Amelia’s Magazine | Fashioning an Ethical Industry: A Two Day Conference

It was a bittersweet moment for Fashioning an Ethical Industry supporters last month as they invited educators, information pills students, sales designers, labour activists and business thinkers to join them at RichMix in East London for a well-attended workshop on sustainable fashion. The project is now at the end of its three year funding term and hosted this two day conference in order to explore what fashion educators can do to inspire future designers to assume responsibility for the workers involved in the creation of their clothes; recognising that their job as educators is to equip students with the tools to design ethically-conscious clothes. 

Funded by Labor Behind The Label, the FEI works with tutors and students through the help of guest speakers worldwide to give an overview of how the industry works, from the moment a seed for fibre is sown to the time it reaches the shops. The life cycle of clothing, or any other product, has become more transparent as consumers become better informed, but every inch of that process and its effects need to be considered. 

The workshop opened with an exercise aimed to give the participant an idea of what it’s like to work in a factory, with patterning and cutting assignments being distributed and a meet-your-neighbour workplace atmosphere. The result: a cute little paper dress shirt.  We were then introduced to guest speaker and self-proclaimed haute-couture heretic Otto Von Busch who is known for ‘critically hacking and re-forming the operating system of fashion and the industrial modes of production.’ A tall slender Swede in tight all-black industrial chic, his brilliant ideas and hot designs had everyone wanting more. Much has been said about the importance of community in structuring our efforts in sustainability as well as managing labour rights in this Big Bang thrust of global production. And to this, Otto’s ‘Neighborhoodies’ project plants one right on its chin. Otto explains, “Your neighborhood has an impact on your stride, your gestures, your actions – the tacit signals of your body techniques. how do you dress for your hood and how does it dress you?”

So participants are invited to reflect their neighborhood through an image that’s then printed onto fabric and made into a specially designed hoodie – a ‘neighborhoodie’ as he calls them. A source of super cool ideas and an warp-speed thinker, he was certainly the highlight of the day.
But before we get ahead of ourselves the focus of this conference was to address the issues that designers rarely even see. The rights and conditions of those gathering the materials; the producers of the textiles; the garment manufacturer, and even those shipping the goods; not to mention of course the effects on the environment at each stage. It’s enough to make your head spin! People in the audience, clearly willing but at times confused asked how they were supposed to keep track of certifications, like labels we encounter on food, and know the difference between ethically/sustainably produced/sourced and all their variations. The panel offered some advice, “Focus on one thing, like materials, labour, factories. We do need a lexicon but having a universal label opens it up to panacea.” Excellent advice for those who find it all a bit overwhelming. 

Throughout the day we heard from labour rights activists such as Anannya Bhattacharjee, whose organization Asia Floor Wage Campaign is involved in the complex business of unifying, representing and demanding a universal minimum wage for workers throughout Asia. Progress has been made as brands like M&S are now mediating and influencing factories to implement a fair wage because, as she puts it,”the supplier market and government shouldn’t have to.” Therefore, we need to make sure brand leaders of the future understand the leverage they possess and make use of it properly. Check out her film here.

Another point that often arises in these multifacted overhauls is ‘who’s checking to make sure everyone is doing what they say they’re doing?’ Sophie Koers from the Fair Wear Foundation who monitors the workers’ environments explains, “Fair trade focuses on the workers of raw materials, we want to focus on the factories. We’re governed by NGOs, trade unions and business associations which keeps us credible and independent. Even though they announce their audits they conduct off-site interviews the week before, collect info and call them later to see what factory managers might have falsified.”

Nieves Ruiz Ramos used to work, tirelessly though well-compensated, for high street brands for years until she realized the effects of the consumerism she was supporting and started her own fair trade fashion label Bibico. Working closely with women’s cooperatives in Nepal and India she encourages us to consider the value in getting close to your suppliers and personalizing the process. The name ‘bibi’ was her childhood nickname and also a hindi word used to respectfully refer to women. 

At the other end of the world, as well as the fashioin food chain, Alex McIntosh from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion explained how his organization supports fashion businesses by addressing how their aesthetics interact with their ethics. Often, he says, they deal with young designers whose work was not born with an interest in ethical fashion but can elevate and help power the movement with the help of the centre’s research and curriculum. 

A lovely little play, first performed in 1908, named Warp and Woof: Food for Thought perked everyone up from a long day of information overload. Adapted by Dr.Clare Rose it was a period-piece peeking into the world of labour rights auditors in early 1900 London and served to drive the point home in a way videos of far off regions could not. 

