Ikea’s new 2019 catalogue stereotypes single mothers

Dear readers,

Last week I received a brand new IKEA catalogue in the mail while I was at my other home in Germany. I don’t remember ever signing up for it, so it must be macro-marketing and aggressive oldskool mailbox spamming – at least in Germany. As w&v confirms that 25 million homes will now receive the new IKEA 2019 catalogue with mostly square images to make them “intagrammable” and give the customer journey some phygital life.

When I flicked through it I was surprised. Then astonished. And then appalled.

First of all, the catalogue is filled with ill-lit images. The colours are dark, toned down, there are lots of shadows and a sinister mood to each room that is shown. Every “room” is messy. It’s a jungle of clutter, indicative of a frantic mental disorder called ‘hoarding and trashing’ – which does just that. The catalogue also shows stereotypical families and gives them pre-fabricated names. “Home #2” and “Home #5” are the ones I will talk about today.

But why the anger? Because IKEA is slamming and stereotyping single mothers and families. IKEA is also stereotyping by ethnicity and race. IKEA is treating a sensitive – yet important – social topic as a marketing gimmick and using those who are frail, at risk and need protection, not exploitation for financial gain. It’s purely and clearly unethical marketing.

You might say: “Oh, this author must have some issues with the topic to react so emotionally.” – and yes, you are exactly right. I am a single parent. This is why I feel that someone needs to speak up about it in a socially responsible way and tell IKEA that this is just not OK.

Image result for IKEA 2019 katalog
Look behind the sofa. You can see the DIY children’s section peaking out from behind. Out of sight, out of mind?

Let me explain in detail:

The story entitled “Home 2” is about a single mother, and I would like to dissect this story in terms of semiotics, imagery and implied meaning.

It’s entitled: “Limited Space, Unlimited You.” (Or “Wenig Quadratmeter, viel Individualität” in German)

Here is what we (I) see:

A single mother.

Single mother lives in a studio flat.

She sleeps on the sofa, alone. She has no bed and no space for one.

She has a daughter.

Single mom is black.

(Yes, I am including the ethnic appearance of this fictional character because it is a conscious marketing choice to use this particular ethnic group in the catalogue and has to be justified.)

There is no extra room or space for the daughter, so single mom sections off a tiny corner of the living room for the child.

She finds a small IKEA bed that just happens to fit into a corner, then sews some blackout curtains and makes a divide between her adult sofa and the child’s sleeping corner.

There are no windows in the child’s corner, but single mom has put up a night light and a lamp.

This is all the space the child gets.

 

Do you want to know what single mom does for a living? IKEA gives us a hint: She has lots of craft supplies stacked throughout her studio flat and she even does craft projects with her daughter at the expandable and only table.

Single mom owns a sewing machine but no books.

And this imagery invites the observer to put 1 and 1 together, consciously or subconsciously: “She must be a creative artist. You know, those who can’t make a decent living because art doesn’t pay? She must be selfish or uneducated or both. Doing her artsy crafts, unable to make ends meet and give her child at least her own bedroom. You know, she might have a mental issue called “narcissistic personality disorder” where someone has a “grandiose sense of self-importance”. In fact, the title of the story already indicates this with the title “Limited Space, Unlimited You.”  Perhaps this is how she ended up being a single mother. Her partner must have left her and her inflated artistic ego.”

But lets get back to looking at the visual facts:

The colours of the flat are depressing. Dark blue, red, black. There is little to no natural light. Even the child’s pink furniture can’t fight the oppressive colour choice or the heavy drapes behind which the scarce rosé happiness of childhood is hidden when the girl is sleeping and the mother is lounging in her pyjama. (She is clearly not in a rush to get to work. Does she even have a steady job?)

When the girl is awake, she does not have her own table to play or draw on. Yes, there is the kitchen table where mother teaches daughter her trade of crafts. (She will grow up to be the same looser as her mother, that’s for sure). But when the daughter wants to draw, she has to do it on the floor.

There are no paintings or similar on the walls, instead this individualistic (selfish?) woman hangs her crafts on the walls or distributes her wardrobe as there is clearly not enough storage space.

The only natural light is in the bathroom, which has not been refurbished since the 1970s. The tiles are all a nauseating mint-turquoise-green colour and fittings and fixtures make you guess how often the plumber needs to stop by. This is the bathroom of poor and bad housing.

If the visual story is not enough, there is plenty of copy to give everything deeper meaning.

There is “less clutter, far more joy. See only what you want to see, and keep everything else neatly tidied away till it’s needed.” Does this refer to the daughter who has been put out of sight?

 

IKEA explains the plight of a single mother to us. In marketing segmentation terminology.

 

Here in this story composed of images, the reader is peaking into someones life. If IKEA’s market research team has done a good job in terms of market segmentation, one type of IKEA’s core customers are low-income, low-education, single-parents who live in cheap or bad (social?) housing and try to make ends meet. Somehow. IKEA is practicing the all-so-popular marketing technique of “storytelling.”

I appreciate that this might perhaps be a fact. However, I do not appreciate how this brand is treating this sensitive issue and how through campaigns it is shaping society’s opinion of those vulnerable households. This includes both the actual single-parent house holds and other households.

This ad stigmatizes and insults. It puts people in a box and classifies them. It disrespects them and degrades them.

It puts individuals personal and financial problems right in their face and gives them no hope or help. Above all, it slams single mothers by rubbing all the hardship in their face. Although advertising is known to use taboo topics to gain attention and followers, I feel that this is inappropriate.

Perhaps especially so, because it also includes children – the most vulnerable ones. What’s worse is that the catalogue offers an alternative lifestyle story, “Home #5” of a family perfectly in tact, father, mother, 4 children. Many rooms and plenty of bedrooms for everyone. The children have a table to draw on or do their projects and even have their own armchair. (Remember, single mom’s daughter draws on the floor). There is much more space, light, windows to look out of and comfort (nice new bathroom), as well as evident disposable income in the apartment. The mother is lounging, reading while the children are playing – in their own big room. There are paintings on the walls and bookshelves. (They must be educated.)

