Offset Warehouse is the first fabric supplier to exclusively produce and sell ethically sourced fabrics in the UK. Last week I was lucky enough to hear Charlie Ross, founder and director of the business speaking first hand about her journey into the world ethical trading at Stroud Atelier.
Charlie began by explaining the conception of Offset Warehouse. As a design student herself, she was appalled to learn about the harmful impact the industry has on both people and the planet. Documentaries such as China Blue, which highlight the sweatshop conditions of garment workers in Chinese jeans factories, motivated her to question why this form of modern slavery was tolerated and under whose authority. Environmental disasters such as the loss of the Aral Sea to cotton irrigation and news of farmer suicides caused by mounting fears over debt and pressure from suppliers similarly inspired Charlie to create change in the fashion industry. However, as a designer she struggled to find materials and fabrics that complied with her morals. As a result Offset Warehouse was born; a social enterprise that supplies the UK and abroad with ‘the most beautiful, hand-crafted and fairly-sourced fabric, trims and threads from across the globe’ at fair yet affordable prices.
The online shop offers a wide range of fabrics from cotton to silk and even some more unusual eco fabrics such as recycled polyester and is also stocked in Fabrications on Broadway Market, London. Unlike other sustainable fabric suppliers, which focus on natural and undyed cloth, Offset Warehouse has a variety of truly desirable printed and plain fabrics. Rather than sticking to a single trade certification the warehouse stocks certified and uncertified organic, fair trade, recycled, by-product, reclaimed, sustainable, co-operative, naturally dyed, azo-free and naturally bleached fabrics to cater for all audiences. Each fabric comes with its own identity tag giving information on the composition, country of origin, eco credentials and accreditors.
The success of Offset Warehouse is a testament to the dedication and passion of Charlie Ross who ended her presentation with the reminder “always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing”. It is vital to support businesses such as this in order to drive further change in the industry. As designers and makers we are responsible for the fabrics we source and to encourage our employers to do the same. Transparency within the supply chain is essential to understanding and communicating the impact the fashion industry has and it is something we should push for as consumers of fabrics and as well clothes.
Denim jeans are a global staple with more than 1bn pairs being sold worldwide each year. Jeans are bought by 96% of American consumers with an average ownership of 7 pairs for women and 6 for men*. Documentaries such as China Blue have exposed the harsh conditions garment workers face in the denim industry often working more than 12 hours a day, in compromising conditions for less than a dollar a day.
Jeans are made almost exclusively from cotton, a fibre that uses vast amounts of water, land and pesticides to produce. Including the growing, dying and treating process, 11,000 litres of water is required to make a single pair of jeans. Further more the trend for pre-worn looking denim requires a method called sandblasting which according to War on Want is ‘often performed without proper ventilation, safety equipment or training’ and ‘exposes workers to serious risk of silicosis, the deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust’.
While the process of making denim raises many ethical and environmental questions, the fabric itself is particularly hardwearing and practical for everyday use. Furthermore, the vast quantity of denim on the second hand market makes it a great resource for upcycling and resale in vintage stores. Companies such as Re/done successfully take apart quality vintage denim to refashion into new jeans that are in keeping with modern styles. In contrast to the sterile nature of mass produced trousers, the faded patches and old stitch lines on Re/done’s individually crafted pieces celebrate the longevity of the fabric and create a narrative making them desirable on another level.
Swedish denim label Nudie Jeans is similarly transforming the way consumers view their denim items. The brand encourages customers to take care of their garments with a free repair service at satellite mending stations around the world and even offers to recycle your jeans when they are no longer wearable. While they admit that process of making their denim is still highly water intensive, they recommend new trousers are not washed for at least six months in order to properly ‘break them in’. A process they encourage to give the jeans a ‘worn look’ which tells the story of the wearer and gives an improved, personal fit. They also recommend hanging jeans outside to air rather than washing them unless significantly stained, saving water in the consumer stage of jeans life cycle.
Exploring the practicalities of using second hand denim.
Inspired by visual and sound artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, who creatively uses found objects in her art installations, I created a denim look with materials sourced entirely from charity shops and kilo sales. Elements such as the buckles from a pair of dungarees and buttons from fly fastenings were utilised in new and creative ways, serving both practical functions and as a reminder of the garments previous lives.
Self proclaimed Queen of Punk, Dame Vivienne Westwood did not disappoint in bringing rebellious views to the table at this years Cheltenham Literature Festival. Here to promote her new book Get a Life, a diary style biography compiled of blog posts she began in 2010. The book entwines her deep interest in fashion, climate change and activism.
Political from the first Westwood began by asking for our help. She reminded the audience that climate change is each of our responsibility and as a collective we can begin a climate revolution. The first step, according to the dame herself is to fill out a letter to Theresa May (handed out pre-show) with advice on how she could be more environmental in her daily life.
Westwood’s main priority has been communicating the threat of climate change with fashion shows becoming an avenue to creatively express frustrations. Her talk similarly centred on her views of the ‘rotten financial system’ and the injustice of 1m controlling a population of 7bn. Focusing on the selfish nature of ‘rotten’ politicians who ‘serve central banks and promote big business’ at the expense of the tax payer and corrupt foreign policy which says ‘fuck everybody but us’.
Westwood urged her audience to go home and switch to green energy, highlighting in a slick info graphic the impact rising temperature will have on the level of inhabitable land. She claimed ‘once the rising temperature goes beyond the tipping point it will run away to +5°, there will be only 1 bn people left by the 21st century’.
Provocative and outspoken as always Vivienne Westwood conveyed her passion for the planet and the people in it. While it is difficult to agree with all of her hard lined views on the ‘wasted lives’ of politicians, hearing her talk with such vigour and energy after five decades in the fashion industry was a good reminder of the capacity each of us has to make a difference. As Kirsty Wark eloquently put it ‘there’s nothing like a dame and certainly not this one’.