Sustainable, Ethical and Fair-Trade Fashion Brands Making a Difference

The latest fashion trend to hit the catwalk isn’t a seasonal colour or a must-have style, it’s the concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing and it’s actually not that new either. This has been happening quietly in the background for some time and is only just going mainstream. Many different brands have been focusing on combating various issues in the fashion industry. As I said in my last blog post, this will not happen overnight but as Safia Minney says if we all bought only one piece of ethical clothing, life’s all over the world would be transformed.

Finding fair trade and ethical companies is not always easy, which can sometimes be a deterrent in shifting your buying habits, but companies like Good On You and Buy Me Once are making it easier. The positive impact of spending time researching what you are buying can have on the environment and third world communities is absolutely worth it. There was a time when sustainable clothing would conjure up images of unflattering and suspiciously scratchy styles. Thankfully, there are now a wide number of fashion brands that are changing that perception.

In addition to its implications for the environment and ethical practices surrounding the production of garments, one of the major benefits to purchasing ethical, sustainable, and fair-trade clothing is that it is almost always of a higher quality. This means garments last longer, and when they do show signs of wear, companies encourage you to repair, rather than replacing it. Some businesses even recycle clothing. I send my old cashmere sweaters to a UK company who use the yarn to make new products.

One of the leading lights in ethical clothing is Safia Minney, with her company People Tree. A pioneer in sustainable fair-trade fashion, her story started in 1991. The core mission has stayed the same over the past three decades since award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney founded the company. Every product is made to the highest ethical and environmental standards from start to finish, yet the ranges are still contemporary, versatile, affordable and look great while respecting people and the planet. The fashion collections feature organic cotton, Lyocell and responsible wool and are made using traditional artisan skills such as hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery and hand block printing. Employment is created in rural areas where work is often scarce. All clothes are dyed using low impact dyes so are free from harmful azo chemicals which are frequently used in clothing manufacture. Natural materials are used where possible, avoiding plastic and toxic substances.

When Safia ordered a Tradicraft mail-order catalogue herself to buy fair-trade clothing, she realised how much power her money had when you shopped ethically. Like many people she felt that fair-trade shopping at times, conjured up images of macrame potholders and soapstone elephants. Recognising that: most people were happy to buy something that was fair-trade as long as it looked good, they don’t want shoddy goods.  If she was going to offer a lifeline to Third world artisans their products had to be saleable and that meant stylish. Whilst living in Japan, she published an organic directory, which evolved into a catalogue. Sourcing not just from other fair-trade organisations but actually dealing directly with the producers; weavers, dyers, jewellers and other craftspeople. By dealing directly, more money could go back into the community as there were no middle-men, like importers. Their first fashion range in 2006 met the Global Organic Textile Standard certified by the Soil Association and People Tree was also the first fashion company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label. These certifications guarantee their dedication and compliance to the principles of fair trade, covering fair wages, good working conditions, transparency, environmental best practices and gender equality. This UK brand sells everything you need for your wardrobe from tops and dresses to underwear, sleepwear and active-wear. 

Now, there is a distinction between ethical and fair-trade clothing. Fair-trade fashion must be certified, and specifically focuses on the compensation for workers and farmers associated with its production, while ethical fashion aims to reduce the negative impact on the environment. But I think that both are about sustainable clothing and about the money we spend been for the greater good.

The Patagonia clothing company is definitely setting the bar very high for other outdoor clothing manufacturers. Patagonia, allow you to re-cycle in store and provide guides for repairing and caring for other items. All of the cotton garments from this brand are certified organic by GOTS, so you know the entire manufacturing process follows organic guidelines. They’re also fair-trade certified. The clothes themselves are mostly comfortable, simple ever-day staples for men, women and children. Their website has a lot of great content and information.

Now, some very well-known names have started to join the movement for ethical and sustainable fashion. One of the biggest names in fashion is Ralph Lauren. This is a great example of a large brand making a simple change, yet it has the ability to make a significant impact on the environment because of its sales volume. The Earth Polo, also available in men’s and children’s variations, is made of recycled water bottles and uses dyes that don’t require water in the application process. Even though it’s just a shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren estimates that it will save the equivalent of 170 million plastic bottles from landfills by 2025.

One of my favourite designer companies is New York-based brand Theory. They have been committed to sustainability since the launch of its Good Initiative in 2017. Theory for Good spotlights the supply chain with the brand’s aim to make us, the customers, aware of where our clothing comes from and whose skills contribute to making our clothing. Originally focusing on wool sourced responsibly in Tasmania and South America and linen consciously crafted in Italy. The brand has now upped its sustainable credentials with Good Cotton, a newly launched capsule collection.

