, cultures, and it can feel very overwhelming.

The Paraisópolis favela borders the affluent district of Morumbi in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Tuca Vieira

I want to take this opportunity to briefly highlight some of the examples of inequality within the fashion industry and showcase a few examples of those who are working hard to create a level playing field for everyone. In particular I believe there's massive inequality when it comes to the makers (most of whom are women) and the consumers of mainstream fashion. 

Earlier this year I had the honour of interviewing Aafreen Hasnain, an inspiring young woman working with and researching the artisans living in Uttar Pradesh, India. She told me that her research found that more than 60% of the artisans in the region are women, less than 10% of whom are educated beyond Grade 5 and due to a strict Caste System, a section of these women are given a lower wage than the others. According to not-for-profit Labour Behind the Label, "...the scandalous truth is that the majority of workers in the global fashion industry cannot afford to live with dignity, and earn no more than £5 a day in an industry worth over £28 billion across Europe". How is this not madness? 

Europe's Clean Clothes Campaign works extensively to try and close this gap. In Cambodia for instance, they've found that women are not being paid a living wage, meaning that they're constantly battling with the spectre of malnourishment, which in recent years has led to a spate of mass faintings due to overwork. The Clean Clothes Campaign educates and mobilises consumers, lobbies companies and governments, and offers direct solidarity support to workers in the garment industry. 

Greenola's Creative Director, Teresa Kuruvilla once told me that - "By paying workers a fair living wage, and creating a direct relationship built on mutual respect between the business and its producers, Fair Trade allows communities to develop sustainably and ultimately create a long-term, profitable, and ethical relationship between businesses, producers, and consumers". 

April 24th this year marked the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, where 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured. This was a terrible example of extreme inequality taking and ruining lives. In response to this tragedy, and others like it within the fashion industry, a global board of industry leaders, campaigners, press and academics from within the sector and beyond have come together to create Fashion Revolution Day.

The driving force behind Fashion Revolution Day has been a desire to use the power of fashion to catalyse change and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain. Our lack of knowledge can mean that our purchasing decisions can lead us to become unwitting accomplices to human rights violations and environmental degradation. I would argue that ethical fashion is everyone's business! 

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Jacob & Esau - A Creative Adventure in Fair Fashion

In the sometimes inwards-looking and selfishly motivated world of fashion, there are still those that are choosing to take a stand for better things. Two young women based in Melbourne have joined forces to start a new label called Jacob & Esau - with a deliberate focus on the makers of their clothing. I recently spoke to co-founders Joanne and Esther about their new adventure in ethical design!

Q. Where did the name Jacob & Esau come from?

J: This is an interesting one! Right before Esther & I even mentioned the idea of starting our own fashion label to each other, Esther always had this name in mind. She thought it was pretty cool to draw inspiration from the biblical siblings in the creative direction of her designs. Jacob for simple, everyday basics and Esau for the occasional wild pieces! So when the time came to decide on a name for our label, she suggested Jacob & Esau and explained the creative underpinnings of this name. I thought it was a fantastic idea and then only realised it also stood for the initials of our very own names! J & E, Joanne & Esther… there you go!

Esther and Joanne

Q. How would you describe Jacob & Esau in 10 words or less?

E: Easy peasy – “Clothing for the people”

Q. Why is fairness and transparency important to you both personally and professionally?

J: Honest and genuine relationships have become sort of a rare breed. It is much easier to do things which serves one’s self at the expense of another person and has probably become the norm in our culture these days; like the popular saying, “look after number one”. I take it as a personal challenge to dare to be a little different, both in the workplace and beyond! 

In the last few years, it has become increasingly obvious to me the need to maintain this stand for fair and honest interactions, be it in everyday choices, my own relationships and business decisions. The J & E initiative was born out of a collective desire to see an option for everyday people to choose clothes which are made fairly by people who are treated respectfully.

Q. What kind of aesthetic will your clothing have?

E: J & E garments are wardrobe staples, think of your favourite white tee, casual men's shorts or a throw-on summer dress in a cute print! Of course we are all influenced by trends to a certain degree, but J & E takes special care to design styles that can be worn for years to come and can be mixed and matched with an existing wardrobe, adding value to the life of the garment.

We are aware of the stigma that is associated with 'ethical or sustainable fashion' and are keen to provide the opposite! In essence, our clothes should look like 'normal' clothes, but upon further inspection a real story evolves, revealing the backbone of our label and it's ethical business decisions.

Q. What made you choose Bali in Indonesia as your manufacturing hub and who are your makers? 

J & E: Garment makers Kholil and Wiwik, a husband and wife team, will be producing our first collection! They work from home and are building up their own home business, enabling them to raise their young son, Dafar, in comfort and convenience, as well as earn a living. 

As you said, they are based in Bali, Indonesia, and we chose this location due to some contacts we had while researching into our business, which have led to strong relationships and really positive outcomes so far! 

