Thursday, 30 May 2013

Why Not Change?

On the 24th of April, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed costing the lives of over 1100 garment workers, mainly women from rural areas. The incident is the worst disaster ever to have occurred in the global garment industry. News of the tragedy travelling around the world lead to a media frenzy and as global attention focused on the substandard and dangerous working conditions in factories in the fashion industry, big retail brands were quick to issue statements and promise change. But have not such promises been made before? Visit the website of any given highstreet fashion label and you will most likely find a section on 'sustainability', 'corporate responsibility' or 'ethical trading' where the company pledges its support for a better world in beautifully worded promises about company values and videos show happy workers stating how much they love working for this particular company. Why then can something like the Rana Plaza happen? Or should we ask why do we keep letting it happen?

Picture from the wreck of the Rana Plaza (from National Post)
Although the largest so far, Rana Plaza is only one event in a chain of disasters that have taken place in garment factories and sweatshops over the past few years. Only six months ago, over 100 people died in a fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia near Dhaka and seven years ago 64 workers were killed in a similar building collapse. It is estimated that since 2005 at least 1,800 people have died in fires, stampedes, building collapses and other incidents in garment factories in Bangladesh. But once the river of media coverage dries up, how easy is it to forget any of this ever happened? Holding that £5 H&M t-shirt in our hands at check-out, do we ever remember? I cannot help but wonder, if a similar incident had happened in a UK factory, what would the consequences have been?

The garment industry in Bangladesh accounts for 80% of the country's exports and provides employment for roughly four million people. This makes for a complex situation and as everyone is busy playing the blame-game, I fear that very little again will change.

What can I do?
So rather than pointing fingers and finding scapegoats, maybe we had better thought about what we can do to help change happen. Here are a few suggestions:

Sign a Petition
Since the internet, petitions appealing to authorities, companies or industries for change have grown exponentially in size and number. A petition is an easy way to put pressure on an organisation to achieve change. You simply sign on with your name and email to demonstrate your support. There are even websites, like, that are specifically tailored towards creating and sharing petitions.
And apparently, they work!
The petition by the charity War on Want to get UK retailers to take responsibility for the Bangladesh disaster was signed by over 80,000 people and on the 16th of May over 30 companies signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, among them H&M, Primark and Marks & Spencer.

The accord commits the retailers to ensure and financially contribute to the building safety in the factories used by them. You can still sign the petition here.
I recently also signed the 1% Let's Fix Fashion campaign by UK ethical fashion blog Ms Wanda's Wardrobe. The campaign asks big fashion retailers to invest at least 1% into solving problems in their supply chain, making working conditions save, more ethical and environmentally friendly. 1% doesn't seem like a lot when you consider how much companies such as these must spend on marketing.

Get involved with a Charity
There are numerous charities out there fighting for change and justice. Find one in your local area and get involved with it, or support a big international organisation. For instance you could volunteer in your local Oxfam shop or get involved with the Fairtrade Foundation, War on Want or Action Aid (to name but a few). Charities always need support, and you can donate your money, time or simply your voice to their cause. To make it more fun, why not be creative about it? You can turn pretty much anything into a fundraiser, so why not a zombie march on Halloween, a glamorous tea party in the park or a local fashion show?

Shout loudly
Thanks to the internet, you can not only sign petitions, but actually contact companies directly. Nobody likes bad press, so why not tweet or facebook some of these retailers asking them to change and showing them that their consumers care? War on Want has made good use of this strategy, organizing people to harass  companies en masse using social media. If this is a bit too aggressive for you, then why not talk to family and friends about these issues and get them to think about it. Who knows, they may well feel the same and you may be able to support each other...

Buy differently and use differently
It is a fact that the garment industry employs millions of people and some argue that boycotting these products would destroy their livelihood. However, garment workers are often payed less than a living wage and are perpetually kept poor. So, if we never buy differently, how are things ever going to change?
Fair trade and ethical clothing brands provide great alternative options to highstreet fast fashion. Check out my links page to find a list of just a few or snoop around some of my old posts...
Other than buying more ethically, maybe it is time we had changed our attitude to fashion and clothes as a whole. Rather than 'just' buying something because its cheap, letting it drown in the depths of our wardrobe once we no longer like it, or throwing it out when it has lost its shape, why not think twice about the next item of clothing we buy? Think about how huge the effect could be if we were to revamp or restyle our old clothes rather than always buying new ones. Maybe it is time we started valuing the quality of a piece of clothing over its bargain price and invest in items that will last and come to define a part of our lives.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Vintage Home Pop Up

It was a dreary and rainy weekend so what better to do than attend the cozy Kitchen Sink Saturday, a vintage home pop up sale organized by Uncle Shelby Vintage and interior design & marketing company Project Two. A home pop up is pretty much what it says on the tin. For a day or afternoon, you turn your house into a boutique/ jewellers/ haberdashers/ food market, but unlike being the highstreet; you get to make up all the rules!
So I headed on over to 6 Bladon Court in Stranmillis and standing in front of the door, I have to say, I did feel a little nervous. Walking into a complete stranger's house is weirdly exciting and unnerving at the same time. But the lovely hostesses and the relaxed atmosphere soon made me feel at ease.

