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Sixteen Easy Steps to Insanity By ‘A Parent’

Buying the good way is sometimes the hard way

Let me introduce you to my own private hell – buying ethical clothes for my kids. It goes like this.I look one day at one of my children’s outfits. I notice that suddenly the ankles are nearer the knees, the cuffs nearer to elbows, there is a hole in the bum of the pants, and the child is walking like a small monkey because the top is so tight across the back. Cue hysteria. I will need to get new clothes. And the 16 easy steps to my insanity go like this…

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We Have Design Prototypes in Organic Fairtrade Cotton!

 Let me introduce the sampling stages of garment development (Indian Styles!)

  1. 1st stage: prototypes
  2. 2nd stage
  3. Approval
  4. Other
  5. Pre-production
  6. Production
  7. Photo
  8. Size Set

As I am only up to stage one I have no idea what the other seven stages yet involve, but they both excite and frighten me!

This week I got some of the prototypes of the first designs. The prototypes are the fully made up design in the right type of fairtrade organic cotton fabrics, but NOT in the right colours – colour tests come next  – (so fear not, these are not for dressing mini all blacks). The first prototypes do not have any of the trims and prints either – so to you that is no pretty pictures on the garments yet.

The prototypes give an idea of how the fabric drapes, how the pockets look, the weight and the stretch of the fabric, and the basic shape and fit. There are some changes that I have already picked up need to happen, which is great, though frankly lets hope I get a bit more decisive by the time sample stage 6 comes around!

I must say they do feel lovely (all fairtrade organic cotton tends to feel very different from standard cotton).

Here they are (the Grinling Hoody is still to come)…..

ropey tee in first prototype

ropey tee in first prototype

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The 3am Question. Can I Make Sustainable Business Happen?

One of things I continue to struggle with is this idea of how to best ‘fix’ the problems as I see them.

So here is the problem for me – a totally unsustainable system of production (notably in clothing), where both the environment and people are exploited for the purposes of business development, economic gain and so-called ‘individual consumer choice’.

It all sounds pretty radical when I put it like that, but basically for me it is about business and systems and politicians acting like dicks.

So, muka kids is my small (currently one woman, but I am always looking for others!) approach to addressing the problem. Make organic fair trade kids clothes, make them well, take them back & reward people for returning them (thereby both incentivizing supporting ‘good production’ and keeping clothing in use longer so reducing their footprint), use the resale of those second hand clothes to support women in poverty through microloans (therefore addressing one of the fundamental problems that allows business to exploit women garment workers – lack of choice).

is the solution to this?

is the solution to this…….

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BUT, here is the rub, the question that gets me at 3am in the dark. If the problem is a systems level one is the solution going to be an individual level one? The answer to this is probably a bit of yes & no.

Having spent most of my career in public health, I am trained to focus first on the high level solutions to problems. With helping to address the ‘obesity epidemic for example’ I think first about changing the physical environment, increasing public transport availability, reducing junk food outlets etc, as these are the things that the research tells us has much greater chance at success than expecting a whole lot of individuals to overcome massive personal barrier to behaviour change and eat differently.

So when it comes to sustainability and ethics in clothing, is expecting individuals to change their behaviour before any of the systems have changed the most effective approach? What I mean is, does creating a kids clothing business that does the ‘right thing’ have the impact required to change a system, through providing a single option for consumers to make the ‘good’ choice when buying kids clothes?

Well what population health approaches also note is that grass-root movements can have a lot of impact when combined with those larger systems changes. A noisy and engaged group of individuals can have an impact. A good public health example is when communities come together to fight the licensing of more alcohol outlets within their local area to reduce the harm from alcohol.

Also a small and successful project can have wider reaching implications for change. They can serve as an example of leadership and provide a talking point in the space where change is required. For me, Kowtow provided that model by showing that fairtrade organic clothes that were focussed on design could work. But it takes hard work and a lot of engagement, and it can depend on hard to replicate factors like personality, drive and just plain ‘good luck’.

So back to me at 3am. Well really being an analytical kind of person I don’t think the answer will ever be clear. All any of us as individuals can do is put our personal resources (be it skills, energy, passion) into where it seems to make sense at the time. The idea that the ‘right thing’ will be evident to you (or me!) is probably about as true as the idea that there is a single effective way to address the problems rife in the production of many items we buy and consume. The best we can do is try it out (accept the risks inherent in that) measure our impact, take stock and assess whether we are achieving what we set out to do, and then be flexible. Being flexible is a much more accurate term than failing I think. Flexibility tells us that a level of analysis has been applied to something we tried and we assessed a better way to achieve our goals.

So, is muka kids the solution? Well it may well be one solution for me and for you hopefully. There are others too (which I will talk about in another post). In the meantime I will turn off the light and hope that within 10 minutes of going back to sleep the children DO NOT attempt a swat team mission to get into our bed.

The Production of Cotton Clothing (A Lot of Ethical & Environmental Craziness): Part 2 of 3

Last week I posted an infographic outlining the basic process of cotton clothing production (Where Does your Cotton Tee Come From?). Understanding where our goods come from is interesting stuff just from a ‘how cool is that?” perspective, anyone seen how online supermarket stores operate? What understanding the production chain also does is lift the veil on HOW the stuff we buy is made, and so helps us decide how comfortable we are with what those processes mean for people and the environment.

So, further to the basics of the cotton clothes production process I want to draw attention to where things seem to have gone pretty pear shaped. I want to show (using additions to the original infographic) where in the process costs are cut and how. These are cuts that enable us to buy seriously cheap clothes (and lets face it some not so cheap because even high end fashion producers use the same process), and ensure some large textile & fashion businesses bring in handsome profits.

I have worked to verify all claims with valid evidence & reports , and for the interested reader there is a pretty extensive reference list (yeah yeah do an eye roll, I am a geek). If anyone sees any gaping holes, or has some evidence they think is more substantial or valid do swing it my way!

PS. I will follow this blog up with a final instalment on tangible solutions. So all is not lost, despair not people…..


Infographic: Environmental & Ethical Craziness in Cotton Clothing Production

Infographic: Environmental & Ethical Craziness in Cotton Clothing Production

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Where Does your Cotton Tee Come From? Part 1 of 3

Cotton clothing production is complex. Cotton clothing production involves many people. Cotton clothing production is resource intensive. There is room for improvement. Significant room.

In an earlier blog I discussed what buying certified fair trade cotton clothing actually means. In that blog I skipped over the complexities of the cotton production process for the purposes of brevity. Now I want to lay out exactly what the supply chain for cotton clothing in India (where muka kids clothes will be made) looks like. The purpose being to help highlight the complexity of the process, the huge numbers of workers involved and to lay the ground work for talking about where exactly in that chain ethical and environmental issues crop up and how they can best be countered. Right, no further words, just a picture (all be it with lots of words!).


Infographic. Cotton Production in India.

Infographic. Cotton Production in India.