Posts in Activism
ON BEING A GOOD INFLUENCE(R)
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I remember as an older child having conversations with my mum about influence: what kind of influence was I on my friends? What kind of influence did they have on me? That kind of thing. Maybe she saw an early rebellious streak in me. Or maybe she knew that influence was powerful – that our actions, our movements, decisions have the weight and the power to impact others; a pretty big concept to hold onto as a child but has stood me in good stead (except for my teenage years where influence was waylaid, and I got into my fair share of teenage mischief). So the idea of influence has been a strong thread in my life and I attribute my deep sense of responsibility (holler to all my enneagram ones out there) to be a good influence to those early conversations.

And now that word seems to be pretty popular, ringing in my ears when I dive into the world of social media. Some people are using it as their job description, PR’s and Marketing Teams are including it as a significant part of their campaign plans and strategies and I’m interested in having a conversation about what it really means – what mantle we are giving this term of being ‘an influencer’…

As most thorough blog post researchers do (!), I asked my friends on Instagram what the term ‘Influencer’ meant to them and the response was compelling.

Answers ranged from:

“A synonym for leader”

“Someone with the power to sway you for good or bad in your mindset or actions”

“Someone who makes an impact – positive or negative”

“Someone who lives in such a way that others want to imitate and become more like”

“Someone who inspires me to more, who’s further along than I am”

“Someone that changes your thoughts/viewpoints and is then followed by action”

 To this:

“Smart use of our covetousness by those with something to sell/advertise”

“Instagram accounts where staged pictures are tagged with #ad or #gifted. Insincere posts”

“Someone who gets paid to tell you something is good – which makes me want to do the opposite”

“Someone with high social media numbers meaning they can get paid to promote other peoples’ goods”

“A manipulator”

“An advertiser”

“Someone who influences people to buy more shit they don’t need”

“People who will happily sell a lifestyle they won’t fund themselves”

“Often someone disingenuous”

“Someone that gets paid to encourage others to buy a product”

“Someone with a large following that is approached by brands to create ads in exchange for free products”

“*A bunch of eyeroll emojis*”

“Consumerism”

“Someone that uses social media to make money by getting people to buy things they don’t need”

“Parasites”

“Unauthentic”

“Wankers”

 (folks, tell me how you really feel though…)

“Someone trying to sell me something”

“People who get freebies on Insta”

“Desperate bids for attention”

“Someone who is famous on social media for doing very little” 

YIKES. I had almost 100 replies – 20% of them pointing towards the diplomatic, thoughtful meaning of the word and 80% of them with a pretty negative view of what this term now seems to represent in society.

 And so, I want to talk about that. I want to open up the conversation of ‘influence’ and share a little bit of my own thoughts around it, what it means for women and see if maybe we can reclaim this word back to its positive potency.

I need to caveat that this isn’t a conversation that is intended to shame anyone. That’s never my goal – shame never really produces any change, only mistrust and fear. And it’s not a conversation about whether doing sponsored or gifted content on social media is bad or good. I am super proud of being able to use my own platforms to share about brands that I believe in – that I know contribute to the good in the world. This conversation for me is about reminding myself and the women I know and love that our influence is important and worth our intentionality.

What’s interesting to me is that when it comes to this online ‘influencer’ culture, it is mostly women who are drawn in. Of course, there are men who also have large followings and engage with campaigns and ads, but by and large the influencer marketing world is a female-powered machine (women as influencers and consumers of influencer content) and lately I’ve been wondering if there are undertones of patriarchal control that contribute to it being this way...

Bear with me.

Recently I have been deep diving into the history of women’s rights and the suffrage movement and am so moved by how relentlessly women fought for a seat at the table, for their voices to be considered worthy in society. They broke rules (and windows), were imprisoned and lost pretty much everything they had to see that women coming behind them would have more autonomy, more ability to be their truest selves. When I think about the here and now, and the rise of women wanting grow followings, become influencers and be noticed by brands, I wonder if we still have some heavy mindset shifting to do around this long history of women not being seen and heard and the patriarchal hangovers that we are maybe unknowingly tethered to.

