Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Scouting the Highstreet: Monsoon

We are back with another Scouting the Highstreet, the series where I go in search for fairtrade, ethically made and sustainable clothes in our Highstreet shops. This week we are investigating Monsoon, the emporium of flowy garments and hippie-chic, and it isn't looking bad, not bad at all. 
Inspired by the traditional craft and colourful block-printed fabrics he saw on his travels through India, Peter Simon launched Monsoon and struck a chord with shoppers. There was nothing similar available in Britain at the time, Simon informs the Sunday Times. The first Monsoon shop opened as a small boutique in London in 1973. It and its sister store Accessorize are now a global chain to be found in almost every city with 400 stores in the UK and more than 600 world-wide. The model in the very first Monsoon campaign was none other than Jane Seymour, Bond actress and Simon's girlfriend at the time.

Jane Seymour modelling for Monsoon in the 1970s, Sunday Times
Monsoon has started taking steps towards more ethical fashion very early on. In 1994 the company launched the Monsoon Accessorize Trust, which helps disadvantaged communities in Asia by providing education, health services and income generating projects. Watch the video here if you want to find out more!

Monsoon was also one of the founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, signing the coalition in 1999. The ETI is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations who work together to improve the conditions of the poor and vulnerable across the globe. In 2010, Monsoon was awarded 'Leader' status by the ETI.
The company also funds the Esthetica ethical fashion section at London Fashion Week.

Monsoon is certainly proud of its ethical stance. In 2011 it launched the LOVE collection, an acronym that stands for the company motto: Living Our Values and Ethics since 1973.
Simon believes in trade rather than aid as a means to decrease poverty; by providing trade in small consistent and fair forms, women can be enabled to have steady incomes and plan for the future.
"Fashion can be beautiful and desirable and still be sustainable. Everyone has a conscience and consumers will appreciate knowing what their clothes stand for."
Shailina Parti, design director at Monsoon

Monsoon still uses a lot of natural fabrics along-side polyester and other synthetics, but to compete in the Highstreet, the company does not invest fully in organic fabrics. Although Monsoon is not strictly speaking fairtrade and  mainline garments are still mass-produced, the company has launched a fairtrade and sustainable range. The Boutique Range was developed with SEWA, a women's support group and trade union for home workers in India, and provides customers with colourful hand-crafted gifts and home wares. Most of the Boutique producers are members of the World Fairtrade Organisation and the Boutique range aims to be more sustainable by up-cycling and re-using fabric cut-offs.

You can find a Monsoon in Belfast in the cool out-door Victoria Square Shopping Centre and in Dublin on red-brick Grafton Street.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Old Made New at ReFound Belfast

This week we step inside the curious universe of ReFound Belfast, a world filled with the long-forgotten remnants of lives past. Here the worn-out, the replaced, the once much loved but now neglected pieces of our lives find a new home and gain new life. At ReFound the discarded is precious and the out-dated holds potential. Daily, ugly furniture ducklings are turned into beautiful swans of interior design. And this is what it looks like, tadaaah:
#187 by artist Christine Trueman
It all started when Jill O'Neill, founder and driving force behind ReFound, returned to Belfast in 2007. Having lived and worked in places as diverse and exciting as Glasgow, New York and San Francisco, O'Neill had become fascinated by the "art of living" that she experienced abroad, the scavenging for unique pieces, the designing of your home to create something unique. Returned to Northern Ireland, O'Neill wanted to employ the same ethos of moving in and starting afresh to her new home here, but was at a loss as to where to look for the pieces. And so the idea of ReFound slowly took shape. 

Attracted by the journey of ordinary objects, I was inspired to create a space where these objects gained new life as part of the next stage of their journey. 
Jill O'Neill 
Left: Dresser by Lulabelle's House. Right: Table & Stool by Anushiya Sunda

ReFound works with local artists and designers recycling used furniture to create chic, one-of-a-kind pieces pieces which are then sold on the ReFound website, as well as in the ReFound House, their permanent retail venue in Belfast. With considerable experience in publishing and marketing, O'Neill takes care of the business side of things, while the artists are free to create - it's win-win. Although, O'Neill confesses that it can be hard to get the business-art balance right. There's always the question: how commercial should you be? "But then again" she muses, "it's about providing alternative avenues for the artists to make money." Something that is crucial in the current economic climate, when not many people are investing in art.

Above: table by Anastasija Andrejeva. Below: Telephone Table by Katie Brown Textiles

The permanent home of ReFound, the ReFound House, however, is much more than just a shop. It's a hub for 'sustainable creativity' and doubles as a studio, exhibition space and venue. Apart from furniture you'll also get beautiful home accessories at ReFound, such as these crafty birds by Hey! Homewrecker... 

Or this cute plate-art by refound designer Rachel Dickson.

For 2013 ReFound has many exciting plans, such a working to achieve a more cohesive look via a smaller artist collective and increasing the access to their space by hosting a number of creative events and collaborations. So lots of exciting stuff to look out for! ReFound also want to move further into the territory of online sales, which is great news for everyone living abroad! Lastly, ReFound will focus on the 'Repurposing' of objects as well as simply restyling them. This means that at ReFound you will soon be able to buy shelves made out of chairs, tables made out of wardrobes and benches made out of toilet seats (okay, maybe not that one).

