Saturday, July 11, 2015

Say No to Made in China Challenge...

Hello again. just a little pre-warning that this is going to be one of my ranty posts. If you don't like ranty posts, look away. If you do, strap yourself in as its going to be a wild ride.

A few years ago I started my research for a project for my professional practice in communication. It centered around mass produced goods and their effect on how we consume and communicate. Needless to say, after a a month or so of putting the project together - 'Buy one Less', it effectively did my head in. The more I researched about the effects of cheap mass produced goods coming out of China the more scared it made me, but the more conscious it made me as well.

There are so many factors and angles to take into account with the act of purchasing a cheap mass produced product from China. Environmental, Human Rights, Political, Ethical and the list goes on.

I will try to tackle a few points here, but it is essentially only a summary.

At the moment here in Australia a news story has emerged. Our government tried to keep it under the radar, but the fact that its has been approved for a Chinese owned Coal mine the size of greater Sydney to be dug in one of our most productive food farming regions is criminal. The track record for Chinese owned enterprises is not a good one. Look at all the destruction in their own country, what they are doing in regions of South America and now they are being given a green light to do it here. Now, before you think, oh, it will be ok, they need to abide by our laws and regulations, think again. They don't. It will be a closed unit Chinese owned and run enterprise with very little involvement from Australia or our governing body. You know that 'free trade agreement' Tony Abbot signed, we have essentially signed away our rights on this one for cheap $2 t-shirts. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Currently we are facing a very scary prospect. The more allowed so called 'investment' from China is putting us in a very precarious position as we are a small country population wise but we are rich resources wise. But with that, they are resources that are damaging to the environment in the wrong hands. Mining coal and the subsequent burning of it for energy is not a long term viable energy option. We all know why, so I don't need to outline it here.

We are also a country that can produce good clean food. We should not be selling that off shore and importing cheap tainted food from other countries in return. I can not get my head around why we are shipping in tonnes of Chinese grown frozen veg to sell here when we are shipping tonnes of our own stuff over there....its 'cheap' If I hear 'Cheap Cheap' one more time I swear I will punch something.
I do not want to eat food that has come from environments with lesser checks, balances and safety standards that the ones here. I just can't see how its allowed. I do not want to eat food with high levels of heavy metals that is grown in contaminated ground water. I don't want to eat food that will give me scary illnesses like Hepatitis. So why is all of this allowed.

I can rant like this for ages and scratch my head and feel helpless and confused, but I'm not.
A while ago I started to check where things were coming from. One time when I was in the USA a few years back there was a movement in towns to get rid of all the Chinese made product in the residents homes. The USA has been pushing back on China for a few years now, Hillary Clinton said it well last week in one of her addresses - “Make no mistake – they know they’re in a competition, and they’re going to do everything they can to win it...”.As I have ranted about before, how you can now get Made In The USA products easily now that are affordable.

So, I started to look at where things were coming from in my home and how I could minimise giving my hard earned money to companies that manufacture on the cheap in China and to stop giving support to Chinese enterprises and to do a better job of buying local. I did a bit of an audit and realized that we were already doing pretty well. All our furniture is either vintage or made here in Australia by small businesses. Our stove, range hood, dishwasher, washing machine and vac are European made, all bought on sale. Where we fall down is the TV, Computer, Microwave and coffee machine. So, our plan is to use them til they die. We have no need to upgrade, they work and do their job.
Our heating and cooling is Australia made, we have a wood fired combustion heater that heats our whole house and our air con unit that came with the house when we bought it is made here.

So the big things in our home are pretty much sorted. The smaller things have been looked at too. Linens is a big one where you can get caught out. My towels were given to me on my 21st birthday by my mum and they are the good old Sheridan ones made in Australia. And because she gave me so many I still have and use them today, and they are great. I also have some Turkish made cotton towels that are lovely too, again bought on sale. Sheets etc, all the Chinese made stuff has been given to the op-shop. I now only have European or Indian made cotton bedding or vintage, love my op shop found Actil Aussie cotton sheets. Our doona is an Australian made wool one. We use cotton blankets from Turkey in summer. Turkish made linen is great. They are specialists in manchester production and supply most of Europe.  Our mattress is from a local factory that makes here. Pillows are from them too. Made locally, but can't be sure where the materials are made.

