Looking good, doing better: men’s fashion with ethics, style & sustainability
Recently I chatted with Kevin Harper, founder and manager of clothing label We Are Harper, about what he’s trying to do with his urban brand of menswear. Though I’ve known Kevin for around fifteen years, his new venture covers a number of social, economic and environmental objectives we’re seeing become more prominent in the media. As the Harper website says, “each time you spend money, you cast a vote for the type of society you want to live in. What you buy, and from whom, is a marker of the value you place on equality and self-determination.”
Kevin grew up around Sydney’s Northern Beaches and, whilst he’s always been passionate about fitness, swimming and the outdoors, he initially took the traditional path of university, degree and a position within risk management and the business sector. Working in a highly corporate environment brought home to him that the purpose of most businesses was simply to make money. It wasn’t until he was made redundant that he realised that what would make him happiest would be doing his own thing; starting a business in line with his own values.
As I mentioned in my ‘Purpose 2015’ review, many decades ago the American industrialist Henry Ford noted that a business should be “an instrument of service rather than a machine for making money”, and yet businesses with real purpose seem to be few and far between. We Are Harper seems to be one of those rarities; an organisation with great style, true purpose, and a determination to tread lightly, live consciously and spread the word.
The range of men’s clothing from We Are Harper includes soft, bamboo-cotton T-shirts in a range of colours, stylish black and white tank tops or racer-back tops, and baseball caps; all are beautifully made and available online. I say this not to advertise particular products, but because it’s great to see a slowly-growing range of high-quality products that someone has sourced ethically, thinking about every step in the supply chain from raw materials to production to transport and, in fact, right through to end-of-life when clothing might be recycled or simply composted.
All of the Harper range feature the small red heart logo, since to Kevin “wearing your heart on your sleeve signifies that you value quality, comfortable products that respect the communities we operate in and the planet we all share.”
Kevin is a passionate advocate for conscious living or, in other words, not just accepting what’s in front of us but being aware of the impacts and consequences of the choices we make, whether it’s the coffee we buy, our preferred method of transport, or the clothes we wear. “Good value doesn’t necessarily equate with cheap”, he explains. “Good value is well-made and should last. Cheap clothing may mean you end up buying the same thing several times over because the original fails, and often things are ‘cheap’ because someone, somewhere is working obscene hours in terrible conditions,” Kevin concludes.
The Harper shirts are certified by the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), an independent, non-profit organisation that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers. To be affiliated with the FWF manufacturers must comply with the eight labour standards that form the core of the Code of Labour Practices, including no child labour, living wages and freedom of association. Although Kevin looked at having shirts made in Australia, he says pragmatically that “high labour charges mean they wouldn’t be affordable for most people, so for now it's best to use certified quality manufacturers overseas to give us a level of certainty about the impacts and conditions throughout production.”
Kevin loves the feel of the shirts, saying that they are “way softer than regular cotton, and the anti-bacterial nature of the material helps reduce odour”. The first range of T-shirts is 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton. Kevin explains that bamboo “is technically a grass and the fastest growing plant in the world, takes up less space than other crops, doesn’t require fertilisers, absorbs more carbon dioxide and uses way less water and much less land to produce.”
What does the future hold? Well, next steps include combining the existing range of new clothing with some recycled, vintage styles. Positioning ‘pre-loved’ alongside new clothing will encourage the conversation about not having to buy new all the time – if it looks good and feels great then it shouldn’t matter whether the product is ten years old or ten weeks old. Beyond that, Kevin want to explore themes of life and leisure, perhaps with homewares and furnishings that have responsible, ethical supply chains.
So, what are you waiting for, guys (and gals)? Have a look at the We Are Harper site, examine their ethical, social and environmental objectives, decide to make more conscious decisions about the products you purchase, and look good wearing your (very stylish) heart on your sleeve!
By Tina Perinotto, published in The Fifth Estate, 20th August 2015
After eight-and-a-half years, Robin Mellon, the Green Building Council of Australia’s renowned chief operating officer, is heading off in a new direction.
First stop a long overseas sojourn in Sri Lanka to “see the elephants, the temples and the tea plantations, and do a lot of eating”, relaxing and to undertake a reboot. And then, who knows?
