2nd hand vintage print and 70s detailing

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So many treasures found on my recent visit to Shaw Trust, it’s taken me a few days to decide what to do with them. In fact, I bought the blue dress for upcycling, got it home and discovered it fits perfectly and is lovely as it is. I loved the print of the three shirts, the pleat detail of the skirt and the collar detail on the blue leaf print shirt. And almost all natural fibres … the blue dress is 100% cotton, the cream skirt is cotton/linen blend, the shirts are either cotton or linen blend … they will last and keep their shape for many years to come, great fibres to work with and my skin is happy!smiley-1020193_1920

Pre-loved treasures, second hand clothes

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During a visit to talk about my upcoming event at Save the Children, I had a quick rummage of the rails. I found one outfit I can wear straight away, one outfit I’m going to upcycle and one designer bargain, a Jaeger blouse for £4.50! I’m doing another event at The Shaw Trust so I’m off there next week to have a rummage of their rails ….

#fashrev day 5: the investment buy

 

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So this is the final piece of my #haulternative jigsaw for Fashion Revolution week, the idea that we should invest more money in a wardrobe item, buy less of them and make them last longer.

Last summer I bought a few t-shirts from New Look, each less than £10. Looking back, I think this was quite a pivotal moment in this journey because I remember so clearly that I got them home and tried them on; a couple of them didn’t fit quite right, they were OK but far from exciting. I kept 1 because I liked the print but every time I put it on, I want it to be longer. Then I went to my son’s nursery for an event and someone else was wearing another of the t-shirts, so that one went back. So, of the 4 I bought, I took 2 back. The other one I kept was a vest top which I put on the other day and noticed it has gone bobbly. So, a big question hovers in my mind, are we really saving money buying cheap clothes? I may well have to replace the vest top this year and probably the other one if I get tired of it not being quite right.

I’m just at the questioning stage of this element of my ethical fashion. I’m sure I do have things that were not expensive and have lasted. But I am also sure that I have a few things I splashed out for which give me joy every time I put them on.

So is it as simple as “you get what you pay for” or is it another question of finding the brands you trust whatever the price point?  I’m not ready to answer the question for myself but I do want to find out. I wonder if cost per wear is a reliable measure? I’m not sure I can answer that by myself but it would be interesting to test it. I’m mulling over an idea for an Instagram campaign, perhaps I will ask people to share their own experiences of cost per wear for items in their wardrobes. For now here are a couple of examples I found in my own wardrobe today.

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I don’t think I need to say which side is cheap and which is expensive! I’ve mentioned the brown bag before, I think I paid £100 for it 15years ago and probably used it 1,000 times …. 10p per wear, it’s leather so it looks better with age and can be cleaned. The red bag was less than £10, probably used it 10 times … £1 per wear and probably won’t use it again as the fake leather is coming off.

My beautiful red brogues are my pride and joy, paid £80 (reduced from £160), worn about 30 times so far .. £2.70 per wear and still feel like new, all leather and getting more comfortable with every wear. Cream wedges bought on impulse as I needed a pair for an event, £20 worn twice .. £10 per wear, rubber and plastic and not very comfortable.

So there it is, I’m not going to conclude, I’m going to leave the question hovering for you to mull over, think about your own wardrobes …. this one will rumble on I think.

#fashrev day 2: fashion brands

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Shopping for clothes on the high street frustrates me and there is a lot about fashion brands that make me feel uncomfortable but I need them to clothe my family. And as much as I love second hand and upcycling, I love fashion, I like to play with trends and I can’t always get what I want second hand. Love or hate the fashion industry, there would be a whole lot of people out of jobs if it wasn’t for these brands. Once again I find myself aligned with Fashion Revolution’s approach, encouraging us all to join the campaign to persuade brands to act more responsibly rather than boycotting them.