One of the UK’s most successful knitwear companies is Pringle.  For over two centuries this brand has embraced the traditional, the innovative and the unexpected. They have been using recycled fibres to creating limited- edition jumpers. This knitwear shows a commitment to the environment in more than one way as it featuring a graphic earth print and the word Re-Loved. No new raw materials were used in the production of the two jumpers made with 100% recycled fibres even the garment tags are recycled. Whilst not cheap, you can count on the brand’s knits to stay in style and the quality to last for years so consider these sweaters a long-term investment.

Now, these are all high- priced brands, but high-street brands and stores are still making changes. The fashion chain H&M has a Conscious collection, in which each item in the range has an aspect that lessens its environmental impact, like been made of organic cotton or recycled polyester. The prices start quite low so you don’t have to spend a fortune on sustainable fashion. I have bought items myself from this range and was impressed by the quality too. You can also recycle your unwanted clothing at H&M stores for a discount, even if it’s torn up and can’t be re-worn, the brand makes sure the clothes are used for something else and won’t end up in a landfill.

If you prefer to shop by mail-order, British brand- Boden is sustainable. The company, which was founded more than 25 years ago, is renowned for its clothing collections which are both ethical and expansive. Customers locally and abroad can shop for the whole family, as the brand offers expedited worldwide shipping options for its sustainable and affordable clothing for adults, children and babies. The clothes are shipped in recycled and recyclable packaging too.

We can try and make our wardrobes more planet-friendly in non-shopping ways by organising clothes swaps with friends, which could also be a fun way to spend an evening. There are also a number of high street initiatives that allow us to recycle our well-loved clothes when we no longer need them.

If we can direct our conscious spending towards clothing habits that make us feel and look good, without breaking the bank but also can contribute to others then we are all playing our part in the larger scheme of things. Remember as consumers you do have the power to change the way goods are made!

A Minimalist lifestyle- Good or Bad

I wrote about de-cluttering a short while ago, having worked in the past for a de-cluttering guru. When people talk about minimalism and having a minimalist lifestyle what springs to my mind, is a white room, with the minimum of furniture and only a few well-chosen pieces like a single flower in a simple vase or a lone plant. Like many, I viewed this movement, wrongly, as merely a design statement. Followers of this trend, say that it’s something deeply life -changing. You could define a minimalist as someone who chooses to be intentional with what they allow in their life. Most often, this refers to physical possessions but it can refer to people, tasks and even ideas. The purpose of a minimalist life appears to be about having more of what matters to you and less of what doesn’t. Well that sounds like a great idea but just how practical is it to achieve?

People get minimalism and de-cluttering confused a lot because they are often mentioned together, but they are not really the same thing. De-cluttering is a vital part of a minimalist lifestyle. Some minimalists, say you don’t need to have a clutter-free home, but personally I don’t agree. I can see that having a minimalism lifestyle is much more complex than simply getting rid of as many things as possible. When we de-clutter, unnecessary items are removed from a room. De-cluttering is an action which has been taken, it doesn’t have to involve any changes in our mindsets. Minimalism, then, is not just about getting rid of stuff, it’s a mental shift in the way that we think about things which could, in turn, impact the decision- making in all areas of our life. Over the past few years many have jumped on the minimalism bandwagon not truly understanding the deeper meaning.

The minimalist gospel is the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, the celebrity de-cluttering guru, which has sold more than ten million copies. Which views minimalism, as a focus on self-improvement. The KonMari Method is not just been about transforming your space.

 Once you have your house in order you will find that your whole life will change. You can feel more confident, you can become more successful, and you can have the energy and motivation to create the life you want. You will also have the courage to move on from the negative aspects of your life: you can recognise and finish a bad relationship; you can stop feeling anxious; you can finally lose weight.

 A lot of claims to make, but this book has sold in 30 countries with great reviews, so for many it works!

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known as the minimalists, help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books and podcasts. Rather than less is more, they write that been a minimalist is about more; more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment and more freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps make that room. Minimalists say that by keeping expenses low and purchases to a minimum it creates a life that is clear and streamlined. This could also lead you to the conclusion that not only is there too much stuff in your own home but too much stuff in the world. We are facing an epidemic of over-production, over- consumerism and over-spending. For some, minimalism offers psychological self-help to cope with the over-supply of modern times. For others it’s the need to contribute to more sustainability in society through changing their own consumer habits.

When researching, I found many contradictory statements about the movement, finding some in favour and some against minimalism.

