Where do our Clothes Come From?
Well this is a good question if you want to live ethically. There are three areas in this supply chain you should examine if you want to buy ethically. The first is what is the fabric and how it was made, the second how was it made and the third well, do we really need it? Once you understand all of these points only then you should buy your clothes and footwear if you want to be truly ethical.
Lets first start with the fabric. There is a lot of confusion out there as well as a lot of synthetics replacing any natural cloth. This means that buying a non petroleum product is getting harder. But even if you can avoid a synthetic you then have to think about the dyes on natural fabrics. These can be as bad as standard polyester, recalling a comment on a sale site on some cheap silk. Great colour, it read, but leave it out to air a week before you use it because it stinks was the jist of it. The dye no doubt, because there were a few other comments on the chemical smell as well on that page. And that is before we get to cotton, the most common natural fabric in the world. Non organic cotton causes massive land degradation, toxic water held in tailings dams and high pesticide use as well as massive mono-cultures to grow. If you have a choice really the best choice is hemp or an organic cotton. I honesty don't know why we don't transition from cotton to hemp for clothing. Hemp is more comfortable, hardier, easier to grow and many things can be made from the plant. It is not the smokeable variety, indeed smoking it would be lethal. It could replace cotton overnight if we took some initiative. This is not as Hippie as it sounds, you can get some quite nice clothes. Hemp silk is one for instance, and there is some nicely cut hemp clothing out there if you look. Wool (ethically grown with happy sheep) is also an option as is organic linen. Organic cotton is not so bad either, not having the pesticide count. Silk is well... Depends on how squeamish you are about silkworms boiled alive. If you are a Jaian you won't touch it, others will. Either way there are ethically grown varieties of this as well out there.
Now we're past the fabric to the second minefield, where is it made? Because if it is made in Bangladesh or China you can bet there is a sweatshop of workers in unfit conditions on below poverty wages are making it. This is still a labour intensive industry so they go overseas for lower operating costs and find them one way or another. The cheaper clothing chains have all been caught out in this and even higher end designer chains where it seems all of the difference ends up in the companies profits not the workers. This means that trying to find an ethical mainstream clothing chain is difficult to impossible. To put this into context a shirt takes a day to make by hand stitching, perhaps half that on a machine. Your two to five dollar shirt took that long, yet it is that cheap. Someone is paying the price, and it is someone massively underpaid earning cents an hour to do this work. As someone who has made my own clothes I say it is a reason not to buy from the cheap discount clothing chain stores. This is something we should all think about when we walk in and buy all of those cheap clothes. Perhaps the best way of doing it is to get things made for yourself where you know the quality and price or buy from an alternative ethical company. This can most likely be found online as can those commercial chain stores who actually act ethically more than on paper. Do your research and find out where you can buy if want to buy clothing ethically.
The third test here is of course do we really need it? This one we should think about. Is it something that the consumer economy does not want us to think about, or the fashion labels. Often what is bought is only worn once, or not worn and given away two years later. We need to be clothed, we need to be clothed to a standard according to our occupations. This means decent, proper clothing such as a professional suit or dress yes. Or a neat grooming standards of non-ripped jeans and T-shirt. But these are all items we overbuy for the look, season by season at very high prices sometimes, showing a complete waste. A good suit or shirt should last you at least a year, a good suit or professional dress a lot more. This means you do not constantly having to buy clothing. Buying what you need, buying for quality and keeping it for a while is the best policy here despite the spend, spend, spend message out there. You can also look at getting clothing made or altered for yourself. Buying second hand or vintage is another option, recycling good quality, vintage clothes instead of buying new. There are many options once we know we need it to buy so we only need, not want for fashion reasons and still dress to a standard needed. So overall, buying clothing is an ethical minefield but it can be done. Making them yourself is the best of course. But you could work to get your clothing made, or buying second hand. Quality and classic, timeless style means that you don't have to keep buying. Ethically grown natural fabrics are best. Silk, cotton, hemp, wool and linen. This way you can clothe yourself to the best standards expected buying ethically rather than continuing to buy through the consumerism and not thinking. It will reflect your lifestyle far bettEthical Soft furnishings and Haberdashery
When it comes to ethical soft furnishings we suffer from the same problems as our clothing and footwear. What is is it made out of, where did it come from and do we really need it? Like clothing and all all other textiles this is another minefield of three areas – What is is made out of, where did it come from and therefore and was it made ethically. And last but not least do we really need it and where to buy it from?
