Be the change you want to see in the world - Gandhi

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nike: Making a Better World

I know its been awhile. I have been writing but for Future Threads Project. Alas I will share the posts between both blogs.

Before I even begin speaking to the wonders that are Nike, I will admit my undying loyalty and love for the global mega corporation that is Nike. Yes I am aware of the seeming hypocrisy surrounding a love for such a corporation whilst advocating fashion sustainability. We all know the adage nobody is perfect, which Nike is not. It is also not an excuse for bad behaviour but that’s what makes Nike brilliant. They accept their mistakes, take ownership and are learning from them to be leaders in innovation and sustainability. After having watched almost every video by or on Nike, having meticulously poured over all their CSR (corporate social responsibility) reports (yes there is a lot fluff but that’s to be expected) and read everything published by or about Nike I can say with any academic integrity I have that Nike is actually doing more than just spewing corporate green marketing bullshit. A lot more than most of their compatriots in the sustainability arena. They also have an amazing VP of sustainability, Hannah Jones to inspire corporate heads (it is worth You Tubing her).
So why the Nike love?
Obviously the shoes….but all seriousness aside. First, Nike made one of the largest contributions to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition Index, the biggest industry collaboration/initiative, by handing over their Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) to serve as the basis for the Higgs Index (a tool used by designers to assess environmental impacts of materials ie. cotton, polyester, wool etc…). They were also one of the first to openly share their supplier list, which is completely unheard of in the fashion world as this is normally a to the grave type secrecy amongst fashion brands. Now they have stepped up their game again by releasing a totally user-friendly environmental impact assessment app for designers, ”Maker”. It’s not the ”Maker” app itself that is so ingenious, it is that they actually made an app. Why is that ingenious? Go ahead, try to find a designer who is not glued to their Iphone. Putting the tool in their hands is brilliant because the biggest challenge with sustainability is making it easy and it doesn’t get any easier than that. It also takes note of current behaviours such as the general love and fascination in using apps for everything. Plus the app is free and available to all designers regardless of who you may work for. The app is also user-friendly enough for anybody who is interested in making informed choices as to the environmental impacts of their clothing consumptions. It essentially breaks down the environmental impacts of all materials based on greenhouse gas emittance, energy usage, chemicals usage, water usage and the physical waste in the production of said material, how well it can be recycled and an all-around score. The information may not all make sense at first but at least the information is out there for all and any awareness is a step in the right direction.
Normally I am not a corporate giant fan. I love local, I love authenticity and limited runs. Handmade, craftsmanship and the labour of love that goes into making things. Yes the collective mass of the small locals can afflict change but the corporate giants have the money and the power. While many don’t use this for the good, Nike is trying and sharing. Sharing is caring…..?
But don’t take my slightly biased opinion ;) download and take a look for yourself. You don’t have to love ‘em but maybe you will learn something new and maybe it will influence a future design or purchase. Go ahead….Just Do It.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Future Threads Project

Check out the post on Future Threads Project! Jersey Tales

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Detox Diet for Zara: Caving to Consumer Pressure

More than 700 Greenpeace activists in 18 countries took a stand against the world's largest fast fashion retailer, Zara. This has been a long time coming as Greenpeace's Detox campaign has been targeting the major players in the apparel industry to clean up their supply-chains. The committed line-up now includes Zara, H&M, Nike, Puma and M&S.

The commitment is to remove all hazardous chemical use from supply-chains by 2020. This includes perflourinated compounds (PFC's) which are hormone disrupters to aquatic and human life. Formaldehyde is quite common as are nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE's) which break down to alkylphenols (AP's). NPE's and AP's can impair fertility (endocrine (hormone) disrupter), are extremely toxic to aquatic life and they bioaccumulate which means you store more of the toxin in your fat than what your body can dispose of. The list of chemicals such as the above mentioned that are used in apparel products goes on and on and on. These are the top ones for elimination currently.

What makes this issue so difficult is that apparel brands are sell-outs. They do not own or make anything they design (if they even design in the first place, many just buy other brands clothing and do 100% rip-offs or as they politely refer to as 'samples'). They ship off the design to some supplier in Bangladesh where it may be sub-contracted to a completely different factory (that is not monitored by the apparel brand). This is all done to lower production costs and increase profit margins. Makes sense other than the blatant ethical issues that are so unusual for corporate juggernauts.

