anyone up for a's easy see...

I have been thinking about this from the first posting on this here blog. While textiles is the topic on which Jenni and I have settled as emblematic of the struggle, there is a much bigger conversation to have. In short what needs to happen is a major overhaul of the Western conscience of consumption.

"Oh just that? What a simple thing!" you say...

Agreed, it's pretty easy once we all actually open our eyes and minds to what the world is and the place we have in it. Oh wait, that's the hard part!

But, it's not like we're trying to do the splits after a decade of couch surfing, just some toe touches, and you can bend your knees if you have to. But with a little commitment, the splits are maybe realistic in a while...maybe.

So over the next few weeks I want to throw ideas out, and I would love thoughts and comments on those ideas. These will be ideas of how to communicate the BIG PICTURE, while seeing something like textiles as a practical, tactile way of understanding the idea and the solution. Sort of like the BIG PICTURE is the 30,000 foot google earth image, and textiles (or what ever your topic of choice) is the street view.
Your help and input would be much appreciated!


Anyone see the headlines...yeah me niether

In the last five years, and in recent months, numerous tragedies should have gotten, and should still be getting, some attention....anyone ever heard of the Spectrum/Shahriyar Sweater Factory, how about Garib & Garib Sweater factory or the PT Mulia Knitting Factory? Well maybe someone has heard of H&M, Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger and up to a dozen other major labels. If you wear designer labels have recent, or on going events affected your support of the brands? It's doubtful most folks even caught a hint of these stories; the designers have certainly never mentioned anything about them. It's staggering how many lives are lost in the name of profit that never make the news in the markets where the goods they "died for" are rabidly consumed.

Five years ago on April 11th the Spectrum/Shahriyar factory collapsed, killing 65 workers. February 25th of this year a fire raged through Garib & Garib in Gazipur, Bangladesh killing 21 employees. This was the second fire in sixth months, and even after previous evacuations people died because barred windows and locked exits kept them in the flames and choking smoke. H&M one of the major customers of Garib & Garib has denied any responsibility to the victims' families, and reported that the factory passed a safety audit as recently as October of 2009. Survivors of the fire, however, clearly paint a picture of perilous practices like locked doors and barred exits being the daily norm. The integrity of sporadic audits have long been criticized in the absence of strong union representation that has the support of management.

The Bangladeshi garment industry is notorious for its bad safety record. Within a year of the Spectrum collapse around 65 workers in KTS Textiles and Sayem Fashions lost their lives. Two weeks after the Garib & Garib fire another worker lost her life in yet another factory, Matrix Sweater. Between 2005 and 2010, at least 172 workers were killed. Most of the victims were producing clothes for well-known international brands when they died.

The PT Mulia Knitting Factory just outside Jakarta, Indonesia is currently at the center of organized labor's and ethical clothing's roaming gaze. Similar conditions exist that led to the fire in Gazipur, and despite the urging of trade union supporters and advocacy groups the factory's owners remain staunchly opposed to "opening the doors" to more ethical and transparent operations. Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, two of the factory's largest customers, have not used their leverage to push for change despite strong prodding from labor groups.

So, in this moment the power lies in the hands of the one holding the wallet at the register. Shopping with a conscience that informs what we buy and from whom, communicates more loudly and powerfully than any laborer's rights advocacy group could ever dream to accomplish. Partner with those groups that raise the awareness, and give them the voice of your buying power. Please join this international campaign to encourage designers to take more responsibility in the manufacturing of their designs.

Statistically, 80% of the 21 deaths in the Garib & Garib fire were young mothers of multiple children, and possibly the only source of income to their immediate household and probably to extended family as well. It's not unrealistic that after the fire hundreds of people from infants to the elderly were left with not just loss, but real hopelessness.

Those victims' families warrant a conscience at the register. Honor the lost. Buy for the future of the already marginalized, and together let's quit being given what we are told we want, and start demanding we get what is fair, right and ethical for all.


Ethical Pledge Anniversary

So our textile reform soul-sister in Tasmania is celebrating the six month anniversary of her Ethical Clothing Pledge. The pledge is this:

I pledge to only wear clothing that is one or more of the following:
Reconstructed (upcycled)
Made with ethical/environmentally friendly materials
Made by a company with strong ethical policy & workers rights

Happy anniversary and dig in because we have a long way to go. In our lives, as a family in the Seattle area, this pledge has been an "easy" affirmation of our conviction. It also, in a sense, offers something to "hang our hat on." As we pursue what fair and ethical clothing reform looks like, it is driven by a question of how to break a cycle. The cycle, at least here in the Wild West of the US of A, is buy, buy, buy/consume, consume, consume, and then dump it as easily and nonchalantly and (dare I say) ignorantly as you acquired it. That statement is not intended to simply judge, but to motivate toward change. I can find myself in it, in a past ignorance of the impact of my habits and appetites. So in having posted The Pledge almost six months ago, and having become an integrated part of our conviction, I would like to add a statement of intent at the end of it for me and my family.