Maybe some of us are still stuck in the belief that we must clamber to be noticed, or seek the approval of others to be deemed valuable or to belong. After all, It’s only been 100 years – just two generations - since women were able to even vote on what kind of society they’d like to live in – that mindset can take a while to run out.

Maybe some of us believe that the only way for women to make money AND be caregivers is to sell other peoples’ stuff on our social media platforms. Maybe the patriarchal hangover here is that we still feel nervous about not having enough money of our own or we haven’t taken control of our own finances and think that this will do. Maybe the fact that we still aren’t getting paid equal to our male counterparts makes us feel like this outlet gives us at least some power. Maybe it’s because we are only just beginning to see a rise in women holding positions of power or women making sustainable incomes from their own ideas. Maybe because selling our own ideas, products and innovative thinking still feels icky and we’d rather hide behind someone else’s stuff even if we don’t fully believe in them.

Maybe some of us are still telling ourselves that there is some sort of holy grail of validation that will come when we have X amount of followers or Y amount of attention. Maybe we are just afraid to act like we are free at all because to be free to be who you really are is scary and vulnerable and sometimes it feels safer to not even imagine the possibility.

What I would love for us all to know, my friends, is that we are emancipated. We are more free than we have ever been to contribute to the world on our own terms and the table is long and wide and extendable so we can all fit in. All of us.

What I’d love for us to know is that our ideas, our dreams, our creativity and desires are important and worth exploring and sharing. In fact, we desperately need your amazing ideas, your innovative thinking, your empathy, your fierceness, your opinions, your entrepreneurial prowess. We need it because there are problems to solve here on this planet and you might have the answers. Yes, you.

We need it because the way things have been going isn’t really working out too well for humanity and we don’t have time for you to hide your brilliance behind ads and consumerism and the false belief that likes and follows is what makes your life influential. We need to hear the thoughts and ideas of how women are going to make the world better, more tolerant, more creative, more resilient, more beautiful.

I know that you have desires for your life and for the world that you haven’t even admitted to yourself yet because you’re scared - but we need them. We need women that are awake to their truest selves, their deepest desires. Truth be told, I’m not sure I really know anyone whose deepest desire is to share ads for Babybel on their Instagram and believe it to be a meaningful contribution.

“But MEL!” I hear you say. “What if being an ‘influencer’ allows me to stay at home with my kids and that’s what I want to do”?

To that I say – amazing. Being a mother is one of the hardest roles I’ve ever taken on – it is no easy option and the internet has opened up a wonderful community of support for mothers to feel less alone. Brands and PR companies know how much time mothers spend on the internet sharing so I understand that the lure to earn money this way is real. But please, for your own sake, don’t let it be something you hide behind. Don’t put off throwing your own hat in the ring and continue to invest more of your precious time on other peoples ideas than the ones buried deep in your own soul. Don’t believe the lie that this is the only thing you can do to make money or be influential.

Finally, we need to reclaim influence so we can have conversations with our daughters and the young women in our lives about what matters because they need to see our bravery too. They need to know that their dreams and desires and ideas and voices matter as well. They need something to aspire to that has weight to it, that brings light to dark places in the world. I want to be able to tell my daughter about the amazing women in my life that are doing things that light up their souls. I want to have endless amount of role models to point my daughter to and say – “Look what she did! You can do amazing things too!”. I want to be able to divert her attention from the influence of perceived perfection, the numbers game, the popularity contest and endless consumerism and show her a world of women propelling each other forward with their big dreams and big hearts for goodness to reign in the world. I want to be able to hand over to her a legacy of women that are relentless in their pursuit of purpose and passion.

And so we need to continue to reclaim influence; to amplify the voices of women who are putting their bravest selves into the world with their own ideas and voices – to champion their influence. Let’s shine a torch on the important ways that women are shaping the now and changing the future and channel our energy into something that lasts longer than a current trend could ever offer.