"We audit/monitor all suppliers we work with" is an all too common phrase dancing out of a beautiful PR woman's mouth. These are true words. Until you examine the underbelly. For example, H&M has 70 auditors, performed 1.23 audits/factory visits in 2011 for its 747 contracted suppliers. It's the same figures for all the big guns, Nike, Gap, Wal-mart etc. etc. Therefore it's not surprising when devastating fires or the dumping of industrial waste is discovered. How could one make sure a contracted factory/suppplier is following their precious code of conduct when audit rates are so very very low. The numbers are just absurd.

These suppliers are not motivated to clean up because they are being squeezed for every last cent by the big guys. I've worked in the industry and its embarrassing to be haggling with a vendor in Asia over half a cent on the production of  a pair underwear. We can afford to pay it but they cannot afford to lose the business. Guess who wins.

The great loophole with contracted work is that corporate juggernauts are not responsible for the pollution that ensues or its clean up. Brilliant, talk about externalizing all costs. These factories do not have the funds to rebuild infrastructure and implement new technologies to deal with toxic chemicals and waste. They can barely afford face masks for the guys who sandblast the jeans.

However, auditors are at least changing their ways. The hot topic these days in audit talk is capacity building. Building working relationships that promote safer, greener, cost saving technologies. Teaching not reprimanding. This is far better than what has typically been done but there needs to more help from the companies themselves as these suppliers/factories cannot afford green solutions.

There are good things happening but consumers need to do their part too. The problems factories face are caused by apparel brands maintaining artificially low clothing prices because well, we like cheap clothes. If these supply chains are going to get cleaned up and provide garment workers with living wages, we need to stop expecting cheap 'value' clothes. When a t-shirt is $9.95 at H&M or $19.95 at Zara, we as consumers need to think about whether that is the true cost of that t-shirt. To grow the cotton, ship the cotton, spin, wash, dye and knit the cotton. Make the pattern, cut out the material, sew the shirt, screen print the shirt. Pack up the shirt and ship it, unpack it and put it on a hanger.

I get it, it is very frustrating because the system is not set up for consumers to make the right decisions and there is very little product that we can feel good about or trust. Questioning everything, however, is the best we can do right now. Question retailers and brands actions and question our own actions. Do I really need/want this $9.95 t-shirt? Do I want to support someone who makes a $9.95 t-shirt?

These shots are from the Yangtze river in China, the textile dyeing district. Followed by the Greenpeace detox campaign.

A great video on the protest

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meaningful Consumption: H&M x Maison Martin Margiela

H&M x MMM launched over a week ago now and yes, I did brave the launch day shopping frenzy but in a more casual afternoon shop. I have a complete refusal to stand in line and fight over H&M [designer] garments as I am fearful of the assault capabilities of the overly studded accessories I see everywhere lately. Never mind the 'crazy' that happens when you have frenzied fashion shoppers fighting over limited stock. However, this time around I feel like the 'fashion hype' is starting to calm down as the only piece that was sold out by the time I got there were the oversized jeans. A few people I know had braved the line and the 10 minute shopping limit in the morning. They noted the crowd was unusually small for a designer launch.

This is perhaps due to the low key nature of MMM. I have never seen a brand so vehemently oppose any sort of publicity or advertising. Margiela is the faceless designer who has yet to be seen taking the obligatory designer bow at the end of a runway show. Interviews are conducted through fax and the Maison Margiela only speaks in 'we' terms. The brand carries itself in a very understated manner (until this H&M collection perhaps?). The clothes, however, are everything but understated.

I have to say, compared to previous collaborations, this collection is by far the best. The collection consisted of undiluted re-edition pieces from the archives and the quality beats out all other H&M collaborations. Sweaters and blazers were made from 100% wools and cashmere. The faux fishnets were a nice thick spandex that did not stretch out to a sheer unsightly distorted mess. Quite frankly, I have given up on H&M awhile ago as the quality is so low and the super synthetic nature of many of the garments (materials & finishes) fuels fears of spontaneous combustion.

In terms of promoting meaningful sustainable 'conscious' consumption this is H&M's best effort, which I feel was not their intention. While the collection was not made from environmentally-friendly materials, they were high quality, 100% fibres and not blends and I do not fear the typical unravelling of  H&M apparel within a few wears/washes. Not to mention the [un]wearable nature of MMM designs. A lil' bit awkward. a lil' bit odd. not just boundary pushing but out of bounds amazing. MMM is not for the faint-hearted. Which is what makes these pieces life-timers. You don't buy Margiela and throw it out. You keep it for a very long long time.

