Fabric printing

After making my decision to make the change at work, I decided to have a quick look at what relevant community college courses might be around next year. I found this fabric printing course and decided, on a whim, to give it a go.

Although I don’t see myself actually doing the printing, I wanted to learn about the concepts. I also thought it might be a good way to meet other people doing interesting stuff, but also just to have a bit of fun and to feel like I’m actually moving forward on this idea, even though I can’t really do a whole lot until early next year.

One thing I’ve worked out pretty quickly is that there doesn’t really seem to be an environmentally sound method of printing. Even though you can use water-based inks, which manufacturers claim are non-toxic and can be washed into our waterways (a claim I’m yet to fully examine), the process of creating the screens seems to be either using plastic sheeting (Ezycut – for short runs) or photo emulsion, which uses photographic chemicals – neither of which is environmentally sound.

One of my hopes for the products is that perhaps, some day – when we have the money and resources to do so – to get our clothing Cradle to cradle certified. I can’t really see a way, unless we can properly recycle the chemicals or find an alternative method of creating the screens, to achieve that goal while using these printing techniques.

I’m also pretty sure that the C2C review will find all sorts of issues with printing ink, despite the general view that it’s “safe”, that make it unsuitable for C2C certification. And this doesn’t even venture into the world of fabric dyes, either, which are likely to have even more impacts!

In either case, that’s a longer-term goal – and there’s a lot of ways to be much more environmentally friendly than most manufacturers without getting to this level of detail. But I do want to ensure that our design process takes these things into consideration from day one – looking for alternatives and designing these kind of problems out of our products.

For example, if we design shirts that don’t require printing we remove one potential problem from the production process. And if we find clever ways to use undyed fabric, even better. (I should be clear that I’m not talking the “natural hippy” look here – just using natural fabric in clever ways within a fashion context.)

Holidays

Just a quick note to say that I’m taking some time out over the next week – heading to Merimbula with Ang for a few days. I’ll be out of computer range during that time, so posting is going to be non-existent here for a little while. But I’ll be back into it again early Jan…

Certification and greenwashing

One of the things I’m very keen on is for my new venture to be an authentic company – one that is really doing the right thing and not just “greenwashing”.

It always bugs me when I see fallacious claims from the latest “we’re on the bandwagon” company that’s joined the green brigade. And as a “consumer” it’s usually (though not always) easy to pick the real deal.

It seems, though, that regulators such as the ACCC are starting to take an interest, with plans to crack down on greenwashing. Such moves make it all the more important to truly walk the walk.

It strikes me that one of the best ways to do that is to participate in independently verified certification schemes that support any claims made.

There are plenty of schemes out there, from using certified organic cotton to the Fairwear “No Sweatshop” label to the Fair Trade standards and Clean clothes codes of conduct.

All of these certifications does have a cost associated with it, and many are “compatible” with each other – and as the business progresses I’ll be looking into many of these in further detail (there’s already some discussion and review on the old blog as a starting point).

On that front I was interested to read this week a news report about the Green Pages’ “Principles of Sustainable Fashion” and the related Eco Runway Show.

From the press release:

Katie Patrick, CEO and founder of Green Pages,
points out that whilst a range of international environmental standards exist along with Australia’s own Good Environmental Choice standard, not one fashion brand in Australia has adopted a comprehensive environmental standard.

The Eco Runway Show will highlight designs from Akira, Gorman, Vixen, Sara Victoria, India Flint, Romance-was-Born, Rachael Cassar, Camilla, Nudie Jeans, and more, that comply with the Principles.

The principles are a “starting point”, calling on designers to create products:

  • Being made of at least 50% organic cotton or wool, hemp, silk or bamboo fibres.
  • Incorporating dyes and pigments that are vegetable-based.
  • Incorporating recycled or reclaimed materials.
  • Incorporating materials with Fair Trade Certification.
  • Incorporating recycled synthetic fibres.

As a purely environmental standard, the principles don’t include labour standards (I don’t believe you can separate the two issues, but I’ll talk more on that another time) – but they are indeed a good starting point.

The PDF media release (PDF 130 KB) highlights a number of standards and bodies working on the environmental impact of textiles – and form the basis of the Green Pages’ broader call for fashion labels to take account of their entire footprint (incl. carbon and waste) rather than just in the materials they use.

