Monday, 8 February 2010

Green Textiles

After a six month hiatus it's time for a drive-by posting...

We're quite excited because we are hoping to start manufacturing our own clothing range. We'll start very small scale and want to get our clothes made in the UK in order to keep a close eye on things. We already have a designer/pattern cutter on board so we're currently looking around for fabrics that fit our ethos of sustainability and fair trade.

It's so tempting to use some of the new textiles that are made from bamboo and soy but we're resisting. Bamboo may sound squeaky-clean green but dig deeper and there are some inconvenient truths. The soy process (from what we've read) sounds better but since most soy is now genetically modified we're not interested in using fibre from that source either, unless we can guarantee GM-free raw ingredients.

We're looking at other innovative textiles, including those made from nettles, but our first collection is likely to be made from organic cotton, linen and hemp. We've already sourced a really pretty little organic cotton gingham (available from our online shop) that is not only hand-woven but also dyed with exclusively herbal dyes; no insect dyes are used - we do our best to steer clear of those.

We've also had some certified organic/fair trade cotton printed with a design by Lu Summers, a good friend of Eco Eco...

This will make very pretty blouses and summer dresses. We should be getting some more fabrics printed in our own designs soon - we're keen on spots so it's likely there will be some pretty spotty patterns involved, and perhaps a butch spot for the chaps.

We're always interested to receive suggestions for sustainable and fairly traded fabrics so feel free to comment.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Joy of Bicarb Part I

We stink! Advertising campaigns bombard us with the message that we smell; from feet to hair, from groin to armpit. According to them, Smell is Bad. Yet research has shown that the chemicals in sweat known as pheromones can create bodily responses in other humans. Apparently some of the constituents of sweat even help deter predators but I'm afraid I've lost the source of that claim.

As consumers we are told that both smelly sweat and excessive wetness from perspiring are anti-social. I tend to agree with the first point although regular washing with soap and water should cut down the worst iffy niffs unless there is some underlying problem. Some people find that drinking more water and eating less protein can also improve body odour, but most of us need an extra something to make sure we smell sweet and fresh.

Go into any supermarket and you're faced with an arsenal of chemical weapons. Deodorants to stop BO (whisper it), anti-perspirants to prevent wet armpits. The big brands feature magic ingredients that keep everything under control whilst you win the World Cup, take your daily 10 mile run, close that multi-million pound deal and flee from women baying for your fragrant body. But could these smell-busters be doing more harm than good?

The Good Guide is a useful online resource which lists the ingredients and likely toxicity of common products, including deos and anti-perspirants. A similar site is Skin Deep. Further online meandering reveals numerous websites linking deo substances such as Triclosan, parabens and aluminium salts with increased health risks, most notably breast cancer. With all this evidence it seems sensible to choose a deodorant that doesn't contain chemicals and substances that may have a negative impact upon your health but is safe and effective.

There are lots of excellent products available in shops or by mail. We stock deodorants by Lavera and Weleda in our shop. Be aware though, most (if not all) 'crystal' deodorants DO contain aluminium despite some claims to the contrary. They're actually made from alum, also known as alunite, which is a compound of aluminium. What these crystals don't contain is aluminium chlorohydrate which is the aluminium salt that may be linked to health problems due to its ability to break through the skin barrier. Apparently alunite/alum doesn't have this ability, but if you're wanting to err on the side of caution and avoid aluminium altogether then don't buy crystal deodorants or any product based on them.

I'm undecided about their health implications but I'm irritated when I see retailers or manufacturers claim that crystal deos are 'aluminium-free'. I've contacted a few about it and usually the companies are great and amend their copy, but I have had some truly horrible replies. One supplier (who shall remain nameless although I would love to spill the beans) even threatened me with a multi-million dollar lawsuit for illegal harassment. One of their retailers had refused to alter their website and I had said I would report them to Trading Standards (the UK department who deal with inaccurate product claims). After the threatening email I followed through; Trading Standards duly carried out a product purchase, tested the product and ordered the retailer to remove the claim. Result.

Anyway, dragging myself down from one of my favourite hobby horses (I sound like a zealot!), I thought you might be interested to hear how quick, easy and cheap it is to make an effective deo at home from store cupboard ingredients. That's what I do myself. Actually, it's a bit of an exaggeration to say 'make a deodorant' as pretty much all you're doing is getting a pot from the kitchen cupboard and dusting it on. And the magic ingredient? That multi-tasker, bicarbonate of soda - also known as baking soda (NOT washing soda; far too harsh). If you ever do baking I'd be willing to bet that you have an old pot of bicarb lurking in your cupboard that is well past its sell-by date. Baking soda does deteriorate over time which reduces its effectiveness as a raising agent, however it's still fine as a deodorant. I often use baking powder which contains bicarb along with some other ingredients (wheat flour and disodium biphosphate on my tub) but all perfectly benign.

Use the bicarb just like talc, dusting it under arms and onto feet. I'd avoid using it on intimate areas though. If you want a bit of fragrance you can add a few drops of essential oil - pick ones with deodorising properties if you want to boost effectiveness - shaking the pot daily for a few days to disperse the scent. Personally I like herbal fragrances so use thyme, rosemary and lavender.

Bicarbonate of soda is extremely versatile and I plan to blog about it again in due course, but in the meantime here's a useful link to some household uses.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Beautiful, functional, sustainable, innovative

Images from Robin Wood's blog - shamelessly borrowed.

Went to see Robin and Nicola Wood in Edale yesterday evening.  I've already blogged about Robin's bowls and spoons, but when I saw their new timber framed building I knew I had to write a quick post about it.