High quality, well made, well designed clothing is sustainable. There is so much more to sustainability than environmentally-friendly materials. There is more gray when it comes to sustainable/ethical clothing than black & white right now.

This collaboration was perhaps a true shot at fashion democratization. A chance [democratization] for anybody really to own a MMM piece and not some watered down knock-off version. So while some might question exactly what we've bought into, for once I actually felt okay buying into this.

Some of my favorites from the collection.

I couldn't resist and bought this extra large cashmere sweater in both the cream and navy. 

My friend Sarah convinced me to actually wear one of my new purchases and let her take my photo -  can you feel my awkwardness....
No more photos!! but look at those amazing sleeves.
If only Tyra could see me - smizing eyes best (worst)!!

My MMM blazer - keeping the tailor's stich in for the meantime

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

re [by] cyle your wool: Imogen Hedges

Meet the un-knitting machine. Imogen Hedges, a London based furniture-product designer, created this pedal-powered un-knitter to recycle unwanted knitwear. After a discovery that charity shops spend countless hours unraveling knitwear by hand, an idea was born. Imogen says "they can make more money out of selling the wool than they can from the sweater". 

This contraption is built around an old bicycle, has a seat and allows for wool and other continuous fibre yarns to be un-spun  along the circumference of a wheel. The yarn passes through the steam of an electric kettle to remove kinks and winds up on a hand-cranked spindle. Clever. Ugly sweaters no more, a quick stint on the un-knitter yields balls of yarn ready for re-knitting. 

This machine does so much more than just unravel yarn. It restores a sense of value and meaning to consumer products by reconnecting the mode of production with the individual. It promotes the type of behaviour change needed to develop more sustainable consumption practices.

Thank you Imogen Hedges. 

The un-knitter will be on display at the National Centre for Craft and Design in Lincolnshire on the roof gallery from November 10 to January 6.

"My grandmother spent a lot of time knitting sweaters but my mum threw them all away once we'd outgrown them because she did't think anyone would want them. With my machine you'd be able to take them apart and knit something new." Imogen Hedges.

Imogen Hedges from Rachel Mc Closkey on Vimeo.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September issues & fashion democracy

The September issues have been digested, the tour de force of fashion weeks have just ended, and everyone's favorite fashion season is in full swing. The September issue is the only magazine month that I allow for full indulgence, carrying thirty plus pounds of glossy pages home. This year's American Vogue, the reigning heavy-weight champion, came in at an impressive 4.5 pounds. 4.5 pounds and almost 900 pages of alluring fashion in one magazine alone. Now throw that into the mix with street style blogs, fashion week blogger specials plus online magazine content, it's almost, dare i say.....too much fashion.

There is not even a clear distinction between seasonal trends anymore, it has all become one continuous blur. This summer, while perusing through the resort and pre-fall collections, it occurred to me how commonplace these collections had become. It's like google and facebook, they seem like they've been around forever yet it actually hasn't been that long - not even a decade. There is no denying how important and how fast this industry has grown. Everybody's a fashion designer, everybody's a blogger or street style/fashion photographer etc, etc, etc... Never has the general population been so 'into' fashion as right now. Why? Good ol' democratization of fashion, brought to you buy cheap labour and economies of scale. 

Fashion democracy is a good thing, why shouldn't everybody enjoy the latest fashions. For ages, fashion was an expression and/or source of status and elitism. So, yeah us?!? Yes we finally have fashion freedom and now more than ever I can't help but feel that this is the last thing we have. Fashion isn't an expression anymore, it's a shackle to vacuous consumerism. With so much out there, you can't help but feel that if you are not participating.....well something must be wrong with you. Okay that may be a bit dramatic but hey that's fashion for you...dramatic. 

Yes there is truth in that the boundaries for what is fashionable and stylish are wide open. But you can't help but notice that slowly, everyone is starting to look the same. Globally. While they are slight nuances in what the Parisians are wearing vs. the Danish or the Japanese, everyone on street style blogs more less looks the same. So while I may wear a pair of flatforms in a totally different way from those around me, bottom line is they are being worn everywhere, by someone, in a different way. Fashion freedom? or fashion slave? When flatforms first appeared, I had to have a pair. Still love em' but low and behold, a new shoe trend has appeared and I am now desperately seeking the sharp toes slated for spring. 

