Thursday 31 March 2016

Safia Minney | People tree founder

When I think about ethical fashion, it is always People Tree that enters my mind first. While many may think of it as a UK brand, Safia Minney actually founded it in Japan 25 years ago. It is crazy to think that they have been around for ¼ of a century. Safia’s new book “Slow fashion” is a compilation of stories and personal profiles of designers, eco-concept stores and people bringing the alternatives to mainstream fashion. I interviewed Safia to find out more about the inspiration behind the book.

What are the key ideas behind Slow Fashion as a movement? What do you think is the most important aspect of it?

As a campaigner and social entrepreneur what is really exciting is seeing how all the campaigns have really driven change over the last 3 years. On the civil society level, people are much more aware, they are demanding accountability and transparency. I get very excited looking at this incredible movement and the development of eco concept stores, there are people with fashion and retail experience who are really passionate about creating social change. They are curating fair trade, sustainable and ethical fashion: womenswear, menswear, footwear, often lifestyle products, sometimes they have an organic café. They run really interesting talks on wellbeing and social issues, they are very linked to the community. It is such an interesting type of a retail concept centered around ethical consumerism. I really wanted to dedicate a large part of the book to that and as you will see in the book, we have films that go back to all of the stores. You can download a QR reader on your phone and have a virtual visit to these stores, look at the products and hear what the person who runs it says about the store. For me it has always been about finding positive ways to create change. Having a focus where the consumer is involved right the way through, whether it is campaigning, or buying the product or learning about them and why they should have them, that has always been central to my mission.

Since you started People Tree have you noticed any positive changes in the fashion industry?

Well, I started People Tree 25 years ago, so I have seen massive changes. In the beginning of course people would say “why would you want to make a dress out of organic cotton if you don't eat it?” And now there is a much greater understanding of how conventionally grown cotton creates toxic environment. There is a greater understanding of organic farming, and there is a passion to find ways to protect the people behind our clothes, the people that make them. At every level, consumer level and retail level amongst the companies themselves, and at the policy level, there are huge changes. I was at parliament the other day and we were looking at OECD paper on garment supply chain and accountability within it, and that is a new piece of legislation that will be introduced at the end of April. Then we have the Modern Day Slavery Act here in the UK, which means all companies will have to report as to what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chain. We as consumers will  genuinely be able to start asking  fashion companies questions.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for an ethical brand today?

I think most ethical clothing companies today still have enormous challenges, because they are competing on an unleveled playing field. They tend to be smaller, so they don’t have the economies of scale, they are having to compete on price and quality, where most conventional fashion brands will be delivering on a price that doesn’t actually afford any decent working conditions or anything close to a living wage, whilst they pollute the planet. So clearly ethical fashion brands have a huge challenge ahead of them.

As a green beauty consumer, natural/organic skincare has become much more available. I could go into a larger Boots on a highstreet and find something fairly easily. Yet I haven’t noticed the same growth with organic cotton in fashion shops on the highstreet. Why do you think that is?

I think fair trade and organic cotton, depending on the country, is very widely available. We’ve had fair trade cotton in large retailers like M&S in UK. In terms of a more mid-market fashion offer, People Tree was in Top shop for a while, Selfridges is curating around sustainable brands. We have People Tree in Fenwick and John Lewis. It is becoming more mainstream, it is just a little bit behind the curve when you compare it with food and beauty products.

Where do you see ethical fashion heading in the future? What are your hopes for it?

At the same time as we find ethical fashion mainstreaming we will also find that conventional brands will have to do a much better job of compliance. We will get to the point where brands will have to legally maintain living wages and safe working conditions. They won’t be allowed to pollute the planet as they go. But I think it is important that consumers continue to engage with the issues. For example we’ve had a huge response to True Cost movie, and a lot of people sharing it: from university groups to even fashion companies. Fashion companies shared True Cost in a bid to improve their design and make their supply chains more sustainable. There is definitely a large number of really significant campaigns now that are forcing the industry to change.

How do you think "slow fashion" is evolving?