So after going through the linen press and bathroom, there is the kitchen. I emptied a load of stuff out that had accumulated over the years from living in many places. We now have what we need. Some is made in China, but it is used everyday. When it breaks, I will replace it with something that is a better choice.

Clothes. This was a bit easier than I thought. I don't own a lot of clothes. I am such a one trick pony when it comes to dressing. I wear what suits and i'm not really that into whats in fashion. I wear what I like. And when you break it down I have a load of striped t-shirts, denim shirts, jeans and nice tailoring. I also make a lot of my own clothes and buy when I travel. I don't go shopping anymore. It has been a long time since I went to a shopping center.
I wear one brand of jeans and have done for years as they fit. I'm short so finding jeans I can buy off the shelf in the right length are a godsend. They manufacture in Italy and India. Tick, no China. They are considered a bit pricey and have been criticized at times for wearing expensive jeans but I buy one pair every 2 years or so as they wear really well and are very good quality. My $200 pair of jeans will out last 4 pairs of cheaper ones. So in the end, I am ahead. I also pick up second hand ones too. My other trick is to dye my faded dark denim jeans black then I have my black jeans.

I have a few tailored jackets and nice coats that I have saved up for and 'invested' in. I know, investment clothing is a bit of a misnomer, but if you buy the right things they serve you really well. Origin, Italy and the USA. I remember my first big clothes purchase, It was when I was at uni and I waited tables for survival. I bought a Katherine Hamnett denim jacket. It was a great fit and cut and I always felt a million dollars when I wore it. It was a dark dyed navy blue with a short back and long front. I said to myself at the time I bought it, If I give myself a dollar every time I wear this I'll pay myself back in no-time. And it did. That amazing smart jacket took me every where. And I stupidly left it behind at a cafe in Paris and it was lost forever.

I think I have that type of wardrobe that editors tout, the 12 things every wardrobe needs. I have my black tailored smart jacket, a leather jacket, a trench coat, a few nice shirts, jeans that fit well in dark denim, striped tees, a hat, a pair of black stillettoes, cobbled boots and a go to black dress.  I think I could easily do the 30/30 challenge. Only 30 items of clothing for 30 days.

I have passed on all my clothing company freebies and samples to the op shop and things that no longer fit. I listed on e-bay all the other things and sold them. What I have now is a great functional array of clothes that I like, they fit and except for one or two things I have gotten rid of made in China out of my wardrobe. And those things are worn and used and are of good quality. And I saved money too. Why, I don't buy things unless I actually need them. And you really don't need much. I also say to myself, can I make it, and that is usually a yes.

The hounds. Their beds are from a cut up queen size futon that was made in Melbourne in the 90s that we used as a spare bed. I made their blankies from left over yarn I had. I make their coats. Snacks and food are from Aussie made and owned companies. Black Hawk and Savour Life. Leads, made in Australia. They are sorted.

General items, shampoo, soaps, cleaning products, laundry products, again, locally made and Australian owned. And not expensive either.

I have gotten to the point now where I check labels. If its not Aussie or from a supply chain outside of China it does not get bought unless its my only option. It is really easy to do now. And, its saved us money. So when people say oh its more expensive etc in the end its not. Better quality things last longer so you are not replacing them as often. More quality and costly things your look after them better as you have a different connection to them. If its cheap you tend to shrug your shoulders and go, oh well it was cheap. If you actually consiously buy something thats more expensive you will have it for longer and you will look after it more, or make and effort to sell it when you no longer have a need for it.

Clothing companies that sell the cheap stuff bank on this mentality that you won't return a cheap item if its faulty or losses shape etc after one wash as the average consumer will just go, who cares it was cheap. So they engineer into their product a 3 wash use by on the garments. So when it is saggy you go and buy another $15 dollar garment that you will wear a few times then chuck. Don't get suckered in.
So in that time of say 4 cheap $15 t-shirts you could have had one really nice one that lasts made from a nicer fabric with a better cut and fit for $60. Less resources, less waste. Lasts longer, washes and keeps color and shape for longer. I just hope we can educate our next generation that cheap is not good. Because cheap has hidden catches. And one of them is a future that is loaded with environmental destruction, carcionegenic chemicals in food and clothing and untenable deals with countries that are globally irresponsible.