We need to do that because we need to be able to see and to show what is possible – how our influence can have impact. We need to support women who are courageous enough to put their heads and ideas above the parapet because when they get brave it should give us license to as well. Seeing someone in their stride should set us alight and fuel us to do the same – not cripple us with comparison or envy. We have work to do ladies: fears to manage, ideas to explore, problems to solve, dreams to make space for, legacies to shape and there is so much more room here for your influence than you can ever imagine.

AVOIDING FAST FASHION IN A CONSUMER DRIVEN SEASON

There’s really no denying it…

It’s upon us. The countdown meter at the supermarket even told me today that it’s only 32 sleeps. We are either merrily entering, gently tiptoeing or begrudgingly dragging ourselves into the Christmas season.

I’m not quite there yet - but I feel it starting to pull. I may have even started thinking about what kind of garland will adorn the mantlepiece this year and where we’ll put the tree. I may have dived back into my Christmas pinterest board.

We all know that Christmas is the highest consumer season of the year. We throw cash around that we don’t have on things that we and other people don’t really need. We buy outfits for parties and novelty clothing that we’ll forget about next year. In fact, this article exposed that one in four Christmas jumpers bought last year will never be worn again. One in three under 35’s will buy a new Christmas jumper each year (stating that they don’t want to be seen in the same one again or that they buy new ones because they are so cheap). It’s estimated that £220 MILLION POUNDS are spent every year on novelty Christmas jumpers alone. Call me scrooge. I can take it.

About 6 weeks ago, Stacey Dooley’s BBC documentary about fast fashion aired. It caused quite a stir and started some brilliant conversations on and offline. It did a great job of highlighting some of the major environmental catastrophes connected with the demand for fast, disposable fashion and people were rightly outraged and concerned with how our excessive consumption of clothes is effecting people and the planet.

I thought it might be a good time to circle back on some of those conversations - to remind ourselves about the impact that fast fashion has and how we can be agents of change as consumers, especially with party season approaching and the lure to buy new shiny things becoming a real draw.

If you are wanting to change your fast-fashion habits this season, this is for you.

If you want to pull the reigns in on your over-consumption and look at fashion as a long lasting investment, this is for you.

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I have some tips for how we get a handle on this. These are things that help me; because even though I’m an activist in this area and I have real convictions, it doesn’t mean I’m not tempted or interested in style. Here’s what helps me:

1) Unsubscribing from fast-fashion retailer newsletters. Do it. We do not need to know what promotions they are having (the answer is always many many promotions) if we do not need more clothes. The lure and the feeling of missing out or needing to spend can be curtailed if we can remove these seemingly insignificant reminders from our inboxes.

2) Unfollowing fast-fashion retailers from social media, including fast-fashion bloggers/vloggers and influencers who will be undoubtedly doing all kinds of Christmas hauls. If we really want to set a new path with our consumption, we can unfollow until we find it less tempting. Advertising is everywhere, and the more control over it we take, the easier it will be to not feel left behind or out of the loop.

3) Find ethical brands that suits our personal style and put in a request for a voucher or an item from them this year. A dressy Winter coat you can wear every Christmas year on year or maybe a piece that will transition well from season to season. I have found that when you invest in the true cost of a piece of clothing and you know where it has been made you feel so much more connected to it and less likely to discard it. This organic wool cardigan below is one of my absolute A/W 18 favourites from one of my favourite ethical brands, Thought Clothing. It’s cozy and neutral and the perfect layering piece for the change from Autumn to Winter. Thought’s pieces are accessible in size (sizing is always generous and true), price and style and a go-to for me when I need to replace something specific.

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4) Avoid the shopping centres! From now until after the New Year you can pretty much expect to spend half of your day in traffic if you plan on venturing to a shopping centre on the weekend. It is mayhem. Take yourself out of the chaos. Being in shopping centres and malls is always going to make staying away from fast-fashion really hard. There is a gravitational pull when mass amounts of people are all in the same place doing the same thing. Avoid avoid avoid! If you need to go for something specific, you could even pledge to just bring whatever cash you need and leave the handy cards at home.