Caitlin, the face behind Uncle Shelby Vintage, is currently trying to set up her own business selling vintage clothes. During the day, Caitlin works in PR, but at night she turns into a vintage-maniac, spending her hours doing anything and everything to make her dream happen. As with every emerging business, money is tight. A home pop up is a great and cheap way for Caitlin to display her collection, get to know her customers and give them the chance to see and try on her stock. Caitlin hand-picks all the vintage clothes she sells, assuring high quality, and sources them from all over the world. It was so much fun browsing through her beautiful selection in this unique environment.

My favourite of the bunch had to be this gorgeous 70's print dress. I love the lace overlay at the top! It would make the perfect outfit for any garden party or summer wedding.

For the event, Caitlin teamed up with Catherine and Patricia, the creative goddesses behind Project Two. Once again I was reminded of how much power there is in collaborating with people. Project Two contributed toward the design of the event and sold some interior goodies, such as plush cushions, carpets and luxury curtains, and the combination worked really well.

Taking place in Patricia's gorgeous house (I left with a serious case of house-jealousy), the atmosphere was great. There was music, welcome drinks and tasty snacks. The fun thing about a home pop up is that you can really make it your own and treat your customers to a novelty shopping experience.

So if you are thinking about setting up a shop of your own, why not try a home pop up first? It may be a great way for you to dip your toe in the water!

If you missed the event, don't worry, Uncle Shelby Vintage is now also available online and you can follow Caitlin on facebook on twitter to stay tuned for the next home pop up!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Artists in Focus: Meet the Dollybirds

Welcome to the first post of Artists in Focus, my brand new blog series. Artists in Focus introduces local artists and designers who work sustainability into their art and showcases their environmentally-friendly creations. Creating sustainable work often involves a great deal of creativity and you may be surprised by how much of it happens right outside your doorstep!

For my first post I had the pleasure of talking to Eimear Maguire, the artist behind the Dollybirds. I met Eimear for a coffee in the bustling Avoca in Belfast's city centre, where a selection of her work is available for sale. When we finally manage to get our cappuccinos and grab a seat, Eimear plunges straight into telling me about the Dollybirds and her inspiration for her work. There is no question as to how much she loves and enjoys her work. It also shows in her creations; Eimear's delicate portraits of native birds perching on branches in front of pastel backgrounds are beautiful to behold.

Having grown-up in a family of artists, drawing, sketching and painting has been part of her life for as long as Eimear can remember. Together with her father and sister, she used to own a gallery space in North Belfast. The inspiration for her work Eimear finds right in her back garden and on her long walks up Cavehill with her dog. "We don't appreciate the wealth of the nature right around us," she says, shaking her head.

So what's sustainable about the Dollybirds? There are a few things actually...

All about the Frames
Rather than framing her originals and prints in new frames, Eimear recycles old, discarded and vintage ones. She sources them from anywhere she can think of; salvage yards, second-hand shops, flea markets, friends and acquaintances. She fixes them up and works on them until they match her Dollybirds. To paint them she uses toxic-free, eco-friendly chalk paint from Annie-Sloan. Having worked with modern frames at the beginning, Eimear finds that she prefers the old frames. "They give character to the birds. They tell a story."

A House for every Bird
To give her birds a home, Eimear has also started to create beautiful bird-houses. She fashions them from reclaimed wood and old floorboards and using the same chalk paint employs a sanding technique to achieve a vintage look. With the native bird population in decline, bird-houses are actually a way to contribute to our birds' survival by providing them with a safe place to nest.
Working with organisations such as Headway and Engage with Age, Eimear also uses the bird-houses in community art workshops she runs with senior citizens and people who have suffered head injuries.

Left and Top: the beautiful Dollybirds display at Avoca, Belfast. 

When I ask what Eimear finds most challenging about her work, she sighs and exclaims: "Time!" Eimear, who trained as a secondary school art teacher, still teaches one day a week. With two young children to look after and the community projects her schedule is full to the brim. She paints when her children are at school and often late into the night. Trying to build a business is not easy even if you have all the time in the world, so Eimear had to be realistic in what she could achieve. "I had to do something that's accessible, something I could do from home."

