Interview With Kate James From Only Fair

Only Fair is an online shop specialising is Fair Trade and environmentally sound products. We caught up founder Kate James to find out a bit more.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to set up an ethical/environmental business?
Before setting up Only Fair, I had been working as a legal secretary and was on my way to qualifying as a paralegal. In April 2007, months before I was due to qualify, I had just left my job. I’d only been there for three months but I knew it wasn’t right for me. I was sat at home trawling through page after page of job searches and feeling very deflated. My partner and his family have their own business and they suggested that was the way forward. I chose the fair trade route because it was something I felt strongly about and without wanting to sound too corny, it offered me the opportunity to make a difference, however small. So, I went on to set up Only Fair and gained my qualification along the way.

Do the environment and ethics go hand in hand?
Absolutely and particularly with fair trade. Regardless of whether a product is ethically produced or whether it holds Fair trade certification, standards include environmental requirements. It would be very hypocritical for me to be selling ethically produced goods and not give a hoot about the environment.

What standards do you set for the products you sell?
Quite simply, all of my products are fairly traded or hold the FAIRTRADE Mark. Products that are fairly traded are sourced through suppliers registered with BAFTS and/or IFAT. This means that I know standards are being kept to and regular checks are being carried out. The range of products I have is quite diverse but I try to offer as wide a choice as possible. I love seeing how waste materials can be turned into something useful and beautiful, so some of them are made using recycled or waste materials.

Who are your competitors? Other eco-businesses or ‘regular’ retailers?
I would say eco-businesses as opposed to regular retailers. My customers are usually people who are either searching for something in particular or want something that is fair trade that they know they won’t find through a regular retailer.

What changes have you seen in the market and environmental/ethical world as a whole since you started?
While I’ve only been running up a short time, in those few months there has been a huge increase in the number of eco-businesses springing up online. For me, the most interesting change I’ve seen is the campaign against plastic bags. It appears to have really taken off and it can only be a good thing. I’m behind this campaign 100% and have been blogging about it since starting up.

Is it easier to source ethical and environmentally-friendly products these days?
Absolutely. More people are becoming conscious of their impact on the environment and want to have alternative options available to them. The most obvious source for this is the internet but supermarkets are slowly but surely increasing their ranges to reflect this.

Where do you see the market going?
Onwards and upwards!

Who are you customers?
Most of my customers are women who are either looking for a unique gift for a family or friend member or are looking to buy something for themselves.

One bugbear at Life Goggles is environmentally-friendly products in unenvironmentally-friendly packaging – is that a problem you face?
Unenvironmentally friendly packaging is a something of a concern for me, as well as excessive packaging. Unfortunately with some of our products, such as the ceramics, there is no choice but to use a lot of packaging. To ease the strain we re-use all packaging sent to us wherever possible. This includes our boxes. For some people, receiving an order in a nice, smartly packaged box is still part of the shopping experience so we will package goods in a new box if a customer contacts us.

How ethical and environmentally-friendly are you at home and in the office?
There’s always more that both individuals and companies can be doing and that includes me. I won’t claim to be perfect or that I’m doing everything I could be but I try to do my best and I’m a firm believer that small changes can help to make a big difference!

Most of it is common sense – not leaving things on standby, turning radiators off when the window’s open, using low energy light bulbs, not leaving the taps running. We’re extremely lucky with recycling in our area and take full advantage of this. We’re also in the process of setting up a polytunnel so we can grow all our own veg and be less reliant on supermarkets, which we try to avoid and support local farm shops instead.

In the office, again I use low energy light bulbs, recycle everything I can and make sure nothing is left on standby. I prefer to use email as I don’t believe in sending out lots of printed correspondence but where it’s necessary I use recycled paper and for any promotional material I use an FSC certified printer.

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Interview with Nigel Berman From Nigel’s Eco Store

We often do interviews at Life Goggles. We like to feature eco-friendly people, pioneers and start-up businesses. A long-standing friend of ours is Nigel’s Eco Store but apart from a few emails we haven’t spoken to Nigel Berman himself. So it was great to put some questions to him and he didn’t disappoint, giving us a long but fascinating interview. And the man can juggle by the looks of it. Enjoy.