5) Finally, arrange a clothes swap! This is my TOP TIP. Text 5 friends right now and tell them that you are hosting a pre-chrimbo clothes swap at your house. They have to bring their best clothes that they know they won’t wear again. Throw in some wine, some Bublé and a good try-on session and it’s going to end up being the best Christmas night-in of your life. AND you’ll leave with a few new bits to scratch that shopping itch without any impact on the planet or your wallet. Winner winner turkey dinner!

These are just five of my own tried and tested ways of avoiding fast-fashion at peak consumer seasons in particular (and throughout the rest of the year really). Maybe you have something else you'd like to add to the list - another top tip? Please do let me know in the comments or send me a DM. Always happy to chat about this stuff and find out what works for others.

* This is a proud collaborative post with Thought Clothing. I’m always grateful to get to work with brands that support me in writing about issues that are important to me.*

As a thank you to readers, Thought are offering you a whopping 20% off everything on their website by using the code ‘MW20’ from now until the end of February!

With big love and thanks to the amazing Gillian from Gather & Tides for the photography in this post.

THREE THINGS TO CONSIDER IF YOU WANT TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT ETHICAL FASHION

It's Fashion Revolution Week - five years on from the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where over 1000 people lost their lives because of health and safety negligence when a garment factory - making clothes for brands that you and I buy from - collapsed. 

I'm so glad to see ethical fashion become a more mainstream conversation every year and I'm so grateful for trailblazers in the fashion, labour and environmental industries that are demanding, expecting and creating change. I am a proud ethical fashion advocate - it's something that I've worked hard to understand, read up on and be intentional about. Slowly, over the last 6 years, my fashion habits have changed and I feel connected to and part of this movement.

There are so many amazing articles and books that are available for those just starting out on the journey that are hungry for more information to change their mindset and habits (my personal recommendation would be to read any of Safia Minneys books - Slave to Fashion or Slow Fashion are my two favourites) but here are some issues I think we need to dig deeper into if we want to move past the superficial and get serious about ethical fashion:

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1)  HOW MUCH WEAR YOU'LL GET OUT OF A GARMENT - EVEN IF IT'S ETHICALLY MADE.

It’s awesome buying from ethical fashion companies – we need to support the amazing makers and workers that are innovating and changing the industry. What I think will make a more significant impact on the industry is if we all try to slow things down a bit – to gently pull the brakes on our consumerism. Even the most ethically made clothing can find its way to the back of our wardrobes and end up useless and in the pile of unwanted clothes. Systemic change in the industry comes from consumers looking at their frantic shopping habits and taking more time to consider what they really need and how much it will serve them.

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2)  WHAT FABRICS ARE MOST SUSTAINABLE

There are so many aspects of the fashion and garment production industry that we need to swot up on. Fabric is a big one because some are more sustainable and produced with less impact than others. Linen, for example is a plant-based fabric made from flax – I’ve loved linen for as long as I can remember because our local area is renown for its history in linen production and we learned about it from an early age in school. It can be grown and processed without chemicals and biodegrades quicker than most other fabrics. Cotton, if farmed organically can be good but takes a lot of water to produce. Hemp (stick with me) is a really great fabric – highly productive and easy to grow. It is really tolerant of pests so doesn’t need chemicals to cultivate. And there is so much innovation going on in fabric technology now making use of waste in so many amazing ways.  Soon we could be wearing fabric made from plastic bottles

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The Jazmenia top c/o Thought Clothing  - made from hemp and so perfect for Spring/Summer.

The Jazmenia top c/o Thought Clothing - made from hemp and so perfect for Spring/Summer.

