Meet the Makers – Shapes in the Sand – Eco-friendly Swimwear

Today’s post is a bit different. One of the reasons why I started this blog is that I wanted to showcase the people and the ethos behind making clothes and fashion. Beyond the dress and the pair or of pants, someone had to take courageous steps and not follow the traditional way of making fast fashion. Those creators who are courageous enough to follow a different path and go out of their ways to create something that is more earth friendly really need to be showcased.

 

Today we talk to one of those extraordinary creators who decided to go into uncharted eco-fashion territory. Her name is Alex Dash and she is the designer and founder of the Australian eco swimwear label Shapes in the Sand. From her beautiful designs to her production methods, she is a living proof that making fashion does not have to cost the earth. She has generously accepted to answer my questions below for all of us to read. Thanks Alex!

 

Who or what has made the biggest impact on why you decided to integrate sustainability into your practice?

From an early age, I have always had a fascination with the natural world. Spending time in nature is a regular activity for me and throughout my life, I have learned to appreciate it’s beauty and diversity. It was in 2012 when I began the label’s journey in my last year studying fashion design. I decided that I wanted to draw attention to eco fabrications within Australia. I had only ever heard of recycled polyester fabrics in the USA through my research. From here, I was able to bring fabric sampling over for my final work and this is where the sustainable fabric journey began!

What inspires you to create your designs?

Nature is the number one source of inspiration for Shapes in the Sand. Each season, inspiration is drawn from a unique environment. I research the plants, animals and what makes them so unique. It’s from here that signature print stories are designed and developed.

Where is your favourite place to go on holiday and why?

I am in love with Australia’s incredible landscapes and diversity. My partner and I spend much of our holidays camping in our van at various National Parks within Australia on our own and with friends. The North and South coast of NSW has beautiful beaches and great spots for hanging out and bushwalking! We are always finding new places to go to. Australia is such a big place. One of my most memorable trips though was to Ningaloo Reef, where we hired a 4WD from Perth up to Coral Bay. Visiting the marine life there was incredibly beautiful. Western Australia is magnificent!

If you could do only two things to help to save the planet what would you focus on?

There are so many ways in which I’d like to save the planet; however, I’d have to say the two that I am most concerned about and would like to put my efforts into are:

The huge plastic problem we have in our oceans and beaches microplastics are a huge issue. We need to really focus on plastic pollution and stopping plastic at the source. We don’t need to be manufacturing any more plastic. We need to continue to clean the mess that’s been made. This year, Shapes in the Sand signed The Global Commitment to address plastic waste and pollution at its source and develop strategies within our whole supply chain to eliminate plastic packaging completely by 2025. We believe we can have this done much earlier!

The decline of many species of animals. This is very broad because there are so many that face extinction due to human activity. Each year record numbers of marine mammals, turtles, seabirds, sharks are captured and many are already endangered or protected. Koalas are losing their homes and declining due to the clearing of habitat. Once the habitat is lost then there’s no food and shelter, which causes stress for Koalas. During times of stress, koalas can develop the disease of Chlamydia.

As part of our new collection Pisces, we’ve partnered with Shark Conservationist Madison Stewart in support of her current Project Hiu. The aim of Project Hiuis to slowly introduce the opportunity to an Indonesian community that has only ever known shark fishing. “By hiring shark fishing boats to engage in tourism activities, we offer an alternative income that simultaneously and effectively protects sharks. Project Hiu is founded on the recognition that the very solution to saving sharks, lay with the men raised to kill them.” – Project Hiuis

What do you like the most about the work that you do?

Being a creatively minded person the design and innovation side is what I really enjoy. Innovation is such an important part of moving forward in the right direction at this critical time for our planet. Linking up the collections each season with an environmental organisation is part of the label’s core values; it allows me as a designer and business to understand and learn about the natural environments I have chosen for the season, and really delve into the issues they’re facing. It’s from here that support can be offered and awareness raised! By creating unique alternatives for the swimwear industry, I find it encouraging and motivating knowing that the collections have proper meaning behind them and are supporting the future of our planet.

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Thank you so much for your time Alex! If you would like to have your own Shapes in the Sand swimwear, I am proud to say that Tropical Suitcase is now a proud stockist. Check it out in this link!

I hope that you have enjoyed this new Meet the Makers series. If you would like to see more of those articles, please let me know in the comments section and like / share to your heart’s content!

Until next time, travel and leave only steps (and shapes) in the sand…..