I will be a mouth piece and an active agent of change
to break the cycle of consumption and misery

Moving forward towards the one year anniversary I will invite others to not only take the pledge, but to find themselves in the processes and habits that have brought us to where we live today in this globalized world. Those processes and habits have taken decades, if not even centuries to solidify, and so the change is not an overnight or snap of the fingers effort. However, I can pledge today to not be a part of what I was yesterday. I can buy something today in a different way than I did yesterday. I can begin forming an awareness and conviction that I didn't have yesterday. We can start marching today toward a Critical Mass that will someday impact the way things are. I am willing to keep marching and invite others to join. So to quote another past post "Small Actions X Lots of People = Big Change."


1000 words?....these better be worth more than that!

How much do we need to see? How much do we need to know? How much is enough knowledge or awareness to affect change? When do we actually engage and enact that change?

The images in these series (here are some more) are of real garment workers who may have made the clothes you and I are wearing. They sew for major labels available in all the big stores. At a ballpark average monthly salary of $24 their families probably live on less money in a month than the cost of the shirt you are wearing. They possibly worked more hours this weekend than you worked all week. They might share their kitchens and bathrooms with as many people as are in your neighborhood. They might share the only bed in their one room home with more people than you have in your family.

Look at these pictures and the read the captions. There are far less than 1000 words in the captions, but they should generate an infinite number of questions and pauses. Then please ask yourselves "how much is enough, and when is the time?"


Fair Play?!....fair is for losers

There are some great efforts going forward to address textile issues and the rights of the workers that are involved in the whole process. The Play Fair Alliance is driving the issues of equity and fairness in respect to the clothing and uniforms that will be worn by athletes at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Their website is loaded with information and even updates on the willingness of manufacturers to operate transparently and responsibly.

I have been thinking a lot about effective methods for educating consumers in the States, and what role Jenni and I might play. The idea of "fair play" is intriguing because it is so vehemently upheld in many facets of life, but completely ignored in others. In the coming months I want to post ideas that might contribute to that process and project of us leading some sort of education and response. It seems to me there are some creative and powerful ways to join inherent values like fair play and community into a vehicle to project information on social and justice issues. Used wisely and creatively there's a chance to engage a large demographic that might be oblivious or even disinterested in seeking out such information and knowledge.


Now we just need a food court, and we're done!

There are HUGE changes afoot in the retail world, especially in book selling, and we are on the bleeding edge...or at least within a few day's trip. So, in the interest of changing things, and since we are on a bit of a moral and social mission anyway, and in a very real way we are asking the retail and manufacturing world to change, we will forge least in our little corner/island of the world. A little over two years ago we entered the retail marketplace as bookstore owners. For multiple reasons the time is ripe to reinvent our store and mess it up to a degree. We will remain a full service bookstore, but we will also become an upcycling center. We have carved out a small bit of space for the last six months or so to introduce the concept of upcycled clothing, but we are committing much more floor and wall space to selling upcycled clothing that is made from thrift store cast-offs. We are also committing floor and table space to anyone and everyone interested in creating and joining the "team." We will have a big work table with sewing machines and clothes and fabric and supplies a-plenty for starting or finishing or doing projects together. Our vision is a store and space that is a true resource for mind, body, and soul. And the waterslide should be super-duper fun!

As Jenni and I have become more and more concerned and motivated to respond personally and affect a greater awareness in the consumer world, this change has been brewing. For us it is pretty exciting, and I'll keep you posted on the progress and throw pictures up from time to time. It also will give us an increased opportunity to find and highlight others from near and far that are doing similar things, and build this community deeper and stronger. We have wild dreams of an upcycling summit on Vashon Island some day. Want to come? We'll save you a spot.

P.S. We aren't really doing a waterslide, but if you ask we can totally throw water on you...


Yeah Yeah Happy New Year to you too!

It's officially the day of declaration.  The time has come to stop or start doing one or many of those things that concern or excite you.  Cliched as they may be, I for one am all for New Year's resolutions.  The demarcation of the day provides a simple opportunity to reevaluate and gear up for some sort of change.  I offer three of mine and invite any to share them with me, but certainly ask all to encourage and push me toward their fulfillment.

  1. I resolve to aggressively increase my knowledge and understanding to consciously live in a way that through every purchase and all consumption I will not cause or sustain misery and suffering on anyone. 
  2. I resolve that by June 1st we will either be in formal partnership with an existing non-profit organization engaged in textile reform, or will be in the process of beginning one. 
  3. I resolve by the end of September to be part of an established upcycled clothing manufacturing link from Haiti to Vashon where Pepe (second hand clothing) is transformed from a debilitating burden to a resource that produces high value ready to wear clothing for the U.S. market.
These three concepts will drive much of the content of the posts to come this year.  I ask any and all to aid in these pursuits, even if it's taking the lead and letting us follow.  I would love to know your resolutions and share the opportunity to encourage one another in pursuing change and a better world.

Please let's make this a year that we and all work together selflessly, equitably and effectively.