The opposition states that the trend towards post-modern minimalism is primarily a phenomenon of our prosperity culture and can therefore only be understood by those who live with too much. You have to have been experiencing a highly consumed life in order to consciously decide in favour of rejecting this and accepting less. Simply put it’s a middle-class movement. Ever with the current world changes and shortages,most of us live in abundance. Never before in human history has there been such an abundance and variety of food and goods at our disposal. Should we only consume what we need. A large part of our consumption is based on the social pressures of having to have the latest model rather than the actual need to replace something. For several months, we have all had a decreased ability to consume as many businesses closed temporarily. We managed to survive this hardship with no ill-effects. Its too early to tell whether this is will impact our future spending habits. Will materialism matter less?

Minimalism is said to be life-changing, but there are downsides, especially if you are starting from a place of less. If you don’t have that much to begin with how can you justify getting rid of things. Minimalism says, Get rid of it! If you really need it, you can always buy a new one later. Here’s the dilemma, what do you do when you don’t have the income to do this? I think it is important to remember that minimalism comes in different forms, it isn’t own the least amount possible which is often how the message comes across but about valuing what you have and become more intentional with what you buy. You have to apply some common sense; minimalism for a single person will not look the same as for a family of four. Those in support of minimalism would argue that a clutter-free environment and home decreases stress and reduces the time spent maintaining your belongings. This benefits everyone, whatever your financial status may be.

So, it seems that minimalism is about living more simply, with less and to enjoy more of what you really value. Minimalism can impact our choices at home, in our careers and in the way that we choose to our life’s. It has been likened to a form of meditation with more opportunity for a clearer mind than someone whose space and mind are both over-cluttered in thoughts and things. Minimalism involves intention, enabling you to focus and achieve better mental clarity and determine your goals.

I don’t live a minimalism lifestyle, although I can see many aspects that would improve my life. Honestly assessing the value and meaning of things in your life and deciding what you love, sounds a very positive thing to do. Getting rid of the rest of my stuff, does seem a bit of a challenge to me. But then life is about taking challenges…… for more information.

De-Cluttering in The Home.

I have found myself with extra time on my hands and I thought I would use this time to have a bit of a sort out at home. I don’t have a great deal of storage space, most of my previous homes also lacked storage. Whilst I am by nature tidy, I do need to be quite organized, as I often work from home and despite my best effects do still have too much stuff. I set up The Holding Company in London, with Dawna Walters of The Life Laundry, where we sold useful storage and items to help you get organized, I still use many of these today. When clutter starts to gather in my home, I begin to feel stressed. When I have dealt with said clutter, I feel much calmer. The way we feel about our living space has a big impact on our state of mind, so I guess it’s no surprise that when our home feels cluttered and chaotic, we feel the same.

A place for everything and everything in its place, what a wonderful idea! More and more studies are showing that a clean, organized living space is an important factor in our wellbeing. Clearing clutter from our homes is an important step towards creating that clean, organized space. Now many of us don’t have huge amounts of spare time for decluttering and organising our family homes. But there some great books and websites, like Pinterest, with helpful tips that can really help you to make a start.

 If you’ve been putting off decluttering your home and your life, chances are there’s a lot of work to be done. Don’t let that pile of junk overwhelm you, start small and tackle it one bit at a time. Set yourself a daily task of one box or bag per day and if that still seems overwhelming, try setting a timer for 30 minutes and do whatever you can in that amount of time.

Clutter is anything that is no longer useful in your life, if you have any of the following it needs to go: broken items, worn out items, things that don’t fit, aren’t used, are no longer loved, aren’t played with or don’t suit your lifestyle anymore. The Four-Box Method is a great technique to use to declutter any space. Get four boxes: rubbish, give away, keep or relocate. Consider each item and place into one of the four boxes. Carefully storing the items you are keeping is vital so that clutter does not built up again. Lots of high street shops like Ikea have afforable storage systems.

Donate things that can be used, and feel good about sharing your items with others who might truly benefit. Sell items that have value and make some extra pocket-money, eBay or Vinted are low cost and easy to use. De-cluttering is different from tidying. When you tidy, things are put away, that are out of place. When de-cluttering you are removing things from your house and life. It’s a positive step that can be taken towards improving our well-being.

Before you begin the de-cluttering process, think about why this task is important to you? What is the end vision for your life and your home? What goals would you pursue if your clutter wasn’t blocking your way. The idea of living a simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff sounds attractive to many, myself included. The benefits of owning fewer possessions are: less to clean, less debt, less to organize, less stress, more money and energy for things you are passionate about.