Cheers,

Julie

Thoughts – Some hope for our Post-COVID19 live

Thoughts – Some hope for our Post-COVID19 live

Like most (all?)  of you, my life got turned up side down when that whole virus thing started. 

Now that the “new normal” is somewhat settling in for at least the next couple of weeks, in my case anyways. As uncertainty is becoming the norm I though I initiate a reflection on what it means for our world and in particular for our western societies, how we see traveling and the environment. I think this is only the beginning of my reflection, but let see where it leads.

Somehow, one my reactions was to look back in history and turn to philosophy to try to make sense of all these rapidly evolving changes.

From a historical point of view, let’s remind us that this is not the only period of great uncertainty or pandemic, that we, as a human race have been facing.   For one, there is reassurance in knowing that despite the horror of history, we as a human race, are still on this planet. Secondly, from those great schisms in history, great innovations have sometimes emerged. For example, agriculture appeared as a way of coping with great famine in the middle east.  New visions of the world have also seen the day following horrible world traumas. For example, the United Nations started after WW2 as a platform for countries to discuss issues and avoid wars. Somehow, I think that there is some comfort in knowing this despite all the human catastrophes happening right now. 

Another element to look at, I think, is the concept of balanced ecosystems.  I think it has been some time now that we have been made aware that our way of life requires more resources than what the earth can provide.  I have recently seen an interview with an astronaut, David Saint-Jacques, who lived for a year in the international space station circumnavigating around the earth. He observed the earth from above and was able to internalise the concept that everything the atmosphere contains is all we have and that all this is just recycled over and over.  Furthermore, I would add that also means that we are all interconnected.

Today, more than ever, with the coronavirus being spread from countries to countries at lightening speed, we are definitely all in this together.

We still do not know what all of this will bring into the future but let’s hope that there will be a better world that will come out of this.  For one, the environment is better.  This has clearly demonstrated that hiding behind economic growth for allowing the destruction of the planet is not an excuse. Other things are more important than economic growth at all costs.  By damaging the environment, really we are damaging us. I sincerely hope that our relationship with our environment will be transformed. What we previously thought impossible, is now possible.  From working from home to teleconferencing and being conscious of our supply chains. The world needs to change.

Let me know what you think and until next time, don’t forget to wash your hands.

Cheers,

Julie

How to calculate your pre and post COVID 19 ecological footprint?

How to calculate your carbon footprint

Bored at home? Watched too many Netflix series? How about figuring out how your pre and post COVID19/coronavirus ecological footprint compare?

Amidst all the chaos, one thing that we are noticing is that our impact on the planet has reduced.  Fewer planes in the sky mean less carbon. Less tourism leaves some time for nature to regenerate. Let’s just think about Venice and it’s cleaner canals.  In cities where the pollution level killed so many people, the sky is now clear. Here is one interesting article on the topic I recently looked at.

As millions of people are in lockdown around the world, why not have a look at our past footprint and our present footprint.  And see if it makes a difference. 

There are many different calculators out there which vary from very simple to very complex. Here is a good review of what is available for Australia.

For my part, as I am not sure how much or where some of my electricity comes and, during pre-COVID-19 life travelled, I travelled via ferry at least twice a week. I am unsure how to calculate this. As such, I decided to use the very simple “ footprintcalculator” that you can find here.

I was amazed to figure out that during my Pre-COVID-19 life, if everyone on earth would live like me, we would need 5 earths whereas now it is 3.5 earths.

Wow. For me, working from home has had the biggest impact on my footprint. That is reducing my footprint by 20%.

There you go. In theory, by changing the way we work, we can have a significant impact on the planet. Clearly, we can do it.   

I understand that not everyone can do it, as this depends on the nature of our work but a lot of office bound employees could make a big difference.  Something to ponder for our post-COVID19 life. 

Where did the difference came down to for you? Do you see how this could help you improve your post-COVID19 footprint? Please comment below!

All the best to you and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Fashion and petrol: a love story – concluding remarks

Fashion and petrol: a love story – concluding remarks
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

In the past few weeks, we have learned that petrol and fashion go hand in hand with each other. From man made textiles such as polyester and rayon which are directly derived from hydrocarbons, to pesticide and fertilisers used to grow cotton, to petrol based dyes and transport. We cannot seem to escape the black gold. 

The use of petroleum derived products has several effects on our planet. First up, is climate change. By burning fossil fuels we increase greenhouse gases emissions and contribute to rising sea levels, biodiversity destruction such as coral bleaching, more severe weather events like cyclones.

