Friday, 31 August 2012

By royal command - an upcycled handbag, Ma'am?

When it comes to fashion trendsetters you'd be forgiven for thinking the Queen would be hard pushed to keep up with the likes of Kate her super-stylish granddaughter-in-law. Well, looks (and age) can be deceiving! Even in her eighties, the Queen has a midas touch capable of knocking the socks off many a young celebrity fashionista.

During the Jubilee weekend, the Queen caused a website to crash and prompted a spell of frenzied 140-character tweeting too. And it seems all the commotion was to do with her arm. Or more to the point, what was on her arm. Because it was the Queen's collection of Launer handbags that stole the show. Three bespoke bags from the British designer got an outing during the weekend of celebrations. And that's all it took for sales of Launer handbags to go through the roof, in fact their sales have seen a 58% increase since the Jubilee weekend.

It's not a one-off either. The majesty midas touch has happened before for the London-based Launer who create four new designs for the Queen every year. The royal wedding last year wasn't just about the pageantry, the romance, the balcony kiss or for that matter, the rear curves of a certain bridesmaid. Even Beatrice's fascinator struggled to keep up with the unfolding royal wedding fashion phenomena - the Queen's handbag. The top-handled cream calfskin handbag set in train a 60% hike in sales for Launer. And it seems her effect rippled through the generations too, with 20% of those sales coming from the under-50 age group.

The Magnolia Handbag
We're not too sure how our brand identity might be affected, but who knows what might happen if her majesty sported an upcycled or fairly traded bag. We think the Alchemy Goods Magnolia upcycled handbag is right up her horse guards parade... It would certainly catapault sustainable fashion design into the spotlight and I for one would be very happy to have a celebrity octogenerian endorsing our onfriday range of ethical bags. We're up for it, your majesty, are you..?

If you'd like to find out more, click here for a closer look at the upcycled Alchemy Goods Magnolia Handbag. It's made from bike inner tubes and car seatbelts, cool...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Take a Step for Fairtrade

When it comes to ‘big’ issues like climate change or social justice, have you often thought about how you can make a difference, but aren’t convinced that something you do could actually change anything? If so, you’re not alone. It’s only natural to think that big issues need big solutions and making a small change to your everyday life isn’t going to make much of a difference. However, people power has always been the bedrock of our social democracy - just take a look at the impact and influence organisations like 38 Degrees can achieve when you and I decide to join forces to have our say or make our mark.

Cue the Fairtrade Foundation. Around this time every year, they launch a campaign to coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight. And this year their ‘Take a Step’ campaign aims to encourage us all to engage with the Fairtrade Foundation’s vision of an even bigger movement for positive change and take a small step towards a fairer world. They’re challenging us to take a step in the right direction by thinking about what we, as individuals, can do every day, every week or every month throughout 2012 to make a difference to the lives of farmers in the developing world who produce the products we buy.

So often, becoming more ‘ethical’ isn’t always seen as particularly sexy. Dispelling that myth is onfriday’s reason-to-be, but that’s another story for another day perhaps! Many of us believe that making changes is all about making sacrifices and having to compromise. The change is too big, too significant and too inconvenient. However, it doesn’t need to be like that. It’s about small changes, small steps.

A small step could be choosing to buy a Fairtrade coffee on your way to work, or making sure that the weekly shopping basket contains one or two more Fairtrade products like Fairtrade tea, chocolate, sugar, rice, bananas, honey or flowers. Small changes made by lots of us will make a difference.

But what sort of difference? What makes Fairtrade, well, fair trade? The Fairtrade Mark you see on products in our shops is a guarantee that the product has been certified against internationally agreed Fairtrade standards – fairer prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world who produce the products. Essentially, it’s about addressing the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers, enabling them to improve their position and have more control over their lives. And then there’s the Fairtrade premium – money paid on top of the Fairtrade minimum price that’s invested in social, environmental and economic development projects chosen by the local farmers and workers. More about this in my next blog…

So, why not take a step for Fairtrade? Here’s lots more information about the Fairtrade Foundation’s Take a Step Campaign – you can even register your step too… 

The onfriday way of life...