Top Left: Tabletop animals by DavidCreative, bottom left: variety of cushionss by Larissa Watson, Goddess & Swift, Cassie Blinkey Olive Art & TeddyBaby. On the right: the Refound Suitcase shelf

The ReFound building is open every Thursday to Saturday from 10.30am to 5.30pm, but you can go look at their gorgeous furniture online on their website 24/7.

Alright, shall we look at another Before-After? Okay? Okay!

#197 by Mandie Lowry

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sneak Peak at my Wardrobe

Hello my dear blog readers. I hope you enjoyed last week's post by my lovely sister. If you've missed it,  make sure to go and check it out. It's well worth a read.
I've been going on my own challenge to only buy fairtrade, second-hand or vintage clothing for a almost four months now and so far I've been doing pretty well! I have to confess, I've had one slip-up. I accidentally bought a band t-shirt at a gig! I have no idea where and how it was made, but as my husband pointed out, by buying it I did support a very good native indie band. That made me feel better. (They're called the Staves and they're amazing - in case you're interested.)

So this week I'm granting you all a little sneak peak at my wardrobe, showing off some of my favourite vintage, second-hand and fairtrade pieces that I gathered over the years and especially within the last four months.

Let's start out with these two... on the left we have a very cool Jack Wills tartan blazer that I snatched up a few weeks ago in Rusty Zip, a cool local vintage & second-hand place. And I paid all of £15 for it. Ka-ching! The sparkly 80's top I bought a while ago in a vintage shop in Temple Bar, Dublin. I love the black & gold diamond shaped sequin patches and it has become my go-to piece for any night out.

The blue hand-bag below is also vintage, although I don't remember what year its from. I got it on a trip to Edinburgh last year. The shop is called Armstrongs and I think there's a few dotted over the city. If you're ever in Edinburgh, you have to go and visit this shop. My girlfriends and I were in there for ages!
The coral dress is from Peopletree (I know I keep going on about them). The pattern on it are actually small dragonflies. I got it in a sale and only payed about a tenner for it I think. So you can get fairtrade clothes on the cheap!

The little blouse is originally from Monsoon. I found it in the Oxfam on Stephen's Green, Dublin. This shop didn't use to sell clothes, but now has an excellent selection of second-hand pieces.
And then there is the floral dress, ah the dress! It's 70's and I bought it ages ago at a Vintage fair at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. I love it - the husband hates it! You know, the usual... anyways I don't wear it enough and have just decided I'll wear it lots this year. The vintage fairs in Royal Marine are also well worth a visit. Watch out for them, they seem to happen every now and again. I'm sure, once a new one is announced you can find out about it here.

Last but certainly not least, especially in the current 0°C weather, comes my wonderful green Hippie Coat. Its real leather, cozy warm and has a huge hood to protect me from the wind and rain. It's also from the 70's and I got it on the same trip to Edinburgh in Armstrongs. Seriously - you have to go to that shop!

But enough of me. I want to hear from you! I'm launching a blog event called My Favourite Piece and I need your help. Send in a picture of you and your favourite piece and I'll feature it on the blog. Whether it's vintage, second-hand, fairtrade, recycled or home stitched does not matter - as long as its sustainable and ethical and you absolutely love it! Include a little bit about yourself too and why this item of clothing means so much to you.  Maybe someone special bought it for you as a gift? Maybe it makes you feel gorgeous? Maybe Ryan Gosling slept in it for a night? Whatever it is, let us know!
Email all contributions to

I'll include as many of your stories and pictures as possible on the blog at the beginning of February.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Girl who did not shop

Today my little sister, the beautiful Andrea, is sharing her story on my blog. Find out more about the unusual choice she's made and be inspired by her commitment and endurance.

Hi there! The first week in 2013 is already coming to an end, and I hope you're all still successfully holding on to your New Years' resolutions. This year I did not add any resolutions to my list, because a while ago I made a decision which is pretty much using up all the willpower I was blessed with, and that's not all that much to start with. Exactly six months ago this little shopaholic decided to take a break and live without shopping for an entire year. So no buying clothes, shoes or purses... and unbelievably enough I am still going strong. I have made it through some crazy shopping-withdrawals and honestly, I just feel free.

“You’re not buying any clothes for an entire year? But… why?” That’s usually the reaction I get when I explain my lack of interest in a shopping trip or why I keep wearing my dad’s old jumpers. Well I guess it’s time I explained myself. Last June I packed my backpack with mosquito spray, malaria tablets and a few of my oldest clothes and headed to Mozambique, Africa, to help out in an orphanage for two months.
I was intrigued and fascinated by the sheer beauty of the colourful, vibrant country, the people and the culture. However, I was also struck by the stark poverty. The stories of the kids in the orphanage broke my heart. Being surrounded by people living in garbage dumps and children, dressed in rags, playing in the dirt, compliments on my “pretty clothes” filled me with shame. I felt awkward thinking about my two closets full of nice, new and rather unnecessary clothes at home. 