The cloth it is made out of is very much the same dilemma that anybody faces with clothing. First off polyesters and similar fabrics around today are made from oil. This is often compounded by the fact that the companies use toxic chemical dyes. But even non-organic cotton suffers the same problem with pesticides, bleaches and dyes often being toxic here too. If you wish to avoid this do your research and look for organic cottons, linens and maybe even organic bamboo and hemps coming out now in a wide variety of uses. This may sometimes be difficult and you will most like have to go online, but it is worth it.
Then comes who made it and where it was made. Like clothing there is a minefield out there. Many companies offshore to sweatshops in China and Bangladesh where people work in appalling conditions. For that reason it is best to avoid anything coming out of those countries because the reporting, especially by companies on their supply chains is unreliable at best. If you look around there are sites and organisations that keep track of this, look these up and start there. Or you could look at alternative retailers, often online who do everything in-house and onshore. Often these also use ethical cloths and dyes so this is a win/win on the sustainable as well. Do your research before you buy or start shopping and you will be able to make better choices. Use the non-company NGO sites though, the companies are well known for having the accountability standards that suit them.
As well as this we have the last test, and the really important one, do we need it? Soft furnishings, tablecloths, towels etc... are increasingly fashion items. This means that we can if we look at do we want it, do we want to be with the season we can end up replacing all of them in the house. Or if we buy things cheap then we end up going through them at a rate. Perhaps before we look around something we should think of is a style – a simple, enduring style that while not cutting edge, is us. This might be country style, antique style, or perhaps go daring and try a period like art Deco. If you do this you can then do you research, spend the time to find quality ethical items that will last you a long time and only have to buy the occasional replacement.
Last but not least once we've decided these three dilemmas where do we buy from if we want to be ethical? This once again is very hard to think about seeing that so many companies have slippery to no reporting on environmental and labour supply chain conditions. All I can say here really is avoid the main chains, large department stores and anything cheap that is not a second hand shop. Then look around online, do comparisons through the NGO and third party rating sites, look around. Often with some effort you will find smaller alternative retailers that will stock good quality goods that are ethical and will last you. Or you could look around the second hand shops and find some very good deals. It will be a bit of effort, it will take a while and not be as convenient. Most likely too you will have to pay more for the items from smaller, alternative retailers. But you will be able to keep them for longer, not buy them as often and end up with a net benefit at the end of the day financially as well as ethically. If we all do this as consumers we can change the world and company practises, even the very large ones and the chains because the cheap and cheerful exploitation model will no longer be viable.
Buying Furniture Ethically
We all have to buy furniture, we all have to use it. Which brings us to a challenge, how to buy ethically? How do we know we're not helping illegal loggers in the Amazon with our new timber table, or supporting the petroleum industry by buying that trendy new couch. This is something that ethical people have to face when buying furniture.
The first part is of course do we need it. Furniture is supposed to be a long term item and was at one stage handed down. Now we've got the cheap and cheerful stuff that is fashion and we change every ten years or so. This has changed in the name of consumerism and as time goes on this is more and more becoming a fashion with less and less utility thought about it – For instance White leather couches. These only work around no kids, no pets, housekeepers, no friends, no life. Anybody with a real life will end up with a grey couch in no time. This is especially true as couches once were basically wooden benches with cushions that could be removed to be washed, lovingly made and often quilted by the lady of the house with the couch made by the menfolk. Same as the table etc... Unless you were wealthy you had handed down and home made furniture, and even the wealthy did not change every five to ten years. This means we need to think about do we need it more here than in clothing and soft furnishings. Can your old furniture be recovered in new fabric? Can you sand down and repaint or varnish your old table? Can you re purpose an older piece rather than buy something for the purpose? If you can, do it. If you cannot and you need a new piece of furniture then look where you get it from and why.