And the mother is Asian, the father is white. (Yes, I am including their ethnicities as well, because someone between marketing and advertising made the decision that the wealthier family is represented by these ethnicities.) Only the children do arts and crafts. Mom and dad have orderly living arrangements and clearly their work does not happen at home. Have a look at the full campaign here.

 

This “Home #5” has space, money, light and a classic constellation of mother, father and (4) children. The copy reads (translated from German): “It’s nice to live in the jungle together, as long as you can retreat to your own kingdom.” – All members of the family have the privileged space for a retreat. Whilst single mom has a sofa and a DIY curtain.

 

More space, more light, more money, high ceilings and no single parents, please. The text reads “Always something happening” in German.

 

If this is not enough, have a look at the video advertising from a similar IKEA campaign – featuring broken families. Although they are cleverly done and partially funny (advertising is good when it wants to be), they are still stereotyping single mothers as either exhausted and depressed or promiscuous and irresponsible and showing children who are experiencing vast emotional difficulties while their parents “try to make it work”.

 

 

Why such stories, especially about single mothers? Why slam the single mothers and not celebrate them, or at least not humiliate them? Can single mothers really relate to this campaign and do they jump up to run to IKEA next time they don’t know how to hide their child from their view in the studio apartment?

I know many single mothers and there is a real person, a respectable and heroic person and most times a true tragedy behind each of them.

Some of them started in “Home #5” and through tragic occurrences went to “Home #2”. Or they kicked their ex out of “Home #5” or their home does not fit any “Home #” stereotype. But trust me, all of the mothers I know would love a happy, loving relationship, a delightful home and financial security. They are aware of their situation which they make the best of. But they do not want to be judged (and this happens to single mother on a daily basis in our society!)

  • One mother lost her husband to brain cancer at a young age, leaving her with two children and a mortgage. She used to be an art curator at a museum. (She is white)
  • One mother had to run away from her partner during her pregnancy because he turned out to be mentally unstable and dangerous. She fled all the way to China from Europe. She lectures at university and runs her own business. (She is white)
  • One mother’s relationship fell apart because the partner started drinking heavily after he lost his job. She lives alone with her daughter and does an amazing job, juggling work and parenting. She has a university degree and rents an apartment. (She is black)
  • One mother kicked out her husband after he started staying away for several nights per week due to extramarital affairs whilst their child was a baby. She owns her apartment, she has a university degree, she works hard and her child is a top student in school. (She is Asian)
  • One mother was beaten up by her partner during her second pregnancy and then got divorced. She works with special needs children in school and owns a house. (She is Caucasian)
  •  One mother has 5 children which she and her husband wanted. After she gave birth to the 5th, her husband found a younger lover and suddenly said to his wife: “All you ever did was have children. You are a disappointment to me.” He left her penniless and moved in with his new young woman. She is working several shifts per day, she is taking care of all 5 children and volunteers in her local church. (She is Caucasian)
  • One mother left her husband and moved to another country with their 2 children. They are still together, but the mother prefers to raise her children in her home country and give them a better education. They visit the father every other month. (She is black)
  • One mother was left with her 2 children after the husband ran off with the secretary and all the money. She is a university lecturer and runs her own business. She owns a house and several apartments. (She is Caucasian).
  • One mother experienced domestic violence when her daughter was still a baby. She divorced and the husband moved out taking all the furniture with him. He is officially unemployed and doesn’t support the child, even though he unofficially earns money through his family business. The mother works hard, traveling for her job frequently. She owns a small apartment. (She is white.)
  • One mother conceived despite contraception. Her partner aggressively demanded an abortion and then cut all ties when the woman did not comply. The mother is highly educated, owns property and works three jobs to make ends meet. (She is white/ Jewish)

[Note that almost none of these men help financially.]

The point is, these are just some single mothers I know and they all deserve a medal for the extremely hard work they do, sacrificing everything for the well being of their child or children. They do not deserve to be used and abused for marketing purposes in a furniture catalogue and distributed around the world in millions. I have added their ethnicities (racial background) because IKEA is clearly offering stereotypes to us. Because I know women of different colours, ethnicities, educational levels, financial situations and with various types of housing. (And guess what IKEA, your depiction is an insult to each one of them.)

And for the real-life dark-skinned mother (the one who opens this very catalogue and shrieks “it’s me!”) who is sharing her studio flat with her daughter, who works as an artist and crafts designs and sleeps on the sofa, I salute you. You are doing a great job, a hard job and you have your child’s interests at heart. Don’t let IKEA stereotype you and don’t let any marketing agency make you feel bad, poor or incompetent. Please know that as a fellow single mother, I will always fight for our dignity wherever I can. I know how hard it can be and I know how much joy we have.

If I need furniture, I will go to an antique store, on Ebay or ask my friends. I will not shop from IKEA (for this reason and many more, such as the forced labour of East-German prisoners who had to make IKEA furniture before the Berlin wall came down. But that’s for another blog-post.)

I close this post with two uplifting commercials, about the same topic, but in a very different tone. Let me know your thoughts, ladies and gentlemen.

Image result for single mother ads

‘The Whispers’ portrays a segment of Indian society that is forever indulging in gossip around a single mother. The story revolves around a single mother to a little daughter, having to face gossip about her missing husband from other residents in the society. In one such encounter she demonstrates why the father not being around has no negative influence on her or her daughter and that she is perfectly capable of bringing her up on her own. #AnoukBoldIsBeautiful

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Secret London in Summer – Top 10

Hello my lovely readers! I am spending part of my summer in London and I thought I’d blog about my favourite things to do.

In a way, it’s my secret London, those special spots and places that not all Londoner have visited and few tourists might know about. They are less crowded and give a sense of living here, rather than just visiting. You can access most on a low budget and I would even say that these activities are low-impact for the environment, cause no harm to others and are culturally, intellectually or ethically infused. However, they are also leisurely and relaxed. After all, who wants to have a stressful summer?