Elvis & Kresse One Night Bag -
made from genuine de-commissioned UK fire hose
Are you starting to think more about the effect your purchases have on the environment and the people who produce the things you buy? If so, you're part of a growing number of people who would like an alternative to our fast-fashion, materialist society. But the alternative needs to be a credible and appealing one and that's why we only source and showcase the very best upcycled and fairly traded bags from designers and suppliers who share our values and who believe that it is possible to adopt a more ethical way of life without having to compromise on quality or design. 
onfriday is all about supporting and creating innovative, sustainable and design-led solutions that help to address some of today's most pressing social and environmental challenges. Every bag within our onfriday range has already made a difference by either reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill or improving the lives of people in greatest need. A bag you can be proud of. And they're pretty cool too. We don't advocate buying loads, just buying well. Some might say this approach doesn't make good business sense. We don't agree, we think it makes every bit of sense. Great design (and a great business) doesn't have to cost the earth... 
We don’t like high horses or soap boxes and we’re certainly not in-your-face ethical preacher people. All that stuff just turns us off. But we would like to see a more just and fair world. And a planet with a bright future too. We also happen to love great cutting edge design and really want to help develop and grow some of the most talented and exciting designers involved in ethical fashion today. We rather like this combination. 
And that's why we do what we do. 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Upcycled bags - the Columbian way...

Columbia might not be the first country that springs to mind when we think about 
cutting-edge upcycled design but a 
small socially responsible company called Cyclus is definitely one to watch.

Plaza L Messenger Bag

Cyclus started life back in 2002 with just two people who had a vision to ‘reconnect with nature and the world’. They were keen to challenge age-old preconceptions around resource consumption and waste generation and believed that great design and imagination mixed with a good dose of down to earth common sense could start to change the way we think about the environment and how we interact with it. So, taking old vehicle tires and other reclaimed materials they started to redefine the whole design and production process, creating innovative upcycled bags that not only stood out from the crowd but were also robust, durable and very eco-friendly.

Anteos Backpack
Nature is an important source of inspiration for the designers at Cyclus. The Anteos upcycled backpack which first caught our eye is from their Pangolin range. A Pangolin is a mammal found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia and can look a bit like a walking pine cone or globe artichoke. It can curl up into a ball when threatened, with its overlapping scales acting as armour and its face tucked under its tail. Its name comes from the Malay word pengguling, which means ‘something that rolls up’.  The design of the Anteos backpack has been based on the armour, the biomechanics and the movement of the Pangolin. This form of design is known as biomimicry, where science and art emulate nature’s best ideas to solve human problems.

Carta 2010 Messenger Bag

Today, Cyclus has grown into a team of over 25 people and leads the way in eco fashion design in Columbia - in 2009 they were awarded the National Export Award for Small Business. Cyclus believe that eco development has an important role to play in Columbia’s future growth and are supporting the idea of a national laboratory for eco design. As a company, they are committed to social justice and provide employment for some of Columbia’s most disadvantaged communities, including displaced people and refugees, single mums and Indians of the Camentsa tribe.

Acacia Laptop Bag

The best of eco design combined with a commitment to social justice... we like Cyclus a lot. 

Click here for lots more information about our Cyclus upcycled bags

Friday, 15 April 2011

Alchemy Goods - upcycling at its uber cool best...

Alchemy Goods Urban Messenger Bag

For us, there will always be a special place in our hearts for Alchemy Goods. At the very start of our onfriday journey, we knew how exceptional these young upcycling designers were, however when we talked about our plans with friends and family you could just tell what they were thinking. Their eyes gave it away! The word ‘bag’ isn’t exactly a sexy word at the best of times. Add to that the word ’ethical’ and you can guarantee they were visualising their jute shopping bags shoved away in the car boot ready for the next Sainsbury’s shop. We realised we had a bit of an image problem going on! Enter Alchemy Goods. We went everywhere armed with pictures of their upcycled bags. This is what it’s all about, we would say, great cutting edge design and it’s green too. It worked, people started to ‘get it’.

