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.

Made to last | PYLOT Magazine

A few months ago I wrote a piece about ethical fashion, vintage clothing, and loving, caring for, and passing down treasured pieces of our wardrobes to the next generation for a new magazine called PYLOT. They’ve kindly given me permission to publish the piece here, and if you are an arty type who’d like to explore some Photoshop-free fashion photography and features on the theme of ‘Craft’, you can buy the magazine here.

All the photographs here are by my talented little sister, Rose-Marie Caldecott.

ethical fashion, vintage fashion, PYLOT magazine

When I was younger my sisters and I used to love taking my grandmother’s 1950s ball gown down from its box in the attic. We would reverentially peel back the tissue paper that swathed it, eager to glimpse the constellations of crystal beads lying clustered in pools of gathered black chiffon.

My grandmother, Pamela Crampton, died when I was twelve years old. I remember her as she was in her later years; a larger than life presence in her small Kensington flat, with her overflowing hat boxes, and stories from her modelling days in Paris. With whom, and where she wore the ball gown that she passed on to us are things I can no longer ask her, but wearing it I feel a connection between us more tangible than our shared DNA. This dress links us; the boning in the bodice pressed the same faint lines into our skin, the same chiffon tickled the backs of our knees. This is the magic of passing on treasured pieces of clothing.

When I think about my own wardrobe, I realise that the legacy I leave my daughter is pitifully small. I am part of the fast fashion generation, the generation of Primark, Zara, and H&M. It is a generation of plenty, of quick fixes, and of waste. We buy cheap, poor quality clothing, worn a few times until it falls apart, thrown away without even an attempt at repair – because, after all, the cost of repair is often higher than the item’s original value. According to a study into the rates of supply and demand by Textrend.org in 2008, British consumers now demand roughly four times the number of clothes that they did in 1980. Each person in the UK consumes roughly 20 kilos of brand new clothes on an annual basis, and almost the same quantity is dumped.

The durability of vintage clothing is impressive, aging much more gracefully over many decades than brand-new modern pieces do in a few months. Rifling through the rails at any vintage clothing shop, it is easy to see how prevalent excellent craftsmanship and good quality were before the phenomenon of fast fashion took off over the past thirty years. Up until the late eighties, trends moved slower. There were essentially two seasons that matched nature’s cycles – Spring/Summer for warmer weather, and Autumn/Winter for colder weather. Aesthetics and utility worked in unison, and clothing was an investment. Where once it was a rare luxury for products to be made abroad, it is now a rare luxury for products to be made locally, by hand.


Somehow, while we were caught up in all the fun of tulip skirts, military jackets, and flowing boho dresses, the fashion industry underwent a radical change. Realising styles that changed every other week and low prices meant that they could get us to buy more, retailers sold us the lie that our wardrobes need constant updating. In the nineties, Marks & Spencer was one of the last major British high street chains left with factories in England before seeking cheaper labour abroad like everyone else.

Where industry dies, jobs are lost and crafts are forgotten; in 2002 Chanel created the luxury embroidery house of Lesage in France, specifically to preserve specialist skills that are under threat from outsourcing to countries such as India. Indeed, France is famous the world round for its beautiful underwear, when in fact these days most of it is manufactured abroad. Etam now only makes 0.02 per cent of its lingerie in France, Lise Charmel and Chantelle produce most of theirs in Bulgaria and Tunisia, and in early 2012 Lejaby announced the closure of their last French factory. It isn’t any better for the workers in the countries that these companies have outsourced to, either; their wages are approximately five times lower, they are forced to work inhumane hours to meet demand, and as the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh a year ago demonstrated, their working conditions are often critically unsafe.

Lucy Siegle and Elizabeth L. Cline write about fast fashion as if it’s an addiction, and they are right; it is, at least, a psychological one. Recently I’ve been trying to change the way I think about buying clothes, adopting Vivienne Westwood’s mantra of ‘Buy less, choose well’. It doesn’t mean spending more money on expensive clothes all the time, but rather resisting the urge to impulse buy and saving for better quality, ethically produced fashion. I’m still struggling, but it helps to think about the long-term, and what I’d like to pass on to my daughter when she grows up.

It would be sad if our generation was remembered for its’ badly made fashion that snagged and unravelled and left nothing behind except an almighty piece of landfill. If we let them, clothes have the potential to become pieces of living history. I hope that one day my granddaughter will take boxes of my dresses down from the attic and have her own adventures in them.