Kholil, Wiwik and Dafar

It’s a bonus that Indonesia is a neighboring country for us (being based in Melbourne, Australia), so travel is shorter for this initial stage of launching our business and we’re able to learn the ropes quicker! Another important factor is that many Australians are familiar with Bali as a holiday destination so they can relate well to the culture and also the impact we are trying to make!

Q. Who or what is inspiring you both right now?

J: A great desire to see our vision of J & E becoming reality! Just the thought of being able to see, touch and wear clothes that were once paper designs, and knowing that there is a pretty cool story behind how it all started, is something which keeps me going!

E: People! People always inspire me, whether it’s like-minded creatives who are reaching for the stars, or people like Kholil and Wiwik, who (like many parents!) have the perseverance and the selflessness to work day in and day out to provide for their family. The desire to see J & E make a positive difference to people all around the world is what really gets me going!

Q. Can you tell us how to get involved in your Pozible campaign and why this would be awesome?

J & E: This is super easy! Just head over to Pozible and click the huge “PLEDGE” button if you wish to contribute an amount. This amount goes to the funds needed to produce our first collection. 

Another way to get involve is to share this initiative with all your friends & family. Be it via email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter…we are keen to have more people on board the J & E train! Your time and effort in choosing to partner with us would be so awesome as YOU would be A HUGE PART in enabling the first J & E collection come to life! Thank you in advance!

You can also connect with Jacob & Esau via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Purr-fect Pieces of Ethical Design

Looking for something fair and sustainable that will get your sense of style purring? Check out these fabulous ethical feline finds =^..^=

David Meowie Pillow by Two Lost Souls -Bowie and kittens? What a winning combination! How adorable is this handmade pillow case plumped up with recycled plastic faux down
Meow or Never Sweatshirt by Vaute Couture - Keep cute and warm with this organic cotton top! It's also a great way to start a conversation about the awesomeness of adopting shelter animals :) 
Love Cats Rings by Sarah Healy Design NYC - Inspired by the song 'Love Cats' by The Cure, this super sweet ring has been carefully crafted by hand. PLUS 10% of the proceeds from your purchase will be donated to the ASPCA
Cat Backpack by Little Frenchy - Tired of your boring bag made from synthetic fibres? Then check out this blast of sunshine and kitties made from certified organic cotton and natural dyes
Tiger T-Shirt by RCTees - A beautiful tiger face has been lovingly hand printed onto this organic pima cotton shirt
Vintage 1980s Michaele Vollbrach Maxi Dress - Wonderfully quirky, this vintage dress is fantastic for fabulous winter layering
Kat and Mouse Shirt by Pini Piru - This funky kids tee depicts the epic rivalry between cats and mice printed using water-based ink on a 100% organic and fairly traded cotton tee
The Grin by Pini Piru - Another crazy cat character from this Netherlands-based label graces a fairly traded and organic cotton tee
Fat Cat Coin Purse by Blue Q - This serenely happy orange kitty coin purse is made from 95% post consumer recycled material and is sure to put a smile on your dial!
Cat Ballet Shoes by FC Select - These 100% vegan flats are simply adorable! I'd like to know if the cruelty-free materials are also sustainably sourced...stay tuned :)
Leopard Shoulder Trim Dress by Ruby Rocks - Fierce AND fairtrade = WIN! Made in a small factory in Bali, Ruby Rocks knows each and everyone of their employees and ensures they're not only paid an above average wage but also receive healthcare for themselves and their family members
Kitten in Hammock Necklace by Unique Art Pendants - Need a buddy while you're out and about? Why not this little fella? This cuddly pendant has been handmade

Live in the Meow Tee from People Tree - This lovely tee has been handmade by the artisans of Assisi Garments in India using fairtrade and organic cotton fibres
Black Cat Dress by Leah Goren - I definitely have my eye on this dress for summer! The dress is made from 100% organic cotton sateen and the cat print is 100% cuteness
Leopard Ring by Love Hearts and Crosses - This 100% porcelain leopard just wants to hug your hand! Each spot has been hand painted 
Two Peas in a Pod by Nic and the Newfie - Loving this pair of mischievous Siamese cats watching a bumblebee! This super comfy looking sweatshirt is made from a combination of organic cotton, recycled polyester and rayon. Also thumbs up to pockets!
Leopard Jumper by ASOS Africa - Be an urban wildcat with this handmade jumper which has been crafted under fair conditions in Africa. This top is part of a wider collection  produced in collaboration with a rural Kenyan community north of Mombasa

Georgie Kids T-Shirt by Stella McCartney - Um cat cuddles all day??? Yes please! Loving this certified organic cotton tee from Stella's high-end ecofashion label
Feeling warm and fuzzy after all this kitty-themed design? Then why not look up your local cat shelter and ask if you can volunteer for a few hours? One great thing you can do is to give them all a lovely brush and a kind word =^..^= That's how I found my little rescue boy while living in the Fiji Islands :)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

My Little Green Wedding

"I love thee - I love thee,
'Tis all that I can say
It is my vision in the night,
My dreaming in the day
~Thomas Hood

I thought it might be nice to share with you just a few examples of the simple green touches I incorporated into my recent wedding ceremony and reception!

