Monday 19 July 2010

Ethical Fabrics

I wanted to buy a coconut today in the supermarket, it was 50p and it hit me that most likely someone wasn't getting a fair wage to pick them, otherwise it would have a fair trade stickers slapped all over it and the supermarket would be shouting about how wonderful they were!

Previously I didn't want to jump on the whole ethical band wagon by going on about using vintage fabrics and so on, as I felt is was becoming a bit of a gimmick. This weekend I changed my mind and realised that I should take a little more responsibility. Ethical clothing doesn't mean it has to look like dish cloths.

I have spent the last two days trying to source fair trade fabrics. I have specific fabrics that I like to use and really want these to be fair trade. I have found organic fair trade cottons everywhere which is great and I will use these from now on. Bishopston trading is the best and most transparent company.
The problem I came across was in the silk. I have been told by a few reputable fair trade fabric suppliers that fair trade silk does not exist yet as it is not on the list for the world fair trade organisation.

There is 'peace' silk which is produced using a specific silk worm which leaves the cocoon before the silk is harvested. This makes the silk vegetarian and is also known as tussah silk, wild silk, non violent silk or ahisma. My greatest concern is that the people producing the silk are fairly treated and paid a fair wage. Wish I could go to India and set up my own manufacturing but this isn't a possibility right now.

We are already using vintage fabrics. We also use UK produced tulle which is an essential for the prom dresses. To be as ethical as I can about the whole thing I need to get the silk as good as I can. Some companies have said they can supply the tussah silk, others have a 'great relationship with their Chinese factory but haven't been there to check' and others have just said 'we don't do ethical fabrics' 

The next issue is the price. Some peace silks are hugely expensive and as a small business I need to stick to a very tight budget. Then there is the dye, it is safe for the environment? So I can buy in the undyed silk and use Eco dyes to dye the fabric myself. This is fine.

Next is the thread. And the zips. If they are manufactured in the EU this is fine as we have good laws to protect workers in the EU. Thread should be organic cotton or polyester, recycled polyester if possible. Gutermann have signed up to environmental agreements and at the moment I think the polyester is the lesser of two evils. Non organic cotton is one of the most destructive industries.

We will be aiming for :
-using vintage fabrics and materials where ever we can
-using only fair trade cottons from now on and the most ethical silk I can get at the time
-hand dying my fabrics with Eco dyes instead of buying chemically dyed silks
-using gutermann or organic cotton threads
-buying materials produced in countries who fairly support workers

We can just try our best to be as ethical as possible. It won't be all fair trade and I'm not going to be screaming about our 'ethical' business, but I won't take products or fabrics for granted and will do my part.

I will also be banging on the door of suppliers to sell ethically produced silk. I can't believe it is so difficult to find, but like all fair trade items it up to the consumer to demand it.

 Here have been the most helpful websites:    Fashioning An Ethical Industry - helpful info  Eco silks, cottons and dyes   A fantastic company selling real fair trade fabrics   The world fair trade organisation