If you get a chance, do try my top 10s too and if you know any other cool secrets, please share!

 

1. Holland Park

This park must be my favourite! With Peacocks waddling around, a small Japanese garden and an adventure playground it is a perfect leafy retreat from the summer heat (and interesting for your children,too). Walking in the park as well as the romantic streets surrounding it is my secret retreat on a summer’s day.

The beau of the Kyoto Gardens
For a historical and cultural boost, try reading up on the history of the Holland Park, its mews and surrounding area.

2. Charity Shops

They are everywhere! But if you happen to be walking to or from Holland Park, you can access them on High Street Kensington easily. There are other areas in London with similar clusters of charity shops such as Octavia Foundation, Oxfam, Cancer Research or The British Heart Foundation. Some of the clothes are brand new and designer pieces. This is my secret to sustainable consumption! Look at the Paule Ka dress which I found in Knightsbridge, never worn and the perfect size for me! For my friends, I even take orders and try to find unusual items which I send to them around the world.

Image result for high street ken charity shops

 

Ethical fashion consumption? Yes, in charity shops.

3. Daunt Books

There are a few of them scattered around London, but the one that I love is in Marylebone. Its full of character and just a beautiful architectural gem. Not to mention the most inspiring books of many genres. I promise you, you will not want to leave empty handed. Whenever I visit Daunt Books I feel that it is a curated environment and each section or pile of books has been carefully and thoughtfully selected by the staff, presented to our discerning eyes and intellectual curiosity.

The one and only Daunt bookshop!
Joking around in Daunt Books’ travel section.

4. Aubaine Marylebone

Just around the corner from Daunt books (that’s No5 below) is Aubaine, a café and restaurant. It’s a bit hidden from the main highstreet, so look out for it on Moxon Street. In the summer you can sit outside and enjoy coffee or food, overlooking a unique cheese shop La Fromagerie and the Marylebone Tup. The Tup used to be a famous hang-out for students of now Regent’s University and luckily the walls do not talk…! In fact, all three venues are worth a try and Marylebone High Street is a wonderful street and on days off, summer or any other season, where I love to spend time. In close proximity there is Regents Park to the North and The Wallace Collection to the South which are lovely!

Aubaine just off Marylebone High Street

 

5. Cleopatra’s Needle

In a different part of town, near Embankement Station (also accessible from Temple station) is the Thames with a historic and mystical obelisk, nearly 3500 years old. This ancient gift from Egypt is guarded by two Sphinx and lets you decend to a viewpoint over the river. It took me many years until I visited it and now I am so glad that I did. It’s not just Place de la Concorde in Paris, no, we have one of our own in London!

According to the blogger Memoires of a Metro Girl, the name Cleopatra’s Needle is shared between three Egyptian obelisks – the London one’s twin in New York City and a third in Paris – which came from a completely different site in Egypt. The London and New York pair are made of red granite from the quarries of Aswan, weighing a hefty 224 tons each. Standing tall at 68ft (21 metres), they were originally erected in ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1481-1425BC) around 1450BC. Rameses II (1300s-1213BC) added the hieroglyphs around 200 years later to commemorate his military victories. However, in the early 19th century, Egypt’s ruler Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) was happy to give away a piece of antiquity. Following the victories of Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby in the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandra in 1798 and 1801 respectively, Ali gave one of the obelisks to the United Kingdom as a thank you gift in 1819.

The 2 sphinx to either side of the needle though, are only from the late 19th Century.

Related image
This image via looking-at-london.com

6. The Transport Museum

About a slow 15 minute walk from the river towards Covent Garden is the way to reach the Transport Museum. But first I suggest to walk through Carting Lane. Carting Lane has a rare example of Victorian engineering with its Webb Patent Sewer Gas Lamp which was a sewer gas destructor lamp. You can read more about this mad thing here.

The Transport Museum, even for a Londoner, can be a valuable history lesson, looking at (and sitting inside!) real steam locomotives and the first Tubes that traversed London under ground or the Double-Decker buses with open back doors which are sadly out of service now. (It was my favourite bus by far where you could jump on and jump off any time but thanks to Boris Johnson this was scrapped.) It’s an ecological way of dealing with transport, as you are not contributing to any emissions while you ride the vehicles.

Carting Lane is also to the side of the Savoy hotel.

 

Image result for london transport museum
On the red London bus, take an immobile ride, or pretend to be the driver! The doors at the back of a Routemaster bus will now remain firmly shut after 300 conductors were axed as part of cost-cutting measures from Transport for London. The system as we know it today (or knew it) has been part of London life since 1956. The job losses have drawn sharp criticisms from the unions who said conductors were being treated as ‘scapegoats’. From Metro.co.uk

 

7. Ichiba Food Hall

This is a new branch of the Japan Centre and is located at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush. The Westfield shopping centre keeps expanding and now claims to be the largest in Europe. There is lots to see and buy in Westfield, but I personally do not enjoy the hustle and bustle so if I go, I don’t browse but steer towards a specific target. In this case, it was Ichiba, a Japanese food and small goods heaven! It is the next venue in West London, opened by the original “Japan Centre” which is located in Panton Street near Piccadilly. This Ichiba branch has its unique vibe and offers everything from Matcha to sushi to Japanese comfort food to fresh ingredients (including entire Wasabi for a heart-breaking GBP 20).

All your Matcha dreams will come true here!

8. The 5th View

Close to Piccadilly Circus, there is a huge and multi-story Waterstones shop. Of course, the book store itself is wonderful (reportedly with over 200000 titles), but my secret spot is the restaurant on the 5th floor. You get beautiful views over London which is a rare treat. The food is excellent, too, including my junk-food treat: Large chips with ketchup and mayo. I recommend walking either up or down the stairs, depending on your level of fitness, to experience the Art-Deco building.