Ryan and I wanted to keep cut flowers to a minimum, selecting native and locally-sourced species. Our florist was amazing, producing vibrant bouquets and button-holes showcasing Australia's eye-catching flora! 

One of our decorative themes were stars, so you can imagine how excited I was when I came across star-shaped eco-confetti! Each star is made from 100% biodegradable rice paper. We poured the stars into reusable cardboard cones and placed them on the chairs for people to use at the end of the ceremony. I also put some aside for my flower girl to throw as she walked down the aisle - to her utter delight!

It might sound crazy but I actually found my dress in the first 3 hours of wedding dress shopping in the first store I visited! I fell head over heels for my 1950s vintage beauty by renowned designer William Cahill with its exquisite hand-stitched flowers. Of course Ryan and my shoes were both vegan along with Ryan's belt!

Two of my astoundingly talented bridesmaids hand-crafted dresses for themselves and my two other bridesmaids using locally-sourced materials. To fit in with my vintage dress, they worked from a 1950s pattern. 

For my insanely adorable pageboy who is currently obsessed with all things Iron Man, I ordered a special handmade bow-tie from Look For Me Bowties

To decorate the reception tables I alternated succulents potted in sweet little silver buckets with tea light candles on top of a hessian runner. The succulents, created by the amazing 2Petals Floral Design, doubled as my bonbonniere for each guest to take home and enjoy.

Also throughout the room we'd strewn wheat-grass planted in repurposed glass jars and upcycled pianola scrolls with LED lights inside (prepared by my friends and classmates from the Centre for Sustainability Leadership). 

After the best evening of our lives - family and friends were taken home in a bus we'd hired to get them all home safely :-) x

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Kind Sponsor: 9 Amazing Ethical UncommonGoods

In a world of fast factory fashion and cookie cutter design it's a relief that there's still a craving for the singular, the extraordinary and the outstanding. In short, goods that are in fact uncommon. I'm delighted to introduce you to this month's Kind Sponsor - UncommonGoods - a refreshingly unique online marketplace established in 1999 with its headquarters based in New York City.

When I first came across UncommonGoods I was immediately impressed by their passion for showcasing original designs and handcrafted gifts that were deliberately created in harmony with animals, people and planet. Here's a quick snapshot of how this commitment to kindness is being incorporated into everything thing they do:
  • People: Their lowest-paid seasonal worker earns 50% above minimum wage and employees are offered health, wellness, and counseling services as well as onsite childcare
  • Animals: None of their products contain leather or fur
  • Planet: They highlight items that are made from recycled or upcycled materials and they give to charities that are protecting vital ecosystems such as forests
At the core of this business is the belief that creativity and the expression of individuality represent two great human treasures. 

Here are my 9 (an uncommon number) favourite handmade and recycled picks from their current selection:

1. Typewriter Key Necklace - What a great gift idea! Each necklace is handmade in the USA and Mexico from authentic typewriter keys from the 1920s to 1940s. This super fun upcycled piece is from UncommonGood's exclusive range of personalized jewellery, click here for more options.

2. Succulent Living Wall Planter Kit - Surely nature is the most beautiful artist of all? I'm loving this stunning reclaimed wood display by Heather Auchter, which can be placed both horizontally or vertically depending on your aesthetic needs.

3. Upcycled Solar Watch - Wear the watch of the! Made in Japan from recycled PET fabric, this solar-powered watch can last up to 3 months between charges. What a great daily reminder that the time to be sustainable is always now :)

4. Kantha Patchwork Belt - Tired of boring belts? Then these beauties might be just what you're looking for! Handmade by fair trade artisans in India, each belt is made of five different recycled quilts sewn together using traditional Kantha stitching.

5. Baseball Bat Bottle Openers - Last year I visited the U.S. for the first time and this included taking in a Red Sox game in Boston. I had an absolute ball (see what I did there?). These funky bottle openers are handmade from genuine Major League game-day bats and each one comes with a story detailing its unique history!

6. Fern Frond Earrings - Inspired by the laurel wreaths strewn throughout Greek imagery, artist Katie Lime has captured the essence of both nature's beauty and humanity's skill with metal in her handmade earrings. You can find more stunning handmade gifts for women here.

7. Fantastic Anti-Plastic Beach Toys - Playtime at the seaside is simply more fun with eco-friendly toys like this bucket and shovel set made from a special biodegradable material. 

8. Spiro Stemless Wine Glass Set - Artist duo Carrie and Patrick Frost create gorgeous and distinctive pieces handcrafted using recycled materials. I think these glasses are so lovely and it's brilliant that each of your guests will have their own pattern to enjoy :)

9. Personalized Family Art - This is such an adorable idea! Talented mother and daughter team Mary and Shelly Klein create special family portraits using sustainable materials such as hemp, organic stretched flax and cotton. 
You can find even more
surprising personalized gift options here!
Want to connect with UncommonGoods? You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram