I have always looked at the ethical impact of my business and when first starting out ten years ago I made lots of calls to our suppliers to check where the fabrics came from, did they have a good relationship with the factories, do they go out and check them themselves etc. The ones who couldn't or wouldn't answer properly, we didn't buy from. It was simple.
Ten years later we are still in the same situation of it being hard to find ethical, environmentally responsible fabrics. The gingham collection taught me how the fashion industry is the 2nd most harmful industry to the planet after oil and how bad cotton really can be.
At the same time the UN has issued the latest IPCC climate change report basically saying times up, get responsible or get ready for the fallout.
If only laws were passed to make everything fair trade and respectful of the environment and communities in each area. Life would be pretty great for everyone around the world. But instead each of us needs to do our bit and ask questions.
Thankfully within the European Union countries have worked together to create good manufacturing and labour laws to protect the environment and workers rights. India has just bought in minimum wage and have some wonderful ways of producing textiles weaving in homes. I must visit.
Problems come in mass produced textiles that are being turned into clothing straight away and third or fourth party suppliers trying to cut costs and corners. There was another documentary called Undercover: Britains Cheap Clothes on Channel 4 covering UK produced textiles with factories taking a contract and then outsourcing overflow work to factories with no fire regs, minimum wages etc.
Journalists exposing these problems is wonderful as its not just about criticizing its about unearthing a problem so change can be made for the better. Making them and us aware of what manufacturing problems can arise is a help.
Plastic Free Wells has helped me look at what I'm using and how I get stop using single use plastics.
Plastic kibbles are being swapped for ribbons and the left over kibbles are being sent back to the company who made them.
This has now been completed Nov 2018
Plastic packaging we use biodegradable mailing bags but now I know that just means in breaks down into little plastic bits. Instead we're going to use paper and paper tape. Where we can use recycled paper we will and this can go straight into the recycling or compost.
The packaging inside is still our card box which can be used to store things in after and tissue paper. In the boutique, dresses are sent out in their dress bags to be stored forever and our paper carrier bags.
The remaining stock of 'biodegradable' bags have been sent back to the supplier.
Completed Nov 2018
Plastic dress covers we still use plastic dress covers to keep dresses safe and clean whilst working on them and to store vintage pieces. I have had the same roll for the last 5 years and we reuse each bag. We shouldn't ever need to buy anymore and they are also recyclable in the plastic carrier bag box at Tesco's when they get really worn out.
Polyester and synthetic fabrics - some fabrics we use are synthetic, they won't degrade but nor do I want them to when it comes to the dress which should last forever.
What we do with the waste from all our fabrics is now really important.
Waste - Everything, and I mean everything is used. All surplus fabrics gets used for accessories. Then the waste from this along with threads is used for stuffings. My goal for the entire shop and studio is to have no more than 1 bin liner of rubbish per week.
Nearly zero waste. This will just contain zip ends, snapped needles and fluff, some food packaging from lunch etc.
Recycling - we recycle fabrics and vintage fabrics often. We also sell vintage dresses and accessories which is a great way of getting fabulous style with zero effect on the environment. We recycle packaging that is sent to us where we can, compost tea bags and recycle our glass and plastics.
Having worked for Bristol Textile Recyclers and St Peters Hospice Shops many years ago it's great knowing exactly what happens to clothes if you drop them off at a charity shop or clothing bin. Its all very good and little goes to land fill. So donate don't ditch your old clothes.
I need to get letter writing as it's time to check again with my suppliers exactly what the factories are doing to ensure the environment isn't damaged, that communities aren't impacted negatively and workers have good and safe working conditions. The Fashions Dirty Secrets doc really concerned me about cotton and dyes.
Completed Nov 2018 see manufacturer responses below.
I have my fabric stash that I am working my way through and am aiming to not buy any new fabric bar the odd bit of lining until I have used what I have.
The silks are all from James Hare silks, Beckford Silks and Bennett Silks who are all above board. Ribbons are Berisfords produced in the UK. Threads are Gutermann produced in Germany.
The glitter fabric is produced in the UK and that glitter stays put to that fabric just how it should, not in the water courses.
I also use a lots of vintage fabrics and curtains so they get the green light.
Its just those pesky synthetics, sequins and shiny, floaty lovely things that I now really need to check as they are all made from chemicals, hopefully in a safe way.
The debate over natural fibres wool, silk, leather, fur etc vs synthetics is a very long and deep one with many sides. Each fabric has its pros and cons, new fur is a definite no no unless you heard reindeer in the arctic.
I won't being buying any more fabric that hasn't been checked for source. And firstly I'm going to use what I have and waste nothing. Its quite exciting!
The product - The dresses and accessories themselves are designed to last centuries, I want to see them in the vintage shops and museums of the future! They are a real once or twice in a lifetime treat not just a fast fashion dress for Friday night. I know I am a micro small producer of just around 100 dresses per year but this also means I have the flexibility to make change. Being socially and environmentally responsible can still involve very pretty dresses!
Currently I am on a contract with British gas and have gas central heating in the shop along with electric. We don't own the building and its very very old so at the moment gas will have to stay. When it's time for a new contract I can switch the electric to ecotricity.
I am quite careful with energy where I can. Window lights are on timers, we have energy saving bulbs and running up and down the stairs keeps me warm enough to only put the heating on for customers on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the mornings during the winter. Wow this does sound frugal for such fancy dresses!
Transport - I commute to wells every day in my electric car. Its a Nissan Leaf and I love it to bits. The satisfaction of driving straight past petrol stations knowing I'm helping the planet and saving money makes me super happy still.
We just need some electric chargers in Wells that work!
Transparency - as you know you can ask me anything. Call me out if I'm not doing it right and show me ways of doing it better. If there is something I haven't covered ask me and I'll add it.
A Letter to my Suppliers
The letter I have sent to Litmans, James Hare Silks, Tia Knight Fabrics, Whitelodge Fabrics, Cheap Fabrics, Bennett Silks and Beckford Silks.
As a customer I have really enjoyed buying and working with the wonderful fabrics you supply. I recently watched 'Fashions Dirty Secrets' by Stacey Dooley on the BBC and am concerned about the fabrics I am using to produce our dresses. My customer have also expressed a concern and asked me to contact you.
I don't expect you to supply the names and addresses of the fabric mills but please could you reassure me and my customers that the fabrics you sell are produced responsibly. Please could you let me know:
1. that you are able to tell me if asked, the country or origin on each of the fabrics you supply and how they are produced.
2. if you visit the factories yourselves and/or have a good working relationships with those factories.
3. if there a clear environmental policies adhered to ie. no dumping of chemicals in water courses. Local communities aren't negatively affected.
4. that there are good and safe working conditions for workers in the factories.
I would be really grateful if you could respond to these questions and I look forward to purchasing more fabrics knowing that our fabric suppliers are responsible too.
James Hare - An excellent response, they know fully the origins, how silks are produced, factory visits and excellent working relationships that have spanned lifetimes. Factories use water recycling programs, employ local people also support up to university level education for families. Safe working conditions and minimum wage in India. James Hare as you would expect are a well established silk merchant and at the top when it comes to quality so it makes sense that everything has to be above board within their company.
Hillside Fabrics - Actually rang me up personally and were able to completely reassure me that the fabrics I purchase from them are manufactured in countries with high standards in regards to the environment and workplace welfare. ie. The EU for all our tulles and dress nets and Japan for our satin lining fabrics. Another brilliant fabric supplier!
Michael's Bridal Fabrics - came to see me and went through each fabric I order giving me source etc. Michael's stock a huge range and were incredibly helpful.
Beckford Silks - have a great relationship with their manufacturers in China and dye all the fabrics here in the UK at their dyeworks.