Phew, we hadn’t lost our marbles after all...

Alchemy Goods Magnolia Handbag
People say that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and that’s exactly how Seattle-based Alchemy Goods got started. Eli, founder of Ag, had his messenger bag stolen. Finding the perfect replacement however was proving to be impossible.  Being a lad with a pad, there were always extra bike inner tubes lying around his apartment, so Eli set about building the perfect bag out of stuff he already had. The first prototype was born on his home sewing machine. It wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly what he needed. It didn’t take long before most of his friends wanted one too. Then local bike shops caught a glimpse and expressed interest. Each bag improved over the last. Word spread and demand grew and grew, which led to the founding of Alchemy Goods.

Alchemy Goods Union Backpack
While medieval alchemists sought to turn lead into gold, Alchemy Goods turn useless stuff like blown-out inner tubes and old seatbelts destined for landfill into useful stuff like bags. They source their inner tubes from Seattle bike shops. Each inner tube has distinctive details, like patches, logos and various textures, making each bag’s exterior truly unique. The inner tubes are carefully checked for holes. Any blemishes that affect quality, such as punctures or glue, are removed. The tubes are then cut open, washed and stitched together, creating the bag’s weatherproof shell. They develop a finish over time that gives them the soft feeling of fine Italian leather. And they’re 100% waterproof and virtually stain proof too, so you can keep your stuff dry whatever the weather.

They then scour local junkyards in search of car seatbelts. Each seatbelt is inspected for quality before being cleaned, splayed open and integrated in to the bag’s design to form the strong, distinctive shoulder strap. These straps are far more comfortable than traditional messenger bag straps because they’re wider and constructed of soft nylon material.

Alchemy Goods Pike Messenger Bag
Those of you with an eye for detail will have noticed the logos stitched to the bags have a small number in the upper right corner. This tiny number has big significance. It represents the percent (by weight) of upcycled material that goes into each product. Alchemy Goods strive to make this number as high as possible by incorporating as much upcycled material as they can. So you can show off this mark with pride!

Each bag is assembled by hand in their Seattle workshop, a true work of art. So, we’d like to thank whoever it was who stole Eli’s bag – if it wasn’t for you who knows whether we’d still have our marbles...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Made for one purpose, not used, then dumped in landfill. Seatbelts - the ultimate eco-friendly bag?

It’s now just over 50 years since the first three-point seatbelt was invented by Volvo's safety engineer Nils Bohlin. His invention has now gone on to save millions of lives worldwide however we wonder whether even the highly inventive and very talented Mr Bohlin could have predicted just how versatile the seatbelt would become.

In the motor industry, miles upon miles of seatbelt material is produced each year. It must satisfy the highest of automotive standards before it can be used to make a car seatbelt. Unfortunately not all seatbelt material makes the grade so tonnes of it end up in landfill each year and will languish there for possibly thousands of years.

Harveys Treecycle Large Tote
These discarded seatbelts might not satisfy the stringent standards of the motor industry but they do meet the needs of Harvey’s talented design team and their Treecycle range of seatbelt bags. It all began back in 1997, when husband and wife, Dana and Melanie Harvey, were installing seatbelts into their 1950’s Buick. They hit upon an idea - why not use some of their spare seatbelt material and turn it into a bag. When friends and family saw the end result they all wanted one of their own.  So Dana and Melanie decided to make a few more and then a few more – soon they were selling like hot cakes! Out of their small garage in California grew the very first seatbelt bag company and they haven’t looked back since.

Today, Harveys now lead the field in the design and manufacture of seatbelt bags and are based in a design studio in Santa Ana, California. They have an extensive range of seatbelt bags but there is one particular range that stands out for us at onfriday – the Treecycle range. They take genuinely discarded seatbelts direct from the motor industry, weave them up and add some custom hemp lining to create a unique bag that is as eco-friendly as you can possibly get.

No two Treecycle seatbelt bags are exactly the same so if you want a bag that’s going to make you stand out from the crowd, it’s got to be a Harveys seatbelt bag – the original and still the best!