Nigel with cutout

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to set up an eco business in 2005?
I trained as a chartered accountant with KPMG in London after leaving university. On qualification I took a couple of years off to go travelling round South East Asia and Australia, came back a bit disorientated, but with a broader mind, and some new ideas. I started a magazine – Insight Network – to communicate what I was finding out. After four years I felt like a change and freelanced as a writer for a couple of years – for magazines like Maxim, She etc, and in 1997, after inspiration from a friend, launched a new free monthly magazine, in Brighton only – New Insight – initially covering mind body spirit and the environment, but later expanding more into arts and culture.

Within a few years the name changed to The Insight and it grew into one of the leading independent freebies in Brighton. I also repositioned the company as an environmentally responsible magazine publisher. In 2005 I brought in an investor, who began to move the company in a new direction – but my heart was elsewhere – I had already set up Nigel’s Eco Store a year earlier and had gone from working on it in my spare time, to part-time, and decided to devote myself to it full time, and left publishing in April 2006.

Nigel’s Eco Store was launched at the beginning of 2005, and was inspired by an article in the Independent about the top ten green household products. During research I discovered a lot of really innovative products – both energy-saving, and also design-oriented. I wanted to show that being green didn’t necessarily have to be a compromise, that there is eco-friendly stuff out there that is attractive, aspirational and desirable – things that I’d be happy to have in my own home, because they look good, and work, whilst minimising impact on the environment.

And that shows that there is a possible positive future on the other side of current challenges, such as rising energy and food prices.

Were there any particular challenges setting up an eco-business?
Probably the main thing is that back then, there were a lot less products available, and the ones available were not very well known, so demand was not as high as now, but otherwise, the challenges were the same as for setting up any business. I started small and it has grown organically.

What standards do you set for the products you sell?
When choosing products for our store, these are the main criteria that we consider. First off, I have to like it! It has to inspiring, functional, stylish, and of course eco friendly in some way – could be it’s energy saving, or in the materials it is made from. Here are some of the criteria that we use:
Energy Saving
Recyclable
Biodegradable/Degradable
Recycled
Sustainable Sources
Re-usable
Low Transport Miles
Low Carbon Footprint

Nigel

Who are your competitors? Other eco-businesses or ‘regular’ retailers?
Both really – it’s a growing market and there are lots of small companies out there doing something similar – an increasing number in fact. Larger companies and regular retailers are also beginning to see the eco market as one worth being in – but they tend to move much more slowly.

What changes have you seen in the market and environmental world as a whole since you started?
Awareness of green issues and green lifestyles has grown massively, especially in the last year or so. Even a couple of years ago people had no idea what we were on about – now everyone has heard of something about the environment and climate change – there’s a huge amount in the media now.

There are also a lot more products coming to market that offer solutions to environmental challenges.

Is it easier to source environmentally-friendly products these days?
Yes, very much so. Mainly produced by smaller companies – from energy saving and water saving products, to recycled stationery, natural cleaning ranges, to bamboo clothing and furniture.

Where do you see the market going?
The market is growing rapidly– total sales of ‘ethical’ (include fairtrade, organic, eco) is growing four times faster than household expenditure and is worth £25 billion a year (source New Consumer 2006). The new generation of products will fall into two areas I think: products that are energy efficient – either using alternative sources of energy eg solar, or running on much lower energy than currently; and products that are made from eco efficient materials and that have considered end of life use.

Who are you customers?
Our customers vary – men and women from all over the country, of all ages – people who want to live a more eco friendly life, or who want to choose something that will make a small positive difference.

One bugbear at Life Goggles is environmentally-friendly products in unenvironmentally-friendly packaging – is that a problem you face?
Most of our suppliers are addressing this problem – so these days lots of products arrive in cardboard packaging rather than plastic.

