fair-fashion and PR from fashionistas and lobbyists
Shoe fashion is unlike dress fashion.
Shoes take more tools to make.
People buy shoes to wear often.
Fashion on catwalks isn't fashionable.
Fashion on trains is fashionable, and the need for good jobs and a fall-back is fashionable.
If you go to fashion events like London Fashion Week, you'll see more interesting shoes on the train on the way home and probably none of the high heels which show in that high fashion market. So it's puzzling to see ethical fashion blog posts about vegan shoes followed by comments like "Ugh - these are normal shoes!". Maybe fashionistas haven't seen a normal shoe shop before, with slippers and wellies and the rest, but more likely they haven't got the hang of the limits within which footwear is made.
Most of this page is about taxpayer subsidy for imported shoes, and the extra cost of making shoes in a democratic welfare state like the UK, followed by a long page of detail, issue by issue, about what the ethical fashion lobby does. First of all it's important that shoes are more typical manufactured goods than dresses. They take more tools to make than catwalk dresses, and people buy shoes to wear often. The factory, not the label, is the important bit.
If fashion is about expression within practical limits, then the limits are different for different fashion items. The limits are things like factory tooling costs, retail price, insulation, water resistance, wear resistance, and traditional expectations. If you wear a funny-coloured shoe, that's quite something. If you wear a funny-coloured top, it means hardly anything at all. The same goes for shape and material, because shoes require more tools to make than tops or bags. A set of tools for making a shoe cost something to store and set-up; a set of patterns for a sample dress is cheaper. The technical requirements of something on your foot are more complex than something around your top and middle. So that's why fashionistas sometimes have to look at normal shoes.
The next question is how Nike can do it, if some of the vegan shoe shops can't, and the answer is that small-scale production, and production with other good qualities, is not going to happen in the far east where Nike buys container-loads of shoes. Services like hospitals, secondary schools, pensions, and such need to be in place before poverty is reduced rather than after.
A buyer for a high street chain store, or a wholesaler, or Nike will typically buy shoes by the container load from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Burma or India. New Balance and DB shoes make an exception for some styles. Hotter shoes are mainly made in the UK, and some shoes for some niche markets, but generally the big brands buy in bulk. Their suppliers are cheap because they specialise in big container-load orders; there's less set-up cost per pair. The suppliers are cheaper-still because they have less useful courts, votes, schools, National Health Service hospitals, pensions, disability benefits and dole to pay-for than UK shoemakers. The things that are sometimes called national insurance, social insurance, or a welfare state (Americans don't get the hang of the insurance bit and just call them "welfare"). Out-sourcing production has become just as much a way of avoiding fair tax as any other, and it is promoted by UK government departments like Dfid via Ethical Fashion Forum, just as other government departments have given grants for setting-up Amazon warehouses or shopping centres for shops that sell far-eastern products.
The Marie Antoinette school of good working conditions and ethical fashion
Some of the factories in the far east are better than others, and bizarre claims can be based on this.
"You are just as likely to have a sweatshop down the road here in London as you are in China"
- Claire Lissaman, Ethical Fashion Forum director, Nike consultant
- Near the Ethical Fashion Forum office is a hospital, free to use. There is no equivalent in China.
- There is no equivalent democracy, or
- human rights record, nor
- pensions, nor
- job seekers' allowance, nor
- incapacity benefit, nor
- free secondary schools
- I would have added the social fund and local services to keep people out of institutions, housing benefit for people on certain sized housing and more, but these are all services which have been cut while public spending has gone on Ethical Fashion Forum.
All of these are paid for from taxes on workshops or sweatshops and available to their staff. Only someone like Marie Antoinette of France or a director of Ethical Fashion Forum would leave them un-mentioned. Obviously if you are sponsored by Nike that effects things too, but Ethical Fashion Forum claims not to be working for far-eastern sponsors, just as Marie Antoinette did not reply to accusations that she used an office funded by French taxpayers - the office of god queen - to promote underwear material made by taxpayers in other countries like Holland and Bengal where muslin was made at the time.