Click here to view onfriday's full range of Harveys Treecycle seatbelt bags

Friday, 4 March 2011

Life after Fashion Week... let's get authentic.

One of the really exciting things about our onfriday adventure is that we are starting to work with some incredibly talented and passionate young designers. Ethical fashion is still in its infancy, which means there are very few old hands or really big players in the business who dominate current thinking or determine future direction.

Unlike much of mainstream fashion where the bottom line is often a top line priority and so much practice pushes both our moral and ethical boundaries, we are starting to discover a growing number of truly remarkable young people who are successfully combining cutting edge design with an genuine commitment to and deep understanding of the concept of ethical production and fair trade. 

Laura Queening is a perfect example of that. Having graduated from Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion in 2007, Laura established Aura Que a year later following the success of her graduate collection at the prestigious Drapers Award. So, with a passion for ethical fashion and her love of Nepal, Laura set about creating a production base in Kathmandu that would see her unique designs come to life.

Aura Que Bucket Bag in Brown
Her connection with Nepal started over six years ago when she taught English in a rural school in the south of the country for five months. Living with a local family, Laura soon became immersed in Nepalese culture, witnessing firsthand how the political situation had hit the country hard, stunting most development. So when Laura set up Aura Que, Nepal was a natural choice of country for the manufacture of her bags – a very practical and effective way of contributing to the country’s regeneration. 

All Aura Que materials are sourced in Nepal and each design is brought to life in a Nepalese factory that employs local people, some affected by disabilities, providing an income and security for themselves and their families. Aura Que only work with manufacturers who are members of IFAT, the International Fair Trade Association, which means that working environments are healthy and safe and workers receive a fair wage. Laura is also keen to encourage trade directly with small Nepalese family businesses too, so she’s working hard to build long term relationships with these skilled artisans based on the principles of fair trade.

So, rest assured, our wonderful Aura Que fair trade bags are packed full of goodness! Each individually hand-crafted bag is created using the best natural materials and fibres Nepal has to offer. Every Aura Que bag has its own unique story to tell, inspiring and uplifting, which only adds to its charm!

Friday, 4 February 2011

What's your sneezing like..?

Elvis & Kresse One Night Bag

We’re looking for a very special group of people who love great design, love ethical, love the onfriday way of thinking and love talking about their onfriday bag! Marketing guru Seth Godin would call you an early adopter who also sneezes! You’re the type of person who is always in at the start, ahead of the curve and really passionate. And importantly, to be a sneezer, you also need to tell everyone (yes, everyone) about it. In other words, you're an onfriday Champion, an Ambassador, our No.1 fan - you get the picture?!

In return for your love, devotion and exceptional sneezing ability, you'll get some great discounts, the opportunity to trial and review bags from designers we're thinking about getting on board and have a say in what's hot and what's not.

So if you'd like to find out more please complete the enquiries form on the Get in Touch page of our website or add a comment on our Facebook page no later than Friday 25 February 2011. We'll then get in touch with some further information and a few questions too at the beginning of March. If we get lots of enquiries we’ll need to think about some form of selection process but we'll keep you posted.

We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

All wrapped up and nowhere to go - the factoid that went slightly pear-shaped

Factoid No. 2 on our Facebook site went down a treat on Christmas Eve...not.

No likes, no nothing. Right through Christmas a little voice inside my head was saying ‘told you so’. Totally irrelevant and completely off message – who in their right mind needs to know about why it might be a good idea to eat breakfast on Christmas Day. It’s Christmas Day for heaven’s sake, don’t go all healthy-eating on me now. It happens once a year and it’s probably the only day when we can eat as much as we want without feeling really guilty. And in any case, why on earth I am banging on about it? We’re onfriday not onadiet and we’re passionate about the ethical things in life. We also love chocolate. Get your focus back Ali. Factoid No. 2 you’re fired.