So after returning home in August, I promised myself not to go shopping for an entire year, and that all the money I saved that way would go to Africa to support the orphanage. I realised that I don’t need a new pair of shoes to make me happy. I have more than I could ever need.

The start was kind of exhilarating, I felt purposeful and optimistic. It was in the second month that things started to get tougher. One of my good friends was getting married and I naively agreed to a full blown shopping-spree with my girlfriends to assist them in buying dresses. Spending an entire day stuck in little boutiques and shops, surrounded by fabulous dresses, skirts, high heels with a wallet that was for once not entirely empty was no piece of cake! A trip to Stockholm with my friends (where everyone somehow seems to be wearing clothes straight out of a fashion show) didn’t make things easier either, but I've made it this far and it’s actually getting easier over time! I find myself with so much more free time and a clear head. Whenever I do get the urge to run into a shop I tell myself that I have been blessed with so much, and I do not need to define myself through my clothes. I have also gotten much more creative in choosing my outfits, reusing my dad’s old jumpers, flannel shirts, and everything else I can find in our attic (good thing retro is in, huh?).

I am truly glad I decided to fast from shopping this year, and crazily enough I’m enjoying myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still love clothes, and I don’t think shopping is a bad thing, but it should not define you or dominate your life. We live in a consumer culture, which constantly screams at us that we need more, when we already have so much. Meanwhile a vast majority of the world still lives in poverty. As a girl, and a Christian, I found it freeing to step out of the consumer machine and put my life back in perspective.

Funnily enough, the friends who were most surprised by my decision have now decided to join me, and so far three of my closest friends are fasting from clothes with me. We are having a great time supporting each other and sharing our hilarious no-shopping struggles! So to all of you either sick of going clothes-shopping or intrigued by the idea of making a difference in this world: JOIN ME!!! I promise it’s worth it! 


Have you made any similar New Years resolutions? Do you want to change the world for the better? Share your thoughts and stories with us! 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Weather Outside is Frightful!

Happy New Year World! Let's hope that 2013 will be the year of real change in the fashion industry towards ethically produced and fair fashion!

I'm back in Belfast after my Christmas visit to Dublin and it's rather chilly and VERY windy here! So I thought I'd devote this blog post to wrapping up ethically, i.e. where to find gorgeous fair trade hats, scarfs and gloves etc.. I myself have recently lost my favourite and almost only hat, so am currently on the search for a replacement. 

One place where you can get gorgeous knitted accessories is Lowie. For over ten years, Lowie has been selling intricately hand-knitted and embroidered clothes using organic materials and ensuring their workers get paid fairly. They for instance make these luxury knee-high socks, hand-knitted out of mohair wool.

Navy Mohair Knee Socks by Lowie
Or this gorgeous set of a scarf and finger-less mittens with a thistle and flower motif:


Mohair Lacy Beanie

I myself was tempted by this cozy little hat in a similar style to the socks above... unfortunately Lowie's prices are rather at the upper limit for my budget, especially just after Christmas. I can't afford to spend £40 on a hat or almost £50 on socks. However, if you're looking for a luxury fair trade gift for someone, Lowie is absolutely the place to go!

So my search for a fair trade hat continues. The next place I checked out was Bibico, an ethical clothing brand whose clothes are produced in fair trade cooperatives. Bibico's style is simple and very relaxed and they sell beautiful dresses, tops, cardigans and also some accessories. 

If you're like me and your feet are always cold, then maybe these hand-knitted woolen leg-warmers are the thing for you.
Irene Warmers by Bibico

In case hats are not your thing but you want your ears to stay warm in the chilly winter wind, then Bibico also make these crochet hair bands. This one is on sale at the moment and you can snatch it up for just £10!

Nassed crochet hair band

Unfortunately the hat I had set my eyes on was all sold out. Oh well, on goes the search, next stop: Peopletree. Peopletree is possibly one of the biggest fair trade fashion houses in the world. If you want to find out more about peopletree, check out my recent post about them. Apart from stylish clothes they also sell lots of cosy and colourful accessories to keep you warm. Here's a selection:

Accessories by Peopletree

Orla Kiely Stone Hat

I absolutely fell in love with this cute bobble hat designed by Orla Kiely. You wouldn't believe my excitement when I saw it was on sale! But luck wasn't on my side today; I soon found out that this hat is out of stock as well *sigh*.

In the end I went onto Oxfam's website and ordered a nice second-hand hat that was originally from warehouse and only cost me a fiver. And this would be my last suggestion on finding warm winter accessories: check your local charity shops or visit oxfam. Their online shop has lots of cool items, including nice vintage things. I know its not fair trade, but it's second-hand. So you're reducing waste and you're supporting a charity!

If you're looking for something quirky and you don't mind whether your gloves match or not, then there's this fun project by Do the Green Thing called Glove Love. Here abandoned single gloves find new partners. Find out more by watching this glove success story:

Do you know any places that sell or make great fair trade hats, scarves, gloves, socks to keep you warm in those winter days? Have you found a treasure at a second-hand shop or do you make your own? Let us know...