First thing you should look at is the third party ecology and certification websites. These will tell you Wether you have Amazon timber in your table or rare crocodile leather in your couch. This will tell you the companies flouting the law, doing damage and nasty things. Sadly, this will most likely mean that most of the chain stores and brand names are out. So where do you go? Well, second hand shops are a good idea. This is recycling furniture and you can find some lovely pieces for not much. Sometimes you can be really creative and repair or change the look of things with varnishes and paint. If this is not for you then look up local companies using sustainable products, possibly look at custom making what you really need to suit your house for a lifetime. This can then work for you with small changes for fashion such as towel colours, tablecloth colours and a few cushions.
You could also be daring if you have capital and look at using antiques, old wares and being really original. This can be made very eclectic and timeless, choosing very solid pieces of furniture that will never date. Take the challenge, find your own style. You can be sustainable and original at the same time. You won't find this easy at many times. But it is worth it, looking around, doing your homework and buying ethically. Redoing old furniture, getting furniture custom made to last a lifetime, getting your own style will be your best bet. Look around, do your homework and buy ethically. You will be saving our planet.
Ethical Electrical Appliances
This is many ways far more of a minefield than the rest of the other areas of consumption. Not only do we have the ethics of how they are produced, but we have the ethics of how they are recycled, how the electricity they came from was produced and how much carbon emitting electricity does it use over its lifetime? And this is without adding in fashion in Electrical appliances, the toxic metals in some or the way that planned redundancy has us using more and more of the earth’s resources. Makes you want to go back to the Ice Box and kero lamps running on hemp oil, doesn’t it? But unfortunately we can't. We have to walk this minefield in a modern society, so the question goes to how do we do this? Well, we have to think, research, look at the companies, not buy on price or looks to begin with. Planned redundancy is a fact that we will have to live with but we can get the best basic appliance that will last the longest and be most easily recycled. This can go to fridges, computers or whatever else you use.
The first question as always is why are you buying it? Is the old one dead, not working or spiking your electricity bill sky high? If it isn't why are you replacing it? Can it be repaired instead of replaced? If you can repair or there is no real reason to buy another appliance don't do it. Then there is the considerations about appliances we don't have but may want for convenience. For instance, dishwashers and Air Conditioners. These two are very much not necessities in most circumstances. You can wear clothing to the seasons, use natural ventilation and wash dishes in a sink. Unless you regularly have twenty people over the dishwasher is just a luxury, especially as you have to half wash the dishes anyway beforehand. As for clothes dryers, one of the most power hungry appliances around, do you really need one? Or can you string some rope out and 'Solar Dry' your clothes?
This also goes for replacing appliances, are you replacing it for no reason? Every side of the road sale (Most call this the council clean up) in better off areas there are good, working appliances at the side of the road discarded for not being up to date enough. This could be a working television that didn't have the latest feature or a working stainless steel fridge with the mod cons being discarded because the kids scratched it with the magnets once too many a time. This is a disgrace and shows why we are using far too many resources. All of these things are so good and if we were not using these things as fashion items we could save the planet twenty times over I think. Same with computers, people don't use them till they’re no longer useful, they’re now discarded because they’re six months old and a new feature came out. Same with smart phones, tablets and any other number of things that we don't respect the real value of any more. The value in these things is not just the money but the time spent manufacturing it, the energy used in the process, the energy spent transporting it. These are all hidden costs disguised using cheap labour and supply chain contingencies. Rare earth mining causes great damage to the landscape as does getting all the other commodities that we use to make these things, which is another hidden cost. If you are ethical you should consider all of this and look at what you can do to ensure you have to buy, especially new, as little as possible. Reduce, reuse, recycle. And of course if it ain't broke don't fix it, or in this case don't buy a new one if the old one works perfectly well or it's an appliance you can do without.
The second then comes who and where? Obviously the second hand market is probably the best option for a lot of appliances that have become fashionable, recycling an appliance that may otherwise have been discarded and ensuring that another one does not have to be made just for you. It costs less as well which is to your advantage. This is especially true with electrical goods that have become fashion like smart phones, computers and tablets. See what you can get second hand, you will be surprised what turns up on the second hand market in classifieds, Op Shops and Second Hand Dealers. Many councils are making side of the road saleing (Council clean up picking off) Illegal which is sad because so many still working items end up on it. Someone I know got a fully working Plasma TV which was still over five hundred dollars in the shops. Computers, irons, lamps... People are wasteful and not allowing others to take advantage of this is not something I agree with. If it is legal in your area go ahead, you might just pick up what you need for fuel money.