UK taxes paid for Unltd, a trust fund for social entrepreneurs that funded Juste.co.uk, a muslin dress business claiming to help Bengalis if it ever traded after getting the grant.
The real problems of working conditions in cheap countries - and Marie Antoinette's model farm
China and Vietnam hardly score at all on the Democracy Index; that's obvious but seldom stated.
Indian states have a working democracy and Bangladesh a new one.
Poverty is a problem in far eastern countries, even if average wealth per head is high and there is a large new middle class. Alongside, people can be persuaded to work for long hours on shanty-town wages. Just as the UK had a great industrial revolution and huge charitable work done in the nineteenth century, but still had massive poverty until national insurance and free secondary schools began to solve the problem. The way to reduce poverty in the far-east is probably the same. Whether you call these things social insurance, universal benefits, or accessible services, they are the kind of thing that help reduce poverty. Condoms too. They exist in a much reduced form in some far-eastern countries but Ethical Fashion Forum makes no reference to them at all.
Employers cannot change the system that keeps so many people poor. Marie Antoinette has a model farm which was probably a better employer than neighbouring farms, but employers cannot help staff before the staff are employed, probably not after employment, and they cannot help the unemployable; only a national system can do that.
Social insurance is hard for the poor to introduce on their own initiative, because, as in the UK, it's hard or impossible to fund savings & insurance from a low wage, so many or most of us don't, under-cutting workers and employers with higher costs. The principal is the same for an individual employee deciding whether to take low-paid work, or an employer bidding for work: so long as it is legal to work without paying-in to the social insurance system, whether it's a government system or a private one, then there will be bad health care, pensions, schools and there will be poverty.
The Marie Antoinette school of ethical fashion purchasing - her muslin dresses
Take a country in the far east where hard currency is scarce and life is physically hard. Visitors from Europe are shocked at bad health care but admire peoples' communities and work ethic. Imagine that goods from this country are allowed free access to the wealthier European market. Imagine that this is a special favour, given much earlier than to other countries. Imagine that the government in this country subsidises export production with export subsidies and charges no tax on goods made in special free trade zones. How do they do they subsidise things and not charge tax? Aid. In the Marie Antoinette school of ethical fashion, this country would rapidly become rich. This country exists. It is called Bangladesh and has not become rich in terms of opportunity or safety-net or hard currency for people who do ordinary jobs.
Marie Antoinette was interested in fashion statements, and used French taxpayers' money to promote the fashion for muslin dresses woven outside France and so competing against French textiles. Imagine it was woven in Bangladesh as many were. The portrait shows her in one. She probably encouraged the a fashion and more muslin was probably sold. Despite the French dress orders, there is still poverty in Bangladesh 230 years later because the place is run like the Ancient Regime of France in the eighteenth century. Between the year 2000 and 2009 textile exports nearly doubled and the hourly wage in textiles nearly halved from 43¢ to 22¢, and this is not a freak event: Bengalis or Bangladeshis have been supplying textiles from there to Europe for centuries and still not sorted-out poverty in Bangladesh.
Rana Plaza was an example of a place with a lot of clothing production but not a lot of factory safety or health-care for people on low incomes. It proved that Bangladeshis need something like National Insurance and safer factories. They do not need another dress order as a way of reducing poverty, while European public services do need a home-grown economy that pays tax and provides jobs. Marie Antoinette is not remembered for ending poverty in Bengal but for causing it in France - she was known as "Madame Déficit" for her vanity spending at home and her supplier Rose Bertin as Minister of Fashion. and when bread supplies were so low that associated salt taxes couldn't be raised, the Queen is remembered as saying "let them eat cake". As in the UK today, there were large numbers of people with access to court who did not pay tax and tended to set opinion. As in the UK today, there was little pressure on the regime to spend tax revenue on public services in the country where it was raised, with various wars donations and vanity projects taking precedence.