The second day of the event was rounded off with a panel discussion of authors and editors on the sustainable fashion shelves, titles such as ‘Eco-Chic: The Savvy Shoppers Guide To Ethical Fashion‘ by Matilda Lee and ‘Eco-Chic:The Fashion Paradox‘ written by Sandy Black, were available to leaf through. In addition to books, guests took advantage of the chance to engage speakers of particular interest, such as Annie Dibble on the Himalayan giant nettle’s incredible fibre yielding properties and the Rai women who cultivate it, or the Pechakucha style presentations by Carolina Gomez-Auber on her project ‘Social Alterations‘ in El Salvador, which aims to reappropriate waste in an effort to save cultural craft skills from extinction. Dimitra Giannopolou’s project ‘Tell Teens Tales’ addresses how to reach marketing-weary teenage girls with the message about sustainability through fairy tales. Check out her video, too.

 And so dynamic discussions were popping off left and right, numbers and emails were exchanged and the seeds of future collaborations were planted. It was reassuring to see, after hours of discussion on topics of such gravity and scope, that furrowed brows gave way to a broader perspective and, finally, optimism.

Is sustainable fashion an oxymoron? Read more here.

Categories ,Asia Floor Wage Campaign, ,Bibico, ,Centre for Sustainable Fashion, ,Communities, ,East London, ,Enviroment, ,Fair Wear Foundation, ,Fashioning an Ethical Industry, ,FEI, ,India, ,Labour, ,Labour behind the Label, ,LCF, ,Matilda Lee, ,Neighbourhoodies, ,Nepal, ,Nieves Ruiz Ramos, ,Otto VOn Busch, ,Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, ,Sandy Black, ,Sutstainability, ,Tell Teens Tales

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Amelia’s Magazine | American Pioneers: Ways of Living – a journey around east coast eco-communities

American Pioneers-Jess n Harper

We are circling the Blue Ridge Mountains in a car packed with sleeping bags, tent, dresses, and emergency granola bars. My friend Harper Cowan and I have a month on the road, an itinerary of intentional communities to visit, and a modest bag of camera equipment. Filming a documentary about communes on the east coast of America has been a fantasy of ours for years, and now here we are, sleeping in the wilderness, constantly losing our tripod, and setting our dream into motion.

American Pioneers-Jess at Mountain Gardens
Jessica at Mountain Gardens

At each stop off we are asked for our reasons behind making the film. A large part is curiosity – do people still live in communes? Would I like it? What do they do? Are they making a difference? Mainly though, we’ve been growing restless with our lifestyle. We both want to live in the contemporary world, but it isn’t contemporary anymore to be abusing the planet (and one another) in the way we do. There must be alternatives to all the loneliness and isolation. The unfulfilling jobs, the spending, and the wastefulness we are a part of. We have been searching for a deeper connection to ourselves, to others, and to the environment, with the desire to share what we’re finding, and create the changes we so desperately need.

American Pioneers-harper at LEF
Harper at LEF.

We begin our journey heading south down the highway from New York. Seven hours later, scribbling last minute questions into a notebook that we won’t look at again, we turn down a concealed backroad, somewhere in Virginia. While waiting for Shaun, the founder of Living Energy Farm, to come and meet us, we take a photo on the rock to cement the start of our adventure. A bearded stranger lopes over the hilltop, and leads us on a hike through the undergrowth, away from the last traces of small town civilisation. He warns of copperhead snakes and black widow spiders, and tells us to check for ticks every night before bed.

American Pioneers-Beautiful People
At the central camp the barren land slopes away into tangles of desert weeds and parched forest. A group of six-to-eight core members live here in tents, with a couple of barefoot blonde children and a baby goat. Things are just beginning – there is so much to be decided and built still, and the conditions are hardcore. This tiny community is less than three years old, and the team is disciplined and determined to keep their modest dream alive.

American Pioneers-Track to Earth Haven
Track to Earth Haven.

We are shown around and told to put our camera away. This reluctance pops up sometimes at other communities, too. We meet one man with a mission to erase every photo, clip, and shred of evidence of himself from the internet. His life story is incredible, but he has strongly intended to escape that world, and we know we need to be sensitive.

American Pioneers-Snaggy Mountain Graffiti
Our days at LEF are hot and dusty. I watch a woman skin a rabbit and turn the carcass inside-out over a stick, attempting to make a case for her knife. The children lay out a tiny tea set on the earth, and traumatise the goat. A Texan native teaches us to stucco the walls of a newly-erected straw-bale kitchen. We stir up sloppy mixtures of clay, lime, and rainwater in a wheelbarrow and slap it onto the rough walls. It ends up down our clothes and in our mouths, but it’s therapeutic and inspiring. Alexis, a core member of LEF and environmental-ambassador, talks us through the building process. His passion shines as he opens up about eco-building, cooperative usage, and shared resources. “Why cook seven meals in seven separate kitchens, when cooking together uses a fraction of the electricity? Why heat our individual boxes, when communing in one space conserves so much?