If you have no option but to buy new though your next step is to research. Not just on the features of the item, but the durability, repairability and how bad the planned redundancy is. You may not get it perfect but you will get a lot better if you look. Then comes the star ratings, getting the best one you can. You may not be able to do this if you are balancing out repairability and planned redundancy but get the best balance you can for your budget. This might take a lot of research but it will be worth it if you want to buy ethically. You might also save money replacing it in the long term if you don't go cheap and cheerful and invest in the first place as well as saving on power bills etc... In researching if you want to be ethical look at the NGO's reports on supply chain and labour conditions around the company you're buying from. Don't believe their websites, many reputable exposes have proven that this is unreliable, look at third party sources. You may not be able to avoid buying something that is not squeaky clean, but you can avoid the worst of the worst.
The last consideration you might look at is how well does your appliance recycle? This is something you should look at for resource reuse. There is so much metal in tips you could probably mine them from old appliances, so don't add to it if you don't have to. Do your homework and find a recyclable appliance and if you can recycle the old one in the process. Some may not be recyclable, but you will find out what is when you try. It is worth doing.
In short, it takes a lot of work to buy electronics ethically. The first step of course is to buy only what you need, not what you want. If Johnny scratches up the fridge put a picture over it, or update your old computer instead of buying the latest model, or keep the old one if you don't need the new features. Don't get items such as air conditioners, clothes dryers and dishwashers unless you have a real, and I mean real need for it such as living in a climate where it climbs to fifty degrees seventy five percent of the year. Don't get them just as a want or labour saving device. Do what you can to reduce your need for extra appliances, don't buy on a whim because you must have the latest gadget. This is wasteful and unethical considering the damage this does in lifetime and supply chain logistics. And when you do buy first see if you can reuse someone else’s waste and buy second hand, or if you can't get the best ethical appliance or gadget you can. This will take homework but it worth it in the end knowing you have done your bit to end the unethical waste of how we consume electronic goods like they’re cheap fashion clothing. The planet, and your wallet will thank you for it.
Skincare and Haircare
This week we are not only looking at the ethics of skin and haircare, but introducing a focus on how you can cut down on what you buy through the month. This is a minefield due to many reasons, be that the animal testing in animals or the way the these things are packaged and marketed. Often the main ingredient is hope you can look like the airbrushed twenty year old in the photo, often meaning it is also a fraudulent ethical minefield of expensive hoaxes.
Leaving that and starting with the basics out these are all luxury goods. We don't need them to survive. We don't need one hundred dollar creams to live. That hundred dollars (A good eighty of which at least would be packaging and marketing) could go to feeding the poor, or doing something to help the refugee crisis in Syria. There are so many better uses for money than buying expensive creams. This is the first thing you need to think about. Do I need it or am I just buying expensive vain hope of looking like the girl in the ad? If that's all you're buying then think again and buy some real beauty by donating to a soup kitchen instead. Or better still, volunteer your time.
Then comes Animal testing. Some say it is necessary, others say it is not. Either way it is very cruel and often doesn’t give good results anyway. It is also representative of the fact that so many of these things are absolute chemical crap that are more likely to do more harm than good. On the sheer notion that Animal Testing is cruel and not working well anyway steer clear. Try and find simple products with organic ingredients and well... You will be far better off. Now we get to the other stuff, such as where is it produced and what is it made out of? As stated above many things are artificial. Even most likely that apple enzyme, sorry. It, like all the others is most likely a synthetic replication of the original due to the needs of mass production. These things are absolute chemical crap often enough, and a two dollar conditioner is the same as a ten dollar conditioner. This is true across the board, Wether that be creams, hair care or all those cosmetics. Price does not mean quality accept in the marketing team behind the ad campaign. Some Salon or dermatologists brands may have the real deal and be of a better quality, but they are the very expensive ones that are hard to get and available at Salons or spas only. These are few and far between though so don't fall for the other stuff that is sold everywhere else. It is just the same stuff better marketed.