The real problems of european shoe production and manufacturing jobs in Europe
A shopkeeper selling to a niche ethical market will want to sell shoes with other specific ethical adjectives attached, like "made in a democratic welfare state". There isn't much choice. If you are buying shoes for a stall or a web site or a single shop, far-eastern suppliers do not want to sell. If your niche market is an ethical one, you do not want to buy either, despite what Ethical Fashion Forum says. You do not want to receive a sheaf of corporate social responsibility documents from a consultant in the UK who also works for Nike and has audited returns about factory procedures. You have no choice but to be a bit more ethically pure than the buyers at big companies who have higher costs on the UK side of their operations and need to get bulk discount on the far-eastern side. Some traders like Pants to Poverty have made great efforts to work with artisan suppliers in India - poor people in rich countries. That project particular project has failed, but it was a fashionable idea for a while.
Shopkeepers can buy from wholesalers, but the range and information about the range it is seldom what a vegan shoe company or someone in any ethical fashion market would want to sell. For example if you look for fair trade Bangladeshi fabric, you find muslin. If you look for European-made footwear you find mainly slippers and wellies.
Shoe factories exist in democratic welfare states and Europe, but tend to make for traditional and niche markets like ballroom dancing, bowls, fetish, high fashion, posh, and vegan. It's hard to find a firm selling complex trainers, or skate shoes.
So someone asking "where do I find vegan skate shoes?" or "does this designer make skate shoes?" is in effect asking "Why can't a vegan shoe shop find a European manufacturer of skate shoes?", and the answer is because most of the tools are in China. If the question is "Why can't a shoe factory make skate shoes in the UK?", the answer is probably that no UK chain store or even the Ministry of Defence is geared to helping UK factories set-up, nor explaining reasons for stocking British-made shoes to shoppers and voters. Without a big firm order, it's not likely that a manufacturer would lease some space or set-up a production line. This may change under consumer pressure via skate shoe shops, but it hasn't happened yet. If you want shoes for a particular market to be made in better countries, ask shops in that make whether they can get it done. Once that's done, a vegan version will be easy to produce.
You might expect useful courts, votes, pensions, health care, benefits, and human rights to be important to pundits who make national economic decisions or who write about ethical fashion.
Economists are highly-paid people with pressure-cooked educations who do not know much about benefits. They regard national insurance as a luxury for the poor of rich countries, to be dispensed at whim in good times and cut-back in bad, rather as the Father Christmas of a family chooses a budget for presents. They do not know why it is called "insurance" and prefer the word "welfare" which is printed in the american text books they read at college. After all, if they want insurance they can afford to go private. Here is a quote from the Institute of Manufacturing in Cambridge: " in the UK, to a fair approximation, everyone who wants a job has one – so adding jobs in clothing production ... is likely ... [to] be harmful to the UK economy "
The institute funded or was funded to write on almost exactly the same subject as the Riotstopper T shirt comparison on this site, but their careful work is not worth reading if based on perceived facts like the one above. So are ethical fashion pundits any better?
Fashion pundits exist in a world separate from the fashioning of things, or the selling of fashionable things. A proportion of them work in state-backed organisations as teachers, as people claiming grants for obscure projects, or as junior PR officers for fashion-related public sector organisations. Others work as journalists. In this strange world a point of view can emerge that is as strange as the point of view of Marie Antoinette's household, or of any political party - including the pomp and sleaze. Journalists tend to ignore the effects of monetary policy on UK manufacturing and avoid criticism of import promotion schemes like EFF.
[ technical bit: it's called Monetary Policy. Strictly speaking, they subsidise overseas lenders by paying a tiny fraction more than necessary to sell government debt. This pulls-in overseas lenders and the slosh of money helps raise the value of the currency, making imports cheaper and exports more expensive to sell. The UK government was an early adopter of this system in 1979, and for years later there was a special slot on the TV news for factory closures. Some huge proportion of manufacturing capacity was lost in the first 5 years, but, surprisingly, the other political parties thought this was quite a good thing and adopted the same idea, contracting it out to a body called the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. The idea caught in in Germany too, where the Euro is still controlled to reduce inflation at the expense of South Europe where shoe factories are closing, there are riots, and there is a lot of unemployment. The effect on exchange rates makes all imports from other currency zones easier - whether or not from countries without useful courts votes or a welfare state. Longer-term, the effect of monetary policy is to make manufacturing extinct, because it takes decades & generations to build-up, but only a few years to close]
Veganline.com tends to buy from UK factories, but other vegan shoe shops have often bought from South Europe where shoe factory closures are a problem. A shop can get in touch to make a repeat order and find that the factory is no longer there. You will have seen on the news what this kind of monetary policy has done to the economies of South Europe, where there used to be more fashionable womens vegan boots made a year or two ago. Now there is 25% youth unemployment in Spain.