The Fifth Estate wagers he will land somewhere back in the industry, so deeply embedded does he seem to have become in the space.
But before Mellon can reset his internal computer, there’s a bit of defragging that needs to be carried out. Hence an exit interview to get a few things off his chest.
First, to be absolutely clear, now that he’s free from the constraints of the advocacy game, Mellon would like it known that he does not think much of this current federal government. It’s a “pathetic excuse” for leadership, he says. On climate, for example, the government simply “won’t take the lead”.
He says conservative British MP and former Environment Minister in the UK Lord Richard Benyon put it best recently when he said the Abbott government’s response to climate change was “incomprehensible” and “bewildering” (a sentiment the majority of Australian population seems to agree with, given recent opinion polls pointing to a surge in support for climate action).
“Abbott’s dismissal of climate science and his belief that Australia must choose between economic growth and tackling climate change speak to a distorted vision of what it means to be a conservative,” Benyon said.
“True conservative values include distaste for over-regulation and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism. But they also include a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one’s citizens.”
Mellon would have quite a deep understanding of conservative British politics, perhaps more than the avowedly Anglophillic Abbott could rightly lay claim to.
His background is as a valuer in the Department of Environment and Planning at the City of Westminster in London, marketing and property management at Woodhams London, and policy adviser for the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK, before moving to Australia fourteen years ago.
Mellon says Benyon is “as blue as they come”, and he’s nailed the issue.
The choice, Mellon says, is not between development and the environment.
“It’s not buildings or green buildings; it’s both. It’s about green building, a productive workforce and a sustainable economy. If you want to, say ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.”
The recent emissions reductions targets announced by the federal government were a “disappointing excuse for emissions reductions, making it 26-28 per cent by 2030 with Abbott’s ‘captain’s pick’ of 2005 when everyone else is at 2000 [levels] because that’s easier.
“When you couple that with the woeful emissions reductions fund, which frankly had nothing in it for buildings…” Mellon trails off.
The ERF could have been good for buildings, Mellon says.
Together with the weakness on same-sex marriage, it all adds up to more reason for people to ignore the federal government and simply “get on with it”, he says.
Certainly local councils are doing that.
Mellon says some are doing outstanding work.
“I take my hat off to them,” he says.
A recent workshop in Melbourne on resilience organised by the City of Melbourne’s new chief resilience officer Toby Kent, who is part funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, was particularly inspirational.
“Councils are leading the world, not just in Melbourne,” Mellon says.
In evidence, he says, was a load of commitment.
“Not just admiring the problem, but people putting things together, a spirit of collaboration that together we can achieve something much greater.”
Mellon also liked the broader sense of resilience in the discussion – a sense that a resilient community is critical to bouncing back after a disaster.
“Resilience, not just to floods and so on, but looking to having jobs, and residents and community in the future. It speaks to a better quality of life.”
Brisbane bounced back after devastating floods because it had a resilient community. In some places, such as the poorest parts of New Orleans, the community did not go back.
Mellon loves to visit places such as Gosnells in Western Australia and Melton in Melbourne where “world class buildings” such as civic centres, sports facilities, libraries and learning hubs have been developed by the local councils.
“The point is that Australian councils are really leading the charge now although I have no doubt the Abbott government would use these developments to say it means the market is working perfectly well without any intervention.”
What’s more important, he says, is that “any idiot” would look at these initiatives and say, “How do we create the best policies and market conditions to foster them and spread them around the country?”
There’s another issue he wants to bring up, and that’s the unintended consequence of success of the green building and sustainability sectors.
It’s around the fragmentation that’s happened with a growing host of organisations setting up and competing for the same space.
The industry, Mellon says, “will probably not sustain many more of these organisations.
“It’s not that the GBCA is an early mover and everyone should support the GBCA. But I see more fragmentation. There is a limit to the size of the market.”
If there are 200 organisations all after the same members, and all after the same pot of sponsorship, it’s going to be harder to make progress as a whole.
The answer, he says, is greater collaboration. If organisations are aligned then maybe they should start to work together instead of working on their own small patch.