At the end of the day then, what do you do? Well, the best idea is stick to the simple stuff. Simple creams, moisturisers, pure oils you blend yourself and simple soaps. There are many cheap ways of making your own or making the cheap ones better that you don't need the other stuff. What I'll be looking at over the next month or so in this space so look for it as I get into this. You'll be surprised at how simple some of these things are and how much you can save by not buying the expensive and completely unethical hopes....
Face Cleaners and Toners
These are things we use all the time, and are often made of nasty stuff we don't know with the main ingredient being marketing. I am guilty of using aftershave and not knowing what is in it half the time, the other half realising that this is freely available for a lot less without the marketing as the active ingredient. I always have peroxide handy for instance, mainly because I live in an area with ticks. But I got to thinking on this, what can I make at home? Taking the challenge I decided to start making my own.
There are some basic ingredients you can use if you want to play further. Whey, a by-product of cheese and yoghurt making can be used as an astringent by itself or in a mixed one. With the amount that comes out of cheese I always seem to have some available. Likewise, if you wish to use peroxide if you're like me you have a small bottle handy at all times for tick bites after removing them (Dab onto bite site to clean out and kill any remaining tick).
However, as an experiment I went and found some readily available ingredients to make your own aftershave/astringent splash and found some other uses for it besides (See supplement below). In all of this I would recommend Gin or Vodka, but you don't have to go expensive. Bottom Shelf is perfect for this kind of use, after all you're not drinking it. I bought the cheapest around in a full bottle (Cost not that much more than a half bottle) and I still have most of it so for around the cost of a cheap bottle of liquor you will get many, many uses out of it. And whey of course is free whenever you make cheese or yoghurt, which were the August recipes. Making cheese out of two litres of milk makes about a litre of whey so you will have plenty to play with. Other ingredients you could get include Witch Hazel, another toner without the harshness of alcohol. Or of course, as my grandmother used to do you could brew chamomile tea, let go cold and use as a cheap and environmentally friendly gentle cleanser or another ingredient for cleansers and toners. Look around and see what you can find.
Aftershave/Splash on Astringent
This is a very simple and quick job, perfect for recycling glass aftershave bottles to make your own in once they run out. For this I used cheap vodka but gin will also work for this. A good idea is to have the small metal funnel used with hip flasks for this as this will otherwise be a very messy process, especially with small bottle necks. I started used aftershave as a teenager for hereditary oily skin as a oil control, splashed on in the beginning of the day and it stuck. Not for everybody, but would not be without it now, especially in summer. Part of why I'm doing this – I tend to go through it.
This will make a very personal aftershave or astringent splash, how you scent it is up to you. I used old 100ml Imperial leather bottles so I used about 12-15 drops to scent this. One (lighter one) was Sandalwood, the other Amber (Yellowish) to see how both go. Your oils may seem expensive, but remember they last because you're not using a lot each time. Blend your own or use your favourite essential oil to whatever socially acceptable strength you wish. Make it as creative and personal as you are – part of the beauty of making your own.
- Essential/scented oils
- Hip flask funnel
- Storage Bottle
- Clean and sterilise bottle first with alcohol and then rinse with water.
- Fill the storage bottle to about halfway with your gin or vodka using the funnel. Add your oil or oil blend cap and shake to mix in.
- Pour in water shake and cap again.
This was something that was inspired by don't waste the crumbs use of whey to clean skin and hair. Here it's being made into something that you can keep in your bathroom in a bottle and use like a pre-made product. This is very easy and simple like the Aftershave/astringent splash above. In this case I used up the last of the commercial aftershave in one of my bottles to be used for above, so the preservative and scent was in one. You don't need a lot of alcohol is this one, just enough to stop it going off instantly.
- Scent (if desired).
- Bottle Funnel (optional)
- Sterilise your bottle with alcohol then rinse with water.
- Pour in whey, add scent and about a capful or less of the alcohol and shake to combine when capped.
- Add water and mix again.
Chamomile and Whey Toner
This was one that I thought off remembering my grandmothers use of cold Chamomile tea. It involves mixing the two, no extra scent with a small amount of alcohol to preserve it as both to off quickly. Use up pretty quickly anyway as neither store well, even with a small amount of preservative in it.