Secondly, there is also plastic pollution. Plastic is derived from hydrocarbons and has invaded our daily lives. From single use plastic bags to toothbrushes, it seems we cannot live without it. The problem with plastic is that it breaks down in fine and invisible grains but never really goes away. It is plaguing our oceans and affecting wildlife. It can be found throughout the food chain from fishes to bears.

Third up, for the communities producing the goods we love to buy at the shops, there is a risk that water and air become contaminated, increasing the risk of diseases.

The question is, as a consumer, what can I do.   Of course, there are no perfect situations and, as much as we want to put our heads in the sand, we, as consumers do have a massive impact on the planet and our fellow animal species. But that also means that we can have a positive impact and be agents of change in our communities. Fashion is big business and we are part of it.  Remember when everything went directly to the garbage bin?  Now, it is mainstream to put things in the recycle bin. Things do change.  They can change. But we need to make a little effort by making better choices.  The size of our addiction to petrol can be overwhelming, but we can start with something simple.

Next time we need to pack up our suitcase and need to do some shopping before travelling, let’s stop, think and make a better choice. Tackling what is in our suitcase is less intimidating than what is in our wardrobe, so why not stop, think and make a better choice before buying something new to put in the suitcase.

Reducing our petrol addiction starts with small steps. Let’s not throw everything we own to start afresh. Let’s wear what we have for as long as possible and repurpose it.

Next time we need something, let’s start by avoiding polyester and the like.  Because life is about getting better, not about stressing out to be perfect, I invite you to come with me on a journey.  Come along and discover……

Cheers,

 

Julie

Fashion and petrol: a love story – Transport – How far our clothes have travelled?

Fashion and petrol: a love story – Transport – How far our clothes have travelled?
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

We all know that we heavily rely on hydrocarbons for our transportation needs. Passenger and freight transport all contribute to climate change by their gas emissions. In fact, transport is the third most important source of greenhouse gas emission.

But how do our clothes contribute to greenhouse gas emission via transport?  Made in China, Made in Bangladesh, Made in Vietnam…. We all know our clothes have travelled before we get them, but how much?

Well, without doing a comprehensive investigation about where our clothes are from (that would be really great thought) , I thought I would investigate the “statistical pants”. What does that mean? Well, by deconstructing a pair of pants and following its trace around the  world via its most statistical likely provenance and trowing some fun facts in the mix, we can have a better grasp of the footprint of our “real” pants.

So lets keep tab of our kilometres on the way and go for a world trip.

Despite some Made in Bangladesh tags being more common, Made in China is still king in the garment export world. With a market share of 38.6%, chances are, our “statistical pants” proudly wears a Made in China tag.

But where in China was it made. After all, China is a big country. Chances are it was made in one of the five provinces that produce 70 percent of China’s clothing. Those provinces are :  Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong in the eastern coastal area.

Of those, Guangdong has the largest economy, so lets start here.

If we keep narrowing things down, we have the town of Humen in Dongguan which is known for its ladies fashion.

First dot on the map and behind the “made in China” is “Made in Humen”

But to make a pair of pants, you need: fabric, tread , button, zipper, needle, scissors, pattern and at least one human being.

Let’s start with the fabric.  The most widely used fabric is cotton. China is one of the biggest cotton producer in the world. However, in 2016/2017, India took over China as the biggest producer.

To feed the factories of China,  Chinese cotton is used but increasingly cotton is imported in large quantities. In fact, China it is the country that imports the most cotton in dollar value.

But where does it import it from? Most likely, India or the United States. In fact China is the biggest buyer of raw cotton in both the United States and India.

As India is the largest producer, chances are the raw cotton comes from India.

Behind “Made in Humen”, there is “Made in India.” In fact,the state of Gujarat has the produces the most cotton. Bharuch, Vadodra, Panchmahal, Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Surendemagar are the most likely sources of cotton.

A likely route would be for the cotton to be loaded at Ahmedabad and sent Mumbai via road and the from Mumbai sea port to Guangdong in China. The voyage would take about 20 days at sea and across approximately 7370 km. This does not include travelling between the cotton field to Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad to Mumbai which would be at least 500 km.

So, our statistical pair of pants does not resemble in any way, shape or form to a pair of pants and it has already travelled 7870km.

Once arrived in Guangdong, the raw cotton would need to be ginned, spinned and weaved.

Chances are that our “statistical pair of pants” is more a blend of cotton than 100% cotton. As we have previously looked at, polyester, or any of its synthetic cousin, is made out of hydrocarbons.  The question is then raised, where those China gets its hydrocarbon from.