One reason why we held The Slow Fashion book launch in The Duke of Cambridge organic pub, is because we really wanted to link it to slow food. Slow food is a huge international campaign with groups everywhere. Organic food, slow food is really becoming very accessible, and I think this is where sustainable fashion is heading. It is going to take a little bit more time, as we are about 20 years behind the organic food movement. You can see that there is a huge interest with the rise of platforms that talk about it and new retail spaces that stock ethical fashion. There is this whole industry that just didn’t exist 10 years ago.

A few years ago People Tree did a collection of dresses and bags that were made using recycled sari fabrics, but you never use recycled polyester or other recycled synthetic fibers? What was behind that decision?

There is a huge amount of oil and energy used to create synthetic fibers and textiles, and we don’t think that is sustainable. There is a lot of research and development that I pushed through with People Tree, which means that there are more fibers and fabrics available. There is still very little in terms of recycled fiber waste that actually meets environmental standards. For us as a brand we don’t want to use polyester, but we are looking into new textiles like tencel, banana fibers and nettle for example. It is a struggle because we are developing as we go, we were probably the first company to bring in an organic fabric with stretch in it that was woven poplin to make the perfect dress. These things take time and working very closely with the producers. Sometimes it can take 2-5 years to create a new fabric and create the market for it.

"Slow Fashion" is available in paperback and hardback from Amazon, or Ethical shop in UK.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

The Art of tidying and sticking with it

I have never been a minimalist, and chances are I will never become one. I am one of those people who sees an empty surface as a challenge. Ok, that is not quite true, it is more like empty surfaces do not last in my home, a bit like plants, they just can’t survive here. As an outsider you might think that the reason is lack of space, far too many possessions for a tiny London flat. The reality is somewhat more complex, it doesn’t seem to matter how much space I have, it seems eventually I overfill it. If I had two closets instead of one you can count on it both being full.
The problem of course is that it is practically impossible to keep any sort of order this way. Every tidying session turns to a mammoth task and the effects never seem to last more than a few days. For the most part it used to be annoying and mildly inconvenient, but never bothered me to the point of wanting to drastically change my ways.

Of course it all changed as soon as I made a decision to start freelancing and effectively work from home. All the things that I used be able to push off until the weekend were staring me right in the face all the time! Clothes that haven’t been folded, dishes that have not been put away, piles of books, and let’s not forget an insane amount of beauty products. I could not concentrate on anything, it was very clear that working from home was not going to happen until the whole apartment was put to rights.

It was pretty obvious that I needed to get rid of things, and it was no trouble filling up a couple of bags for the charity shop. Yet it was like a drop in the ocean, flat was still a mess. I was getting desperate, the only solution seemed to be getting a bigger place. Then on Periscope a blogger mentioned a book: “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” by Marie Kondo. Within minutes it was on my Kindle.

The book is translated from Japanese, and it was not written for a western audience. Certain things may come across odd when taken out of context of a very different culture, but for me I found that you really just need to forget about it and simply follow the instructions. It won’t take long to figure out what is and isn’t for you, but just try it first.
At its core you are following a few simple steps:
1. You sort things out by category like clothes, books, beauty not by location.
2. Bring everything out from the category you are concentrating on into one place.
3. Decide what you are keeping.
4. Only once you have decided on everything that you are keeping, only then find a place for it.
5. Repeat with the next category.
The idea is that you keep only the items that make you truly happy (obviously there is a different set of rules for important documents, but it seems most of us tend to hold on to some outdated papers). Once you have gone through everything, each of your possessions has a dedicated place. So instead of constantly trying to find space for things, all that needs to be done is putting them back, and that takes very little time.
For me the biggest problem was clothes. While I rarely buy more than 2-3 items per season, I do get clothes as presents and had quite a collection accumulated over the years since my shape and size has not changed much. I used to put my out of season clothes into storage, and taking into account that spring, summer and autumn in London all sort of merge into one at times it was not a great system to have. With Konmari method of folding the only things I have in storage are my bathing suits and beach towels. The idea is that you fold your clothes in such a manner that they are standing up, and when you open your draw you can see everything at a glance. Surprisingly I was able to fit more clothing into my draws this way, and packing for a trip away now takes a few minutes.