You sell eco-friendly things but how eco-friendly are you in the office and at home?
We’re pretty good at the office:
• We do not own any company vehicles, and instead use a car club car when necessary and travel by public transport, bicycle or by foot for 90% of journeys.
• Paper re-use and envelope reuse, including using paper printed on one side for draft printing or for internal documents.
• Green procurement where possible for office materials – eg all paper recycled, environmentally friendly cleaning products etc.
• Use mugs / glasses for tea/coffee/drinks rather than disposable cups.
• Separate out recyclables and recycle locally.
• Turn off PC monitors when not in use.
• Turn off PCs and network printers every evening.
• All lights use energy efficient and energy saving lightbulbs.
• Water saving devices are used in toilet cisterns to cut down water used in flushing.
• All electricity is purchased from Good Energy, a green electricity provider.
Likewise at home – we only have low energy lightbulbs, buy electricity from Good Energy, try not to leave anything on standby, use an eco kettle so we boil only what we need, turn the thermostat down, and generally switch things off when not in use.

Why do you have your own blog and do you enjoy writing it?
Most of my working life has been about communication, and media – from editing and publishing, to writing, and even film (I was one of the founders of a Brighton-based film festival).

Apart from finally learning how to use this exciting medium (the internet), if I analyse it I feel I am communicating about the environment and new ideas, but in a different way to before – so the blog is a natural extension of that. It also serves as a place to talk about more general eco themes than we can communicate through the shop, and also to hopefully increase traffic to our site.

Check out his blog and his shop of course at Nigel’s Eco Store.

How Can You Wear Leather And Be Green? An Interview With Katleen From www.georgette.be

Katleen Baum and her twin sister Liesbet run georgette, an online and real world shop in Antwerp which specialises in animal friendly footwear. The website is a delight. Handily written in English, you navigate with a flea circus and clicking on a link can give you a nice surprise. Oh, and the shoes are great too. Here Katleen spoke to Life Goggles about reconciling veganism with wearing leather.

“Ever since we were kids, we were always fascinated with fashion and shoes. And also with animals. From the moment we realised that the animal we saw in the country, ended up on our dinner plates, we did not want to eat it anymore. So we became vegetarian and evolved to veganism. No biggie, right? But as time progresses, you start to question other things…

Georgette

Every vegetarian or vegan, some day, will be confronted with the same dilemma: how to reconcile a strict vegetarian-vegan diet with wearing leather?

Especially for fashion and shoe addicts like us, this is quite a hard nut to crack! So at first, you try to ignore the issue. It’s just too hard to find a nice nonleather shoe, right? But your conscience doesn’t leave you alone. So you start to do some research.

Apparently leather, as often stated, is not just a slaughterhouse byproduct, it is a booming industry. Wearing leather shoes contributes to factory farms, slaughterhouses and a lifetime of suffering for the animal. The meat and leather industry is no friend of the environment either. According to a UN report from November ’06, the livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to global warming and land and water degradation. Animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides cause serious water and land pollution.

The process of turning animal skins into leather shares all the environmental destruction of the meat industry: dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, chrome and other damaging products are used. Also the tanning is an intensive chemical process that causes toxic waste.

Fashion, for us, should be fun, not cruel, nor harmful…so the decision not to wear leather then came quite easily.

But where to find stylish, high quality shoes without leather? Most nonleather shoes have a bad reputation: they are ‘unfashionable’, from ‘poor quality’ and made with ‘cheap, exploited labour’. Encountering ‘stylish’, ‘high quality’ shoes that are ‘completely animal-free’ and ‘handmade in Europe’ seems not so easy!

Georgette

After a long and unfruitful search for vegan shoes according to our strict demands, we decided to explore the shoe sector ourselves and investigate the possibilities. Many shoe factories believed we were crazy… quality shoes without leather? Impossible!

But after a while we were blessed to meet a few Italian and Spanish, mostly very small and family-run shoe companies who decided to give us a chance. We encountered nonleather materials that have evolved so much: they are soft, durable, absorbing, and gentle to the environment! They had nothing to do with cheap, unbreathing plastic (pvc) that is also highly polluting to the environment. Those new materials could be used for elegant, high quality vegan shoes…and georgette was born!

We named our shoe store after our grandmother Georgette. She always was a true shoe addict. We were always playing dress-up in her fabulous pumps and sandals. Now, she is 80 years old and she still wears ‘over the top’ stiletto-heels in lots of different colours and patterns. Our friends and family were convinced our shoe-obsession was of a genetical kind. Hence the name.