3)    SUPPLY CHAIN POLICIES

If you really want to know #whomadeyourclothes you are going to have to do some digging. If this issue is important to you and you are committed to seeing and being the change, it’s so important that we don’t just pay lip service by depending on the knowledge of other people but that we do our own research. Target your favourite retailer, dig into their website to find out about their supply chain and environmental policies. If you can’t find anything substantial find out who runs their CSR, sourcing or supply chain department. Email them and ask to see their Modern Slavery Statement (Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act requires commercial organisations that operate in the UK and have an annual turnover above £36m to produce a statement setting out the steps they are taking to address and prevent the risk of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains). You can even look up your favourite brand or group of brands on the Modern Slavery Registry and see if their statement is there. As a consumer, we are an integral cog in this wheel and we deserve to have this information available in order to understand and hold companies to account.

We have to leverage our consumer power. Ask for better transparency. Put the pressure on. Don’t settle for green labels on clothes that feign the idea of actually doing something positive – ask for more! Let us see your factories, hear the stories of your workers! We must ask them to tell us clearly and boldly how they're going to step up on these issues! There’s never been a more significant time to join the fashion revolution than now – the ground is swelling with activists and fashion lovers making their voices heard – calling for better treatment of people and the planet and change is swirling and rising. Come join us?

P.S. I'm going to be speaking about ethical fashion at a small event in Dublin this Friday night as part of Fashion Revolution week. If you're local and want to come along, let me know and I can hook you up with details!

5 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BE MORE ETHICAL IN 2018

Now is an amazing time to make some green changes to your everyday. The slog of January is over and the motivation of the new year is beginning to hum in the background…

Maybe you’ve felt drawn to be a little more earth conscious and you want to find a way to begin that journey in an attainable way. Maybe you have realised that as humans we are both the problem and the solution to so many major environmental and ethical crises in the world today. What you need to know is that being green, eco, ethical or sustainable doesn’t have to be complicated. 

I’m talking small steps that really make a difference. That’s what this blog is all about – showcasing simple ways to be more thoughtful about how we live; understanding that modern life and being ethical don’t have to be conflicting or difficult to marry up. There are ways and means to begin our eco journey without feeling overwhelmed – here’s my starter for five for 2018:

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1) Change up your toothbrush. This is a tiny effort and a huge impact. We all (hopefully) brush our teeth, but plastic toothbrushes never biodegrade and end up in landfill, causing damaging greenhouse gasses and ruining ecosystems that help our planet to thrive. Bamboo toothbrushes are cheaper than plastic ones, are completely biodegradable and in my opinion – nicer to look at than plastic ones. I love The Humble Co. & especially love their Humble Smile Foundation – such an amazing ethos within the brand and the dedication from dentists and dental hygiene professionals wanting to support vulnerable people around the world is commendable. It’s so simple to buy these instead of your usual plastic brush (options for bamboo brushes online are endless now). What are you waiting for?!

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2) Make one DIY cleaning product. Try just one. Our homes are supposed to be safe havens but many of us are unaware of the amount of toxic chemicals that reside in our everyday products. Maybe this is your year to try out a make-it-yourself cleaning recipe. Maybe a simple water, white vinegar, castile soap & essential oil mix for an everyday spray? I got my amber glass spray bottles (shown above) here if you wanted to do the same. Or try one of Hannah’s tried and tested recipes? Even better, get your hands on Wendy’s new book ‘Fresh Clean Home’ and pick a few things to try this year so you can ditch the toxic chemicals in your home once and for all.  

3) Reduce your clothes shopping. Try a little fast fashion fast – no clothes shopping for a month. The strain that the fashion industry puts on the environment is devastating – not to mention the questionable supply chains and workers not given basic human rights. Put the money you would have spent on a few bargain items in a safe place and at the end of the month find an ethical brand or independent maker you love (check out Wild Flora Clothing for some incredible seamstress skills and properly well made garments) and buy something special from them. Try and buy something that will get a lot of wear - good basics are worth investing in.