At present, even the high scorers are nowhere near where they need to be and when shopping, it’s a question of choosing the best of fairly bad bunch. But that choice is important because if enough of us make the right choice, it will lead to change. Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign asks everyone to wear a garment with the label showing, take a photo and post on social media #whomademyclothes and #brand (there is a list on their website). It’s a brilliant way to get the message out there and directly tell brands how we as consumers feel about ethics, tens of thousands of people have done it and the number is growing.

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In my earlier post entitled “Ethical Fashion: A Look at High Street Brands” I talked in detail about some of the organisations looking into policies that fashion brands have in place for protecting the environment and their workforce. Today, I want to give you some pointers on where to look if you want to check out the brands you use and what to look for if you are on their websites.

www.rankabrand.org

Rank a Brand is a huge comparison site, with over 1000 brands in it fashion section. It’s easy to use and makes clear statements about what they are looking for and why brands might not be reaching the standards expected. You can ask about brands not yet rated and even poke a brand to encourage them to take part. Their ratings come out fairly low in comparison to others but I think this because their criteria is so broad (more explanation on this in earlier post). The site also has information on how they rate brands and what questions they ask.

www.fashionrevolution.org

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I’ve previously used a report called Apparel Industry Trends 2015, produced by Baptist World Aid. This is an Australian organisation so many of the brands rated are not available in the UK, in fact the report has been renamed The Australian Fashion Report. However, Fashion Revolution, together with an organisation called Ethical Consumer have produced a similar report called the Transparency Index which rates 40 companies and includes some brands more familiar in the UK. Ethical Consumer have a very comprehensive website with their own rating tool, I’m going check it out for my next post on fashion brands.

Brand Websites

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These organisations are doing an amazing job, it’s a massive industry and entails long, complex supply chains, the brands that have co-operated and been rated are the tip of the iceberg. Also, there are many aspects to ethical fashion, some brands do better in one area than another. Brands with an average rating I call my grey area brands and I researched their websites to make a final judgement. What sets the high scorers apart for me is that they are showing commitment to improve. They have policies in place on environmental and labour standards and are communicating them to their customers. I can see from their websites and the research that they are setting targets and have monitoring in place to ensure standards are met throughout their supply chain. The lower rated brands did not even complete the questionnaire send to them for the Transparency Index.

To finish today, I’ve updated my own Brand Table, there has been some movement based on further research and I’ve added a couple of non-rated brands based on my own knowledge and research. I have to stress again that this is my opinion based on my principles and my personal moral code. I am not trying to tell people where they should shop and I’m not claiming that these brands are ethical. I would still favour using what I already have rather than buying new and sourcing second hand. But with busy lives there is also a time to be pragmatic, sometimes needs must. These are brands from my own wardrobe and it is a score relative to what is available, if I can find a better alternative, I will. You make your own judgement.

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second hand and local shops rule ok!

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I wanted to share my latest charity and local shopping triumph with you. The jacket is C&A .. what can I say? I’m a 70s child, that alone and I had to buy it. It was a bonus that it was a gorgeous long, suede waistcoat. I love a waistcoat, great for hiding the extra curves my 3 kids have left me with! And you don’t see many long length ones, so I snapped it up .. £10. I did try to negotiate but as I’ve said before, charity shops know their market better than ever and the value of things. And why not? It’s in great condition, it’s the real deal and I’m sure I’ll get £10 worth of wear out of it. It came with a beautiful soft belt, which I’ve taken off and worn with other pieces.

The jewelry was bargain of bargains! I was looking for an 18th birthday present for a very dear friend, I’ve known all her life. I had spotted a bracelet in a jewellers but her mum had also said she was into stationary and I saw a gorgeous and clever journal (the lines are the words of the novel in tiny text!). The two together were over my budget! I thought I’d check out the Arbery Emporium, a shop that sells upcycled furniture and pre-loved items where I often go for a browse for presents and gift inspiration. I spotted a few pieces of lovely jewelry and a very pretty box.

