Plastic micro-fibre pollution from laundry in tap water

Flo Nolan, ethical fashion lifestyle writer, interviews Safia Minney and discusses plastic micro-fibre pollution in tap water, from laundering clothes.

You spoke at the Fashion SVP seminar “Sustainable Sourcing: Fresh Challenges, New Opportunities” bringing together specialsists to discuss what the fashion industry can do about micro-fibre pollution from clothing wash off.  Why should we care?

Mircro-fibres caught the attention of the public last year with Orb Media’s report that found that over 83% of the worlds drinking water is contaminated by micro-plastics, with one of the major culprits for this contamination being the fashion industry. Our drinking water is now full of plastic fibres, up to 5mm in length, as a direct result of fast fashion’s mass-production of clothes in synthetic materials.

The micro fibres are ingested by fish and filter feeders, like mussels and oysters, and are rapidly becoming part of the food chain.

This contamination happens when synthetic clothing is washed in washing machines and the micro-fibres they are composed of wash off and end up in water treatment plants but are not filtered out.

This contaminated water flows back into the water table systems and our drinking water, our fields, polluting the soil that we rely on for crops. They have polluted our oceans and some argue are as numerous as plankton so naturally they are ingested by fish and filter feeders, like mussels and oysters, and are rapidly becoming part of the food chain.

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, brought home the issues that face our oceans and the effect of plastic pollution on it – can we use this media attention and heightened public awareness to change the fashion industry and the way we buy clothing and care for it?

The fashion industry must reduce production in synthetic fibres and fabrics and producing in natural and organic fibres.  As consumers we should buy natural fibres and re-consider the way we buy clothing and shoes.  Buying less and demanding longevity and quality is a good start.  We can also wash the synthetic clothes we own less and when we wash them in a Guppy bag to collect the micro fibres and throw these in the trash.

I hope more consumers will switch to natural fibre and fabric alternatives  –  I’m surprised that people who embrace well-being that choose synthetic yoga wear rather than organic cotton yoga wear despite it being very affordable as well as allowing your skin to breath.

The fashion industry and government needs to be looking at a ban and regulation on the production of synthetics and how to filter water to reduce micro-fibre pollution.  I think there needs to be a ban like the micro-bead ban passed in 2017.  I fear that the vested interests from the fast fashion industry in synthetic fibre, acrylic, polyester, etc; because they are cheap, is just too huge.  We will have to raise awareness and campaign from within the industry, as Patagonia are, alongside ethical fashion pioneers, together with consumers and environmental organisations to push the Government for regulation.

If all else fails, I think we should ask fashion company CEO’s to drink water with micro-fibres in relation to how much synthetic fashion they produce!

So what can fashion brands do to avoid mircro-fibre pollution? How does People Tree and Po-Zu do it differently?

When I founded People Tree 27 years ago, I decided I would try to make clothes using only natural fibres because I didn’t want to use synthetics as they are unbiodegradable. It was on the basis of using fashion as a tool for change.  As a way of producing fibres like organic cotton, hemp, nettle and jute in a way that protects the environment and creating livelihoods for economically marginalised people and artisans in rural areas. The difference between brands such as People Tree and Po-Zu and fast fashion brands is that we think downstream, back into supply chain. We design our clothes and shoes using sustainable materials and avoid using toxic substances in the production process.

We build sustainable supply chains that reflect best practice with relation to people and the environment. Organic and natural fibres that break down in months rather than hundreds of years. People Tree worked to create standards for the farming of organic cotton, and we try to avoid synthetic materials even in our interfacings and accessories.   However it is difficult to eliminate synthetics completely – but as a company we have largely done so.

The dress I’m wearing today is 96% organic cotton with 4% elastane.   Po-Zu shoes uses organic cotton, cork, natural rubber and pineapple leaf fibre in its shoes and all these materials biodegrade quickly in the environment.