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(Jumpsuit of dreams c/o Wild Flora Clothing)

4) Bring your bags! How many times have you been to the supermarket and got to the checkout and realised that you forgot your bag for life either at home or heaven forbid, in the car – right outside…? Intentions are good but we need to up our game and reduce our dependence on single use plastic bags (even if we could argue that they are dual use because they end up lining our bins...desperate times). Same goes for bringing our own bags for loose products (fruit/veg). Make this the year that you decide to not buy any more bags for life – even if it means you have to do the walk of shame to the car with a trolley full of bag-less unpacked items. 

5) Get reusable bottles/mugs. Not just any though – so many of them are badly made, fall apart easily or are made from toxic materials. Find one that is sustainably made. There are some expensive models in the market but don't let that put you off the search. We have found these One Green Bottles really good value and so good for not only helping us remember to take our water with us but also for keeping water cold all day and reminding me especially to up my intake of H2O. We are also big fans of Keep Cups. I have this one and get asked about it all the time. I use it a lot, try to keep it in my bag and have brought it into coffee shops and given it to them to fill when I’m ordering a take away.

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Five simple things - which ones seem doable to you? Let me know in the comments here or on IG/Facebook etc. 

If stuff like this is interesting to you, you’ll love my newsletter ‘The Understory’.  It drops every first Saturday of the month (that’s THIS Saturday!) and it’s packed full of amazing articles I've found, podcasts that have stirred my soul and my oversharing thoughts on everything to do with ethical living, feminism, creativity, parenting and more. Sign up below to get it...

WHY FASHION IS A FEMINIST ISSUE
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If you’ve stuck around here long enough, you’ll know that I am an advocate of slow, sustainable fashion.

Much of this passion has come from my work looking at exploitation and human trafficking – realising the connection and disconnect between what we consume and the people who make our stuff. I have spent years now learning about the fashion industry; the systems, the policies, the garment workers, the belly of the beast.

The fashion industry is booming. There are 52 collection cycles a year with most big retailers. It might not be surprising then that fashion is the most pollutant industry in the world; second only to oil. There are huge environmental concerns that we just don’t consider when we bag a bargain. Did you know it takes 1800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make the average pair of jeans? The rise of fast fashion means that factories in developing countries (where labour is cheap) are manufacturing non-stop to keep up with our quick-fix excessive shopping demands. The factories are filling the air with toxic chemicals pumped out by machinery used to make synthetic clothing.

The effects of this relentless manufacturing is evident in climate change – an issue that impacts developing countries with particularly huge devastation. Climate change means that developing countries are experiencing overwhelming heat and vast areas of drought, leading to crop failure. Crop failure means that farmers can’t survive in business and trade. Business failure leads to poverty, malnourishment and eventually whole community vulnerability. Can you see how it all connects…? Our demand, our excess. Global repercussions.

Environmental issues in the fashion industry are one thing, but lately I’ve been feeling strongly that in order to see real change, we need to recognise that fast fashion is a massive feminist issue as well.

Jumper: Cosiest ever  Mara Black Wool Jumper c/o Bibico

Not only is it mostly women who buy and wear fast fashion but it's mostly women who make the garments we buy. In fact, 80 – 90% of garment workers across the globe are young, uneducated, rural migrant women.

There has been such a surge of feminist sentiment in the Global North in the last few years – women are rising up to claim their space, to demand more, to be seen and heard. Small movements towards equality are breaking through the ground of patriarchy and we are hearing new voices of gifted women in the social, political and business spheres. We are leaning in, we are taking up space, we are relentless in our pursuit of equality.

That’s the good news. Progress. Voices heard.

But here’s the glitch.

When feminism is seen as a cause pursued by and for mainly Western women, we are completely missing the point.

Equality for middle class women in the West is not the goal. It is missing a giant piece of the global puzzle that unlocks the bigger picture of equality.

We wear our high street feminist slogan tees, but have we thought about who made it?

In Bangladesh – the country responsible for most of the worlds garment production - recruiters seek out poor, young women to do the work. The idea is that these young women have more energy, are more flexible, have greater pressure to provide for their families and less knowledge of political systems that keep them in poverty. They scout for women who will do the most amount of work and make the least amount of noise. That unsettles me. A lot.