With georgette, we aim to prove that wearing high-quality and chic footwear can easily be combined with a compassionate lifestyle. Together with small family-run companies in Italy and Spain, we work out exclusive collections that are made in the best nonleather and eco-friendly materials, like natural fabrics and luxurious Italian faux leathers. Super-stylish, animal-friendly and 100% sweatshop-free!”

Again the website is www.georgette.be and I can’t wait for them to start doing men’s shoes too.

Interview With Ptomley from Hubcap Creatures

Hubcap Creatures is the idea of Ptomley, a Brighton-based artist, who (you guessed it) turns hubcaps into art. Life Goggles thought more investigation was needed, so we interviewed him.

Where did the idea come from – turning hubcaps into art?
That particular raw material came from my acquisitive nature regarding all abandoned things aesthetic to my eye, regardless of their origin. I’m not averse to picking up a bit of rubbish from the side of the road if I think it has potential. That’s what happened with the hubcaps, and I collected quite a few before I finally got around to making something out of them.

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Was it an environmental decision or is that just a happy by-product?
I feel very strongly about our cultures lack of understanding regarding the nature of value. (See my website). Creating something out of supposed rubbish I hope has a positive effect on anyone open enough to absorb that concept. This sense of value was focussed by a long trip to India in the early nineties, which opened my eyes to real poverty and also to true initiative in dealing with that. When I find a particularly choice item discarded it fills me not only with pleasure at the finding but also disgust at the waste.

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Do you literally just pick up any hubcap you find or have you got people scouring the streets?
They’re all side-of-the-road-finds. I used to pick up a lot going about my daily business, but with friends and family all getting into the habit I’ve been accumulating quite a hoard. It gives me a big buzz when people bother to stop and pick up a piece of rubbish to help me out and to contribute to something I feel strongly about. It’s a great compliment and a signal that I’m doing something worthwhile. I’ve had many donations from strangers who have seen me in a magazine or on TV, which makes it all very encouraging

I see a few hubcaps around – are they really that common?
Once you start looking they’re all over the place: central reservations; roundabouts; junctions; even hedges.

How did you get started?
I accumulate junk being a bit of a magpie. If you see a skip with a pair of legs sticking out of it they’re probably mine. I pick up old stereos, vacuum cleaners, lights etc. All with a view to either repairing them or passing them on, or to taking them to bits and making something else out of them. I started collecting hubcaps with the intention of making a suit of armour but haven’t got round to that yet as the fish got in the way.

How long does it take you to make a piece? I imagine the huge dragon now at a car dealership took a while!
My working days vary depending on my mood, and circumstance of course, but an average fish sculpture made from hubcaps can take about a working week to complete. Obviously this depends on how well it proceeds, and how complex or large it ends up becoming. I’ve spent over a month on one piece before, and a simple sculpture can take only a couple of days.

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What’s your favourite shape to make?
The sharks I reckon…

Apart from your commissions, a lot of your sculptures are fish-based. Is that something to do with living near the sea or does the shape of your materials immediately lend itself to fish?
The fish mostly look the best as far as I’m concerned-shiny and silver, and I really enjoy myself when making them. I am foraging into other fields though, but I keep drifting back to marine creatures because I find such an enormous and interesting range. The insect world has been drawing my attention of late but I’m reluctant to make a real start so far because there doesn’t seem to be an end to the possibilities, and once I plunge in with a vengeance I’ll probably be overwhelmed.

How important is the environment in your work and outside of it?
I try to do all the usual stuff: sort out my recycling; take a bag instead of getting a plastic carrier bag; attend occasional demonstrations; shop with a conscience; use my van only for long, necessary journeys etc. But to be honest I could do a lot more. Trouble is I’m not motivated enough to take on saving the planet as my main occupation. This goes back to enjoying myself. I’m happiest when I’m creating my work so that’s where I want to be. The other things take a back seat. But I try I guess….

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Is there a move towards making art out of used materials in the UK?
Not a movement as such but there’s plenty of people doing it. They’re mostly the kind that fit into the category of ‘craft’ if you’re into putting people into boxes.