The reason why Konmari method of tidying actually works is because by following the method you are still choosing things that are important to you. It is not about getting rid of things that you haven’t used for a year, but about only keeping things that make you happy. You might have a sweater or a scarf that holds sentimental value but it isn’t something that you would wear. Essentially what this book does is teaches how to distinguish between what is and isn’t valuable to you and how to take care of the things that you love so they keep for longer.

When I got “The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying” I kept thinking that I was becoming Bridget Jones with her shelves full of self-help books. The truth is learning to distinguish between what is and isn’t important to you is a powerful tool that goes beyond things that you own, it really does rub off on other areas of your life. It is so easy to get lost in the world of latest must haves, and lose track of what brings you joy. The true magic of this experience was that it put me back in touch with myself.

Super quick Red cabbage soup

Out of all the cabbages the Red variety packs in the most vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that just happens to be extremely difficult to preserve. It is destroyed by heat and large quantities of water. But there is only so much raw cabbage I can handle. I came up with recipe to have a little variation, the cooking time is very quick, 5 minutes, but it is not something that you can store in the fridge if you want to make the most of the nutrients, it needs to be eaten straight away.

Serves 1 as a main, or 2 as a starter.

1/4 small red cabbage, chopped into 1cm strips

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/2 a cup of fresh shelled garden peas, chopped into 1cm pieces

small bunch of coriander finely chopped, keep leaves and stalks separately

1/2 blood orange, juice

1/4 teaspoon Mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 to 2 teaspons apple cider vinegar (start with one, you might not need the second one)

1 teaspoon coconut oil

150 ml veggie stock (1/2 a cup), hot

salt and black pepper

Substitutions: you can change blood orange for a regular orange, or a lemon; coriander can be switched for parsley; shallot can be swapped for a 1/4 of a smaller red onion, and you can use frozen peas, or sugar snaps instead of fresh garden peas.

  1. In a saucepan, heat up coconut oil on a medium-high heat,  add mustard seeds, shallot, fennel seeds and coriander stalks. Fry for a minute.

  2. Add in the cabbage and stir together for 2 minutes. Now add the stock, orange juice, garden peas, salt and pepper. Gently boil for 1-2 minutes, before adding apple cider vinegar.

  3. Serve in a bowl, topping with coriander leaves.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Seaweed in my cream?

Every spring I feel the need to switch up my skincare routine. I have yet to find a magic formula to do it smoothly, but I think each year I get a little bit closer. The lovely rich products, that were absolutely perfect during winter months, are just too much. Yet the feather light offerings, that are fab for summer heat, are also wrong. Getting that balance of not over drying my skin, yet getting those first signs of oiliness that come with warmer weather under control, can be a real challenge. What my skin really needs right now is hydration and soothing ingredients.

GreenPeople Beauty Boost skin restore* is an interesting concept. In the simplest terms it is a mask that you don't wash off (or you can think of it as a leave in conditioner for your face).  At first I was a little confused. The formula is that of a light cream, and the way you would use it, is pretty much like you would any moisturiser. So what makes this a treatment and not just a run of the mill day cream? That would be the performance. 

The instructions on the packaging are pretty vague: “Use daily or when skin needs a pick me up”. Despite not giving you much direction, it ends up highlighting the versatility of the Beauty Boost. I use it straight after cleansing, skipping my usual face mists and serums, there is enough going on in this product without me trying to mix and match with other formulations. Applying about 2 pea sized blobs, and leaving it to sink in. That is it. Now it is time to let the product do it’s magic. 

My favourite way to do this super simple routine of cleansing, followed by the Beauty Boost is in the evenings, especially on the nights when I’m washing my hair. Hot shower water is really not a friend to my complexion, Beauty boost restores the balance perfectly. I always wake up with skin that looks hydrated, calm and has a smooth texture. It does make a seriously good primer for makeup too, but I just love the effects of leaving it on overnight. 