The proportions are beautiful and the quality of joints and woodworking is extraordinary.  This is a building that is functional, personal, quirky and has an organic quality that is so at odds with conventional modern building techniques.  It's been designed so that it can be dismantled and rebuilt if necessary as the joints are all pegged rather than nailed or screwed.

One fantastically clever feature is the little round porthole windows at the gable end, which are made from the glass from old washing machine doors.  How clever is that?

If you want to watch the building being made go and have a look at the YouTube video.  Whilst there, take a gander at Robin turning bowls and hand carving spoons.  Mike and I are on his spoon carving course for the next three days - greenwood carving is wonderful and Robin is a great tutor - can't recommend it highly enough.  Here's the link to course information on Robin's site.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Solar Manchester

You know how sometimes you hear about something and are amazed you weren't aware of it before?

Well, it just happened to me. Mike (hubby) turned to me, slightly smugly I thought, and asked 'Where is Europe's largest solar array'. I plumped for Spain but he shook his head. 'Manchester' he said. 'What, Manchester, Italy?' (note the feeble attempt at humour to mask my surprise). 'No Manchester, Manchester!'

Apparently, The Co-operative Insurance have covered their impressive building in photo-voltaics and are making the claim that Mike so cheerfully waved in my face. According to a factoid on the CIS website, the array produces enough electricity every year to make 9 million cups of tea. Sorry, make that billion! Nine billion cups of tea.

And do you know, I had no idea. We live only about 25 mls from Manchester (this is Manchester in the UK by the way) and are account holders at The Co-operative Bank, but I'd never heard about this until now. Of course some of you are now casually studying your fingernails and saying 'Oh yes, that's old news' but I was genuinely surprised. I must have been asleep in 2007.

For those of you who want to read more take a look here, although the site doesn't appear to have been updated for quite a while - not even with the details of the completion and official opening a couple of years ago.

So all this is lovely and positive, but I have to confess that I shudder every time I see a glass clad building. The death toll for wild birds that crash into these shiny towers is horrifying. Thank heavens that some architects are now awakening to that fact and are planning to do something about it, shame that the movement is based in the USA - read more on Treehugger.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

* sunshine *

nacre, originally uploaded by Scoobymoo.

When did we all become afraid of the sun? In the 1920s and 30s sunbathing was seen as health-promoting and people would pay for sun therapy. Now we slap on the factor 50 and scuttle for the shadows; no wonder we all have vitamin D deficiency.

There's increasing evidence that Vitamin D plays a vital role in health but the best source is from exposure to sunlight and today's lifestyle doesn't encourage exposure. Many of us only feel the sun's rays on our skin as we rush from house to car, from car to work, or into the shops. Then when we do decide to sunbathe so many of us overdo it, damaging the skin and increasing the risk of skin cancer.  In fact, researchers are finding that vitamin D actually reduces the incidence of cancers.

Seems to me that the sensible path is careful sun exposure. So here are some tips:

* Don't sunbathe during the hottest hours (how many times have you heard THAT?)

* Vitamin D starts to be formed in the skin after about 15 minutes exposure (depending upon intensity of the sun's rays). A good guide is to let your skin start to turn a little pink and then cover up well.

* How can you check if your skin is burning? Press a fingertip onto your skin and hold for about 5 seconds then remove. If a pink mark appears shortly after then your skin has had enough.

* I believe that skin cancer is caused by repeated sun damage - please notice that last word - careful exposure to the sun is healthy; being silly and going beetroot and peeling is NOT.

* Shock! According to some sources, if you wash sun-exposed skin with detergents within 48 hours of exposure you are washing Vitamin D off! Apparently Vitamin D3 is formed in your skin through the conversion of a cholesterol derivative but it takes a couple of days to be absorbed into the bloodstream.  You can always use soap for armpits, groin and feet but just rinse the rest of the body with water.  Read more at (you have to register).  Even if this isn't quite true it makes sense not to wash off all your skin's natural oils every time you shower or bathe.  No wonder the big bodycare companies sell so much moisturiser - it's to compensate for the loss of natural skin protection by the overuse of their detergents.  Nice trick.

Have fun in the sun and increase your vital vitamin D levels. Don't be scared of it.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ta Daaaa!

recycled wrap - available on the Eco Eco website

Well here it is, and isn't it beautiful?

Our first Eco Eco product - we're so proud. As is the designer Lucie Summers!

We spent ages with the printers and Lucie to get this right. We plumped for double-sided printing so that you have the option of colours when wrapping - no need to keep loads of different wrap around the house. It's available in two colourways: fire engine red which is just as it sounds, backed with powder pink, and chartreuse which is a lovely appley green reversing to a deep seafoam turquoise.

The paper is cracking quality too - a hefty 130gsm FSC 80% recycled content - printed with vegetable based inks, by Severnprint here in the UK who are powered by renewable energy provided by Good Energy.

It's available on our website and in our shops already - we couldn't wait to get it out there.

The design is so versatile you could use this paper for all sorts of covering and craft jobs; I'm planning to make some bunting for the shop window (keep an eye out for the blog post in a few weeks). In fact, we love it so much we're working on getting it printed onto organic/fairtrade cotton in the next few months. We're even vaguely muttering 'Wallpaper' under our breath.

Watch this space!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Sign and Save

Whale, originally uploaded by LinkTree.

An opportunity to add your voice to a call for a global whale sanctuary. As The Humane Society International says 'Commercial whaling is so last century!'

Petition here