You’re appearing at UK Aware in May. Apart from to sell your pieces, is that in part to show a wider audience a different side of recycling/reusing?
I don’t do a lot of self promotion and I’m often absorbed in my work so it’s good to go out occasionally to remind people that my stuff available, but mainly it’s to say that art isn’t necessarily a high brow thing. Anyone can do it, and the big benefit of eco art is the raw materials are plentiful, and usually free. That’s a big help when it comes to encouraging people to have a go. I think everybody has some sort of a creative bud inside them and it should be given plenty of water…

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Interview With An Eco Coach

Anca Novacovici is an eco coach. What’s that I hear you ask? Well we asked that too.

Tell us about how you came to set up Eco-Coach and be one?
I have always had a passion for the environment, and have wanted to work in the field for quite some time. My interest has been in helping businesses become more environmentally-friendly, since businesses use a large amount of resources. However, at the time that I graduated from college, and later on, from grad school, sustainability consulting was not a well-known field. Therefore I went the more traditional management consulting route, hoping one day to be able to do what I am doing now. While I enjoyed my time in the management consulting arena, learned a lot and have met some amazing people, I decided to start Eco-Coach to combine my interest and skills from consulting with my passion for the environment.

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How do you help people and businesses?
We educate individuals and businesses and provide them with the tools to help them be more eco-friendly. For individuals, we do this through workshops on different aspects of green living, home eco-audits, and a variety of related services. For businesses, we provide support through green business audits, sustainability planning and benchmarking, training and educational workshops, and LEED certification and consultations.

Why do people/companies come to you? Is it not something they can do themselves?
They come to us because we have the expertise to do it and we bring in past experience and best practices that will enable them to obtain a better solution in a shorter period of time than they probably would by doing it on their own. They can certainly do most of this themselves, but it would take them more time and resources; by working with us, this enables them to focus on their core business while we focus on helping them become more sustainable.

What’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve learnt from the reviews and consultations?
When I started the business, I thought individuals would be more willing to hire someone to work with them than would businesses. However, I have found the reverse to be true. Businesses are eager to become more sustainable, whether it is to save money, improve their brand image, or from a genuine desire to help the environment. Individuals are also interested, but most are more willing to take small steps and spend a minimal amount versus investing considerable time and money in becoming more eco-friendly.

What sort of things do you suggest?
Suggestions for businesses vary based on the situation, and can be either simple or more complicated, depending on resources and commitment. Some of the simpler recommendations include: purchasing wind power, implementing lighting changes, installing water saving fixtures, changing to eco-friendly products/vendors, greening existing services, and training and educating employees. More complex suggestions include implementing a sustainability plan, identifying ways to become carbon neutral, and making building-related changes.

Once you’ve finished with a business or person, do they stick to what you’ve told them?
From our experience, most businesses and individuals will take the suggestions and implement a majority. Though not all of them. Some clients have come back to us and asked for further recommendations, and we will do these as long as they have implemented all of the previous recommendations or have a good reason for not having done so.
Interview With An Eco Coach

Interview With Lauri From Foundclothing.typepad.com

Ever seen a hat, glove, scarf or similar in the street and thought ‘I could use that’? Well Lauri used to but went one further and did pick them up and use them. She then started her own website Foundclothing.typepad.com and things have grown from there. Life Goggles caught up with her for a chat.

Let’s start at the beginning – why pick up discarded clothes?
Why not? These items are usually only slightly worn, and sometimes they still have the price tags on them. Sometimes they’re designer fashions that I could never afford. I pick up pretty much anything that I can carry and that’s usable — clothes, jewelry, little toys, whatever I can find. The clothing focus came about when I realized how much found clothing occupied my closet.

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Then after that, why photograph them and start a website about it?
I was sitting in the lobby of my law school (Cardozo in New York City) one Sunday afternoon, looking for a way to avoid doing my schoolwork, and the idea struck.

How long has the site been going? And you’ve built a bit of a community now right?
It will be two years in March.

Do you really wear everything you find? Do you give some to other people or to charity or what?
Not everything. Sometimes I find things that are too big, or for men, or not my style. I take them because someone else might not, and they might end up in the landfill. My hallway’s got a huge pile of stuff that I’ve got to get rid of once the weather gets better. Friends have encouraged me to sell the items online, using the “found” aspect as a draw.