If this sounds odd, there is a flow diagram from the Bank of England showing the two transmission mechanisms by which their subsidised rates of interest to lenders can reduce inflation. The first and familiar one is that mortgages and other borrowing become more expensive, forcing people to divert money that way from other spending and so reducing other consumption and increasing competition.
The second transmission mechanism is that subsidised lenders come-in from other parts of the world, increase the value of the currency, and cheapen imports. It's the bottom line of arrows in this Bank of England diagram.
Their explanation of how a government can pay a fraction more than necessary to sell government debt - the official rate - effecting the exchange rate and import prices. Export prices, and so external demand are effected too, reducing any opportunity for people to make things in the UK in ethically reasonable conditions.
"The exchange rate is the relative price of domestic and foreign money, so it depends on both domestic and foreign monetary conditions. The precise impact on exchange rates of an official rate change is uncertain, as it will depend on expectations about domestic and foreign interest rates and inflation, which may themselves be affected by a policy change. However, other things being equal, an unexpected...
...rise in the official rate will probably lead to an immediate appreciation of the domestic currency in foreign exchange markets," closing down 25% of UK manufacturing in 1979-1984 "and vice versa for a similar rate fall."
"The exchange rate appreciation follows from the fact that higher domestic interest rates, relative to interest rates on equivalent foreign-currency assets, make sterling assets more attractive to international investors. The exchange rate should move to a level where investors expect a future depreciation just large enough to make them indifferent between holding sterling and foreign-currency assets"
Economists have a history of saying un-true things, which is how so much manufacturing got closed-down in the UK. There is a long page on another web site about studying economics in the UK in the 1980s.
Courtiers pundits & sustainable eco-fashion
Ethical fashion pundits are very interested in what shoe will rot-down in their compost bin, and call this "sustainable fashion", or "eco fashion" because they are not paid enough to take a broad view or do a lot of research and are influenced by what producers' PR departments give them to write about. Often they can begin a paragraph with the broad word "ethical" and substitute it for something like "compost-able" a few sentences later.
Other journalists who want an easier job write anything they possibly can for the PR office of a big company that probably doesn't pay tax. If there is nothing else good to write, they write about whether the shoe will rot-down in a compost bin, not whether this thing called "ethical fashion" can produce jobs in a welfare state and reduce poverty.
If pundits' careers go well, journalists and higher education teachers get to compare the claims of different PR departments from large firms that import stuff from the far east. That interest is shared by people from the international aid agencies and consultants in corporate ethics who audit ethical compliance data for the likes of Nike. So pundits for ethical fashion forum can have blind spots. They are a bit like the Ancient Regime of France with its god king and court fashions, unaware how little they know about the outside world.
Ethical Fashion Forum - can fashion be fair while there is subsidy for import promotion via this lot?
So this is a second reason why not many shoe factories work in countries like the UK to make you the shoes you first set-out to buy; why vegan shoes might not be fashionable in the way you first expected. Governments subsidise imports to reduce inflation. Journalists don't report this. Factories close, skills are lost. If you buy footwear from a country that's doing the right thing, you should feel good in your shoes.
Next, government paid organisations to to promote goods made abroad.
Another type of payment was intended to put UK designers in the same room as Chinese manufacturers. Why? I don't know. Who authorised it? I don't know.
£6,275,000 went to Creative Connexions which aimed to earn itself fees by introducing UK designers and manufacturers to Chinese factories. It was granted an office by University of the Arts' London College of Fashion - near photography classes and the students union, in Holborn. If you wonder what sort of person would be employed for the job, so did government. They probably used a head hunter. The successful candidate was an American sales person who had travelled the far east selling Monsanto products. This agency is now closed.