American Pioneers-parabolic cooker
Parabolic cooker.

In the evenings we share skip-dived meals with weather-worn strangers, often in silence. I watch a man hang a saucepan of cold stew from a large silver disc, (a parabolic cooker) and point it at the sun. He demonstrates raw solar power by holding a twig in front of the disc. It sets on fire in seconds.

American Pioneers-Music at Snaggy Mountain
Music at Snaggy Mountain.

Our evenings are often cut short without artificial light. These pioneers use almost no fossil fuels (with an aim to use zero once the building has concluded), and so when the sun goes down, so do we. On our last evening, we sit outside our $30 tent and I play guitar with a young man who is completely jaded with the world. He has been beaten around by city life more than most, and is making a new start here, unlike anything he’s used to.

American Pioneers-Medicine Wheel Kitchen at Earth Haven
Medicine Wheel Kitchen at Earth Haven.

After Living Energy, we stay at Acorn, Earth Haven, Twin Oaks. We fall behind schedule. The stories unfolding – and individuals encountered – at each place are worthy of their own articles. We find it harder and harder to leave each time. Acorn, in Louisa County, Virginia, is brimming with youthful vibrance. One girl plays accordion and sings for us; another strums a harp. It’s a grounding feeling, to be so welcomed. Earth Haven is the same. So easy to live freely there, amongst the cabins and earth-ships. I make plans to return.

American Pioneers-Cabin at Earth Haven
Cabin at Earth Haven.

At Twin Oaks, we are treated to a tour from Valerie. It’s different from LEF – all the communities vary in character and ideals far more than I had assumed. With over one hundred members, it’s one of the oldest and largest in America. It feels like a beautiful college campus for all ages. Life is organised like clockwork.There are charts for everything, from car sharing to money lending. There’s a women’s lodge, annual conferences, expansive vegetable gardens, and a field of solar panels. Plants spill from pots in the central quad. Hammocks are strung up on porches – Twin Oaks run a successful hammock weaving enterprise, as well as a tofu business, both of which support their income-sharing lifestyle. Much like most other communities, decisions are made at General Consensus meetings. Everyone’s opinion counts, which means that if one person disagrees, the motion is hard to pass. (And the motion could be as little as digging a pond, or installing a pingpong table.)

American Pioneers-Earth Haven
We drive further south. Couchsurf in Asheville, North Carolina, before finding the nearby Snaggy Mountain. It’s here that we realise a month isn’t going to be adequate time to film this documentary. We still have so many places we are scheduled to visit, and our road trip is running out. Each stop-off has become another beautiful encompassing world, another blessing teaching us so much about living. We don’t seem to be able to leave Snaggy at all – it feels like perhaps we’re stuck here for good. I have released fears of poisonous snakes, burrowing ticks, and rugged outdoor living. I have relaxed in a way I find impossible in my normal routine.

American Pioneers-Cabin at Snaggy Mountain
Cabin at Snaggy Mountain.

So here I am. Wrapped in tick-ridden blankets under a North Carolina sky, watching shooting stars burn streaks across the heavens. Next to me lie my fellow east coast wanderer, Harper, and Jared, the peaceful founder of this community. His grandfather’s land, once home to dairy farming, is now a WWOOFERs paradise of hand built cabins, a Kesey-inspired bus, yoga platform, vegetable beds, herb gardens, and a pet pig. The core members of Snaggy are joined every summer by an influx of volunteers and musicians, keen to learn about foraging and planting seeds, play banjo in the woods, and paint murals on bedroom walls. I scour bookshelves brimming with permaculture, herbal remedies, astrology, Castaneda, mushrooms, modern pagans, and the cosmos. The season is just hotting up when we arrive, and already our nights are filled with dancing, communal homegrown meals, and festivals.

American Pioneers-Acorn Toothbrushes
Acorn Toothbrushes.

Tonight is quieter though, and back on our wooden bed, under the stars, the three of us chant Walt Whitman‘s Song of the Open Road. We fall asleep to the sound of coyote packs wailing on Mount Silo. Drizzle mists our faces. I feel more free, open, and inspired than I have felt in years. We’ve spent the day interviewing members of the farm. Everyone we have met over the last month thinks about life. There’s so much time to, with the lack of TVs and outside distractions. So much time to get to know each other. It’s deeply inspiring to speak with so many who consider their actions, and seek meaning away from materialism.

American Pioneers-Snaggy Mountain
Snaggy Mountain.