 

 

 

Image result for the 5th view london
The 5th view is spectacular yet cosy and casual. It is inside London’s largest book shop, as the Londonist reported.

 

A chunky chip treat at the 5th View – delicious.

9. Minamoto Kitchoan

If you are a Japanophile like me, you will absolutely love this. But if you are not familiar with Japanese sweets, it is still worth visiting to learn something new and see all things beautiful. This store which is easily missed on Piccadilly due to its low-profile signage, has authentic Japanese “Wagashi” which you can usually only find in Japan. In fact, the original store is located in the fancy Ginza district in Tokyo! Mitziemee reports, “Minamoto Kitchoan is a luxury wagashi chain and the branch in Ginza is the flagship store. The wagashi is made daily from the finest ingredients, and the tastes and textures are so subtle and delicate that each bite will blow your mind. You can either buy pre-packed gift boxes with wagashi or pick and choose among individually wrapped items.”

 

 

Japanese “Wagashi” at its best: There are goldfish swimming inside water! (But actually it is sweet in transparent jelly.)

 

 

Peach or mango sorbet with a touch of alcohol., I was told.

10. Layers London

Situated on South Molton Street which veers off right in the middle of Oxford Street, this shop is a fashion oracle. I my humble opinion, everyone should visit and I frequently send my fashion students there!

It is more a museum for me and an inspiration when I want to see what conceptual designers like Margiela, Rick Owens, Aganovich, Forme D’Expression, Masnada or Werkstatt Muenchen are creating. These pieces are often one-off and hand-made, at an appropriately high price which is “slow fashion” in a way.

I love their ethical approach to fashion: ”

The vision for our store is to start with a product of purity: something that achieves a balance between old craft and a modern approach to design. We feel the need to provide products that challenge the ideas of tradition and push them forward for the current times. To find designers who are doing something of their own, who are not motivated by commercial success, but want to better themselves by achieving critical recognition for their work. It is one of our aims to promote new and young talent. To offer them a platform on which to showcase their work, both on our website and in store. We feel it is time to have a new outlook towards fashion. Forgetting products valued on status but instead appreciate those products where the time and thought was put into their development. We plan to close the gap between art and fashion, focusing on those who truly are modern day artisans. Consequently, challenging the customers approach to garments.”

Maison Margiela shoes at their best.
With the head buyer of Layers London. We studied at Central Saint Martins together many years ago!

 

 

 

 

Ethical laundry: Detergent-free, in cold water or by hand?

Image result for eco laundry detergent ratings
Image from Consumer Reports

Ethical laundry: Washing without detergent – is it possible?

 

Because this blog deals with fashion, it is only natural to ask: “How do you wash your clothes?” Recently, I wrote about sustainable fabrics for fashion and one way of reducing the environmental impact of your wardrobe is by washing consciously.
So may I ask you: How do you take care of your clothes in the most eco friendly way?
One option is to wash your clothes less or not at all and occasionally rub off stains locally.
Another one is to use the most eco-friendly detergent.
A further possibility is to wash without any detergent. My colleague recently told an anecdotal story where she put in a load of washing but had run out of detergent. Her laundry still came out smelling nice and looking fresh, so it is possible.
However, if you want more cleanliness or have stained clothes (including from messy outdoor activities by your kids) you need something that is strong and effective.
But lets look at Japan, one of my favourite countries! Not only because it is a mix of ancient tradition and ultra-modern technology, or because it just launched a Hello-Kitty-themed Shinkansen bullet train, but simply because of its dedication to improving, inventing and augmenting the way we live. And this is true for laundry, too.
Japan has recently brought a new product to the market which promises to be 100% eco friendly when it comes to detergents.
It is called Terra Wash +Mg.

I quote this source: “‘Terra’ means ‘Earth’ in Latin, Magnesium is a key element necessary for the life on Earth. Terra Wash+Mg is the new laundry revolution from Japan that aims to change the world with power of this miracle element, magnesium!

Terra Wash+Mg is ideal for off-grid and sustainable living since you can use water from washing clothes with Terra Wash+Mg for irrigation of your garden. Magnesium contained in used water can help crops grow healthier.”

The eco-friendly product features are listed here:

  • Reusable for 365 washes/ 1 year > Save time and money!
  • Works for laundry load up to approx. 8kg(17lb)
  • Works for any type of washing machine.
  • Works for both soft and hard water/ cold and hot water > Using hot water may be stronger in cleaning property, but using cold water may be more economical and Eco-friendly.
  • Best in body odour removal [Fragrance Free] > About 10 times stronger than regular detergent.
  • Suds-FREE> no need for white vinegar, fabric conditioners or rinse cycles. Saves money!
  • Human friendly > 100% free of toxic and synthetic chemicals = Perfect for sensitive skin and  kids. Protects people’s health by keeping the washing machine hygienic.
  • Earth friendly > Leaves zero trace of chemicals and save tons of water and power.
  • Fabric friendly & Antibacterial > Maintains fibers and colour. Great for organic cotton.
  • SAFE for children and pets – no threat of spilling and poisoning
  • Best Quality > Made in Japan using patent-protected innovative technology with certified test result.
  • Cleans your pipes at the same time, preserving the life of the washing machine
How does Terra Wash work?

This seems like a real break-through product for the fashion life cycle and environment and I am tempted to try it. However, it does come at a hefty price to start with at over GBP40. It is intended to last 365 washes, but still is probably ten times as expensive as one large bottle or regular laundry detergent.

There are also several international competitors on the market: Washwow, the SmartKlean Laundry Ball, Lavmatic Washing Ball or Biocera Green Ball. Alternatively, there are soap nuts which are a type of dried fruit with cleaning properties.


Ethical laundry: Washing without microplastics – is it possible?

A further way to tackle the washing conundrum is by using the latest washing machines.

The ETHICAL consumer lists washing machine ratings here and informs about environmental impacts. One that has been at the center of attention lately is microplastic and microfiber which is found in clothing, cosmetics and other products.