So, i've become that annoying consumer that will ask - do you have anything that's not made in China? when I have to go to one of the Mass Mega warehouse type places as I feel I have been not given any other option these days. And the answer is usually no. So I walk and I try to find some other alternative. Or I will try and find an independent retailer, it doesn't hurt as much to give them my money. But it sucks. Even buying something simple like sticky tape is a challenge. So I ask, can you please find me a product that's not made in China? If we don't ask or don't try for change its never going to happen.

We need to send a message to the companies that manufacture in China that we no longer want this stuff and can you offer alternatives, we need to say, hey Australian government, we don't want Chinese investment and Chinese government owned enterprises operating in our back yard. We also don't think the Free Trade Agreement was really in our best interests for the long term as it will strip even more industries from our market place as competition against even cheaper product will kill off any or all small enterprises and give even less choice, and the only choices being from large corporations.

So, can you do the 'Say No to Made in China Challenge'?
Can you swap, sell, gumtree the things you on longer want or need. Can you divert decisions to buy things to better options?

Need any tips to get started? Got a tip to share?

Lets all have a crack.
Lets discuss.


I'm not saying don't buy it, but if you do, make sure you use it. If its clothing go for a quality option. There are plenty of things made in China that are of good quality, just avoid the cheap cheap stuff. If its the options available go for the best you can. Check the seams, are they stitched well, is the fabric a good weight is it a quality fabric. If you go for the better option that will last longer, it will slow down consumption. If you are going to buy, make sure you use it and wear it. And wear and use it more than once. Buy good quality basics, they might be a few dollars more each, but they will last longer and you will use them. 'Buy one less' ask your self do you need it? Will I wear it? Will I use it? Can I dispose of it in a way that's environmentally friendly? I have a made in China feather puffer vest. I wear it in winter nearly every day. Its my goto on a cold day and when walking the dogs. I could not find one that was not made in China so I bought the best one I could find, purchased on sale from a store that is Australian business and I will wear it till it dies. Its good quality and should last me many years of solid wear.

Crap is crap.
You don't need crap in your life.

Supply. At times if you can get around direct supply thats a good thing. What do I mean by direct and indirect supply. Direct supply is where an order is placed and goods are made and shipped out, a request for manufacturing. Indirect is where there are goods left over or remainders. If you can purchase from remainder you are not adding to another order for goods to be made and shipped as you are purchasing from left overs or surplus over orders. It slows down things a bit as no new stock is made. Try builders surplus yards, overstock centers, auctions, Job lotters, Second hand goods etc.

Supply Chain...have a look where things go, come from etc. Often if might be made here, but does the money stay here? It could be an Australian made item but is it an Australian company? Look for Australian made and owned if possible first. A lot of household products/grocery items are made here but are not Australian owned companies but large multinationals. Try IGA supermarkets for a wider selection of Australian made and owned options, Local grocers and local markets.

Is the product assembled here from imported items or just packaged here from imported items. This occurs with a lot of frozen goods. Check your labels. Imported frozen veg is usually from China.

Made in Australia clothing can still be made from Chinese fabrics. Companies that make here ethically can be found via Ethical Clothing Australia

Or better yet, make it yourself. Plenty of amazing patterns available these days for home sewing. Try for a list of pattern companies for mens, womens and kids patterns.

Fabrics - go to job lotters - These are the fabric stores that sell the left over fabrics or surplus from manufacturing. They are not placing orders to manufacture so it's a slightly better option. There are many very good independent fabric stores that sell top quality fabrics that are not from China. Try online for independent designers and printers. Buy vintage from businesses like mine, or get lucky at a market or auction or via de-stash sites. Only buy what you need, use what you buy. Gift and trade. Fabric is amazing how it has so many lives. There is plenty out there that you don't need to feed the manufacturing machine in China. If you are after new, opt for Japanese, Korean or American made craft and quilt fabrics. They are better quality too and use less nasty chemicals as their industries are regulated.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Trunk Show Sydney

I'm pleased to announce the first Sydney Trunk Show.

Running from the 20th to the 25th of July 2015.

Its in a great location in a fantastic warehouse studio in Annandale. Nice and central and close to public transport.

Trading from 11 til 4 each day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why do I bother....

