Let’s make the world a better place

A Better Place, Stratford Caldecott, prostate cancer, CapForStrat, ethical lifestyle website, ethical shopping guide, ethical consumerism, Crowdfunder

I’ve been talking about a website that I want to create and dedicate to dad for some time now, and now that the Crowdfunder is finally live you can take a look at our plans and help us to make it a reality. Every little helps, and even if you can’t pledge yourself, sharing the link with anyone you think might be interested is so helpful, and very much appreciated! Here’s our campaign video so you can get a quick idea of what we’re all about, but there’s a lot more information on the Crowdfunder project page, here. We also have various beautiful rewards organised to thank people who make pledges, created by the talented illustrator Frances Ives, who will also be involved helping us to design the website and make it truly a thing of beauty when we reach our target.

A Better Place – Crowdfunder from A Better Place on Vimeo.

A Better Place will be a free resource for anyone and everyone to use, a cross between an online lifestyle magazine and a listings and product reviewing website. Our team is based in the UK and the USA, so we will do our best to cover services and products based globally, wherever possible suggesting similar products that are closer to home for people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Several websites and blogs already exist in this field, but nothing that we’ve come across so far covers all areas of life as comprehensively as we would like to, with in-depth articles and discussions of issues as well as extensive product listings and recommendations organised in a logical and aesthically-pleasing manner. The website will be quality-led; what I mean by that is that we will only feature products and services that we think can stand on their own merits as well-designed, useful, and desirable, and that also have a positive impact as a matter of course. We believe that this is the only way that ethical consumerism will ever become truly mainstream. If it’s all ‘fair trade-y’ funny smelling big jumpers and bobble hats, and ‘tribal’ jewellery, it will just remain an elaborate way of donating to charity. I guess you could say that we’re trying to take ‘trade not aid’ to the next level, searching out all the best innovative and positive impact brands and organisations around for you.

we are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden, Joni Mitchell Woodstock lyrics, inspirational quotes, A Better Place, ethical lifestyle

A Better Place will be a website where you can go to inspire a positive lifestyle, whatever your budget. Whatever you need, we will try and present you with attractive ethical versions that compete with the best on the market, so that spending your money well becomes a real pleasure, not a chore.

An English professor of mine once said that sometimes a phrase or an idea strikes you particularly hard and sticks with you for years, niggling away at you. He said that it is like the grit that gets into an oyster, eventually resulting in a pearl. It is an irritant that pushes you to think about a topic particularly deeply, research it, and eventually do something about it. As my oldest friends will tell you, this idea is something that I’ve been a bit obsessed with for over a decade since I was at school and I wrote to Ali Hewson (Bono’s wife and founder of the ethical fashion label, Edun) asking if I could do work experience with her. (She sent me back a very sweet and gracious letter saying that she thought I was a bit young, but thanking me for my interest and encouraging me to stay passionate about ethical trade.)

The name, ‘A Better Place’, was inspired by a conversation with my dad that I had when I was younger; we were on holiday and he was picking up pieces of litter from the sand as we walked along the beach, and I asked him why he was picking up things that he hadn’t dropped. He answered that we had to try and leave the world a better place than we found it. A simple lesson, perhaps, but one that had a big impact on me. The blackberries in the logo were his favourite fruit, and my sisters and I have many happy memories of foraging for the berries together every year. He used to get so gleeful and boyish whenever he saw them, and suddenly dart off into the bushes with a sparkle in his eye, returning with juicy handfuls of the berries.

rose, A Better Place mission statement, Crowdfunder, ethical lifestyle, Stratford Caldecott, environmentally aware, ethical consumerism, green living, fair trade, ethical shopping guide, ethical consumer, ethical products, ethical lifestyle magazine

I’d love to know what you think, and to answer any questions that you have about our project. If you are an ethical brand yourself, bear in mind that some of the rewards we’re offering for pledges involve various different advertising packages, so do check them out and get in touch at sophie@abetterplacejournal.com if you’d like to discuss these any further.

Thank you so much for your kind support and interest!