I love the educational video:

The Ethical Consumer consults on microfibres and what to do about them:

“60% of clothing is now made from polyester, a fabric that sheds tiny strands of plastic every time it is washed. According to Greenpeace, one item of clothing can release 700,000 fibres in a single laundry load.

Once in dirty washing water these bits of plastic go to water treatment plants and then into our taps or into the sea. In fact, between 15% and 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by households and businesses, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea.

Such plastics are putting marine ecosystems at risk, as they are consumed by fish and other animal populations. They clog up marine organisms’ intestinal tracts, suppress their hunger by making them feel full, and cause infertility. They also damage corals (one of the most effective protections from the effects of climate warming).

The Plastic Pollution Coalition has suggested a few ways to minimize the impact when you wash your clothes:

Wash cooler. High temperatures damage clothing, releasing more microfibres.

Change to liquid detergent. Laundry powder scrubs at clothes releasing more fibres.  (Although the irony of this is that liquid detergent is more likely to come in plastic packaging …)

Fill the machine. A full load causes less friction.

Buy a lint filter – around £10-20.

Purchase a Guppy Friend wash bag. Some tests found that these caught around 99% of fibres, when clothes are placed inside the bag before washing. They also minimise the number of fibres released in the first place. The bags cost £20-25, and can be purchased through Langbrett or Patagonia for shipment to the UK.”

 

Ethical laundry: Washing cold – is it possible?

 

Did you know there is one country in the world which has default eco-friendly washing machines? Of course, it is Japan (did you guess?)

When I lived in Japan, I got to have a first-hand experience with washing in Japanese machines. What is different about them? They wash exclusively on cold cycles with cold water. There is an entire history to this industrial decision and the outcome could be judged as a default eco-friendly approach to washing. According to the New York Times (2011)”about three-quarters of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from washing a load of laundry come from heating the water – a practice that, say scientists, is often wasteful and unnecessary.”

Selection of laundry appliances in a Japanese store. Image source here.

However, as this blogger My Japan Slice anecdotally describes her washing plight in Japan, sometimes the clothes do not come out smelling fresh or stain-free and generally the washing detergents need to be reformulated if we were to use with cold water in other parts of the world.

Procter and Gamble estimate that 38% of laundry washed globally is currently using cold water cycles. This is a great business proposition and many manufacturers of washing detergents are trying to break into this new market to make profit. For me, it would need more research to establish the pros and cons of using these detergents vs. eco-friendly ones with hot water. How much damage do the new cold water detergents cause to the environment? Is this really more sustainable (paired with the cold water) or just a marketing gimmick?

 

Ethical laundry: Is it a first-world problem?

Image Source from Greener Cleaner

It must be said, that this a first-world issue where we have access to mountains of cheaply made fashion, where nearly every household or building has a washing machine and our shelves are full of myriads of detergents. If you owned the very basics of clothes, lets say one shirt, one sweater, one coat, a few pairs of socks and underwear and one pretty dress (or suit), you would have much less to wash and you would automatically wear each item longer and with more care not to get it soiled as washing it would leave you out of clothes or with only one substitute. You might have to wash your one tshirt by hand with a bar of naturally-made soap in naturally cold water in the most eco-friendly “washing machine”: a tub. In fact, I would recommend to everyone to try and hand-wash their clothes for a week. It can change your perspective and make you re-evaluate the modern commodities we use, the labour that they reduce but also the frequency and ignorance that is automatically implied when using modern appliances.

If you really want to give it a try, I recommend reading this article “How To Hand Wash Clothes Without Detergent – The Ultimate Guide with instructions” by Thetipsforyou.com

How to hand wash in the most eco-friendly way.

 

Or perhaps you might want to find ancient historical recipes that were used in ancient Rome, Egypt and Asia such as sulfur, charcoal, soda or even urine. Yes, as unappetizing as it sounds, in ancient Rome urine was frequently used due to the natural ammonia to wash clothes.

On this note, I would like to re-post a few images from The Spruce where manual laundry habits from around the world have been poetically captured.

Laundry Around the World

The chore of doing laundry is universal. Every country and culture has its own routines; some are primitive and others have evolved as the country’s infrastructure has modernized with electricity, natural gas, and running water.

As you travel around the world, observing how laundry is done offers an insight into the area’s economy and culture. When we complain about having to do laundry in the United States in our automated laundromats or inconvenient basement laundry rooms, take a momentMOR

 

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai, India

Mumbai
Bethany Clarke/ Getty Images

Nearly every early morning in central Mumbai, India, more than 8,000 people can be found hard at work at Dhobi Ghat. Known as the world’s largest laundry, Dhobi Ghat has 800 wash stations with flogging stones where local workers report at 4 a.m. to begin handwashing clothes and linens for schools, hospitals, hotels, and individuals.

The washing done by the Dhobis, as the workers are called, is very different from our idea of handwashing a few delicate items in a sink. The clothes and linens are literally beaten on a rock surface to loosen soil and then rinsed and hung to air dry.

 

Mozambique, Africa

Mozambique
Camilla Watson/ Getty Images

This Mozambique woman headed to the river to wash the clothes and linen for her family, spreading them out on the fresh, clean grass to dry.

-> See all the beautiful images here.

 

How do you do your laundry? Which detergents do you use and what kind of washing machine do you have, if any? Is there a way to reduce the environmental impact?

Alek Wek? LCF Graduate, Author and Ambassador for the UN (and Supermodel)

Image result for alek wekAlek Wek

Image source here.

Alek Wek is known to many as a supermodel and cover girl for the most prestigious fashion houses, walking down the catwalk or posing with her gorgeous figure and striking looks. But this superwoman has an incredible history and biography which is not only limited to the fashion modeling industry.

To begin with her super biography, Wek entered a new life, when she came to the UK after having originally been born in South Sudan and fleeing war there. Signed by a modeling agency back in the 1990s, she embarked on an exciting modeling career and became a role model for many women of colour around the world.