Another brand-new agency was funded by a larger number of small grants directly into its new bank account, and co-ordinated help from several government departments in the form of fashion shows and public relations. This was not an organisation of traders, but of people willing to pretend. One had a grand but made-up CV with an international past that mentions travelling round America as a volunteer. She has a bunch of opinions that are hard to pin-down because of the fibs. Against UK manufacturing, against mentioning a welfare state on her web site, and in favour of leather and cattle ranching. Another collaborator was a sales person for civil war goods from Sri Lanka.
The new buzzwords were "ethical fashion", both chosen to avoid definition and beg the question "what is ethical fashion?", which can be answered any way the ethical fashion lobbyist likes. For example Ethical Fashion Forum - an organisation that's had UK government subsidies and huge government PR support - has a page warning people not to buy British products on ethical grounds. It's headed with a "made in Great Britain" tag taken from a shoe factory web site. The shoe factory made safety boots, niche market riding boots, and supplied one of the vegan shoe shops. It has since closed as a separate manufacturer, and isn't likely to buy any tools for making stylish womens boots or fashionable vegan shoes any time soon. So Ethical Fashion Forum has had the a direct documented effect of discouraging vegan fashion and British-made footwear. There's more about them here."
Ethical Fashion Forum's "Ambassador" in the House of Lords has given free training in ethical fashion PR techniques.
Ethical fashion definition
What is Ethical Fashion? A phrase invented by government marketing campaigns. Like the Ploughman's Lunch, invented by a coalition including the Milk Marketing Board called The Cheese Bureau. The ad agency that invented the Ploughman's Lunch and managed the Cheese Bureau was J Walter Thompson.
Nowadays, Futerra is the agency of choice and shares a directorship with Ethical Fashion Forum.
The diagram shows how Ethical Fashion was released as a concept in September 2005. The phrase was used by multiple public-sector exhibitions and events promoting the "founding members", fictional or not:
Peaks match public-subsidised fashion shows. The phrase is a mark of journalism that's influenced by PR too. If the phrase were not a piece of public relations, it would be clearer. "Ethical" is an category of adjectives; it is not a specific adjective. "Fashion" can mean something fashioned, or the peoples' choice from things that can be fashioned; it is not a specific noun.
The directorship of Ethical Fashion Forum is mainly a group of consultants and overlaps with the directorship of a government PR agency - Futerra - that has some of the brands as clients. I guess that the purpose of vague words is to beg the question "what is ethical fashion?", so that it can be answered in any way the speaker wants. The next stages of the speech have been to pretend that all fashion is made in third world countries, and pretend that high street retail and PR are great benefits to the UK economy. When I googled "ethical fashion" on an image search I found just that question put back to me from Ethical Fashion Forum themselves. What is Ethical Fashion? A PR initiative that UK taxpayers have subsidised in order to put UK taxpayers out of work.
The phrase which began as civil service shorthand for "everything that isn't fair trade" was used for selling african goods by Simone Cipriani, who used aid-trade techniques for selling something other than the usual famine relief and social services.
He sold leather handbags and luxury goods, and when that failed, he sold grant proposals to a part of the UN funded by Danish and Canadian taxpayers, called the International Trade Commission. Soon he had an office called the "ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative" and did well, still using his catch phrase "not charity just work" and success stories about increasing womens employment in co-operatively owned workshops based in Ghana, Kenya, and Haiti. Just as an aid charity might use a picture of a baby to raise funds for a school, and avoid all questions about why the local government doesn't fund education. this name is designed to avoid questions like whether leather helps, and why there isn't a health service or free secondary schools in the areas that have leather consultants parachuted-in at danish and canadian taxpayers' expense. The name "Ethical Fashion", like a picture of a baby on a fund-raising leaflet, is designed to avoid answering obvious questions about badly-run countries, and beg questions that can be answered in positive ways alongside high quality pictures of people smiling in third world countries.
Simone Cipriani is now US-based, like other directors of Ethical Fashion Forum.
where did the UK "ethical fashion" label come from so fast?