I’ll certainly be looking into these further over time, as it seems to me this kind of standard would be a good thing for our label to support.

Basecamp woes

We use Basecamp pretty extensively at work, and were quite annoyed to find the other day that the system was down for almost 2 hours for scheduled maintenance, without any form of notice.

I’m sure they thought it was fine and all given it was in the evening in the States, but over here, we were in the middle of a delivery. Very frustrating.

How hard would it be to delay launch 24 hours and send all customers an email? Or to put a notice up on the site for that time so that when we sign in we know it’s going to go down?

I know from reading their book that the 37signals guys play pretty fast and loose, but this is a paid service that becomes mission critical when you use it as heavily as we do.

The good news is that the update revamped the permissions model they had in place that was downright dumb in it’s implementation around todos. So in the end we would have been happy with the update had we received some kind of notice.

It’s simply not good enough to drop the system without notice like they do pretty regularly. (I figure there’s no point posting this to the forum because there’ll be no reasonable response – another thing that 37signals are not very good at…)

A brief history

This post is a bit of background about the reason I’m embarking on the ethical clothing project again. It’s far from definitive, but I hope it sets the scene for posts to come.

A couple of years ago I had a crazy idea of starting what I called a “fair trade fashion label”. The basic idea was simple: producing fashionable clothing using environmentally friendly materials ensuring that manufacturing was carried out ethically – “from seed to sale” was a bit of a tag line. After initially dubbing the group FWV – “Fashion Without Victims” – eventually we settled on “Huméco”, a made up word reflecting the environmental and social values we were aiming to uphold.

At the time I mentioned the idea to a few friends and we started researching the idea – we were talking to a designer, researching fabrics, looking into the No Sweatshop label. I left the business I was working for to pursue the venture but then stumbled upon the opportunity to work for WWF-Australia which was too good to pass up.

A few months later work and other life commitments meant that I wasn’t able to focus enough on the project to work through some of the challenges we faced, so I reluctantly disbanded the group to focus on other things.

Fast forward a few years. The market for organic clothing is beginning to explode. As an avid reader of Treehugger, it seems that every day a new label is entering the “green” space – and well known designers are jumping on the “green” bandwagon by the minute. Reading Fast Company highlighted Nau – joining Patagonia in doing very interesting things in the performance wear space.

(As an aside: I’m a big fan of both companies – be sure to check out Nau’s Grey Matters and Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles for some of the challenges running an ethical business in this space.)

While the internet technically makes many of these labels available here in Australia, and even though there are even some great folks in Australia creating ethical clothing, none are quite the style I’m into and very few are available local to where I live; on the clothing strips where I shop, the options simply aren’t there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of purchasing over the net – I like to try things on, check them out, get a feel for the fabric and the cut.

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking very hard about my future direction – what really makes my heart sing? What am I passionate about enough to get me through “The Dip“, as Seth Godin calls it.

I’m a big fan of sustainable (in the broad sense of that word – environment, social, financial) business, and am bullish on the impact that good design can have creating a sustainable future. I’ve read Cradle to Cradle and I’m a convert.

And then Anita Roddick passed.

Anita was a huge inspiration to me – and her passing really got me thinking about what I was doing with my life – what impact was I actually having…

I brainstormed a bunch of business ideas and the one that stuck in my mind, that wouldn’t let go of my imagination, was the ethical clothing idea. This is not new – I’m far from the first and likely (hopefully) to be far from the last. But I feel it important to give it a shot – to try and make this happen – and I hope I have a few innovative ideas about how to make the business work.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t like talking – I prefer to do. So early next year I have arranged a change in work arrangements to free up 1-2 days per week to apply to this goal.

The label will likely be starting in an obvious place – t-shirts. I’m a big fan of Threadless, band merch and I’ve become a bit of a “t-shirt snob” – so it is fitting that I should start there. But I hope to link up with like-minded people that want to participate in building a business like this to expand the range and ideas that we can explore – focusing on smart-casual mens wear. Stuff you can wear to work and then to a pub or a club.

Although ethical and social concerns will be a major part of the business – the focus will be on great designs that people will want to wear first and foremost. As fashion designer Gary Harvey says:

“The future of Eco fashion depends on designers concentrating on great design and not letting the Eco cause become the only component…after all people wear clothes not causes.”