The fallout is a waste of people’s energy, goodwill and trust.
Division may be what a very conservative federal government is going to rely on.
“I’ve never been prouder of Australia… as when the built environment put in one submission to the Emissions Reduction Fund” under the banner of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.
For the GBCA the path is inevitably one of greater collaboration – with other ratings systems such as Living Building Challenge, WELL and One Planet Living. Each has their own emphasis and part to play, he says.
And on the subject of ratings, Mellon is keen to say how important it is to keep pushing the ratings agenda.
If you design and build to GS standards, he says, “then prove it, otherwise you won’t be believed.”
He thinks verified ratings will be the future, countering the trend for companies to claim they’ve built to GS standards but have saved themselves the expense of official ratings.
In the future we will have more ratings, across a greater range of products, he says. You can already see the strong makings of this trend in third party certification for items such as furniture that is “mainstreaming” sustainability, he says.
As evidence, he points to IKEA, which now claims it will make its entire supply chain green. This means green products will be making their way “through to everyone’s living room”.
Besides, having the ratings is a way to stop accusations of greenwash that can emerge very quickly with items that are not rated.
What about the opposite – having a green building and not promoting your green credentials? This has been a trend picked up by people such as Danielle King of Green Moves Australia in an article penned for The Fifth Estate, There’s great value in green credentials, so why are commercial agents so shy?
That’s changing, Mellon says. Marketing for homes and communities are starting to show Green Star ratings in the collateral, often with descriptors of what a 6 Star Communities rating means, for instance.
What about his move then? We know it’s come about because of restructuring within the organisation.
Mellon totally endorses the evolution of the GBCA.
“Every business goes through a period of reflection and reassessment.”
He thinks what will happen is that the GBCA will increasingly turn outwards. He hopes the industry and aligned interest groups will do the same and be part of greater collaboration.
“Not just in Australia but internationally” in order to achieve greater objectives.
The GBCA is very well positioned for the next stage, he says. It’s strong financially, it’s got good transparency, it’s taking aboard feedback and it’s got good governance.
In fact, “some of the best governance I’ve seen in any organisation,” Mellon says.
That’s an attribute that Mellon has clearly had a role in creating, judging by the comments from industry observers hearing about his departure. And partly the restructure is a function of the leaner more efficient organisation that chief executive Romilly Madew recently cited after the departure was announced.
And that’s not a bad juncture to sign out on.
Does living a sustainable life make us happier?
The data certainly suggests so.
A range of studies have found that people are their least happy – regardless of nationality, gender or demographic – at a global average age of 46. The Economist dubbed it the ‘U-bend of life’.
Curiously, the lowest levels of human happiness occur as we are reaching the pinnacle of our career and influence – and yet that is also the point at which we have accumulated the bulk of our wealth and possessions.
Economist Harry Dent has said that the “average family or household in the US (and similarly in most developed countries) peaks in spending between the ages of 46 and 50, or an average of 48.” At 48, we hit the crest of what Dent calls the “spending wave,” at which point houses have been bought and furnished, children have schooled, and most consumer ‘must haves’ have been acquired.
However, data also points to a surge in happiness once we hit the big five-oh – not because anything external changes, but because something internal does. We change. We become more accepting, steadier and more patient, and focus less on what we want and more on what we have. We begin to turn our attentions away from the fleeting pleasure obtained in a consumerist society and toward lasting contentment in a sustainable community.
It appears then, that when people transcend the existential mid-life crisis, they learn not to confuse happiness with pleasure.
The pursuit of pleasure – at its worst, embodied in the giddy rush of making an impulse purchase – is rarely sustainable. Nor does it guarantee happiness. Anyone who has felt buyers’ remorse understands this.
Lasting happiness is not built on the pursuit of pleasure – more boats, cars, houses and rooms filled with ‘stuff’ – but has a focus on finding a level of peace or contentment that can be sustained. The idea of being content with what you have is often ridiculed in our society (heaven help those of us who ‘settle’), but it appears that one of the great lessons we learn in life is that stuff doesn’t make us happy.