Ethical Trading Initiative is a more worthy trade association of large clothing importers founded in 1998 to co-ordinate their public statements and supplier codes in a way that shares costs for the common good. The Department for International Development give them a grant. They have never promoted anything called "Ethical Fashion" and have criticised members for claiming membership as badge in itself. The title of the organisation seems chosen to be vague.
Ethical Fashion Forum's director states "the use of the term ethical trade in this specific way was very recent." referring to people who drew a contrast between fair-trade certified products and vaguer ethical claims.
She also states "the forum is not looking for publicity or press coverage until a major event proposed in 2005. This allows for the organisation to become better established within industry circles and with key industry players prior to moving into the public sector. - Tamsin Lejeune, Can Fashion be Fair? September 2004".
The industry was the public grant industry and key industry players were listed on the forum's web site by 2009:
London Development Agency, Department for International Development, ITC Ethical Fashion (The Africa Inspires project), Unltd, City Fringe Partnership, Black Emerald Group, Awards For All, Business Link, The Hub, Rich Mix. All but Black Emerald Group are public-founded or public-funded organisations. Black Emerald is the current employer of Simone Capriani from the ITC Ethical Fashion initiative.
You can see how well her publicity and press coverage worked with public sector support. It shows on the google graph below.
Ethical fashion jobs labels brands & companies:
Who paid to promote the "Ethical Fashion Forum" brand so fast in the UK? You did.
Government promotion and small grants
- often intended for the opposite purpose of creating UK employment
Before EFF was founded, advice & training are acknowledged from The East London Small Business Centre, The Portobello Business Centre, The Creative Industry Development Association (CIDA), and London Apparel Resource Centre as well as a subsidised fashion business consultant, David Jones. The landlord at 35-47 Bethnal Green Road E1 6LA is a charitable trust set-up by the London Development Agency. It isn't clear which of these services were cheaper to use because they were public funded, but presumably most were - for example the landlord is thanked for use of lecture space and has been known to give cheap rent to charities. Use of the cutting machines at London Apparel Resource Centre were particularly useful for samples. At the same time Tamsin Lejeune was working with a five year EU and Dfid-funded project "Fashioning an Ethical Industry" paid to Labour Behind the Label.
A new group, this time an internet forum, called Ethical Fashion Forum, brought huge publicity to the ethical fashion buzzwords in September 2005, six months after their web site was first put online, working with the Futerra PR agency that did a lot of government work, the Crafts Council, the British Council, the British Broadcasting Corporation's Ethical Threads Magazine, BBC support to a Northern Ireland Exam board, the British Fashion Council's London Fashion Week, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and international organisations The Commonwealth Foundation and The International Trade Commission.
Each organisation has a public relations contact and probably full time public relations staff. London Fashion Week is entirely a public relations event, so a great deal of public money was spent promoting Ethical Fashion Forum to fame so quickly that nobody reported on their fake backgrounds like the "Juste" muslin dress business, their fake claim to be an industry body, and their ignorance of any advantages to a welfare state in poverty reduction. This seems to have been the intention. UK Aid paid for a ISUU publication with an implausible story that Tamsin Lejeune had set-up an "industry body" after a running a successful dress import business called Juste while another EFF director had run another clothing company. The publication was most likely offered as coursework material for the new development courses subsidised by the Department for International Development in African and Asian universities, under a scheme called Delphe that was managed by the British Council.
A postal address and more government work
One thing the organisation needed was a postal address and somewhere to put the interns. EFF started at The Hub, a room that offers desk space in Torrens Street and shares some connection to Futerra Communications that I don't understand, then rented space from a landlord established by London Development Agency, Rich Mix, who are thanked for public lecture and seminar space along with The Hospital Club which has also been used by a major political party for meetings. The mock-up of a fashion show for Juste was held at Hampstead Town Hall.
The International Trade Commission worked with the Department for International Development, and Dfid's UK Aid budget paid for some higher education salaries for teacher training at fashion colleges. ITC paid for some work on "Africa Inspires". A charity called Unltd paid for startup "funding and support", while the "New Entrepreneurs" project - supposedly an employment scheme was funded by City Fringe Partnership as well as London Development Agency. Business Link funded an EFF collaborative project with the Eco Design Fair to "showcase pioneering ethical brands" "as part of its support for sustainable fashion".