I know I can’t do this alone, nor do I want to. For those of you that don’t already know me – if you happen across this blog and are interested, please get in touch. If you do know me already and you know someone you think might be interested, please do the same.

I’ll be using this blog to record the journey, a place to share what I learn as I work towards this goal (regardless of the outcome). My hope that sharing my thoughts as I learn and explore might provide value to others.

Next year’s plans

I’ve got some news relating to work and my plans for the coming year. From Jan 1 I’ll be working 4 days per week with my current employer, Digital Eskimo, until March/April, at which point I’ll be doing the freelance thing.

The primary reason for the move is a desire on my part to set up a new business producing and retailing ethical clothing (more on that here) – that is clothes that use environmentally sustainable materials (like organic cotton, hemp and bamboo) and that are sweatshop free.

Some of you may remember that I started down this path some years ago while I was still working at NETaccounts (now Saasu). Well, although in some ways the industry has come a long way (even Target now offers organic cotton options) there’s still a long way to go. I want to work towards that goal.

The move from Digital Eskimo was tough – the team that I’ve had the privilege to work with since May this year is exceptional, and it was a really hard decision to make (and I hope to continue working with them on projects in the future).

But through some soul searching, in part prompted by working through The Artist’s Way with some friends earlier this year, but also the passing of Anita Roddick, lead me to the conclusion that I needed to pursue this dream (that just hasn’t let go).

So, anyway, this blog is probably going to be a little more active as I post about the business and ideas surrounding it, but also just generally about ethical business.

In the freelance side of things I’ll be hopefully doing a variety of web development projects – I hope with a focus on non-profits and progressive organisations, social media and web standards – but I’ll speak more on that in the new year as I start to get things in place to make the leap.

Growth and prosperity when “less” is more

Seth Godin: “I’m more and more convinced that the best hope for the eco movement is to tell a story of efficiency and growth and ingenuity. More is easy to sell. Less almost never is.”

I, too, am becoming more convinced. I think that communicators working in the environment movement are going to cop an aweful backlash in the coming 12 months unless the story changes. The story needs to be about advancement, a better, healthier life, not “have less”. That’s not going to get traction in the broader market – never has, never will. It won’t get traction in developing countries either.

While there are clearly circumstances where less must be less (i.e. eating seafood and cattle for meat), and I am very aware of the “scientific view” of the world where “technology alone can save the day”, there are many other opportunities where “more” = less – more efficient, more innovation etc. that resonate with both the business community and community at large, if the story is told well.

This seems to me to be very much at the core of the Cradle to cradle philosophy too – let’s be smarter, and have less impact as a result. Not “let’s go without” (I could be wrong there, but that certainly was one of my takeouts.)

China’s economic control

I was chatting to a friend the other day and he mentioned this concept, but Andrew Charlton has written a great opinion piece explaining why our economy is Made in China.

Some key quotes that resonated with me:

The former prime minister John Howard claimed during the election that his fiscal discipline was keeping inflation and thereby interest rates down.

This was hogwash. Average inflation was relatively low, but this hid the bipolar nature of our economy. Non-traded goods suffered endemic inflation during the Howard years, but the problem was concealed by disinflation in the traded economy. It is easy to keep inflation low when every year China keeps shipping us more goods at cheaper prices.

I’d not really seen this before, but it makes sense to me. Especially the bit about Howard’s claims being hogwash 😉

He continues:

There are two ways to solve this problem. One is to passively sit back and let the Reserve Bank reduce demand by bludgeoning shoppers with repeated interest rate rises.

The better solution is to improve productivity in non-traded sectors so that our domestic production can grow to meet demand. A wave of competition policy in the early 1990s dramatically improved the efficiency of Australia’s traded economy, stripping away tariffs and opening up the sector to competition. The new Labor Government must now do the same for the non-traded economy. That means improving productivity in formerly neglected sectors like transport and logistics, education, utilities, health and many other services.

I would also add that perhaps we should turn around our long-neglected R&D-related activity, so that we can increase high-value technology-based exports in growth sectors too – like renewable energy and highly-efficient transport (hybrid cars etc.). The investment in education that Andrew mentions is part of this shift.

How often do we hear about bright ideas (and the people behind them) being picked up overseas when their attempts to get funding and support locally had run their course. It’s these ideas and developments that would increase the value of our exports – we have for too long been focused solely on the “resources boom”. Time to start moving eggs into other baskets methinks…