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One of the pieces was a gorgeously pretty gold charm bracelet, a fraction of the price of the new one at the jewellers and way more unique. AND enough money left for the journal aswell!! I made a little satin cushion for the box, the bracelet looked a treat. I think perhaps some people would think it’s weird to give second hand for a present but to me the fact that it is second hand and has a story already is what makes it totally unique and special … hey, I’m living the dream and taking a few friends with me, I’m sure Lauren gets it;

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This one was for me, I wore it to her party with my Lauren dress, to be posted soon. Where else would you get that amount of detail for less than £10?!

ethical fashion: a look at high street brands

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For some years now I have felt uncomfortable about shopping on the high street. As someone who makes clothes, the prices seem too low to make any sense for the time and materials involved. There has been disturbing media coverage about some brands and their lack of protection of their workers. And I suffer from ezcema, I know first hand the damaging effects of chemicals and wonder about what they are doing to our environment. There are brands marketed as ethical brands but they tend to be smaller, with a smaller product range and cannot cater alone for my needs. And there are high street brands I like and I want to use, the high street suits my budget and I don’t believe that a high price point equals better ethics. So I want to become more brand-savvy, find out which brands take ethics seriously and be more informed when using the high street.

An important thing to say is that this is my opinion, based on my principles and my personal moral code. I am not trying to tell people where they should shop, I am going to tell you were I feel comfortable shopping and you can make you own judgement from there. This has been a rollercoaster of a post to write as it’s such a complex area but I feel strongly that we should know more about all this so I’ve stuck with it.

Ethical Fashion: What are we so worried about? 

There are many, many aspects to ethical and sustainable fashion relating to the protection of the environment and of people and there are many aspects to the protection offered by companies. These are a couple of well-rounded and straightforward definitions worth keeping in mind as you read.

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Fashion Industry Supply Chains 

The thing that is challenging about seeking an ethical buying approach in the fashion industry is that in many cases from design to purchase is a enormously long supply chain and ensuring all levels are protected relies on a lot of people spread across long distances. For a t-shirt sold in the UK, the cotton may be grown in Uzbekistan, sent to textile mills in India to be spun and woven into fabric, then sent to Bangladesh to be cut, sewn and finished. Cotton is a pesticide intensive and water thirsty crop, imagine the carbon footprint of that journey and the number of people involved at each stage. So imagine also my joy when I discovered there are one or two organisations who are many steps ahead of me and have already compiled data and reports on many brands using a simple grading system .. ah but nothing in life is ever simple, is it (are you feeling the rollercoaster yet?)

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Baptist World Aid (www.baptistworldaid.org.au) is a not-for-profit organisation committed to empowering the world’s poor to lift themselves out of poverty. Using a grading system developed by Free2Work they compiled a report entitled Apparel Industry Trends 2015: The Truth Behind The Barcode focusing on the state of the industry’s protection of people, workers and communities. The report asks brands a series of questions in 4 areas. 

  1. Policies to address exploitation, child labour & forced labour in their supply chains. 
  2. Understanding of its supply chain & how transparent it is to their customers.
  3. Adequacy of monitoring & training programmes to address & prevent exploitation.
  4. Support worker well-being, ensure route to claim rights & earn a living wage.

The report is very in depth and looks at the Australian market but it includes a number of international brands such as Nike and Levi’s. From analysis of the questions, brands are given an overall grade ABCDF (no E??). Grades A and B are given a green thumbs by the organisation, C is a yellow partial pass and D and F are both red thumbs down.

Rank a Brand (www.rankabrand.org) is based in Amsterdam and is Europe’s largest brand comparison site looking at a number of industry sectors including fashion. Volunteers search brands websites to find the answers to a set of 16 questions targeted to judge a company’s policies towards labour conditions, environmental practices and climate change initiatives. It has over 1000 brands in its fashion, clothing and shoes section; you can ask about a brands not yet rated and even poke a brand you want to encourage to take part. The website ranks brands with grades ABCDE and gives the following definitions to those grades.