Tamsin Lejeune states that she "led Ethical Fashion Consultancy projects with clients ranging from the BBC to the ITC and the Commonwealth Foundation." "Over the last 2-3 years, Tamsin has raised over £300,000 for the launch of a raft of initiatives in the ethical fashion sector, succeeding with grant funding, corporate sponsorship, social investment and other forms of funding. She has secured partnerships with leading multinationals, fashion bodies and global institutions such as the UN."
Since foundation, a House of Lords group has emerged with a treasurer and a "secretariat" in the form of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion which itself has a range of public grants. The group has no role, but justifies £300 daily attendance fees for lordships, staging two Westminster Hall debates and a "Round Table Discussion" with an Ethical Fashion Forum director as chair.
All this activity distracts from a question: why would someone pretend not to know about UK manufacturing, or the benefits of the welfare state it supports? And who were the corporate clients who would benefit from this ignorance?
James Bond villains
This might sound like a fight from a James Bond film. An international trade conspiracy of bad people (ITCB). Governments that avoid the costs of helping their own citizens with a welfare state, preferring to keep them poor, and opposing tariffs needed to protect good government in Europe. The bad peoples' web site "what we do" section states they "develop programmes" to "Inform public opinion , and collaborate with organisations and associations of consumers, importers and retailers engaged in the fight against protectionism in the sector". Unlike fictional bond villains, they did not trade from a dormant volcano with monorail trains and a private army, but a shared office block in suburban Geneva, convenient for lobbying UN organisations. There is no sign of killing in Piranha pools either. All the torturing and execution is done on the home soil of member states, by different organisations.
Tamsin Lejeune, the managing director of Ethical Fashion Forum, sourced funding from "a portfolio of corporate clients" , according to her blurb, without stating which ones She has mentioned the ITCB in her unqualified thesis and carefully notes lists of their members' arguments, even in competition to each other, and with no attempt at criticism. I don't know if she asked the ITCB for money.
Another candidate for the role of Bond villain is ITCB's neighbour, the International Trade Commission. ITC funded Ethical Fashion Forum on "Africa Inspires" and funded Tamsin Lejeune on a previous Ghana project. With Dfid if funded Development Partnerships for Higher Education, managed by the British Council to fund Centre for Sustainability in Fashion at London College of Fashion and the book claiming that Tamsin Lejeune is a model for future students.
Two leading members of Ethical Fashion Forum have done work for the International Trade Commission, which is funded by donor governments of Denmark and Canada, but follows a development agenda set bad governments. What might this be? Composting? Intermediate technology? Solar power? National Insurance?
Cattle-ranching and production of leather and luxury goods are ITC priorities, despite other UN agency's report - Livestock's Long Shadow - which states that livestock make the land worse and the poor poorer in developing countries. Their involvement might explain how a group uses the "Ethical Fashion" words to promote silk and leather.
Readers of this site know that animal welfare is a big ethical issue around the world, with surveys on the UK Vegetarian Society and Vegan Society web pages showing large numbers of vegetarians and vegans; cattle ranching to make luxury goods in tax havens are the stuff of Bond villains.
UK Aid budget at Dfid with the Industrial Development Organisation's ITC
Other funders sponsored an ISUU publication claiming that she had run a successful business called Juste.. They are UK Aid, (managed by the British Council and funded by UK Aid) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. Monsoon would have been worth asking, as they donate to the Conservative Party and to the Estethica room at London Fashion Week, and have mysteriously got backing from the British Embassy in Indonesia for a fashion show of Indian dresses alongside funding from Dfid. They got a guest speaker onto one of Ethical Fashion Forum's "source summit" events as well.