There are ways forward and quick wins.  We have a short time to reign in the huge levels of pollution from fast fashion production, these ‘externalities’ are not accounted for in our current economic modelling of fashion production, but they are fast destroying our health and the health of our planet.  We have evidence of the immediate effect of chemicals on people living near water waste and now mounting evidence that plastics can disrupt human hormones levels.

Safia Minney available for speaking engagements worldwide and also for consultancy work. Please contact: info@safia-minney.com

Further reading on the Fairtrade Coalition AGM on Anna Brindle’s blog 

‘Fair Trade’ added to Encyclopedia Britannica

Safia Minney writes: Great to see the new entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica for Fair Trade after over 30 years of what many would argue is the most significant grassroots movement for social justice and sustainability of our time.

Britannica Fair Trade
PLEASE CLICK IMAGE TO RETWEET

It has also led to the development of the MDGs (Millennium Development goals) and SDGs (Sustainable development goals) and other new bodies of thinking on New Economics, and standards for ethical business, and a ground swell for ethical consumption, etc. Fair Trade was seen in the 70s as a solution to poverty at a time when people were becoming increasingly disillusioned with ‘charity’, people were calling for ‘Trade not Aid’, (charity being seen as often ineffective, unsustainable, paternalistic and often hampering local economic development initiatives). Fair Trade began to be seen as a way of bringing long-term support through a partnering approach to trade whilst promoting better livelihoods, prices, gender equality, environmental sustainability, local initiatives and self-determination to empower people and create healthy economies. (I’ve seen it close up – it really does reach the parts other trade cannot reach.)Safia Minney Fair Trade
Fair Trade started linking small scale producer groups, but today the principles of Fair Trade now coming to large scale factories and farming practice, which is good on the whole. (Although, I would always prefer earning a living working on a handloom in a village rather than in a large factory).

I very much hope that the Sri Lanka ethical line that we have just developed at Po-Zu will create waves. Not just because they are beautiful sneakers, but also because as Po-Zu orders grow, we will be able to further widen our collections by bringing new natural materials to the factory and work more closely with the community and support the workers in ways that will make the most difference to them.

This is your chance to become a shareholder in Po-Zu, to earn some lovely rewards, like a pair of our first Sri Lanka shoes, and benefit from the growing interest in ethical fashion. Trend forecasters agree that ethical footwear is the next big thing – and this is the chance that doesn’t come along often. We hope that you’ll join our remarkable, committed and talented team at Po-Zu.

(Safia Minney received an MBE for her services to Fair Trade and Fashion in 2009. She is founder and built People Tree as Global CEO for 24 years. She is now Managing Director at Po-Zu. Watch this space).

Read the listing www.britannica.com/topic/fair-trade

Safia Minney available for speaking engagements worldwide and also for consultancy work. Please contact: info@safia-minney.com

Creating a Fashion Revolution

Some lovely people recognise me as the pioneer of sustainable fashion, they even stop me to chat on the tube in Tokyo or London.

I started my journey 27 years ago in Japan where I created People Tree the world’s leading Fair Trade and sustainable brand, indeed, creating a fashion revolution.

I built supply chains from scratch to benefit cotton farmers with regular orders and paid them organic and fairtrade premiums before the standards existed and then I helped to build these standards, including those for Fair Trade manufacture, with World Fair Trade Organisation – for the making of clothes, foods and other products.

For me it has always been about creating beautiful and desirable products – after all in Japan there was very little awareness of environmental issues and worker exploitation over two decades ago – if it wasn’t well-designed and of good quality, it wasn’t going to sell. I think cutting my teeth in Japan and working closely in collaboration with my artisans and fair trade groups and customers and buyers helped me build a success business.

With a background in advertising, publishing and media, I couldn’t believe the resources used to sell stuff that doesn’t make people happy and healthy, In fact most of the time it does the opposite.

When in the early 1990s I read about the exploitation in sportswear and denim factories it made my blood boil. We were tacitly holding up this exploitative system by buying these products. I realised that poor people give up control and how power is used to further impoverish them.