Unless we, the women of the West, can see that equality for the women who make our clothes is intrinsically connected to our own equality, then any progress we make in the West is in vain.

There are incredible brands out there carving out a brave and different way and we can check in to see how our favourite retailers are doing to prioritise equality. Having worked in the fashion industry as a designer for years (for brands like Zara and Topshop), Snow, founder of ethical clothing company Bibico, realised that it was possible to create a company that worked with producers who really looked after the people who worked for them. Transparency was attainable.

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Bibico now works with two women's cooperatives that are both fair-trade certified by the WFTO. The coops provide women with training, education and work, support and counselling. This way of working is empowering them to move themselves and their children forward and out of the world of poverty. Their clothing is fairly priced to be able to make this happen and Bibico is evidence that business can be done so it’s fair for everyone.

You see, The Sisterhood is so much more than what we see around us or on twitter and slogan tees. It is deep and wide and connected throughout the world by so much more than we realise. Our consumer habits matter. Where we buy from matters. What we wear is testament to what we believe. We cannot continue to knowingly or unknowingly isolate matters of equality for women to geography because the truth is that it is all connected. Our empowerment is tied up in the empowerment of the 15 year old working in the Bangladeshi garment factory.

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This is important for us women in the West because we are the consumers. We create the demand; set the tone. We actually hold the key to the revolution for the women who need to be given back access to their voice.

Our purchase power has the potential to change business models, demand transparency of supply chains and call for a better way. We don’t want to shut down garment factories and put women out of jobs – we want to call the brands that use those factories to excellence and fairness. To be confident that when we shop, that the women who made our clothes are safe, well paid and able to voice their concerns without fear.

Look behind your label; consider asking your favourite brands (especially the ones that are using advertising to play on our increasing political/feminist awareness) to tell us more about who makes our clothes and what they are doing to empower those women. 

The industry needs to know that women of the West are interested; that we are standing in solidarity with our sisters in the garment factories with our voices and our wallets.

I'd love to continue the conversation with you on this. Do you see the connection? What kind of things do you struggle with in terms of ethical fashion? 

* With thanks to Pete McDonagh for the pictures and the inspirational Bibico for working with me on this post.*

HACKS FOR HANDLING KIDS, CONSUMERISM & CHRISTMAS

It’s officially November, so I thought I’d get in early and start the conversation about Christmas and kids and all the stuff that comes with that. I think it’s worth taking just a little time now before the rush comes in to figure out how we can handle consumerism with our kids and family at this time of year.  

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Raising kids that are not sucked into the consumeristic way our society is postured is a big deal to us but it can also come with its challenges. How do we keep our kids from having too much unnecessary stuff without feeling like we are depriving them? How do we align our values to these gift-giving times of the year when so much feels out of our immediate control? 

Firstly, I want you to know that it is possible. It’s possible to be a conscious consumer, to consider the impact of your purchases on people and planet and still have a magical time of gift-giving and joy with your family.  

Consumer Waste & Response Source reports that: 

Over the Christmas period family and friends will spend £181 on toys for the average child. 

41% of them will be broken or lost within three months. Because of the difficulty of recycling heavy plastics, most of these will head for the tip. 

Few toys biologically degrade and even batteries are not recycled, despite the poisons they contain contaminating the ground water we use. 

The packaging alone accounts for some 20% of the cost and 35% of the total amount of material, toy and packaging. 

We get through 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the Christmas season.

I can’t justify these statistics when there are so many alternative ways to give gifts to children. I feel like I need to have a word with Santa. 

As someone who finds it stressful to have excess stuff around me in the home, there have been years where I have dreaded these gift-giving times – feeling surrendered to the influx of presents that will inevitably come into the house at Christmas or around birthdays. For the last few years, we have been trying to prepare the way better in the lead up so that Dave and I can enjoy these times too and not feel burdened or like toy shop managers trying to keep track of all of the stuff that appears and needs a home. We should never be dreading how our house is going to feel around these times – this is our safe space – where our family does life together. Special occasions like Christmas should be a time for us to enjoy our families, not one where we head back to work in January needing a holiday to recover from our holiday. You feel me?