What does this have to do with the built environment? Certainly, cultivating contentment rests less on what we can get, and instead focuses on appreciating what we have. Contentment lies within taking a long-term approach to what will serve us best – our wardrobes, our buildings, and our cities – rather than merely satisfying our short-term demands. We are bombarded with messages telling us to acquire more stuff – and bigger houses to store it all in.
And yet, if you live in Australia, you’ve already won life’s lottery and are among the richest people in the world. One quarter of the world’s population lives without electricity and one third doesn’t have access to basic sanitation. According to the World Bank, someone earning just US$11,000 a year has more than 87 per cent of the people on the planet. Nearly three billion people live on less than $2 a day, or $730 a year.
When we’re reminded of this, it’s easier to be grateful for what we have, and guided to make more sustainable choices. What the U-bend of happiness hints at is that sustainability is a long-term value that correlates with our contentment, rather than a short-term behaviour. And that’s the same whether it’s personal actions at work or at home, the products and materials we put into our buildings, or decisions by governments to look at long-term investment in the efficiency, wellbeing, health and happiness of our infrastructure, buildings, networks and communities.
So, before we consider upsizing or upgrading our homes, we must ask ourselves the question: will this really make me happy?
Article first published on http://sourceable.net
From Leonardo da Vinci’s bird-like flying machine to biomorphic Art Nouveau designs, for centuries people have been inspired by nature and applied it to their designs.
Nowadays, 21st century scientific knowledge together with cutting-edge technology and design tools enable us to examine nature and apply its genius in new and exciting ways.
This discipline, known as biomimicry, represents a rich and under-explored territory that can provide solutions to design challenges and deliver radical increases in resource efficiency. Biomimicry can inspire imaginative and beautiful architecture and provide solutions to complex issues such as water shortages and waste management.
While people of the past built domes over ecclesiastic structures that mimicked the concentric circles of sea shells, scientists today can examine the composition of these shells to make materials that are tougher and structures that are more enduring, argues British architect and biomimicry specialist, Michael Pawlyn.
The author of Biomimicry in Architecture, Pawlyn will be a keynote speaker at the Green Cities 2015 conference, and will explore his work on projects that take their cues from nature – from roof structures based on giant amazon water lilies to whole buildings inspired by abalone shells.
Pawlyn points to the work of professor Julian Vincent, a member of his design team, who is currently collaborating with company Swedish Biomimetics on a new form of bio sprinkler inspired by the bombardier beetle. This six-legged tank-like beetle fires a fine, high-pressure spray of hot, acrid gas that repels predators.
“Professor Vincent is looking to adapt this to create a fine-spray fire sprinkler that uses far less water, as water damage can far exceed fire damage in offices. And using less water means buildings don’t need massive water tanks in their basements,” Pawlyn said.
The work with the bombardier beetle also has the potential to help engineers develop more efficient fuel injection systems and medical researchers create super-fine needles.
So, how do we address the fact that many species have different drivers to human beings – such as tiny energy and water requirements or no desire for personal wealth or possessions?
And how do we build on the common sense ideas that we’ve heard at previous Green Cities conferences, including Gunther Pauli’s talk of creating 100 innovations based around materials, structures and resources that we already have – such as recycling coffee waste for mushroom farming or using maggots for wound treatment or animal fodder.
Pawlyn agrees that there are “some things that work in biology, but not in architecture,” pointing to work recently undertaken with world experts on termite mounds.
“We were looking to extract new ideas from the mounds, but found that they weren’t applicable to office buildings because the air quality that termites will tolerate isn’t acceptable to humans,” he said. “Biomimcry is not about slavishly imitating nature, but about looking at how things work in nature, and developing new solutions.”
“Looking at how we mimic entire ecosystems offers huge potential for rethinking the metabolism of our cities. Nature’s examples provide a guide to help us transform our cities from wasteful linear to resource-efficient, closed loop systems. This will help us make the shift from the industrial to the ecological age.”
See more at: http://sourceable.net/design-inspired-by-nature/#sthash.R54ZR1c9.dpuf
Robin Mellon is one of Australia’s experts on sustainability in the built environment and is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it. Robin believes in a Better Sydney – better buildings, better communities and a better quality of life.