I’m aware that it’s very easy to say “I’m trying to be green and ethical” without giving you any actually useful or reassuring information, so this is a blog on what it means in practice. It’s a bit long, so don’t feel obliged, it’s here if you want to know more.
There was a great blog a couple of years back about how as crafters we can accidentally offer a fig leaf to the unfair big business practices that made people want to buy from us in the first place.
I was very wary of this when I set up and have become ever more wary as I learn about how cotton is grown, fabrics produced and metals mined.
As I always emphasise, I think feeling guilty is pointless and wastes time: we live in this world, it’s hard to avoid exploitation and we should pat ourselves on the back every time we find an alternative. Exploitation is a quick way to make a profit and it works because us customers don’t meet the people being exploited. Anything we do that challenges that set up is for the good.
As a small business, there are some things I can do easily, some things I can work towards and some difficult decisions. Buying organic t-shirts that come with an independently inspected guarantee on working standards was one of the easiest decisions I had to make. Great product, still affordable, job done.
Working with fabrics has meant a variety of solutions because I don’t have the buying power to order bespoke fabric. Organic Fairtrade fabric is the best solution ethically, because it supports that supply chain and enables them to grow, but recycled fabrics are a good back up as they reduce waste, make sure the original production effort is fully used and don’t need transporting across the world:
• I’m sourcing organic Fairtrade fabrics for my larger pieces where people can pay enough to cover the cost
• I’m investing in quilt wadding made from recycled plastic bottles (amazingly, just as soft as the ordinary sort), although it’s a lot more expensive
• For my other projects, I use offcuts, with an assurance from my supplier that they are genuinely post-commercial use – fabrics that have been used by the fashion industry but are left over and would otherwise be thrown into landfill. Some of my best fabrics come from this source and I’m lucky to have a great supplier in “The Shuttle”.
• I don’t waste fabric either: smaller pieces become smaller items and the tiny remnants become stuffing
• I recycle clothing and homewares to create new fabrics for my products: if you have some of my denim or jersey appliqué – I wore that once!
• My ribbons and findings are usually offcuts or recycled but occasionally I have to use new if I can’t find what I need.
Still to go are solutions to cushion stuffings – the recycled bottle option doesn’t seem to be available. I’ve tried using shredded jersey but it looks lumpy and is denser than stuffing. But, I’ll keep looking and trying different things.
The metal I use on my jewellery is recycled. Having been used once, it’s daft not to reuse it and it means that there’s no need for further pollution and hardship in mining more.
I use aluminium from drinks cans and from the printing industry – that’s been reused twice as I get reused offcuts from a local artist! This is the greenest of my metals as it hasn’t been processed after its first use: it’s just directly reused and then hand cut and made with cold connections needing no power or heat to create.
For my copper and silver jewellery I buy recycled bullion from a supplier in London, this comes as sheets and wires and is still hand cut but needs heating and soldering to create jewellery so it is a little more energy intensive. Occasionally I use fine silver clay, which is all recycled too and also needs heat to finish it.
Still to find is a source of recycled bullion findings – e.g. earring clips, necklace fasteners and so on. So some I can make for myself and others I have to buy new.
Packaging and marketing
One of my compromises has been the plastic covers for my t-shirts. There isn’t a green alternative that has the same performance available yet and I’m not yet big enough to commission from one of the innovative bio-plastics companies (I’ve rung them, they have large minimum orders!). So I make the stiffening from recycled magazines so that the plastic is the only compromise. Protecting t-shirts in plastic has also reduced my energy consumption in re-washing and ironing t-shirts after each fair.
When I post out packages I use as much recycled packing material as possible, which I’m aware is not as pretty, but it’s important to me to keep the values going here too.
My website is hosted by EcoWebHosting, who are UK based and plant trees to “offset” their carbon use. ecowebhosting.co.uk/ecocredentials
The biggest element here is my range of products that make use of things that have already been made – good clothing made better, shoe clips rather than new shoes, vintage linens into cushions and quilts and so on, but how I make things is important too.
I’m used to minimising my energy use at home, being a thrifty soul at the best of times, but I’m particularly aware of the power hungry elements of my work and make efforts not to leave them running longer than necessary… my iron, my kettle and my computer. The sewing machine actually uses very little energy – about the same as having the radio on (which I usually do).
My tools such as jewellery tools and screenprinting equipment are just standard. No one is making green alternatives, but I’ll buy second hand where I can. My inks and paints are all water based and marked “eco” and non-toxic: Dylon and Permaset Aqua.
I’ve moved from painted stencils to screen printing partly to reduce my use of spray mount, which is a solvent. The paper I use for leaflets and printing is recycled. Working at home means I only use my car occasionally.
So eco and ethical have different meanings but they often overlap. Eco is minimising my impact on energy use, pollution and biodiversity. Ethical is minimising any negative impact on other people. By combining them in the way I source, make, package and sell my work, I plan to offer a real alternative to the big guys.
As the Cafedirect ad said it recently: “while big is busy growing bigger… small is growing better”. I’m better now than I was when I first set up and as I continue there’ll be more opportunities and more options to learn. I’m finding that a lot of ethical companies were set up a few years ago and are closing down. By keeping up the momentum on change, I want to help fair trading companies that put their neck on the line to find customers.
If you want to know more or have ideas on being green and ethical, do use the comments box below and get in touch x