We have found that big influxes of presents can send our kids into a frenzy that can be exhausting to deal with (anyone else?). It feels like joy for a while, maybe even a few days, but sooner or later most of that stuff becomes forgotten about and we parents become burdened by it. 

At this point I want to say that perspective will show us that this is a really beautiful problem to have. Other people in our family and circles want to give gifts to our children! There is a lot of beauty in that. We need to step back and remember that gift-giving is a love language and that people want to show their love towards our families. There are ways that we can embrace that offering that won’t brand us as Scrooge or overwhelm us all. 

I want to suggest some hacks for getting a handle on Christmas and consumerism now before you feel hijacked by the amount of stuff that unnecessarily comes into your home. Here goes!

CLEAR YOUR SPACE

  • We know that inevitably new things will be coming at Christmas, so it will help you to receive them with a little less overwhelm if your home is not already cluttered up with unused things. Take a Saturday morning or a Friday night and begin to clear stuff out. Games, toys, clothes that aren’t being used, are too small, broken, could be sold, given away, dumped or donated.

 

  • It’s important to involve kids in the process of this as you go along. Be positive about it. Explain that it’s important to donate toys that we are done playing with to good causes. Maybe even set them the task of picking a few toys each to give away. Keep it positive - it is positive!

 

  • If your kids (or you!) are struggling to give certain sentimental things away, put them in a box and store them somewhere out of your sight for a few weeks and see if they are actually missed. Then give yourself a pep talk and make some more space. You'll be so glad you did.

 

SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES

  • If you want to limit the influx of stuff, you could suggest your family does a gift exchange system like secret Santa where everyone pulls a name each and has to buy for only one person. Set a budget and stick to it.

 

  • Ask family to come together on a bigger gift or experience present for your kids like outdoor toys or tickets to a show. 

 


REFRAME THE CONVERSATION

  • Pre-emptively start the conversation about having boundaries on presents with your loved ones now. The more time you give to the conversation and the gentle and positive you are about it, the more people have a chance to come round to your ideas and boundaries. This isn’t a conversation about depravity, it’s about the fullness you see in making sure that your kids get gifts that they will really love and use.  

 

  • So really think about what kind of gifts your kids would love. What are they into that they will stay into for a while? What kinds of toys stand the test of time? Imaginative toys are really important for development in smaller kids and studies show they also encourage kids to play well with others (think: art supplies, dress up kits, books, building blocks, farms, cooking kits, marble runs etc). Try to steer loved ones away from toys that do all the imagining for your kids (think: toys that talk, have lots of buttons/batteries, that are static or only have one function - these are generally the most annoying and the least played with). Outdoor play items, sports items and family board games are also great ideas!

 

  • Take advantage when people ask what they can get your kids – be specific! If they don’t ask, you could drop it into conversation - “I know it can be hard to think of what to get the kids for Christmas so let me know if you need any ideas because there are few things they have mentioned or that I know they would love…” 

 

  • Keep the focus on the child - instead of having a conversation where you ream off why you hate toys so much, how they clutter up your house and go against your values; talk about how much the child would LOVE XYZ. Keep that arsenal of ideas in the forefront of your mind so you can suggest gift ideas with ease and excitement. People want to give gifts that they know your child will love. Make it easy for them to feel like the present hero. 

 

Lastly, remember that you are the parents, they are your children and this is your home! You don’t have to justify your values to anyone and you shouldn't let anyone attach obligation or guilt to their gift giving.  

I really hope this gives you courage do set some boundaries in place this year; to open up conversations with your loved ones about how we can do this gift-giving thing better together and how we can model to our kids that the magic is so much more than just mountains of presents. 

Do you have any other ideas to add? How does the influx of 'stuff' feel to you this time of year? Have you found any alternative ways to navigate the overload of presents? Let's chat...