In 1995 we opened our first shop in Tokyo, probably the first eco-concept store, with lots of experiential opportunities for customers, they could drink fair trade coffee, browse a library of eco books, hear lectures from local environmentalists and producers would visit from India, Bangladesh, Kenya and all over… we had a handloom at the front of the store, ran fashion shows, hunger banquets and jewellery making classes.

In 2000 I brought People Tree to London with the help of my former boss at Marketing Week. We started to build traction when Wayne Hemingway featured People Tree on Breakfast television, and Sienna Miller wore People Tree for a fashion feature with The Telegraph. But these were the very early days of ethical fashion.

Safia and Zandra RhodesI was delighted as the business grew. We had 800 stores selling People Tree. I would run press trips with opinion leaders, journalists, celebrities and designers like Emma Watson, Zandra Rhodes, Laura Bailey etc. to meet the farmers and artisans in the villages where we work. We were proving another way of doing business works at the same time we were building a new sector, ethical fashion, and setting a new agenda for the fashion industry and we were working closely with civil society grassroots organisations too, to understand the challenges faced by the people that make our fashion industry so profitable.

We brought their stories and showed how it could be done differently through TV documentaries and news programmes with many Japanese producers and in fashion and womens magazines internationally.

In 2013, ‘True Cost’ Director, Andrew Morgan approached me following the Rana Plaza building collapse. We started a long journey together with Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle and many other great friends in the sustainable fashion movement.

Re-designing a more sustainable fashion industry

the-true-costThe True Cost movie was watched by over 10 million people thanks to a lot of hard work, support and collaboration. There were dozens of red carpet screenings around the world, attended by fashion people from Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, and many other high profile luxury designers; it was shown in Fashion companies and Fashion colleges, and the public realised that the slow food approach had come to fashion.

Also, Fashion Revolution, with over 100 country offices has spread new thinking about fashion, and the workers behind it and our home – our planet. We have made a unique turning point. Transparency and ethics have become a lead product attribute, and in a crowded market people are asking about the people behind the product, about animal rights and the impact on the environment and checking the companies are really walking their talk.

I’m delighted that I can help Po-Zu develop an ethical shoe line in Sri Lanka. It’s great to learn about a new product area, however the sustainable materials are the same and so largely are the customers who frankly just want a pair of cool shoes to complete their ethical look. Hopefully with Po-Zu founder (pictured far left) Sven Segal’s incredible design eye we can create the ethical statement shoe – the most beautiful part of an outfit – whilst making feet, the foundation of well being, the happiest that they can be.

We have great plans for Po-Zu to make it THE go to ETHICAL FOOTWEAR brand. WE know how to do it. We hope you’ll want to be part of it and that you will join us on CrowdCube and become a shareholder.

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Safia Minney, Fairtrade guest speaker at Oxford University’s Wadham College

Join us in Oxford for an inspiring evening

Safia Minney MBE is delighted to announce that she will be guest speaker at Oxford University’s Wadham College for the Oxford Fairtrade Coalition AGM Monday 29 January 2018 6.30pm – 9pm. (share this via twitter here)

Safia will be talking about her experiences of founding a Fair Trade Fashion Company People Tree, author of several books including Slow Fashion and more recently Slave to Fashion, and her current role as Managing Director of an ethical shoe company Po-Zu.

Safia-Minney-Oxford-FairTrade

She will be sharing the challenges she faces as she balances Fair Trade and sustainability principles with commercial reality. Book your free place here via eventbrite.

Why are Fair and Ethical Trade so important in today’s world? What does the future hold for Fair Traders? How do we encourage more people to commit to Fair Trade and change their behaviour as consumers?