I have been asked many times since I started my business 'why I bother'.

I find this a very hard question to hear for many reasons. I also find it a very complex question to answer.

I love what I do. It also challenges me on many levels. I get to indulge in something that I love but also I hope I create a small amount of change or to provide an option to mass produced fabrics. To foster and interest in the history of fabric and its design and to find beautiful and unique fabrics for people to love and create with.

First and foremost I love textiles. They have been a part of my life consciously since I was 13. I remember buying my first piece of fabric, a deep burgundy 70s style paisley. Then through my teens op-shopping and finding amazing fabrics and clothes that were to me unique.

I followed my love of design and fabrics into the fashion industry. It was a great time to be there, many Australian companies manufacturing locally. It was great to go visit your makers. Then slowly but surely the influence of China changed the way the industry operated. All of a sudden it became more about how cheap things could be rather than making a quality product. No more visiting your maker or overseeing a print job at the local screen printer. Slowly but surely these businesses disappeared and now I can count on one hand how any are left.

I too have become redundant in this world of fast fashion. My last full time job was outsourced to China. I am on the scrap heap of the destruction of the juggernaught of consumerism and throw away clothing. It's cheaper and easier to send a swatch to have copied in a factory in China than it is to design something. My 20 years of experience down the gurgler, now I fight to get what little work is available but there is another problem out there, junior 'designers' offering to do the work for next to nothing or companies getting 'interns' to do the work for close to free for experience. There is not a lot of work left and at times, I don't have it in me to fight anymore. It's soul destroying; almost offensive.

(There are also major issues with copyright all bundled up in here as well. From the organised counterfeiting operations to the manufacturers copying product on behalf of companies here to ones who copy product from images online and sell via trade fairs into western markets.)

So back to the 'why do I bother' question. This is a really achingly hard one to answer as it has so many facets both political, environmental, humanitarian and personal aspects to it.

I bother because I don't want to add to the problem of mass production of textiles.

These problems include environmental issues from water use to grow cotton to the pesticides used to 'push farm' cotton for greater yield. Then there are the issues of cotton harvesting, from children being forcibly removed from schools in Uzbekistan to supply cotton to the maw of Chinas manufacturing system to spit out cheap goods for 1st world countries.

Other factors are environmental. Chinas ground water is contaminated by heavy metals from dye run off from textile production and automotive industry/component manufacturing.  Now, think about those cheap groceries our large supermarket chains are selling that are grown in China. Grown in this contaminated ground water full of carcinogens. Then, think about all the food China purchases from us and other countries because it's not….. Just mull on that for a little while. (Or the farming land China is buying up here to produce food)

Have we become so obsessed by 'cheap' that we no longer care where it comes from or what it actually is or what it could be doing to us in the long run?

And if you have children or grandchildren, what about the dyes used to make those cheap cheerful clothes you don't pay much for, yep, they cause cancer and because our clothing companies don't do adequate checks, the factories in China wanting to cut corners use dyes that are illegal and cheap to make that cheap product that you think is a bargain.

This is a dual problem. The clothing companies push so hard for cheaper prices every year. The Walmart model, each year must be a % cheaper. So over time the factories cut more corners. The buyers here push harder for cheaper prices so they can get their sales bonuses and what we get is shitty toxic product that we wear a few times before it sags, fades, splits or goes out of fashion and ends up as a rag at the op-shop that they can't sell and have to find ways of disposing of it.

Oh, and that lovely little bit of text on the clothing care tag…Wash before wearing…
Thats because most product imported to here from China is laced with formaldehyde, also a carcinogen. And often when you open shipping containers full of product there are often a few dead rats in there too. They came over for the ride.

I laughed at that news story a few weeks ago that they shut down an illegal condom making operation in China that was making condoms out of materials that were toxic.

But as China changes we are seeing more countries emerge as manufacturers who are offering even cheaper production like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia. They are also happier to take on smaller orders making it even easier for businesses here to take advantage of cheap production.

Cheap is not cheap.

There have been a few docos made on the issue of fast fashion and clothing production in emerging economies over the past few years and another is about to be released on the 29th of this month - The True Cost.