Having a nose about the ingredients is my favourite part of getting know any product. I am seaweed obsessed when it comes to my food. With all the nutrients and minerals found in these aquatic plants it is no surprise that including them in beauty formulations makes for a spectacular product. There are two types of seaweed in the Beauty boost*: ulva compressa (green algae) and wakame, both boast skin soothing properties. Helichrysum (everlasting flower) extract has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial effects. It can help with clearing up acne without drying effect on the skin. In fact wakame cell culture extract, what makes this formula a true hydrating star and aids with collagen renewal, also has anti-inflammatory properties. Perilla oil is an excellent source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are needed for healthy skin (you really need to get your Omega 3s from your diet, but there is no arguing that topical application does make a difference). I do want to remark that the second ingredient is fair trade and organic plm oil. I do watch out for how palm oil is sourced, and if it had suspect origin I would not use a product with palm oil, here is what Green People say about their sourcing policy.

All the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich ingredients make this treatment an excellent addition to any routine. If you are prone to acne outbreaks, it is very important to keep the balance. The beauty boost* is an easy way to restore hydration and calm the skin if you accidentally went overboard and dried the skin out.

I love that the results are noticeable the next day, I even tried it on one of my hands so I could compare. The skin that was treated to the Beauty boost was much softer and smoother even 24 hours after applying. The lightweight pump packaging and the 50ml size means I can easily take it with me on a long haul flight. I can see this becoming a must to combat drying cabin air, and keep me looking fresh faced when travelling .

The scent is light and refreshing, with a hint of citrus. It doesn’t really linger and is not too strong, so never becomes annoying.

Beauty Boost skin restore is available for pre-order with 10% off until 7th of April.

*PR sample, all opinions are mine and mine alone, based on personal experience with the product. I don't even have to say that "this message is approved by me", because I wrote it. Every single word.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

In pursuit of restful slumber...

Whenever I get excited about something, or in periods of stress, the first thing to suffer is the quality of my sleep. It doesn't really matter if the reason for a restless night is a happy occasion, if I don't get my 8 hours of slumber I turn into a gremlin (and not cute little fluffy Gismo, but the other version). Having a good night's rest influences a lot more than someones mood. It affects how well we function, physically and mentally, and of course it affects our appearance.

Due to my personality, I often go through periods when I struggle to fall asleep, or I am plagued by so many dreams that I feel more exhausted come morning then I did before going to bed. As much as I loathe the idea of having a bedtime routine, having some sort of structure really does help in this case.

Lock down on electronic devices.

Sometimes I forget that my phone is just a device and not an extension of my hand. It is very tempting to see what is going on Twitter or Instagram instead of counting sheep in my mind. The thing is, the blue light of the screen makes it even harder to fall asleep afterwords. So at least an hour before bed I lay all my electronic devices to rest. Mobile phone goes into a bedside draw (I will be able to hear an emergency phone call but it's out of sight). I do this before my usual skincare ritual, so once I'm back from the bathroom there are no distracting devices hovering about.

Time for feet.

On my bedside table I always keep a foot balm. Feet seem to have a connection with pretty much everything that goes on in the body, and they are always working so hard. I find that a good foot rub is not only relaxing but it really makes me feel so much better. At the moment I am using Bathing Beauty sock. I love the texture of this balm, it absorbs well but not too quickly, giving me plenty of time for a massage. The minty scent puts my mind at ease.


After a foot rub I normally like to read for a little, sipping on some chamomile tea. This really helps me to unwind and leave the working day behind. Once I feel like I am ready for some shut eye, I will use one of the two aromatherapy blends currently on rotation: Badger sleep balm or Bloom remedies serenity slumber. Both work really well for me, but I find with these things that they can be very effective in the beginning, and then once I get used to them they are not as helpful. Rotating between the two solves this problem as the scents are very different.

The big guns.

On those days when I just know my brain will be almost impossible to switch off, I bring out Mullein and Sparrow lavender body oil. While I am not always a fan of lavender in beauty products there is no denying that it really does help me relax. This particular body oil is a very simple blend of sunflower oil and lavender. I apply it to damp skin straight after a shower, and it works a treat. Sunflower is one of the less expensive oils but it still has a good deal of antioxidants, is high in vitamin E, and leaves skin super soft.

From time to time I get a little behind on the work, come back home late and the routine lapses. All it takes is a couple of bad nights, and I'm back on the waggon going through these steps. I would rather give up some spontaneity than be a gremlin.