EXERCISE – Lifecycle assessment – People Tree
- Focus on a company or a designer and as far as possible do a lifecycle assessment of one of their products from raw material to finished fabric, end use, disposal or reuse.
- Think about ethical concerns / labour conditions/use of resources etc.
- Reflect in your learning log.
- Try to explain if you would consider your chosen company to be “ethical”.
I have focussed on a fashion company that creates clothing using their own textiles. My reason for choosing a fashion designer is because clothing is a big contributor to our waste so I wanted to try to look at it more closely.
PEOPLE TREE LIMTED – Background information
People Tree are considered to be pioneers in sustainable, ethical and Fair Trade fashion recognized as such by consumers and the fashion industry. Based in London they have been selling Fair Trade fashion in the UK since 2001. The business was founded by Safia and James Minney to provide customers with desirable fashion, whilst working to improve the lives and environment of the artisans and farmers in developing countries who produce the products. As a company they focus on the very start of the life cycle of clothes production by thinking much further back than most other fashion companies. They do this by starting with the very fibre to make the cloth and then design the cloth to make the clothes. This is quite unlike most other fashion companies where they would buy the cloth first. People Tree design a weave and dye the cotton for it, hand print a fabric either by screen printing or block printing, dye the fabric and may even hand embroider the fabric prior to cutting and sewing into an item of clothing. They intentionally design garments to be produced by hand as much as possible, rather than using machines, so the products have the smallest possible carbon-footprint.
The product I was able to trace the best was a dress available in 2 colours, a red or navy organic cotton dress called the Rita dress.
Photosource – Peopletree.co.uk
Design stage ; – Seen here in the design stages – looking at necklines, embroidery colour options of dyed cloth and/or fibre and stitch examples. The organic cotton has been woven by hand in Bangladesh.
Production of items ; The designers visit their suppliers in India to see how the Fair-trade organic cotton is grown, collected, dyed and woven into cloth according to their designs. They are also able to see how the cotton fabric is cut and tailored into the dresses before being boxed and shipped .The website shows blog articles and video clips about their recent trip at the end of last year for the current collection which the Rita dress forms part of.
Transportation ; – For environmental reasons the collection is shipped rather than using air freight taking 6-8 weeks. They would only consider air freight if there was a production issue that delayed shipment.
Sale of item; the finished dress is available in their shop and through independent clothes retailers and on the website – copy of advert below http://www.peopletree.co.uk/search?srch=rita
|G023UJCL – Rita Embroidered Dress in CoralSleeveless pencil woven dress in rich coral cotton. The dress features a delicate floral hand embroidered collar in mustard yellow, navy and eco-white. V-back with panelled waist and skirt with tailored pin tucks. Made in Bangladesh in 100% cotton.£120.00|
Transportation; Items bought via the website are sent to buyers. They do however use plastic to protect their products which surprised me at first but they are very clear to explain on their website why this is – their products come via shipment rather than air freight so the plastic protects from humidity from a hot climate to a cooler one and also for dirt protection during transportation. They explain they could repackage into paper to ‘keep up appearances’ once in the UK but as they are committed to genuine sustainability they believe this is wasteful and does not sit well with their honest and fair approach to suppliers and customers.
Laundry; Items are washable at 30 degrees and being natural fabrics will launder well.
Re-cycle/re-use; There is no information available on re-use or recycling but in my opinion I would imagine items from their clothes range would remain as staple items for some time due to their quality and classic designs. If needed they could probably be altered and up cycled in some way by re-tailoring and over dyeing, again due to the natural quality of the cloth. There are references to using recycled products within their range but I could not find anything for sale using such items.
Q -Do I consider them to be ethical?
Reading through their website information there are many indicators that this company has strong beliefs in sustainability and environmental concerns and support good working conditions. Following are some key points
- Most of their cotton is certified organic – Organic cotton farming is not only less destructive to the environment, but provides better income for farmers and is sustainable long term. Non organic cotton production is hugely (and increasingly) reliant on pesticides derived from petrochemicals. They report that one acre of organic cotton compared to an acre of conventional cotton reduces CO2 release by two tonnes a year.
- Their products are Fair-trade – This doesn’t simply mean paying a fair price. It is also about supporting people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty and promotes sustainability. As People Tree believe in Fair Trade their business makes contributions through the Fair Trade Premiums which support schools such as this one in Rappa which People Tree visit on their trips. They also support training for artisans to improve upon their skills and strengthen their businesses.
Photosource – Peopletree.co.uk
- The fabric they use is dyed using safe and natural dyes – they are committed to ensuring all dyeing has minimum impact on the wearer, the producer and the environment. They use dyes that are free from harmful chemicals and carry out stringent laboratory tests for traces of these substances. They work alongside producers to ensure that effluent from the dyeing process is handled responsibly. They support the development and use of natural dyes, made from locally sourced natural materials that are free from toxic chemicals. They aim to protect not just the waterways but also the forests within the local environments.
- Greenpeace – In April 2012 they signed up to the Greenpeace Not Toxic campaign as they believe in the use of safe dyes for their clothes. Many textiles manufactures pollute Rivers that communities rely on for drinking water and washing facilities with toxic dye waste. The Narsmghadi River being a prime example of such pollution.
- Collaborative projects with environment in mind – People Tree combined forces with Marie Claire magazine and renowned designer, Vivienne Westwood to work on a collection for the Global Rainforest Appeal. Vivienne Westwood designed a limited edition range exclusively for Marie Claire which was sold through People Tree – profits supported the campaign against deforestation – an environmental issue that has long been in the news.
Photosource – Peopletree.co.uk
- Many of the products are sourced locally to the suppliers, choosing natural and recycled products over toxic, synthetic and non- biodegradable materials.
- Their workers hand screen print, hand weave and hand embroider which creates employment in areas of developing countries by recognising the value of traditional crafts .This can’t be said of many fashion companies who look for a higher profit margin a the cost of the welfare of their workers.
Photos taken from the website show the workers applying their craft and interpreting the designs of Tree people. People Tree keeps traditional skills alive and provides work for their communities.
- Supporting working conditions – As they choose to have fabrics woven by hand its mean s they don’t need electricity for power looms so they can be sited in small towns and villages, where the weavers’ families live. This way they can stay together rather than move to overcrowded cities to find work alone. This is obviously better for the environment and keeps running costs down. They employ Knitters in Nepal,Peru and India who hand knit and crochet natural fibres such as merino, alpaca, cotton and wool. This working practice provides the people with the income to escape from poverty. Artisans in India and Bangladesh have passed fine embroidery skills down through generations and People Tree uses the rare talent of a traditional embroidery style called nakshi kantha, a technique use originally to stitch together old saris into quilt.
- The workers for People Tree have the smallest environmental footprints in the world – they live and work in their communities and they do not have the essentials of modern life that we in the Western World have become so reliant upon. They buy fewer consumer goods, eat locally produced food and use their traditional skills to earn their living. By employing these workers and utilising their skills it ensures the garments produced are also of a low footprint.
Overall there is no doubt this company has strong sustainability ethics – and a quote by Safia Minney in one of the video clips sums this up perfectly. ‘The future is only an ethical one, without it we have no future” – I believe this is a reference to our current practices and how we are killing the very world that we live in and unless we change our ways the future is a very limited one.
And of course it’s always afterwards you find something that would have been so good !! Since my initial research I have found another company based in the Isle of Wight with the most comprehensive website detailing full tractability of their products. They call it a traceability map. I have resisted the temptation to re-do the work although I know it is a far better example but it’s not good use of time.