After the destruction of Rana Plaza there was a flurry of conscious activity but again the noise has died down. There have been some positives come from that shocking industrial disaster - to put into context, Rana Plaza was the greatest industrial accident, even worse than any that occurred during the Industrial Revolution. But the dialogue needs to continue.

It needs to continue for many reasons. Not just global ones that are around environment, human rights and economic factors. We also need to think how this effects us here in Australia.
We have lost our manufacturing industry and we are also losing skills. We are losing jobs to China and they are in turn infiltrating our economy in a way that is making us far too reliant on them. Under the guise of 'free trade' that has in fact been very costly.

I find it very interesting and heartening that the USA is bringing manufacturing back. They know that they need jobs and to not be reliant on other countries for their goods. Yes they have a larger population but it does not mean that we can't look at them as a model to make some changes here. I love it that when I goto the USA I can buy Made in USA goods that are affordable and good quality. Undies, socks, tee shirts and quality outerwear. I stock up when I go. I wish I could do the same here like before.

I have a few pairs left of the older Bonds undies that were made in Australia. They are still going strong. I have pairs of the newer made in China ones and the elastic has gone and the fabric got holes in it after a few wears. And to add insult to injury, they off-shored manufacturing to make economic gains but put their prices up and lowered the quality.

So why do I bother, I bother to try and make a small difference, even if its just a drop in the ocean. Maybe that drop might create a small ripple. And maybe that ripple might make even just one person opt to not buy another cheap t-shirt or some more cheap fabric that was milled in China out of short staple cotton grown in Uzbekistan and harvested by children and dyed in a factory where the dye run off was tipped into the local water way.

There are other options out there that are better quality and are less resource intensive and are manufactured in a better supply chain.

One small change or action is a start. It all adds up.

I'll get off my shipping container full of soap now.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sparkly New Blog...

Hi everyone, I have decided to put all my blogging and online activity in the one place from now on, over on my website.
Its just easier for me to manage everything all in the one spot.
It will still work the same, and I will still sprout stuff sporadically and, really the only thing that will change is the location. I will keep all this here too, but anything new will be in the new spot.

Hope to see you all over yonder.. Jen

A Piece of Cloth Blog

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Strip Tease - Quilt Top Re-work

I have a thing for buying up old quilt tops that are a bit....well...kinda on the ugly side.
Because in amongst the overall ugly there is a whole lot of good stuff just waiting to be cracked out and used.
It's a bit like those scenes in corny movies where the girl receptionist with the hair bun and thick glasses does her little undoing and flick of the long flowing hair and takes her glasses off to reveal shes a Vogue worthy model.
Thats what an ugly quilt top is for me. Its a beauty just waiting to be discovered.

So with that movie scene in mind and with these two finds, i'm calling this quilt top re-work the 'strip tease'.
I found these two tops the last time I was in the USA on a buying trip. They were made by the same person but judging from the fabrics about 5 years apart. They were both hand sewn (and she was a backstitcher....makes things slower to unpick as you can't just yank the threads out) with these great strips of scrappy blocks but had been inset with flannelette.
Now don't get me wrong, flannelette can be great for a quilt, but I don't like it when its mixed with cottons. I make quilts for babies and little tackers in flanny when I'm being the cool Aunty. But I don't like it when its shoved in and gets all ikky alongside nice crisp cotton.

Top 1 - Yellow and grey flanny
Top 2 -Blue floral flanny
Fritz - who can't stop parking his arse on everything
So I unpicked the strips and removed the flanny and I was left with 17 x 2 mt long strips of fantastic prints. Late 40s and early 50s. There are some great ones in this lot.

I decided to take about 20 cm off the end of each strip to make up a few more to get the top a bit more square in shape than rectangular

After this, all I had to do was stitch the strips together and now, no more ugly ducklings. As two tops become one, I like how this has panned out. Nice and easy too.
Stitching the strips

Trimming the ends

Strippy Strippy
I have now found this reclaimed quilt back of the same era. It was taken from a tied quilt that I restored the top to. That top has since gone to a new home. But the new owner didn't want this back. It really didn't match the top which is why I took it off in the first place, it was added on at a much later date to a late 1800s top. I love a bit of wacky, but this just wasn't right.

So, I might finish this one off and put it on the spare bed in the back room. We haven't had the spare room for a few years as it was my office for ages but now the office is in the studio.