In terms of higher education, Alek Wek is a London College of Fashion alumna as she studied Fashion Business and Technology at the very place where I now teach.

She is a humanitarian at heart and a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, making the most of her refugee background and helping others in need.

Her voice as an author is printed in several publications, recounting her biography and urging us to help, too.

For many years, Wek has tapped into her experiences and background to reach other people in need and help them get through hardship.

Several years ago, in 2012, The Daily Mail reported on Wek visiting a refugee camp which brought back her own bitter memories:

[Wek] said that the hardships she lived through will be impossible to forget: ‘Having witnessed it first-hand, and at a very young age, even if I put it at the back of my mind, it is still there.

‘I’ve heard stories like, “I’m going to die anyway, I might as well die, why should I even try?” That really resonated, not knowing what tomorrow is.’

The model put her strength of character down to her powerful, selfless mother, saying: ‘Whenever I feel I am going through my own ‘little’ challenging moment, I just think about my mom.’

Remembering the past: Alex Wek has revealed that returning to her South Sudan hometown brought back a lot of painful memories of when she fled the war-torn country with her family as a teenager

Remembering the past: Alex Wek has revealed that returning to her South Sudan hometown

brought back a lot of painful memories of when she fled the war-torn country with her family as a teenager.

 

The model has also authored some books about her journey and thoughts such as Humanitarian Action: A Shared Responsibility (UN Chronicle, Vol. LIII, No 1, 2016) and you can read Alek Wek’s contribution here.

She has also authored Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel and this book is available here.

She writes:

“We have a global displacement crisis on our hands, and as a global community we must address it. We must engage. We must empathize. We must figure out what we can do as individuals, as families, as neighbourhoods, as communities, as States, as nations. As a Goodwill Ambassador for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a former refugee, I am committed to building awareness and to giving a voice to the millions who are forcibly displaced around the world. I have spent two decades advocating for the rights of refugees. In every instance, I find there is nothing more powerful and educational than the telling of a single human story. And today I would like to tell you mine.”

Throughout her inspiring journey, it seems that she always believed in inner strength, resilience as well as education and the power it can give you. It is really admirable to see that a person who has been through so much hardship but also success is able to give back to society, to show concern about the well-being of others who are still less fortunate and whose daily life is a struggle beyond our imagination.

I hope that Alek Wek one day will come into LCF as a guest speaker to inspire us all. My university is engaged in using fashion for the improvement of lives and here is a case that proves that a connection between the two is very much possible. Check out LCF’s Better Lives here.

Well done Alek!

 

Image result for alek wek

Image source here.

 

More information About Alek – from the UNHCR

Supermodel Alek Wek was appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2013, after years of committed support. As a former refugee from what is now South Sudan, Alek knows what it is like to be forced to flee her home. She now travels across the globe using her voice, her platform and her story to advocate on behalf of refugees and to support the life-saving work of UNHCR.

Alek was only nine when civil war broke out in Sudan. “Life as we knew it came to a devastating end,” she remembers. “Our parents tried to shield us from the conflict but the sounds of gunfire and the vibrations of explosions filled us with dread. Dead bodies filled the landscape.”

Alek and her family fled their village and survived in the bush, foraging for food and taking shelter in abandoned huts until they managed to escape to Khartoum, from where Alek’s mother sent her and one of her sisters to London. “I knew with all my heart that she was doing what was best for us, but that didn’t ease the pain.”

Having lost so much, education became the only thing that mattered to Alek and she was fiercely devoted to learning, despite arriving in the UK without her family intact and unable to speak English. Soon after being discovered by a model scout, Alek embarked on a successful international career in the world of high fashion. “In a matter of years, I went from a faceless refugee statistic to one of the most recognizable faces in the world.”

Image result for alek wek UN

Image source here.

In addition to visiting refugees and witnessing UNHCR’s frontline work, Alek has helped amplify the refugee cause through many different projects. For World Refugee Day 2016 Alek joined refugees, UNHCR staff and other high profile supporters in our video message of solidarity with forcibly displaced persons around the globe. Alek later spoke in the UN General Assembly Hall at the handing in of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, the largest-ever petition for refugees, to the UN Secretary General, ahead of the historic UN Summit on Refugees & Migrants in September 2016. In December of that same year, Alek served as the face of H&M’s holiday campaign which raised $3 million for UNHCR and supported the education of refugee children.

Alek has honoured the work and staff of UNHCR by attending multiple events, including the 2016 Arab American Institute Gala where she presented the  Khalil Gibran Award to our Deputy High Commissioner, Kelly Clements, who accepted on behalf of UNHCR and the 2015 German Sustainability Awards where she presented an Honorary Fellowship to then High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres. Alek also helped launch the Sustainable Development Goals at the 2015 Social Good Summit in New York.

Alek has spoken passionately about her work with UNHCR in numerous publications across many territories, including The Guardian, Marie Claire and NPR.

 

Can you wear what you eat? Yes, sustainable fish, mushrooms and pineapples…

Image result for LCF
Image source here.

 

In June, I was very lucky to attend a course on Sustainable Fashion Textiles at London College of Fashion, run by Amanda Johnston from “The Sustainable Angle” and her associates.

Our team of students was international and vibrant, with participants from the fashion and textile industries who were all keen to find out more about sustainable textiles. Of course, in my teaching, my students have had to look at sustainability and together we have acquired quite a bit of knowledge on this subject (we watched “True Cost of Fashion” and “Home”, we looked at fast fashion, Patagonia and luxury brands). At this short course my hope was to find out new things and develop new thoughts and indeed, it had some great surprises for me in store, such as fish leather, mushroom leather and a fabric made out of pineapple!