Bennett Silks - have a Reach certificate, close working relationships with the mills and check working conditions
Tia Knight - answered all my questions really clearly. All fabrics are made to UK standards, they have a close relationship with agents and mills and check thier ethics. Many fabrics are part of OEKO tex, EN -71 an TUV Reinland.
Cheap Fabrics - a really great response. They have worked with the same manufacturer since starting their business who are responsible towards the environment and workers are part of a union ensuring fair pay and employment.
Whitelodge Fabrics - buy via an agent. We may not purchase much from here.
Litmans - have audited all the mills they work with, signed up to the ETI base code and are confident that they are all committed to producing sustainable fashion.
My suppliers are fabulous, obviously!
What we can all do
with the clothing we buy to help the environment and workers.
The great thing about asking the questions to my suppliers and us all asking the questions to wherever we buy from is that most companies want to do the right thing because its good for business. They are always happy to answer questions and be helpful.
I think the fear can sometimes be with us as we don't want to give up our beloved products if we find they are being bad for the environment. I was really nervous that they I would discover tulle was the most toxic thing on the planet! Thankfully its not, especially being used for dresses.
We need to buy less, save up, pay more, make the most of it and don't throw it out to waste. Give it to a charity shop where it can be sold, or sold as rag. The rag then gets sorted and is sold to businesses in Africa and Pakistan where it is traded at markets and worn again. The real rag is shredded for wiper and filler. Read more about textile recycling here at Bristol Textile Recyclers.
There are amazing things in charity shops. But this is where the charity shops need to sell more and not over charge for things you can get cheaper in primark. When you only have £5 of course it feels good to get a new pair of earrings and a top for your night out. But wear them again and again and then take them to the charity shop. A primark top will last just as long as a designer one.
Please feel free to use my template letter and email your favourite companies to simply ask them the questions. They really won't mind you asking and in a positive way we can make a change and help companies make better choices for us all.
REACH is a regulation of the European Union, adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. It also promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances in order to reduce the number of tests on animals.
In principle, REACH applies to all chemical substances; not only those used in industrial processes but also in our day-to-day lives, for example in cleaning products, paints as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture and electrical appliances. Therefore, the regulation has an impact on most companies across the EU.
REACH places the burden of proof on companies. To comply with the regulation, companies must identify and manage the risks linked to the substances they manufacture and market in the EU. They have to demonstrate to ECHA how the substance can be safely used, and they must communicate the risk management measures to the users.
If the risks cannot be managed, authorities can restrict the use of substances in different ways. In the long run, the most hazardous substances should be substituted with less dangerous ones.
REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. It entered into force on 1 June 2007.
How does REACH work?
REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances.
Companies need to register their substances and to do this they need to work together with other companies who are registering the same substance.
ECHA receives and evaluates individual registrations for their compliance, and the EU Member States evaluate selected substances to clarify initial concerns for human health or for the environment. Authorities and ECHA's scientific committees assess whether the risks of substances can be managed.
Authorities can ban hazardous substances if their risks are unmanageable. They can also decide to restrict a use or make it subject to a prior authorisation.
REACH's effect on companies
REACH impacts on a wide range of companies across many sectors, even those who may not think of themselves as being involved with chemicals.
In general, under REACH you may have one of these roles:
Manufacturer: If you make chemicals, either to use yourself or to supply to other people (even if it is for export), then you will probably have some important responsibilities under REACH.
Importer: If you buy anything from outside the EU/EEA, you are likely to have some responsibilities under REACH. It may be individual chemicals, mixtures for onwards sale or finished products, like clothes, furniture or plastic goods.
Downstream users: Most companies use chemicals, sometimes even without realising it, therefore you need to check your obligations if you handle any chemicals in your industrial or professional activity. You might have some responsibilities under REACH.
Companies established outside the EU: If you are a company established outside the EU, you are not bound by the obligations of REACH, even if you export their products into the customs territory of the European Union. The responsibility for fulfilling the requirements of REACH, such as pre-registration or registration lies with the importers established in the European Union, or with the only representative of a non-EU manufacturer established in the European Union.