Join us as guests of the OXFORD FAIR TRADE COALITION AGM

29 January 2018 . 6.30pm – 9pm
Wadham College
Okinaga Room
Parks Road
Oxford
OX1 3PN
Free event
All welcome
Disabled access at venue
Book your free place here: OxfordFairTradeAGM.eventbrite.co.uk

About Safia:

Safia Minney MBE, FRSA is Managing Director of award winning ethical shoe brand Po-Zu and Founder and Director of People Tree, the pioneering Fair Trade and sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand.

She developed the first organic and Fair Trade clothing supply chain and is recognised by the World Economic Forum as an Outstanding Social Entrepreneur.

A post shared by Safia Minney (@slavetofash) on

Oxford became a Fair Trade City in 2004. This means that the Fairtrade Foundation was satisfied that it had achieved the five criteria required to qualify as a Fairtrade Town (or City).

A local Fairtrade steering group is convened to ensure the Fairtrade Town campaign continues to develop and gain new support. www.oxfairtrade.org.uk

Reflecting on 2017

Thank you for all your support last year!

CS Lewis Quote Jan-18

2017 was a tough year for many…

A year that many of us felt a shift…

A year when many of us felt that through the transition good things could come…in the words of C.S.Lewis:

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Slave to Fashion book launch

April 2017, thanks to many of you, saw the launch of my 8th book, Slave to Fashion, on the subject of modern slavery within fashion supply chains, and published by those talented people at New Internationalist.

To find out more about it please read my blog and hear what contributors and reviewers have to say about it. The book has been read by fashion bloggers, industry buyers and ethical consumers alike and was also launched in the US also in Summer 2017.

We still have a VERY long way to go to eradicate modern day slavery and exploitation, partly because it is a systemic problem. Whilst we seem to have made positive progress in 2017, thanks to the great work of professional and government organisations, and indeed us ‘active citizens’ – it feels as if we are only beginning to scratch the surface.

I do find it heartening that finally we are discussing our dysfunctional, bankrupt economic system and how it is failing not only the underprivileged, but the middle and professional classes; the environment, and undermining the chance for peace and democracy.

If ever collaboration, good leadership, education, the enforcement of our international Declarations and Laws were needed, it is NOW.

January 2017, whilst continuing to work on the Board with People Tree (the company I founded in Japan 27 years ago), I joined Po-Zu, the ethical shoe brand, as a consultant and MD.

It has been a hugely interesting and busy journey helping to make the Star Wars / LucasFilm collaboration a success. Setting up an ethical supply chain in Sri Lanka, and working on sales and marketing, operations and the collections to make Po-Zu THE go-to ethical footwear brand.

Po-Zu Crowdcube Sven Segal, Founder and CEO & Safia Minney, Managing Director from Sven Segal on Vimeo.

And of course, for me, during 2017 it has been a pleasure to be part of the global social enterprise community, working internationally with some of the leading universities, companies and networks to mainstream a new thinking about ethical business practice and sustainable living.

A huge thank you to you all – and hoping that 2018 is the happiest and most fulfilling year yet for you 🙂

UPDATE: Safia is honoured to be guest speaker at two events in January 2018

1) FASHIONSVP Tuesday 16 January at Olympia London – Register Now to ensure your place

11.00 – 11.40: “Sustainable sourcing: fresh challenges, new opportunities”
How sustainable production can be a competitive advantage for your business
Getting buy-in on a sustainable business model from your directors and your team
Tamsin Lejeune, CEO, Ethical Fashion Group and CO moderating the discussion and debate with Safia Minney MBE, Co-founder, People Tree, Oya Barlas Bingül, Development Manager, Lenzing Group, Eric Roosen, CEO, StarSock – Healthy Seas Initiative, Senior speaker invited from Patagonia Europe

2) OXFORD UNIVERSITY Monday 29 January 2018 6.30pm – 9pm Wadham College for the Oxford Fairtrade Coalition AGM Monday . FULL DETAILS HERE: Ethical Agenda Blog Post

Safia Minney available for speaking engagements worldwide and also for consultancy work. Please contact: info@safia-minney.com