  • A = Top brand: Buy! Companies have positively answered 75-100% of questions.
  • B = Well on the way! 55-75%
  • C = Reasonable: Could be better! 35-55%
  • D = First milestones: Should be better! 15-35%
  • E = Don’t buy! These brands positively answered less than 15% of questions.

So where do I stand on all of this?

It’s no simple task to decide where I stand on all of this, I have poured over these comparisons, run round in circles with the various criteria and my head hurts trying to reach some sort of conclusion. This is a huge industry and there are millions of brands and I’ve surprised myself how many of them I use, particularly when I take into account the childrens’ clothes as well. There are holding companies whose names we are not familiar with so it’s not always straightforward to judge. And not every brand has been rated. For example, our dear Clarks where I often buy the school shoes is given an E by Rank a Brand but how do I know Start Rite is any better as it’s not rated?

Rank a Brands questions do not seem especially onerous, it’s pretty shocking to think that those brands scoring E by Rank a Brand have only managed to positively answer 2 or 3 of the 16 questions, those scoring a D between 3 and 5. However, there are only 2 brands that Rank a Brand have given an A and brands I know to be progressive in ethics such as People Tree have achieved a B. My interpretation on this is that because Rank a Brand are looking at the environmental aspect of ethics as well as the protection of people, the criteria is broad rather than deep and companies may not be able to wholly satisfy questions, though they may be taking steps to address the issues. Therefore, their rating comes out lower compared to Baptist World Aid, who focus on people so that their questions are able to delve a little deeper into the complex issues around employment.

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I’m concerned about both the environment and the people who make my clothes so my first instinct is to say I will not use brands that Rank a Brand have given a D or E but Nike were given a green B by Baptist World Aid and when I look at their website it seems they are making a big commitment to environmental sustainability. And Levi’s are also a D brand, given a green B+ by Baptist World Aid so at least they are making a commitment to ethics, where many jeans brands are not even featured. It is all relative as there are many, many brands not featured and surely taking part in the research counts for something.

This is a hugely complex area so forgive yourselves, my friends on Facebook, who apologised for seeming lazy, few of us have time to navigate all of this. I’ll forgive myself too for taking a whole week to write this post and for not being able to come up with a simple list of trusted brands. It’s been a tough week, but it tells me I need to keep going, reminds me that this is the start of a journey and I can make lots of small changes rather than one big one. I was getting overwhelmed trying to predict which brands you might use, pick out the ones I use and then noticing more as I dressed the kids and myself this morning. I was also trying to come up with a blanket statement such as “I will only use A brands” but then I realised that H&M (one of my staples) has a C from Rank a Brand but an A- from Baptist World Aid so much of this has to be judged on a brand by brand basis. So this is what I’ve done, I’ve routed through my own wardrobe and photographed a label of some of the brands I use, then I’ve made my own judgement using the grades above and my own knowledge. Here are my thoughts;

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ethical shopping in London – charity shops & oxford street

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I’ve been promising myself a trip to London since I wrote my Happy New Year post and invited culture to my 2016 party. An article featuring the ten best charity shops in London and the need for a haircut (my hairdresser recently moved from Oxford to London) was the incentive I needed. Why has it taken me until March? Honestly, it’s become a bit of a thing after the Paris attacks, I’ve been nervous about visiting London. I’ve been off yoga for a few weeks because of a back problem but I went to a lovely twilight session on Friday. As well as the hilarious frequent use of the word “buttock”, my lovely teacher ended with a fab relaxation and we were asked to chose a mantra to chant in our heads. I chose “I’m living, I’m safe!”, it relaxed my worries and I was on the trainmetro-821812_1920.

 

So my plan for the day, following a haircut with the lovely Charles at Electric in Marylebone, I chose 3 stores from the article located around that area. Given the size and population of London on a Saturday, I thought 3 might be enough and I also wanted to check out Livia Firth’s spring collection for M&S, Made With Integrity and have a drool over some new trainers at Niketown to kick off my brand research. So, what to wear? I can be a bit braver with my outfit for the city than I would at home and of course, second hand rules!