Amanda and her colleague Christina Tiran taught an engaging and inspiring day, speaking about the fashion industry, which according to some statistics is the second most polluting industry in the world, right after the oil industry. With consumers demanding lots of cheap fashion items, producers growing and sourcing not sustainably and designers ignoring the cradle-to-cradle approach when creating, it is no wonder that we cause a great misery to our planet. In fact, when Amanda asked us to brainstorm about what Sustainability means, I came up with the following thoughts:

To consider the state of the world which we leave for our children;

To return to a time when there was harmony with nature, pre-Industrial Revolution;

Treating nature, animals and humans in a dignified manner.

And although these are just my thoughts, as we learned, Greenpeace also suggested to move away from mass-production and consumption but embrace and respect each material individually. When I lived in Japan, I also learned this material lesson, as the Japanese culture has an ancient tradition of cherishing things, repairing and restoring them and not wasting them. For this, there is even a unique word: “mottainai” – litterally meaning “do not waste” or “too good too waste.” I love this concept and I feel that we should all embrace it in our lives.

 

Since The Sustainable Angle features the Future Fabrics Expo, an expo which helps to show, promote and communicate “textiles with a lower environmental impact to designers, buyers, press and global organisations, in a setting that is designed and curated to introduce textiles for the future with a lower environmental impact” – our class got to experience the innovative textiles and closely inspect them. This was very exciting and I want to share just a selection of incredible sustainable textiles with you below. Interestingly, most of them come from sources which are edible and so they are mostly bi-products of the food industry. It is not new to wear what we eat, as historically leather, fur and some plant fibres were part of people’s food.

Here are my top 8 favourites and perhaps some of the most exotic ones I have ever come across – to wear or to eat!

 

1. Apple Fabric

Apple fiber textile. Is it edible?

2. Mushroom Fabric

3. Plastic Trash gets a new life

This plastic sequin is made from recycled plastic and thus gets a second life instead of a trip to the landfill.

 

4. Pineapple Fabric

80% PINEAPPLE!! & PLA + Foil

5. Tree Fabric

“How a tree becomes a fibre” – an illustrative box by Lenzig which is great fun for tactile people like me…

 

6. Salmon Skin

Salmon skin in blue. It even works for cars! Yes, when I visited the BMW headquarters in Munich, I found out that there is a bespoke BMW model and any wish can be incorporated. A wealthy client who is a fish farmer thus had the interior of his new ride outfitted in salmon leather!

 

7. Ostrich Leg Leather

 

8. Pirarucu Fish Skin

And here is my absolute favourite: The Pirarucu fish, that lives in the Amazon region and can grow to nearly 3 metres (10 feet) and a weight of 220 kg (485 pounds) – according to Britannica. It is a carnivorous fish with a bony tongue and surfaces to breathe air. This fish is traditionally eaten by indigenous people and they are the only ones who are permitted to kill it.

However, if it becomes popular as a skin, my thoughts are that the fishing will need to be controlled to prevent overfishing. In fact, as recent as 2014, a study found that the fish was depleted at more than 90% of the sites examined and well-managed or unfished in only 7%. (Castello et. Al, 2014 and Gough, 2014). So again, whoever produces skins for commercial reasons has the big responsibility of ensuring the continuity of this species. Nova Kaeru is one of those companies.

This is fish skin, very light, beautiful and naturally pink! It didn’t smell fishy at all and the skin is light and flexible. This is the PIRARUCU fish below.

 

A beautiful yellow handbag made out of Pirarucu fish skin. It also works well for shoes. Image source: Pinterest.

 

What’s great about these fabric samples is how the labels are designed: Not only do they tell you the regular information of fabric composition/ weight/ size or price, it also gives you insights into the company that produces them as well as how the textile meets ecological and sustainable prerogatives. That is an innovation and should be available on all textiles! Apart from these exotic samples, there is also linen, cotton, wool, Alpaca, viscose and the rest of the textile gang.

Sadly though, this is only a fraction of the efforts that we should put into preserving biodiversity, respecting all living things on our planet and changing the fashion industry which is far from being sustainable nor circular in any way.

As the Business of Fashion recently explained in an article entitled “Circularity: Sustainable Fashion’s Holy Grail or Greenwashing?” quoting Maxine Bédat, co-founder of sustainable fashion brand Zady:

Circularity is three things: keeping resources in use for as long as possible, getting the most value from those resources while in use, and, finally, recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service life. We can’t forget the first two components of this concept.”

But Kirsten Brodde, a campaigner for “Detox My Fashion” at Greenpeace has a more critical approach:

“The current discourse about circularity depicts a society that can continue to make, buy and discard as much fashion as it likes. We need to stop thinking about growth and speed and start thinking about extending the lifespan of clothing to slow down and limit our excessive wasting of precious natural resources.”

This is a point well made and so pertinent to the fashion industry and those giants who cause grief to the planet. As soon as a company is listed on the stock exchange, as soon as it has to achieve profits every quarter, every year and pay dividends to its investors, you are in a viscous circle. You can’t slow down and ignore profit, as investors will turn away, sell shares cheaply and put the company’s health at stake. Equally, if you keep feeding the “machine” like Seymour fed his Audrey II, you are bound to engage in unsustainable practices.

Image source: Good on You.

Perhaps you want to explore more on this topic? If so, there are a few good websites, books and fairs to start with:

Check out The Sustainable Angle and their Future Fabric Expo, have a look at the Fashion Revolution or the Sustainable Apparel Coalition which was set up by Patagonia, as well as Good on You. You might also like to get your hands on the international bestseller  “Cradle to Cradle” by Michael Braungart and William McDonough or the Handbook of Sustainable Luxury Textiles and Fashion by Gardetti and Muthu.

And if you can travel to Berlin, why not visit the Ethical Fashion Show in July? It’s a fashion event entirely dedicated to sustainable brands. At the University of the Arts, we have a Centre for Sustainable Fashion, which you can visit here.

As I close this blog post, I want to ask you: Have you ever worked with sustainable fabrics?