China produces some oil but overall, it is a net importer, meaning that it imports more than what it produces. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Angola are the main source of hydrocarbons for China.

West Siberia and the Urals-Volga region in Russia are the most likely source of hydrocarbons in Russia. Of those two regions, Siberia produces the most.

Accordingly, the main material used to make the polyester in our “statistical pair of pants” is likely form this region and thus could also wear a “Made in Siberia” tag and have travelled 4320 km to Guangdong. 

Just keeping km tabs here: 12 190 km.

If we consider only the textile, we already have, “Made in Gujarat” , “Made in Siberia”, and “Made in Humen”. But wait, there is more.  What about the buttons and the zipper?

Where are buttons made?

Once again, most buttons are made of plastic by mixing dyes and liquid polyester. 

As we know plastic and polyester are siblings and made out of hydrocarbons. So we are back to Siberia to get some oil. Then we go to Qiaotou (Yongjia) China. In fact, 60% of the worldwide button production comes from this town.

Well, let’s bring those buttons to Guangdong. That will be 1119 km. Thank you.

Km tab check: 13 309 km

Let’s move on to the zippers…..  If you are wearing clothes with some kind of zippers on you,  have a look at the letters on it….. Does it say YKK? Probably…..  Although, YKK have factories all over the world, including Shanghai, YKK is a Japanese company which, although now struggling to compete with its Chinese competition still maintains its fair part of the zipper market, mostly in the middle and upper fashion market. You can read more here

Let’s then stop by Shanghai to get some zippers then! And do not forget to add to the km tab: 1405 (Shangai to Guangdong). Current total 14714 km.

There are few elements to a zipper: the tape and teeth (or stringer), A tab that slides, a stop preventing the tab to go out of its chain and a  box and pin to open the zipper.

The tape is usually made out of polyester –  So once again, we need to go back to Siberia…..  

Brass is a common metal used for all the other bits which is an alloy made of copper and zinc. The biggest producer of copper is Chile and the biggest producer of zinc is Australia.

The two need to be smelted together and where else than China, the smelting capital of the world.

From Chile and Australia and Russia, then to china, but thanks to Japan, we finally have a zipper. That will be 18,544 km (Chile to Guangdong) and 5,820 (Australia to Guangdong). Total : 39 078 km. Oh dear!

But finally, we are back to Humen…… But we still need to package everything in plastic bags which as we know by now likely originates from the oil rigs of Siberia.

 And off it goes, shipped from Guangdong to Sydney ( add an other 7,492 km)  where it is dispatched via land wherever your shop is.   

Our statistical pair of pants has travelled approximately 46570 km. That is be a bit further than an earth to moon trip or the circumference of the earth.

Ouch.

From India, China, Russia, Australia and Chile, our statistical pair of pants has travelled more than many of us, Yet, it only gets one stamp on its passport: “Made in China”.  And that is quite a frustrating bit for consumers. We do not really know where our clothes come from or their true ecological footprint.

Unless we all plan on making your own clothes from scratch and grow cotton in our yards, we will likely continue to buy from overseas which is reliant on our dependency on hydrocarbon.  Developing trucks, boats and airplanes that uses alternative fuel sources would be one good thing but unfortunately, it is a bit out of every consumers hands. For now lobbying for those alternative fuel sources is one of the best avenue for changing the transport industry or labelling practices.

What we can do is to keep our clothes for as long as we can, buy quality clothes that will last and that we will continue to wear through the years. Looking at buying third party certification for organic and low impact practices also reduces the uses of hydrocarbons.

Now, back to our own suitcase. How about visiting as many countries as your clothes do?

Until next time, travel safe and don’t forget to think about what you put in your suitcase.

Cheers,

Julie

Fashion and petrol: a love story – The truth about polyester

Fashion and petrol: a love story –  The truth about polyester
Warning:  If you find that this article is little too long or just want to see the videos , feel free to register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol. Otherwise, enjoy the article below ! 

Fashion is big business. No doubt. Worth $2.4 Trillion worldwide, it is definitely big business. So much so that if it would be a country, it would be the world’s 7th largest GDP economy. A quick google search indicates that France currently occupies this position.  

It involves an astounding number of actors which are all interconnected through elaborate relations. From concept to production, to market and your wardrobe, there is a long way.  Most people, don’t generally realise that there is a very intricate and mysterious beast unpoetically called “The Supply Chain” which crosses many countries and has links to other industry sectors like agriculture and marketing. It is a hard to grasp concept in its entirety for most fashion bands, let alone for the consumer. If you are interested in understanding this concept, this Good on You article is very helpful.