Reflections on Rio

Rio, Brazil, Santa Teresa district, travel

Last summer I had the opportunity to visit Rio de Janeiro to participate in a conference on environmental ethics and theology in conjunction with Pope Francis’ visit for World Youth Day 2013. I recently found a disposable camera that I thought I had lost and got some grainy, dark snaps developed that brought it all back.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, botanic gardens, Christo Redemptor, Christ the Redeemer statue

Rio had fascinated me for a long time before I travelled there, and the week I spent there last July only deepened that fascination; I hope I can go back some day to explore some more. I love the way it is nestled between the luscious rainforest and the turquoise ocean, watched over by the giant Cristo Redentor statue who towers above the city with his outstretched arms. I love the hectic tangle of streets, the sudden, steep hills and broken cobbles, the open air cafes where you can sit beneath the trees sipping iced fruit juice with wild orchids and monkeys quarrelling in the branches overhead. I love the way that even in the most built up areas of town there are giant cracks in the concrete and steep rock faces covered in creeping green foliage behind the fancy hotels and apartment blocks. It’s as if the rainforest cannot be subdued and is waiting for the chance to take back the city.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There is something about Rio that doesn’t quite make sense, like a surreal sequence in a Baz Luhrmann film. Its heart is wild and untamed, and I felt like I was about to tip off the edge of the world, like I couldn’t quite trust gravity to behave normally. I have a suspicion that I don’t think I could feel like I had ‘understood’ Rio even if I lived there for a very long time.

Rio de Janeiro, favela, Brazil

And then there’s the fact that the extremes of wealth and poverty are such close neighbours. It’s a city where the wealthiest people regularly travel to work by helicopter, while the poorest live just around the corner from their mansions and helipads in slums. While I was there, the group I was with visited one of the favelas that had been recently ‘cleaned up’ (meaning that the drug gangs were supposedly rooted out and a strong police presence had been established). The favelas aren’t just on the outskirts of the city; they sprang up to fill Rio’s empty pockets, spreading their sprawl of ramshackle pavements and buildings wherever and however they could, up the mountainsides without any particular regard for safety or comfort. You know when you’re in a favela because they are sectioned off from the normal streets of Rio with walls and gates, and you feel as if you’ve suddenly entered a makeshift cardboard box world designed by children, not for real living.

Rio de Janeiro, favela, Brazil

The narrow, winding streets were filthy, and great knotted masses of electrical wires hung down so low overhead that you had to occasionally stoop to avoid them. Every now and again we would pass a pile of rubble, and our guide told us that they were houses that had collapsed in a landslide, or just because they hadn’t been built with proper foundations. We stopped in a smallish concrete alcove that our guide told us was a marketplace, and he pointed to the multiple small holes and dents in the walls around us and said that this was the spot of a big drug raid when the police had taken over the area – the holes were bullet marks.

Rio de Janeiro, favela, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, favela, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, favela, Brazil

Despite the very obvious poverty and signs of struggle all around, we passed many homes that had flat screen TVs playing in the background. I realised then that my understanding of extreme poverty was very limited, and that things were a lot more complex than I had thought. Our guide talked about how many of the people in the favelas are getting by okay, working in the city. The favelas are unauthorised, and therefore outside of the city council’s remit, so they don’t pay tax. They may not have clean water, safe housing, safe electrical wiring, or a particularly pleasant living environment because the council doesn’t look after those things for them, or come to take away the rubbish and clean the streets, but in some senses they are free to build whatever life they can out of scraps there on the mountainside. Things that I think of as ‘luxuries’, like televisions, for example, are actually considered a staple of life. After all, technology doesn’t cost so much anymore.

This article, This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps, reminded me of what saw in the favela, and my own reactions to it. I realised that poverty doesn’t always look the way we think it will. I also find myself returning again and again to George Monbiot’s essay, The Gift of Death, thinking about the surplus and cheapness of stuff. Our world is in the strange situation where the cost of material goods has plummeted, but meanwhile ‘the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared’, as this article from the New York Times explains. This, apparently, is what some economists call ‘the Walmart effect’, resulting in ‘falling prices for a huge array of manufactured goods.’

‘Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods — virtually anything produced in a factory — has followed a downward trajectory.’

Now, every time I am tempted to judge someone begging on the street because they have a debit card or a smartphone I need to remember Rio. I need to remember that poverty is complicated, and that you can never know all about someone’s story and their struggles by just looking at them.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, inspirational quotes

I love Kenco’s new ‘Coffee vs Gangs‘ project – they are trying to help young people break out of the cycle of drug gangs and poverty by giving them jobs on coffee farms. Although it’s in Honduras, it made me think of the favelas in Rio.

What is a thoughtful wardrobe, and why should we care about what we wear?

‘I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it… As if appearances don’t matter when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life. So I no longer take seriously those derisory accusations levelled against those who are interested in clothes. You might as well accuse Proust, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot – all of whom wrote about clothes and thought about clothes. I certainly won’t take it from those men who judge and condemn us women for the various failures of our appearance while simultaneously barking that only feeble shallow creatures such as women would pay any attention to how they look.’

