It seems that it has become fashionable for designers to produce items over the last year or so that can help the enviroment, or that has some sort of slogan on it regarding ethics. This in turn has trickled down into the usual channels and we now see places like Topshop, New Look and Primark selling similar items. Whilst there is the obvious upside of this (erm…the planet doesn’t die?), it can sometimes feel like people will be buying these products as a way of saying they do something, but the reality may be different.
A good example of this is the Anya Hindmarsh “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” sale last April. Normally, a similar sized canvas bag will currently cost you over Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£250, so the excitement of being able to purchase this bag for Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£5 was great. People were queuing outside Sainsburys (the sole retailer in this country) for hours waiting for their chance to purchase a cut price designer bag. In the weeks before the bag went on sale, various celebrities were seen carrying this bag, which added to the hype.
20,000 bags were made, and sold out within an hour. I had considered waiting myself for the chance to buy one of these bags (as Sainsburys is just a 5 minute walk from my old house) but I had work to get to and couldn’t be late.
The bag was designed for people to put their shopping in, and to (rather obviously) not use a carrier bag. Instead, there were reports of people asking for carrier bags to put this bag into so it didn’t get dirty.
An article that popped up on my feed reader last week made me think about this issue a little more – fashionista.com reported about Forever 21 (which seems to be similar to Primark) producing t-shirts asking about carbon footprints when the footprint of that very t-shirt was probably quite ridiculous. As the article says, “carbon footprints aren’t trendy” (although did we even consider them 2 years ago?)
A brand that are more ethical (and quite lovely I think!) is Howies. Based in Cardigan Bay (about 40 miles south of Aberystwyth where I went to Uni) their company ethos is to produce their items with “as low an environmental impact as possible, using organic products when they can but refusing to label themselves fair trade until they can be convinced of a trusted set of guidelines to follow.”
Even when sourcing shop fittings for their only store in London (why not one in Bristol?), they have tried to keep things local to their factory – Pembrokeshire oak in the fittings, curtains from a wool mill in Carmarthenshire and the shop designers were from Tenby.
I quite like some of the items, although I am unlikely to buy things like their jeans (damn these 35″ legs!) and may have to go to one of the shops in Bristol that they have some items in this week. (Luckily my friend Ruffle adores their clothes, so it shouldn’t be hard to convince him to come shopping with me)
I guess my point is that being able to say that a product doesn’t harm the environment in its manufacturing is a Good Thing, but I dislike that point being used by the consumer to say they are “better” than you for buying this item. Its better to buy the clothes and not promote this fact to everyone.
(p.s. I really like these two t-shirts, and may have to order them later…)
Edit (30/05): I ended up buying the above Helvetica t-shirt, and also am very excited to hear that Howies will be opening a Bristol store soon. (Actually, in time for my birthday, but who’s counting with Cabot Circus also opening at the end of September?)