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Next, I decided to throw myself to the other end of the commercial shopping spectrum. I’m after a new pair of trainers. Shoes are one item of my wardrobe I’m not so keen on buying second hand so I tend to take the approach that I buy new but I don’t buy very many, I keep them forever providing they fit and are street-worthy. The trainers I have are my old running shoes that I now wear for fashion, they are a bit wrecked and are not waterproof. I’d like a pair of Nike but where is the brand on ethics?  So, I thought this would be a good place to start my brand research. I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by this part of my research and couldn’t figure out how to tackle it, it’s a big industry and I currently use a number of brands, where do I start? On the train, I had read a report downloaded from the Free2Work website (Apparel Industry Trends 2015, The Truth Behind the Barcode). The report looks at companies policies towards workers throughout their supply chain and grades them on various aspects of employment. It’s produced by Baptist World Aid Australia so looks at the Australian market but it does feature Nike and contains good information on what aspects to look for and what brands should be doing. I considered it a positive that Nike were willing to be part of the research and they gained an overall grade B. I didn’t buy the trainers, I have more research to do but I had a wander through the store and picked out my favourite styles. It wouldn’t be like me to buy on the first visit anyway, I’m not an impulsive shopper but I do like to touch and feel the product before I buy so it was a worthwhile visit if I end up ordering online. I’ll share further research soon and hopefully make a decision before my existing pair fall to bits!

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I stood watching these crowds for ages. I’ve seen them before lots of times, I lived here for 10years and one of the things I love about London is the chaos and craziness. But as I look more deeply into ethical fashion, I’m seeing them through different eyes. It’s Oxford Street, it’s shopping, heads down searching out the bargains, loaded with bags, spend, spend, spend. It’s mostly new clothes, the charity shops were not so busy! All I could think was “I’m looking at the next pile of landfill” when everyone gets their new purchases home and discards the old ones. Austerity doesn’t seem to be driving people to buy less, it’s just driving them to pay less. And manufacturers will keep producing, squeezing the supply chain as we keep our heads down, oblivious of what is really happening.

I made it through the crowds to M&S at Marble Arch to check out the new spring range Made With Integrity by Livia Firth. At first I couldn’t find it, then I asked a shop assistant and she couldn’t find it …. eventually we found it rather pushed into a corner, behind a large pillar. On Saturday, I was rather disappointed that the range wasn’t given a higher profile in store but after some research and further reflection, at least M&S are making a commitment to ethical fashion. I thought, I’ll hold fire on my criticism until I’ve researched further, the subject of a future post. The range? Great quality, good colours for smart workwear … beautiful leather bags but sadly out of my price range at £150 …. buy quality and have a bag for life though? Where does that feature on price per wear? I do have a bag I bought about 15years ago for £100 and I’ve probably used it 1000 times, price per wear 10p!

I coBarnardo's_Logouldn’t find this one, as I trudged up and down George Street in Marylebone. By this time, it was pouring with rain, my paper bag got wet and broke, spilling my clothes over the pavement and I was still trying to find the shop at 5.55pm … such is the dedication of a second hand shopper. You need a kind of tenacious spirit for second hand because it can be hit and miss, some days you find nothing and some days you find real treasure .. but that’s what makes it so special. The belief that the next shop is at the foot of the rainbow and has gold just for you.

 

So my day was at and end and so was my energy, and those boots? Were NOT made for walking but I love these city streets and it was magic to be back. London Charity shops to a second hand junky are like Bond Street to brand seekers. I’d let a few items go that I might regret but I’ve wetted my appetite for more trips to London. Didn’t make it to Vogue 100 this time, but will plan a trip for April. I hobbled back to Paddington to find I had missed my train!

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New Years Resolution number 4, Culture … thank you for coming to my party, I’m afraid I’m going home with the party bag!