Monday, 27 September 2010

Day 133: Ethical Chic

Paris Fashion Week is upon us. The deliciously flamboyant couture houses will no doubt churn out some remarkable, if a little off-the-wall, creations. We all know, however, that fashion ain't necessarily the 'nicest' of industries - for many reasons. It may be pretty to look at, but the ethics of it are more than a little fluid. So as not to waffle on about sweatshops, unsustainable products and, dare I say it: fur, lets take a different tack.

Now in its seventh year, the Ethical Fashion Show is a chance for sustainable and ethical designers and retailers to show off their creations. Note the distinct lack of 'earthy' types with clothes made of patchwork fabric tied together with hemp. There is not a garment in sight that is there purely because it's ethical, it has to have style too - this is Paris, after all.

Now held in the rather grand 'Docks en Seine' building, home of the French Fashion Institute, it seems like 'ethical' fashion need not be frumpy. Besides, who could call a couture dress made entirely from recycled film stock 'frumpy'? Hot names at this years show include: Terra Plana, Diffus and Ciel.

Up until recently, I have passed off 'ethical' fashion as a bit of a fad. Something that just won't, given the nature of the fashion industry, work. No matter how 'good' an item of clothing is (ethically speaking) if it's not aesthetically pleasing, it's not going to cut it. Shows like this, and the rather surprising statistic that the industry is now worth around £175 million in the UK alone, seem to point to a significant shift in our thinking. Are we now at the point where we are happy to sacrifice our fashion? Will we be saying 'no' to paying hundreds of pounds for a garment made by a child, in Malaysia, from unsustainable sources? I think we are. It's been a long time coming, but the timing feels right. All we need now is for these 'big' ideas to filter down through the high street so that us lowly 'masses' will have the luxury to make the choice ourselves. Failing that, we need a fit celebrity and a major fashion house to launch a ludicrously lavish campaign of some sort - I'm not holding my breath on that one.

- James
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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Day 121: Bristol Bristol Bristol

Phew. What a positively mental few days. I am finally getting round to putting a few words together about a couple of events I was lucky enough to attend over the weekend - Bristol's Organic Food Festival and Bristol Green Doors.

The weekend kicked off with the food festival. A wonderful display of organic produce - everything from locally grown veg to organic and ethically produced bedding - it was well worth the £5 entrance fee. I won't bore you with a stall-by-stall lowdown of what was on offer, suffice to say good times were had by all (especially when you throw in some Bath Ale). One stand-out stall was The Community Farm which is a lovely little project that brings together local produce from around the south-west. The volunteers were amazingly knowledgeable about the food and were damn proud of it too. They offer a weekly delivery of veg right to your door for a very reasonable price and, if you're feeling green, they welcome a hand at harvest time too.

So after a swift half of Bath Ale, it was time to hit the city of Bristol and have a sneaky peek into a few of the homes that had very kindly offered to open their doors and show us their greens. I only had time to visit three homes, but was lucky enough to visit three very different set-ups.

The first was a beautiful terraced Victorian house with the synonymous high ceilings and intricate coving - a total pain in the ass when trying to reduce your energy consumption. They had installed a solar water heating system that had practically slashed their gas bills to zero during the sunnier months. Another similar house had made the effective, but slightly less visible change, of insulating the walls, sealing the wooden floors and installing a wood burning stove (using sustainable wood, of course). The third house, crammed into a row of terraced houses on a narrow street, really was breathtaking. With little space to play with, they did what good ole' IKEA tells us - 'think cubic'. A Dahl-like stair case led up to a raised 'workshop' where a solar powered train-set whizzed around much to the delight of the children. Up yet another, even more tiny staircase, and you emerged in the middle of a greenhouse atop the roof of the garage (two-storeys up by this point) to find a fully utilised vegetable garden and 'green roof' - really quite an amazing feat. All the work of the home's owner, Simon Lewis and his marvelous company Bristol Green Roofs.

So, all in all, a very fun and very informative weekend. It was inspiring to see energy saving techniques that I had only heard about in the flesh and actually working, to see how it was making a difference to the environment and also to the lives of the people living there was invaluable. Now, if only I had a garage I could build a green roof on...

- James
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Monday, 6 September 2010

Day 112: Random crap in your house (or how to "upcycle")

We've all gotten to the point where we now what type of plastics we can, and can't, put into our recycling bins. We have come to recognise the dreaded type '7' plastic as being a horrific blend of chemicals (all with unpronounceable names) that should not go anywhere near your little green box. How about though, we do something with our used products before we throw them out?

Some frustrated Googling threw up a delightful article on what is known as 'upcycling' - basically giving a new life and purpose to something before we cast it into the green box or the blue bag. It's a 'pre-recycle', cycle. If you will. 

Ideas ranged from saving the fat from bacon to (eventually) make a bird feeder, to toilet roll tubes as cable tidies - have a peek and get your craft on!

- James
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Sunday, 5 September 2010

Day 111: Bristol Green Doors

What a lovely idea - a weekend where people around your city open their doors to show what they've done to make their lives that little bit more environmentally friendly. From the little changes: energy saving light bulbs, rainwater harvesting and home composting, to the larger changes like PV installations and complete house renovations. 'Green Doors' is an event taking place in Bristol (fast becoming a leader in 'eco-awareness' in the UK) on the weekend 11th & 12th September. Around 50 people will open their doors and let us all have a good poke around and ask those questions we'd all love to be answered: how much does it really cost? Do these changes actually make a difference? How does it impact on your day to day living? I'll be there, camera in hand, to report back on what I find out.

The 'green' aspect aside, the whole event strikes as a rather wonderful idea anyway. The idea of homes being opened up to the public, and for people to say: 'come in, this is how we live' is quite a heart-warming notion. As much as I'm sure I'll take away great tips and tricks to shave a few kilowatts of my footprint, I'm hoping to get a little more from the event. Maybe it's something we should all do. Every month we should all relax, open our doors and let the big bad scary world in for a few hours. Besides, what else is there to do on a dreary weekend in September? 

Visit: for more information.
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