Why do I want these shoes? I like them, but why do I like them? Because it's new? Because it's the next 'it' shoe? I find it hard to answer these questions because I definitely don't like all new trends. So where does this compulsion come from?

I ask these questions because I don't know how this industry is going to become sustainable with the level of consumption that is occurring. Fashion slave/fashion freedom, what will happen? I went on a fashion free challenge. It was a good exercise in self-discipline but it was actually really hard. It really made me wonder, can we stop consuming? Is fashion being so 'in fashion' going to peak and fade like the wedge?
In the bid to essentially one up all the time with a look that's all your own and street style blog worthy - there is a natural pull to consume. Never mind the 4.5 pounds of fashion Vogue throws at us every September. 

Tommy Ton for

Here is a shot by Tommy Ton at NYFW. I actually really love this look, she totally pulls it off. But how many times can one possibly wear a head to toe Bart Simpson print duo? What will be Bart's fate when she's done with it? It could be a hard sell at a thrift shop. This girl obviously has a great sense of style, and while original, is it a sustainable, you will be in my wardrobe for the next ten years, piece? I think designer's are actually the epitome of sustainability in a way. They have a distinct look and aren't really participating in consumerism the way their customers do, in the fashion arena. Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Jean-Paul Gaultier etc... don't change. Karl's been wearing the same ponytail and sunglasses for over 30 yrs. They do not bend to the whims of trends and stay true to their trusted classics. Just saying their name, you get a very clear picture. 

Now how's this for fashion democracy - the Balenciaga 'Galaxy' sweatshirt (which is sold out might I add) will set you back $3,150. While I love the shape - seriously, how can this sweatshirt be worth this much and how many times can one or will one really rock this look? It is just very specific to a particular season. Wait, maybe it's the 'shiny technical fabric' that it is made from. That's the description on the Balenciaga website under product details. Talk about fashion democracy - clearly you are not fashionable/street style worthy if you are not wearing the coveted sold out 'Galaxy' sweatshirt. Also, could you imagine paying that for a top only to see everyone else at fashion week wearing the same one! They've all worn it the same way too - skirts and clutches (mostly in hues of blues and fuscia). Yes, this 'it' outfit does feel very democratic, almost as democratic as US politics.

Now for the street style evidence collected from every imaginable street style blog. 

p.s. I am a fan of Balenciaga, I think Nicholas is amazing. This just reminds me of the Christopher Kane Gorilla t-shirt which retailed at almost $500 and lasted what - one season. Don't see too many of those kicking around on the fashion scene today. Where did they all go......

From the Balenciaga website  $3,150

Where'd you go?????

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Scarves & Social Responsibility: Nepali by TDM

After having spent quite a bit of time in Nepal last spring/summer, I can definitely attest to the need for women to become self-sufficient and gain some independence. To nurture these women's amazing weaving skill and provide opportunity for them to make an income that will support them and/or their children - a living wage. The nature of weaving allows these women the opportunity to work from home and make an income while caring for their families. 

Nepal is an impoverished country with unrelenting political instability that has left most of the country struggling to adapt to the chaos while trying to make some sort of living wage. The Maoist insurgency led to a mass flooding of people to Kathmandu, the loss of the Royal family and a country with no official constitution. 

Weaving and other textile crafts is a tradition and skill that has remained among Nepali women. Unfortunately, this scenario leaves these women open to labour abuse as the economy struggles to uplift itself. There is massive corruption and it is a 'rich get richer, poor get poorer' situation.  This is when companies from developed nations enter and typically take advantage of low low labour wages, lack of regulation and the desperation to do business with companies from developed nations. 

Supporting fair-trade and environmentally conscious crafts is one of the best things we can do as consumers. Vote with your dollar. While it is impossible for us to be 100% confident that what they say is what they do - it is better than the alternative - buying from the brands in the mall! The big, chain store brands pumping out millions of product a year at any social/environmental cost. 

Nepali by TDM provides access to education, healthcare  and above market compensation for their women weavers. They use azo-free dyes and natural fibers such as bamboo, wool, silk and cashmere. Everything is hand-made. 

While trekking and travelling throughout Nepal I went to visit as many fair-trade weaving co-operatives as I could. Even in the rural villages you get to see these women weave by hand on these long, thin looms. It's so amazing to see these scarves available to consumers in the West and know that these women are able to make a living wage from the fruits of their labour. Skill-development of the Nepali women is one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Here are some pictures of a fair-trade co-operative in Pokhara, Nepal.

My friend Kaitlyn buying a great wedding gift.