- Chamomile tea
- Alcohol or Gin
- Funnel (if needed)
- Rinse bottle with alcohol to sterilise and rinse out with water.
- Make Chamomile tea and allow to go cold and strong.
- When Chamomile tea cold pour into a bottle and fill with whey, capping bottle and shaking to stir.
- When combined add about a capful or less with alcohol for preserves, shake and store.
Supplement - Dish washing Detergent
This detergent is something I just thought up when thinking of the aftershave I made this week. It is a mixture of soap, Vodka and water. When I've run out before I've worked with soap in a bottle of water, which made up a sort of detergent. Deciding to see if the alcohol changed how it worked I added the alcohol and found the soap dissolved and stabilised better in the mixture. Not only that, the alcohol makes it antibacterial.
- Soap (ideal to use that tiny leftover bars left lying around)
- Vodka or pure alcohol
- Small Bottle
- Put soap in bottle
- Pour alcohol over and add water.
- Put lid on and shake, let the soap dissolve.
- Keep near you and shake occasionally, encouraging soap to dissolve.
- When soap dissolved use as normal.
This week was a pretty simple one, looking at haircare. Being a parent of a school age child and having to constantly battle head lice one thing I go through is conditioner. Rather than using a chemical shampoo that would have killed my daughters hair long ago I decided to use conditioner, letting the dammed bugs steep in it for an hour or so and then comb them out. I doing this with a kid with very long hair I can go through bottles of the cheap stuff at a rate. So When I was thinking of this week I thought, well, why not. What I came up with was an other way around idea of how to do haircare that can benefit those who have my problem, but others. So I came up with the idea of producing a conditioner first then shampoo/rinse treatment.
This conditioner, while runnier still does the job even for head lice washes, suffocation the little buggers well enough to comb out and separating their eggs from the hair. If you wish you can add extra ingredients like Eucalyptus, neem or tea tree oil to this mixture, but it also works though suffocation then a comb out just fine. The coconut oil base solidifies at room temperature, but remains very viscous in hair. May need storage in the fridge and water bathing at the time if pre-made, or make at the time and keep at a temperature ready to use. This is runnier than normal conditioner, though you can make it thicker as well. The whey and Chamomile don't keep well so only make a day or so in advance.
- Coconut oil
- Chamomile tea
- Make the Chamomile tea from bag or loose tea and let steep till dark and lukewarm.
- Top up tea with equal amount of whey, stir in.
- Add coconut oil till thick and vicious and shake.
- Use Immediately if desired or water bath in lukewarm water before using.
This, like the Conditioner won't store well, but is based on two things – the use of whey or vinegar as a hair toner and the cleaning qualities of chamomile tea as my grandmother used it. Use second to take out the coconut oil, may be twice. Make only a day or two in advance as this will not store.
- Chamomile tea
- Jar or container
- Make the Chamomile tea from either teabag or loose tea and let steep till lukewarm and dark.
- Add half whey into glass jar and shake to combine.
- Store in fridge or use immediatley.
This week we're looking at a contribution from a friend, Alie Arjaans which focusses on the moisturisers and lip balms. This produces a very nice little product that should not be stored near heat or direct sunlight but otherwise keeps well at room temperature. I'll now hand you over for the explanation...
This past week I came across small glass bottles, excited to utilise them to create a lip balm or because of the size of the jar, a cream for skin. The mixture I came up with has created a yummy balm that is beautiful on the skin using basic ingredients from a friends farm and supermarket.
What did I include:.
In the end I used a reasonably priced macadamia oil, a more expensive coconut oil, a cap full of vanilla essence as the base. I added bitter orange, organic lemon and ginger to the mix. It does take some thorough mixing to create a yummy mix that thickens the next day as All the ingredients thicken. I am using it for lips, face, hands, body. It helps the skin feel silky smooth.
I came a cross a mason jar with a straw so had fun making wonderful teas including licorice, orange lemon, ginger. So many Varieties of fresh ingredients to assist with sore throats, increase vitamin intake. Great for popping in your bag for the days outing.