Remember, clutter isn’t just about stuff. It can be the outward symptom of an internal struggle, stemming from grief, loss, fear, self-image or even depression. Many people who suffer from compulsive hoarding have built literal walls around themselves. They are comforted by being confined by all their stuff. We can have a lot of things that don’t make us feel happy, by holding onto clutter because of the guilt of letting it go. Stuff guilt is a big obstacle to living clutter- free. We feel guilty about getting rid of stuff; because of the cost, we don’t want to be wasteful or because someone gave it to us and we don’t want to be ungrateful. Sometimes it represents all the things we said we were going to do, then didn’t like starting a new hobby. As an artist and crafter, I often have unfinished projects, these can really weigh me down. Now I finish the project or get rid of it, why torture yourself with lots of things that are half-finished.

Growing up we might have been faced with times of hardship when we struggled. One of the reasons we become so attached to items is because of the idea of scarcity. My Grand-parents lived through the war-time period and they saved all kinds of items: paper, packaging, out- of- date foods, newspapers etc. All because they knew what it was like to have nothing. Similarly, if you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you might hold on to an item that identifies with a happier time. Or we may believe that holding on to items will somehow shield us from the pain of loss or grieving. But memories and stuff are not the same. This can be one of the most difficult things to work through when it comes to letting go of stuff. When we’re holding on to emotional baggage, it can literally become physical baggage we carry around with us. The reality is that at some point, it is no longer practical or healthy to hold on to things we don’t need simply because you’re trying to hold on to a memory. Don’t forget that you can take a picture of something you want to remember. How about a digital memory book? What about a creative way to deal with sentimental clutter and find a new use for an old thing? Upcycle or recycle your treasures into something you’ll use. (I will write a blog post about upcycling)

Whatever the reason for keeping it, hanging on to stuff causes a kind of guilt, the guilt that comes from feeling like our lives are cluttered and out of control. It causes you to feel totally overwhelmed physically and mentally, you can waste a lot of time looking for things, you can be too embarrassed to let visitors into your home, cleaning can take so much longer, so it doesn’t get done as well and important items get lost. It’s so much easier to function when you have a house that is well- ordered and free of clutter. It’s a happy, healthy space where you and your family can thrive.

There’s no doubt about it, once you deal with your clutter, you’ll feel more relaxed and in control. De-cluttering will also help relieve negative emotions such as guilt and embarrassment. Feelings that prevent you from living the life you want to live. De-cluttering will help relieve the stress and anxiety around those negative emotions, and help you move intentionally toward the life you want.  Any progress, big or small, is a great mood booster. The feeling of lightness you’ll get from removing the things in your life that are no longer serving you is wonderful. ( This can apply to people and habits)

Over-buying, is addictive, when we buy, we feel great at first then feel guilty, often hiding things in cupboards with the tags attached, it’s very tempting when spotting a bargain even when money’s really tight, many of us can’t stop shopping. Believe me, most of the stuff we buy is making us miserable. Try and get into the mindset of buying and having fewer things, but make them the best quality that you can afford. Who wants to fight through a wardrobe overflowing with clothes, that don’t fit, don’t flatter you and you don’t even like that much. Only buy what you love and wear it, don’t save it for best, enjoy it now, life is too short!

Books and media can be problematic. It feels lovely to have a book collection, but be honest, there is no reason to keep all those books we have read, unless they are first editions or heirlooms. Do you keep piles of old magazines? Instead just keep the recipes or articles you want and get rid of the magazines. These pages can be put in a file or scrapbook. Get rid of old planners and notebooks just take out the pages with the stuff you want to keep. If you have stacks of CDs you can trade these in and go digital. The same with photographs, store on your computer and back up to cloud.

If you work from home, once you’ve de-cluttered, and everything is in its place, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for so much more quickly and easily. And you’ll be less likely to lose things, how frustrating is it when you just can’t lay your hands on something. Distraction is one of the biggest obstacles to being productive, clutter is a visual form of distraction. It draws your attention away from what you really should be focusing on, impacting on your ability to make decisions and process information. Check through your supplies and see what you have unnecessary duplicates of, what is broken and what you don’t need. Been creative it’s hard for me to not look at everything as something I can use later. In my studio space, I try to only keep things that I have a specific use in mind. Donate to a craft centre instead where old supplies can be put to good use.

If you are temporarily working from home, putting everything you require in a box and get it out when you are working. This is far better than leaving your work stuff laying around as well as more productive.

Its always hard to let go of stuff that may have been important once, but why not let someone else benefit from what no longer serves your need. I am not a hoarder but I am also a long way off living a minimalism lifestyle. I think having things around you that you love and use is just fine as long as you can find everything when you need it. So if you put things away after using and have a home for everything all is good.

To quote -William Morris- Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.