Lots of these people have given up parts of themselves that weren’t necessarily easy to leave behind. The sacrifice is present in some people’s lives, but mostly they seem happier, and acutely aware that the prize is the earth. It’s not all perfect. One man tells us he thought joining a community would put an end to his loneliness, but he’s not sure it has. He’s thinking of moving on. It’s been more beautiful, more adventurous, and wilder than I could have imagined. Our hips ache from sleeping on bare earth. I’ve made friends I will know forever. And the film-making has been a wonderful journey of its own. We are hooked – in September I will cross the Atlantic again to continue filming and discovering radical ways of living. The documentary will be edited over winter 2014, so please sign up here if you would like a copy.

Harper: “I’m so excited and proud to share with people where Jess and I have just come from, what we’ve seen – It’s SO good out there, there are so many good people, doing such good things. The world is big and beautiful and I have hope. People are amazing.

You can support Jess and Harper make their film by visiting (Soon to change to

Categories ,Acorn, ,America, ,Anima Rising, ,Asheville, ,Blue Ridge Mountains, ,Communes, ,Communities, ,Earth Haven, ,Ecocommunity, ,film, ,General Consensus, ,Harper, ,Harper Cowan, ,Jessica Watkins, ,LEF, ,Living Energy Farm, ,Mount Silo, ,North Carolina, ,Roadtrip, ,Self Sustainable, ,Shaun, ,Snaggy Mountain, ,Song of the Open Road, ,Straw bale, ,Twin Oaks, ,Ways of Living, ,Wilderness

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Amelia’s Magazine | Earth Listings: 9th – 15th November

Another week of plenty of chances to listen, treatment learn, cialis 40mg get involved or take action around the country.

Copenhagen info evening
Tuesday 10th November 2009


The prospects for the negotiations are not looking great, buy more about but the good news is the movement for climate justice is going strong, and you can still be part of largest ever climate mobilisation in Copenhagen this December!

Climate Justice Action Network, have been working hard to make it easier for people to attend the summit, with transport, free accommodation and food all being arranged.
Come to the event to discuss why we think its important to come to Copenhagen in December, and get all questions on logistics answered, what we are trying to achieve in Copenhagen.

Time: 19.30hrs – 21:00
Venue: School of Oriental and African Studies, Room G50, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Embrace Woodlands! – Glade Creation
Wednesday 11th November 2009


Join a group of people making their very own glade in Dulwich Upper Wood in order to help increase the biodiversity in the urban woodland. Get involved, get stuck in and help to improve the environment in the area. Everyone is welcome, tools will available and food will be put on

Time: 10:30am to 3:30pm
Venue: Dulwich Upper Wood, Farquhar Rd, London, SE19 1SS, United Kingdom

NATO Not Welcome in Edinburgh
Thursday 12th November to 17th November

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly meets in Edinburgh this week. There is a welcoming Committee providing convergence space from the 12th and support to activists. There is a call for a mass demo on 13th to hold militarist profiteers to account. Nato members currently account for 70% of the world’s military spending.

Tar Sands UK Tour
Friday 13th November 2009

Tar Sands Action in London earlier this year

Indigenous people in Canada are fighting ‘the most destructive project on earth’ – the extraction of oil from Tar Sands. Hear their stories first hand and get involved in the new UK campaign to halt one of the world’s fastest growing causes of climate crisis.
Featuring, from the Indigenous Environmental Network in Canada: Eriel Tchekwie-Deranger Melina Laboucan-Massimo Heather Milton-Lightening

Time: 7-9pm
Venue: Bristol Arnolfini, C words Festival

Living in communities
Friday 13th November 2009

A course run since 1994 by Redfield Community in association with Diggers and Dreamers. It focuses the social issues involved in collective living, communes, squats, collectives or cooperatives. Looking at work, relationships, disagreements, play and also the organisational side of how communities were founded, and the financial and legal structures they use.

Venue: Lili, Bucks

Signs of Revolt
Saturday 14th – 22nd November 2009


Signs of Revolt is an exhibition that weaves together the story of the past decades social movements, drawing out the influences and connections between and across the movements against Capitalism, War and Climate Change. Using archive material and documentary photography and video from movement photographers and filmmakers. It reveals the story of how we got from Seattle to Copenhagen.
Interspersed in this narrative are works by artist and designer activists and collectives, produced during, within and for the movements.

Venue: Shop 14 Truman Brewery, London

Categories ,action, ,Bristol Arnolfini, ,C words Festival, ,canada, ,climate, ,Climate Justice Action, ,Communities, ,copenhagen, ,earth, ,edinburgh, ,Embrace Woodlands, ,environment, ,exhibition, ,glade, ,Indigenous Environmental Network, ,listings, ,militarist, ,NATO, ,Signs of Revolt, ,Tar Sands, ,The Truman Brewery

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