Have you recently seen anything in the shops that was made of either organic, bio or recycled materials? How do you recycle your clothes or decrease your environmental impact? Have you encountered a fabric made out of a food?

And how can we improve the industry and educate consumers?

Feel free to share your thoughts and contribute to the discussion!

 

 

 

Cars vs. people: why can’t Oxford Street be pedestrianised?

A sad mannequin I photographed on Oxford Street as she watches over us.

How sad to read that the plans to create a traffic-free section on London’s Oxford Street have been snubbed. The large and long shopping street which houses famous department stores such as Selfridges (it opened in 1909), John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Frasier, as well as the Uniqlo Flagship Store and many more, attracts Londoners and tourists from all over the world. It is a buzzing street with red double-decker busses, black cabs (that’s a London taxi for you) and plenty of cars. In fact, some statistic estimate that each day around half a million people visit Oxford Street and foot traffic is in serious competition with buses and taxis.

This is my shot from the top floor of a double-decker bus, just next to Bond Street tube station.

 

Have a look at this video by Ivan Mladenovic. You can see that it is very, very busy.

The Architects Journal reported in March 2018, that Zaha Hadid Architects head Patrik Schumacher had told London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan that entire swathes of central London should become car-free zones. Indeed, Oxford street is one of the most polluted shopping streets and generally, the pollution in Central London has been a reason for concern for many years.

And although Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced his plans last year to pedestrianise the famous shopping street section between Oxford Circus Tube station and Orchard Street near Marble Arch from the end of 2018, this idea has reportedly now been abandoned.

Projection of how Oxford Street could look like if traffic was banned.

Transport for London has published results of surveys, which show that 33 per cent of more than 14,000 respondents objected to the initiative outright while a further 16 per cent said they had ‘some concerns’ about it. The biggest concerns seem to be accessibility of surrounding areas as well as traffic congestion and diversion away from Oxford street. It is true, that sometimes it is difficult to tell if there are more cars or more people on Oxford Street but is this really how we think in our day and age?

 

Selfridges June 2018: A window display with moving objects.

Pedestrianisation of shopping streets has been achieved in various other cities, and I will take Frankfurt as one example. The main bustling shopping street “Zeil” has seen it’s last bit of traffic removed over several decades and this has had lots of positive reactions from the public.

Zeil in Frakfurt in 2018 (no traffic and new architecture)

 

Zeil in Central Frankfurt in 1970

 

The pedestrian zone extends all the way to the Opera House in Frankfurt, where I did a photo shoot with some invading pandas.

There are numerous examples from around the world such as Lincoln Road in Miami, Copenhagen’s Stroget street, Qianmen Street in Beijing, China, Flower Street in Curitiba, Brazil, Buchanan Street in Scotland’s Glasgow, Takeshita Dori (a famous Harajuku Street) in Tokyo, Via Dante and Corso Corso in Milan, Italy, Third Street Promenade in LA, USA and Munich’s Kaufinger Straße, Marienplatz, Theatinerstraße and Viktualienmarkt (just to name a few). For the few years that I spent living in Munich, the pedestrianized areas actually improved the quality of my life and offered a unique participation in the city’s culture.

Image result for theatiner strasse
Theatinerstrasse in Munich: Shopping, coffee, lunch, a Biergarten or just a stroll is always lovely.

 

Image result for takeshita dori
Takeshita Dori in Harajuku/ Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan. Everything is “kawaii” but it does get crowded. However, thanks to Japanese manners, noone will ever bump you. I promise!

Even in London places like Carnaby Street have successfully made the transition to a pedestrian Zone so why is it such a hassle to turn a small fraction of Oxford Street into an oasis of clean air and safety? Although I am not an urban planner nor architect, I understand that pedestrianisation is something that needs very careful consideration and thorough research and planning. For example, some streets might attract crime and drunk pedestrians at night and the lack of traffic makes the area deserted and dangerous. Traffic which would normally pass through these streets would divert into other areas and pollution would not simply decrease but spread out. Furthermore, various factors can contribute to either a positive effect on retailers or a negative one with less revenue and dropping property prices.

There is however, one compromise which most of London is currently not offering: The tram. A method of transport which has no emissions and can connect pedestrian areas instead of buses, which is a part of many cities around the world. Personally, I enjoyed regularily taking the tram in Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and St. Petersburg and I have yet to try it in Croydon – the only area in London which uses modern trams. If you want to read a brief review on London’s trams I recommend checking here.

Pedestrian or not pedestrian? That is no longer the question on Oxford Street.

 

But not all is bad when it comes to Oxford Street, even if the traffic stays at present. If you were to go back in history far enough, you might be able to argue that Oxford Street has indeed gone through a positive transformation over the centuries and that it could be much worse: For example, did you know that it was an ancient Roman street originally and that in the Middle Ages it was very popular for public hangings of prisoners?

What a relief that the only things hanging around Oxford Street nowadays are things in the window displays and the (mostly) beautiful Christmas lights in the winter time!

 

image
Yes, the 2017 Christmas lights were somewhat spooky.

 

 

 

Liberty London: men’s shoe trends June 2018

It’s been a while since I have posted a store and trends report so here it comes!

Today I went to the Liberty department store in London on Regent Street and looked around their cosy men’s department. It is downstairs in the basement of this fabulous building and has a great selection of menswear, accessories and shoes, too. The main shoe trend this summer is animal prints and logos on shoes, colourful sneakers (called trainers in the UK) with high-tech and mesh fabrics as well as lots of white white and off-white shoes. I had a good chuckle at the cheeky GUCCY logo on Gucci shoes. Click on the images to enlarge!

Liberty London men’s shoe department

 

 

 

Very cool interior design with a double broken mirror effect. Had to do a selfie.

Check out more on their website or in store which is the “Home to the hottest designer shoes, boots and cult sneakers, our men’s and women’s footwear rooms are carefully curated to complement the diverse collections that sit on our fashion floors. A mix of big names, must-have styles and discoverable brands, come in-store and find your fit.”