This means that the information we are left with, is the tag on the t-shirt which tells us where it was allegedly made, what material it is –  using words that could really mean anything to you or me, and some symbols about how we should care for it.  Unfortunately, there is a lot more to a piece of garment than this label. One has to dig really deep to understand where clothes come from and what they are made of.

So, where do clothes come from…..  No, not the shop, they generally come from either one of those sources: petroleum (that oil rig somewhere), a crop (same place

as your morning cereals), an animal ( killed for the skin or sheared for the wool), some chemical cocktail or any combination of the above. And that is basically it.  No more…..

For some reason, that is not well translated on a tag.  Most consumers don’t really think about it but polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex textiles are made of the same stuff that you put in your car.  Next time you fill up your car…. Look at your socks and shirt…. Yep, both  can come from an oil rig.

 

 

The nerdy bit ( bare with me, it’s not too long)

For example, to make polyester, two petroleum derived products are used. The process can vary a bit from company to company but in a nutshell. This is how it’s made.

Hydrocarbons are transformed through steam cracking (heating hydrocarbons to ridiculously high temperatures) so that Ethylene is separated and extracted. Etylene is an alcohol also used to make plastic bottles and as a plant hormone in the agricultural industry.

The other component is terephthalic acid which comes from a mixture of tar and petroleum through xylene-oxydation which is an energy intensive process. Xylene is a powerful solvent and is considered toxic. It used in the rubber and leather industry notably.

The actual process by which polyester is made is called polymeristation which involves mixing the etylene and terephthalic acid at high temperatures. Long ribbons of polyester are then extracted from this mix. The ribbons are dried and cut, re-melted and then filaments are extracted. They can be mixed with other products such as cotton or other synthetic fibres.

Some resources to further satisfy your inner nerd can be found here, here and here.

Ok – end of nerdy bit….

 

Not only those fabrics are from non-renewable sources, they generally quickly end up in the landfill thanks to fast fashion and are not biodegradable. Plus, they leach out a poisonous cocktail in the soil and water streams once they end up there.

This is without mentioning that they have been associate with allergic reactions like eczema in some people.

They even start leaching out chemicals and microplastics in your washing machine drain.

So,  instead of reading polyester on a garment tag, one should actually read the following warning: This product is derived from petroleum.

 Garment tags are surprisingly misleading. So next time you read one, replace polyester, nylon, spandex by petrol, then only, it starts making sense…..  And where it was allegedly made, as per the garment tag, has nothing to do about where it all started.  Although, it says on the tag that it was made in Bangladesh, it could well be that the polyester fibre originates from the oil rigs of Saudi Arabia. You will not find this on the tag.

So, in summary, there are quite a few things wrong synthetic fibres but most notably they all have one thing in common, they are derived from petroleum.  As we saw, this has several consequences. Something that is particular to petroleum derived textile and their cousin the plastic bottle, is the fact that they do not biodegrade. They end up in our environment, whether it be the ocean, the forest or the landfill and break down in small pieces that are absorbed through the food chain. Not only do they never really go away but they can leach toxic by-products in the environment.

But it is not all gloom and doom. One way to reduce the use of polyester and the like is to avoid, or at least reduce, polyester and other petroleum derived products in favor of more natural fibres such as organic cotton. Check the garment tag for polyester , nylon, acrylic, spandex, microfiber and try to avoid them. For the ones already in your wardrobe or the garments that you just have to buy, wear them for as long as possible and donate them to extend their useful life. It can be hard to find but in some places, they can also be recycled or repurposed.

One reason why we are so addicted to petroleum textiles is that other natural fibres like cotton do not have the “elastic” property that elastane or spandex which is so widely spread in the production of swimwear and active wear.

There is good news thought and innovation has now made possible the recycling of PET bottles into textile. At least, a second life can be given to those plastic bottles and PET products can be re-used. Problem is, those recycled products can be hard to find on the mainstream market and how we dispose of those recycled products is still and issue. Nevertheless, this is better than manufacturing an entirely new product.

Reducing our petrol addiction starts small. Don’t throw everything your own to start afresh. Keeping your favourite items for as long as possible is a good option.  But  next time you need something, try to avoid polyester and the like. Try to buy second hand or recycled polyester.   

There are options,     Come along and discover……

Until then…take care.

 PS – If you have found this article interesting, please share or register here to get  a mini web-series video about fashion and petrol ! 

Cheers,

Julie