The truth is things didn't really go to plan. Part of my Facebook ‘strategy’ (yes there is one, just) is to post a stunningly interesting factoid on to onfriday's Facebook page every Friday, without fail. However in the week leading up to Christmas I’d completely lost track of the days – Friday had sprung up from nowhere and I hadn’t given it any thought. By 10am I'd managed to get some thoughts together and had a pretty good idea what I wanted to post, however some last minute research on Google blew my factoid out of the water – what I was about to post was fundamentally flawed. Hence a last minute re-think and a pretty pointless, somewhat pious post. Sorry folks it won't happen again.

My gem of a factoid was going to be all about wrapping paper...bear with me, it gets better. Each Christmas in the UK as much as 83km² of the stuff ends up in our rubbish bins, enough to cover an area slightly larger than Guernsey. That much is true. I was then going to follow that up with a little nudge for us all to think about recycling it. And that's where I messed up. It's not as straight forward as that.

Apparently most wrapping paper isn't the right type of paper for recycling. It's often coated with plastic or foil which makes it impossible to recycle. And paper that still has sticky tape, ribbons, bows and tags on can actually damage recycling machines. Some wrapping paper is very thin and doesn't contain sufficient good quality fibres to make it worth recycling. This year many Local Authorities were warning residents not to recycle their wrapping paper, threatening verbal warnings or even £1000 fines for 'persistent offenders' whatever they may be. Some even deployed 'bin bobbies' to rummage through recycling bins to stop it from happening. Phew, I’m glad I didn’t post the factoid after all.

I don't know about you but I'm totally confused. Some wrapping paper is ‘good’, some isn’t so ‘good’. How do we differentiate? What is recyclable, what isn't? Can we, can't we? I want to recycle and do my bit but sometimes too many ifs and buts leads to one thing – we don't bother doing anything.

However, I have made my mind up about one thing though. I won't spontaneously pick up the 3 for 2 wrapping paper placed strategically at the tills next Christmas without a careful inspection of the label. And with a little more forethought on my part there is no reason why I can't find wrapping paper that is both recycled and recyclable. At least I have the next 12 months to find some that is, so there really is no excuse...

Come and join us on Facebook!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

More than just a Christmas present?

I don’t know about you but I’m definitely not someone who has all the cards written and ready to send by the beginning of December. Some years I’ve been so lax that cards haven’t even featured. Nor am I particularly organised when it comes to presents either. I have a friend who is so ahead of the game she posted a comment on Facebook to let us know all the decorations were up, the cards were ready to post and most of the presents were all sorted – and it was still November. Love her to bits as I do, I couldn’t help feel just a tad bemused and for that matter irritatingly inadequate.

Perhaps one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received was one of those ‘gift presents’ – no, I’m not the proud owner of a goat, nor is there a star named after me (although there is a village in Senegal that is, seriously there is...). My Christmas present was to give a week at a sports camp to a Palestinian kid – I hope the child had the time of his life. It certainly made me feel pretty good.

Hatti Medium Shopper in Red
My Christmas present to Clare, my sister, this year is going to be something that will perhaps have a similar positive effect on a life, probably a number of lives, over in Nepal. It’s going to be a Hatti bag. I can’t tell you which one just in case Clare reads this before Christmas Day and if I did tell you I would have to eat you or do something to silence you…not very ethical I know.

Clare’s bag quite simply has helped to change lives. Why? Well, it’s a fair trade bag that's been made in Nepal by young women who, as children, were trafficked into a life trapped in brothels and bonded labour in circuses. Even when they were finally able to return home many of the young women were treated as outcasts from society with no purpose and no future to look forward to. That’s when they are taken in and cared for by the Esther Benjamin’s Trust. And after a period of rehabilitation with the Trust, the older girls (17 years and over) are offered the opportunity to work at the Hatti Fair Trade production centre. They are provided with safe, secure accommodation with a house mother to care for them and are trained at the centre. They are paid a good monthly wage, holiday, sickness, hospital fees and maternity pay and are helped to adjust to life. An unprecedented change often takes place in the girls - they are no longer ‘charity cases’, rejected by society after a life trapped in brothels and bonded labour in circuses. They are now independent professional young women working for a foreign organisation and finally able to leave their past behind.

Now that’s what I call a real gift…

Click here to read more about Hatti’s story