Development Awareness Grant from Dfid
The Department for International Development also paid a "Development Awareness Fund Mini-Grant" of £10,000 a year for 3 years 2008-11 direct to Ethical Fashion Forum so that Ethical Fashion Forum could spread their opinions and reduce the chance of any kind of welfare state in third world countries, I think, and encourage the run-down of services in European countries. The application states that Tamsin Lejeune has already had "Dfid DAF funding" for her role in the "Fashioning an ethical industry" project for poverty reduction; she uses her name to help secure funding. Ethical Fashion Forum's "Ethical Fashion Pioneers" is stated to have had funding from another Dfid grant called "Responsible and Accountable Garment Sector Challenge Fund ", although the final report doesn't list among the lead contractors which include political party donors Monsoon and Tesco.
Internship qualifies for London College of Fashion sandwich courses
Free labour as part of a qualification is one of the few exemptions to minimum wage regulations. London College of Fashion chooses not to promote local employment with a knowledge transfer partnership, but it does charges students £1500 for a sandwich course which requires them to work un-paid, and Ethical Fashion Forum structures its internships to match requirements with neat "learning outcomes". A review of the process by an ex-student questions why she paid £1500 to work unpaid. Particularly as there is a Higher Education Funding Council grant. Unfortunately, a lot of that grant went on a scheme based at London College of Fashion to send designers to Chinese factories.
Talking of interns, there is a disconnect between the quoted number of staff and "current liabilities £5091" on the accounts. The organisation does not account for turnover, but if it has a few thousand pounds in the bank and liabilities of £5091 that looks low for an employer "Managing a core team of 12 and a wider team of 35". So, either the staff figures are a fib, or there are lots and lots of interns, or there are paid staff who aren't on the Ethical Fashion Forum's books, maybe seconded from another organisation.
Ethical Fashion information and sources:
Are they different to lobbying by Nike?
Here are some characteristics that turn-out quite similar to lobbying by Nike.
- Human rights agencies are not mentioned on sites that write about "ethical fashion". They will mention aid agencies,
but not Amnesty Internationalor Human Rights Watch, or bad government causing poverty.[this has changed - they've hired Amnesty's meeting room for a video seminar and left the candle logo at the back of the stage while on video]
- Social insurance schemes in the far east or Africa are not mentioned, nor failures to improve them or to build-up some universal benefits.
- Conversely, the lost jobs and taxes caused by imports promoted from unfairly cheap countries are seldom mentioned. The ethical fashion forum site does mention them, but mentions them next to fake facts and fake quotation and an underlined caution not to buy British goods on ethical grounds. It lies. But the usual tactic is just to talk about something else.
It's hard to argue against gaps and blind-spots, because they are not there to argue against. They are a vacuity. It's a little bit like Nike's advertising which quotes some obscure technical detail and endorsement by a celebrity, rather than talking about who made the shoes so cheaply that there's money to pay for the big advert.
Ethical Fashion Forum seminars that I've attended concentrate on good examples of sewing or weaving jobs, relative to neighbouring jobs in fashion, and suggest expensive consultancy or tracking services that show which sewing and weaving workshop in Bangladesh your stock comes from. So EFF are different to Nike but still don't mention trainers made in a democratic welfare state and where to get them.
Nike has stated that it does not support "american democratic values" and warned far-eastern governments against raising prices. It was a big customer in Burma. Ethical Fashion Forum tends to talk about conditions in countries where there is a little more freedom to obtain facts, so that's another difference.
Ethical Fashion Forum won't advocate sanctions-busting but will talk about consultancy and answer Inquiries about China, and they invited guest speakers from large companies like Monsoon to give talks about the good things being done, without criticism of any bad things.
Nike is ahead on one point. I have not seen it write anything about events at Rana Plaza. Ethical Fashion Forum's statements about how trade works suggest that trade helps people in Bangladesh, preferably with consumer pressure to buy from good employers; there are no statements about good government of factory inspections or hospitals. But when a factory building squashes a lot of Bangladeshi workers who then have no NHS hospital to go to, Ethical Fashion is quick to write about the subject. Which seems shameless.
It may help to guess who funds this stuff, rather than trying to argue against un-stated things.
Conclusion and more about ethical fashion forum
This started as an account of why there are not many UK shoes that can be made to order for vegan shoe shops, and why people ask for a greater range. The other reason why vegan shoe shops aren't good at everything could be lack of talent, but I hope you have a look at some of these pages before you checking the other vegan shoe shops.