– Extract from Linda Grant’s The Thoughtful Dresser

I’ve written recently about how having a baby totally threw off my sense of style, both for practical reasons (rapidly/dramatically changing body shape, the difficulty of finding nursing-friendly clothes to my taste) and for slightly more complex emotional reasons (how do I want to dress in this new phase of my life, what do I want to look like, who am I now etc. etc.). The last post I wrote on this blog was also about my resolution to try and be more thoughtful about what I buy, and to practise what I preach about participating in a culture of slow fashion and thereby having less of a negative impact on the world.

As I start to wean my baby and connect with my need to rediscover my personal style, I want to rethink my wardrobe, and am resisting the urge to thoughtlessly buy the first things I come across in the sales. I thought that maybe by sharing this journey with you, we can open up a discussion about what a truly ‘thoughtful wardrobe’ looks like, and why what we buy and what we wear are not just superficial concerns, or meaningless luxuries.

Pinterest fashion, style mood board, wardrobe inspiration

First of all, I need to work out what my overall goal is – that is, which styles I like, and how I’d like to dress. For the Pinterest lovers amongst you, this means a lot of pinning, and mulling over which styles I think would actually work for my lifestyle, daily needs, and body type. I find collecting my favourite images and collaging them together into a kind of style ‘look book’ to be very helpful in focusing my preferences into something a little more coherent than just lots of random ideas. Browsing fashion blogs and magazines helps show how different wardrobe staples can be styled, which colours work well together, and how one piece can be used in multiple different ways.

Next, I will be taking a good, honest look at my wardrobe. Which pieces do I wear? (Did you know that the average woman only wears around 20% of her wardrobe regularly? That’s crazy! Turns out we really don’t need as many clothes as we think we do.) Which pieces make me feel good when I wear them? After reducing down my wardrobe in this way to the essentials, I will try selling or swapping my unwanted clothes on this great website, Vinted*, organise a swish (a clothes swapping party with friends), and donate anything that’s left over to charity shops. For more information about what a capsule wardrobe is and why you might want one, read this.

Next, I’m compiling a wishlist (below) based on what is still lacking in my wardrobe. I can’t afford to get all of my wishlist in one go, because I’ve tried to select ethically sourced products that aren’t necessarily the cheapest versions of the style around (with the exception of the ASOS dress, which I just fell in love with – although ASOS do have a good ethical arm to their business). This is where my problem arises, and where I wish brands would do something for us consumers:

Dear fashion industry, please stop moving your stock around so much. If we’re going to think about what we buy and break out of the cycle of fast fashion (see, want, buy – because it’s cheap and we know it will be gone from the shops tomorrow – wear, throw away, see, want, buy, repeat…), we need to know that we’ll still be able to buy that cute dress next month, or the month after, when we’ve had a chance to think it through, make sure we really want it, check it goes with what we already own, and save up for it.

Look, I get it, I do. You have to make a living, and it’s just the way most of the industry works at the moment. But it’s wasteful and unsustainable:

‘Fast fashion condenses the 101 processes of making a garment into six to eight weeks. Instead of the old rhythm – spring/summer, autumn/winter – a fast-fashion brand can introduce two mini-seasons a week. A piece of fast fashion will last five weeks in the average wardrobe.’

Lucy Siegle writing for the Guardian

Some brands are bravely taking risks to do things differently, and I believe they have made the good and right choice. I’m not asking for the impossible, I know you need to keep your stock fresh and current to keep making sales, but look – brands like Bibico and Everlane know that there are certain timeless classics that can evolve more slowly than the rapidly changing stock of brands like Zara, which shifts every few weeks, deliberately training customers to think we have to ‘buy now or regret later’. As a matter of fact, often when we do buy with this mindset, we do also regret it later, regardless.

I have been so grateful to Bibico for the discovery I can return again and again to their website and see both lovely seasonal things, while also being pretty sure that I’ll be able to find variations on something I’ve liked and wanted before – even years before. I wish all brands functioned like this. In the end, it would mean we could spend more money on fewer things, knowing that we would really use what we buy, investing in good quality pieces produced to high standards in every sense, and take the time to repair them, love them, and pass them down to the next generation. Let’s dream big, people.

What’s on your wishlist? Here’s mine!

style inspiration, fashion 2014, slow fashion, ethical fashion, Everlane, Bibico, Stella and Dot, statement necklaces, Shop by Monika, Sseko ribbon tie sandals, ASOS boho mint maxi dress, floral print maxi dress, Breton stripe top, silk shirt

Bibico // Sseko // Stella & Dot // ASOS // Everlane // SHOP By Monika


* Americans, there’s a USA version of Vinted here, and other similar great sites include Bib + Tuck (for your fancier clothes), and ThredUp.