Despite all the challenges, the Dollybirds have been a huge success. Having only started painting them last year, Dollybird prints and bird-houses are already available in Avoca, as well as in the lovely interior design shop Dandelion Lane in Portadown, the cute Olivia Boutique in Donegal and in My Shop Granny Likes It in Galway. A show of Eimear's work at the John Hewitt has recently finished and when talking to me, Eimear had just sent 17 original Dollybirds to an exhibition in Oxford. But the artist's head is still bursting with ideas and she's currently thinking about branching out  and collaborating with her sister to make aprons and other vintagy household goods. 'Hats off' to Eimear and her Dollybirds is all I can say and I can't wait to see whatever else she creates.

I hope you enjoyed the first Artists in Focus. You can ogle more cute birds on Eimear's website and stay up to date by following her on twitter.

If you're a local artist that creates sustainable work and would like to be featured in Artists in Focus, get in touch here.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

A Magpie's Nest

When it comes to ethical and sustainable shopping, jewellery is possibly one of the easiest things to find. Drumming up some fair trade and environmentally friendly jewellery makers for this week's blog was no hard task... however, choosing which gorgeous pieces to include was much more difficult!

Just like the magpie, I love glittery things, especially if they come in the form of beautiful necklaces, earrings or bangles. So here's my selection of jewellery that will make you sparkle on the outside and leave you feeling great on the inside.


You can't beat a bit of gold. Timeless yet fashionable it helps to spark up any outfit. Here are some of my golden favourites.

One: Hand-Made hammered brass cuff and ring with a wood-like effect from Made. Operating under fair trade and ethical principles, Made's goods are all hand-made in their workshop in Kenya. Made has collaborated with names such as Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger and Top Shop. Prices range from £20 - £40.
Two: Cute disc earrings engraved with leaves in copper and brass from Peopletree, one of the UK's biggest fair trade fashion houses. At £10 its incredibly affordable.
Three: Stunning Fern Leaf Wedding Bands made from certified fair trade and fairminted 18ct gold and Fallen For You Leaf printed bangle made from recycled sterling silver coated in 18ct gold. Both items are made by CRED Jewellery. Pioneers in ethical jewellery since 1996, CRED specialises in fair trade classical jewellery, engagement rings and wedding bands... Just in case you were considering popping the question! The wedding band also comes in 100% recycled platinum... good to know.
Four: Brass statement necklace also from Made. This necklace is a strong choice and ideal if you want to add a bit of spike to an outfit.


Tired of the endless grey weather? Bring out all the colours of the rainbow with some of these fresh and happy pieces.

One: Multi-coloured choker incorporating beads and semi-precious stones. Shared Earth has made it their mission to improve the livelihood of disadvantaged people in developing countries and contributes towards keeping traditional skills alive that would otherwise be lost. Shared Earth has been selling fair trade goods and promoting ethical practice for over 20 years.
Two: Peacock bangle, also from Shared Earth. I've been a little obsessed with peacocks lately, so absolutely love this piece, and at £6.95 it's a steal!
Three: Brass hoop earrings with mint green glass beads from Peopletree. Yes, we're back to the mint green, just in love with that colour at the moment.
Four: Johari's Tabaka necklace incorporates unusual handcrafted paper beads and hammered brass triangle. 


The accessories below may look normal, but each item comes with a bit of a twist. Looking for jewellery with a bit more to it? Then you'll love these pieces made rather unconventional materials.
One: Golden necklace with a blue stone made from recycled glass, from Made.
Two: These cute studd earrings from Peopletree are made from recycled sari fabrics. Hand-made in India, only £6!
Three: Environmentally friendly earrings from Urban Lace. These earrings are carved from the inner tubes of old bike tires which Urban Lace collects from local bike shops! They make deadly bracelets, necklaces and masks as well.
Four: Call Me Necklace from Hearts. As the name suggests, this fashion necklace is made using old phone cord. Hearts' mission is to sell accessories and jewellery that are vehicles for change. With every purchase from Hearts you help make the world a more sustainable, ethical and better place. Check out their 21 core values here.
Five: Up-cycled pendant necklace incorporating a bullet shell, also from Hearts. The necklace is made by a stay-at-home mum and designer from Alaska, who incorporates her daily finds and discarded items into her creations. Prices for Hearts jewellery vary, but generally start from about $20.
Six: Bracelet made from old parachutes and military material. Peacecord bracelets are made by women in Afghanistan. Peacecord ensures fair labour practices, creates employment and opportunities for artisans and disadvantaged women and provides them with training and education. What a great way to support the cause of women for only $15!