Do you still buy new things?
Yes, but not much these days. My astronomical law school loans, which are now in repayment, keep me out of the shops, for the most part.

Do you recommend others to follow in your footsteps? Not everyone can obviously as they’ll be nothing left for you!
Definitely. It makes life fun, like an endless treasure hunt. It saves you money. It helps the environment. It’s quirky and fun. It makes for good stories at parties to say, “this fabulous shirt? I found it on the sidewalk.”

Your site also has other random musing on there – do you just post when you feel like it or is there a grand plan?
I’m a writer by trade, and something of a bigmouth on the keyboard, so it’s hard for me to be quiet. Ultimately, I’d like to create a book out of my website – I’m actually working on such a project right now. It focuses on the idea of abandonment – of the clothes that I find, and of people. We live in such a fast-paced culture that we throw things away without even thinking about the consequences. On a related note, people throw each other away; many folks end up feeling abandoned by parents, friends, partners, even by life itself. Anyway, any agents out there are encouraged to contact me!

Any advice to people starting out as a freegan?
Not really, other than “go for it” and “keep your head high.” Freeganism is a wonderful thing, and I’m glad that people do it. But I’d prefer it if everyone thought twice before they chucked something in the trash.

And finally, what’s bee your best find?
That’s tough – I’ve found gold jewelry, Armani sweaters, fur-trimmed jackets and other valuables. So many choices. Let’s say it’s this Club Monaco skirt, which is timelessly fashionable. I found it in a municipal garbage can a few blocks from my house last summer.

Lauri, you’ve inspired me, I’m going to pick up all those single, lonely gloves I see in winter.

GreenKnickers Interview

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We’ve taken a look at GreenKnickers before in out reviews and shop section so we thought as it’s nearing Valentine’s Day and you might be thinking of buying underwear for a loved one, we’d have a chat to Sarah Lucy Smith. She set up GreenKnickers with friend Rose Cleary-Southwood.

Tell us about how you came to start GreenKnickers – you are an underwear designer by trade right?
Before Rose and I started GreenKnickers I studied Eco Design and also worked for a textile designer. I began making underwear from the pieces of scrap fabric that would end up on the cutting room floor. I fell in love with making undies at this point. Having studied eco deign and wanting to use my ethical position to inform my design I began to understand more detail around the issues surrounding exploitation, organic cotton and other ecological fabrics. Once you know even a little bit about these things there is no turning back – it can make you feel quite radical. The next step for me was to share what I knew and try to use my designs to inspire so I created a little website with all my quirky knicker designs called GreenKnickers. The website got a huge response and so I went about radicalising my best friend Rose who was disillusioned working in buying and merchandising. The rest is history.

Why did you become an underwear designer in the first place?
I tried all kinds of design before settling on Underwear (which has come in handy running a business) including textiles as well as web design and illustration. When I began experimenting with underwear I began asking people about their relationships with underwear and it was fascinating. I came across secret identities expressed by underwear. There seemed to be surprising and subversive things going on making it, for me, the ideal way to get involved in a new kind of self expression and activism.

What made you specialise in ethical and organic underwear?
The ethics came before the underwear, my mother is a gardener by trade and is in love with nature. She taught me about the wonders of nature surrounding us even in Brixton, South London, where I grew up. Rose and I both had mothers who taught us about having a holistic approach to living and when fair trade organic fashion came along it just made sense to us.

What’s important to you in the underwear you choose and design?
It has to be perfect. It has to fit perfectly, it has to make you smile every time you pick it out of the drawer and it has to have done some good in the world before it gets to the end user and then carry on doing good.

Does the fact your products are environmentally friendly impact the design and ergonomics of your products?
Eco design makes SO much sense when it is done right. There is so much beauty and relief if designing something ethical and we try to reflect this in both the humour and aesthetics of the designs. We spend a lot of time making our garments fit really well measuring real people and making a pattern for each size individually. Apart from this though the organic fabrics we use are just more comfortable. Conventional cotton is typically only 73% cotton (the rest being chemicals and resins) and most underwear today is made from entirely synthetic fabrics. There is a huge number of people who can’t wear synthetics, half of them manage to seek out natural alternatives and the other half suffer in silence in itchy synthetic fabrics.
GreenKnickers Interview