Favourite Find

And finally, I just want to share one of my favourite finds with you. I just recently bought this beautiful brass leaf necklace at Hibiscus Flower, a great fair trade fashion shop in Edinbufgh (there's more to follow on that one!). Like some of the pieces above its from Johari and I can't wait to wear it. Johari, which means "something precious" in Swahili is a social enterprise that works to empower vulnerable young adults in Kenya. 100% of the profit from Johari's sales are used to fund community projects run by the Johari Foundation. The programmes provide for children and youn adults educational, vocational, social and basic needs and help them to a better future.

Right, I'm magpied out! I hope you enjoyed some of my selections... What a better way to change the world is there than by treating yourself (or someone else) to some beautiful jewellery!

Which was your favourite piece? Do you know any other ethical or sustainable jewellery places?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Boston and New York Part II

My first time ever to visit New York, I spent a large part of my time realising that I was by no means cool enough! Everyone here seems to have stepped right off the pages of a fashion magazine, well, except for the tourists that is. Apart from being marginally depressing, it was also hugely inspiring and I left with a head full of new style and decor ideas.
As I was in New York for just a few days, I only got to see a fraction of this vast city. There are uncountable vintage shops in New York and just as many blogs advising you as to which ones are the best... Here are a few I stumbled upon and really liked, but I'm in no way claiming to be an expert. 

If you are looking for high-end, designer and more expensive vintage, then Soho, East Village, and Nolita (for North of Little Italy) are great neighbourhoods to check out. 

Spotted: the gorgeous Andrea shopping at Ritual :)

I really liked Ritual Vintage, a tiny vintage boutique on Broome Street. The store has some very unusual pieces and an amazing selection of pre 1950s dresses. Definitely some rarities to be found in this one!

If you like it even fancier than that, then there's Frock just around the corner from Ritual. Set up by Evan Ross, former celebrity stylist, Frock offers designer and couture vintage dating from the 60's to the 90's for the stylish fashionistas of New York. Even if you can't afford them, it's great just to go and have a look at the fabulous pieces. 
Little Fox Cafe, pic from sollifestyle

Close by on Kenmare Street is the cozy Little Fox Cafe, where we thankfully stretched out legs (you end up doing a LOT of walking in NYC) and enjoyed a great cup of coffee while entertaining ourselves with people-watching. 

Not all the shops in lower Manhattan are fancy boutiques though. Head on over to East 11th Street and check out Buffalo Exchange. If you're on a budget, then this is the place for you! 

Opening the doors to its first store in 1974, Buffalo Exchange now has shops all over the US and there are four in New York alone. Similar to the Garment District in New York (see last post), they will buy your old clothes off you for store credit or cash. Buying 80% of their clothing directly from local customers makes this an incredibly sustainable and environmentally-friendly retail model. 
The selection of clothes is great too, with lots of good quality and designer second-hand ware at great prices. My sister almost had to drag me out of the shop!

Another part of the city you cannot miss out on is Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

You can take the subway straight to Bedford Avenue and enjoy a stroll past numerous hip coffee shops, craft beer pubs, organic grocers and great vintage and second-hand shops. There's a Brookly Flea market here every Sunday from 10am - 5pm, which I would have loved to visit.

Just off Bedford Avenue, you will find the famous Beacon's Closet. Based on similar principles as Buffalo Exchange, Beacon's Closet buys and resells customers' vintage and modern clothing. The selection is a little less mainstream than in Buffalo Exchange and the focus lies more strongly on vintage. The shop is huge, with clothes organized by colour on rails. You need to be in the mood for digging, but with a selection like this one, you're bound to find something. Beacon's closet also donates left-over clothes as well as a portion of their profits to local charities. 
pics from Beacon's Closet Website
Another great place to check out is Amarcord Vintage. This funky boutique on Bedford avenue sells upscale vintage from the 40s to the 80s. The garments are beautifully presented and in immaculate condition. The shops beautifully styled and dressed mannequins are great if you need a little outfit inspiration

Monks Vintage is another inexpensive place to buy vintage and second-hand. Located on Driggs Avenue right next to the Williamsburg Buffalo Exchange, this shop has a thrift store feel to it and sells everything from clothing and accessories to vintage books and boots. Staff were very friendly here and the changing room is a red phone booth with a suitcase that gets put before the door for a lock!

New York can be a rather expensive place to stay, so one last tip of mine would be to check out airbnb, a website that lets you list, discover and book unique accommodations. We used it for the first time  and got to stay in a lovely apartment in the Upper East Side. It's more formal than couch-surfing and a great way to meet some locals. If you don't mind staying in someones place, then it might be something for you.

I'm sure I've missed out on tons of great placesWhat are your favourite shops and places in New York?