Pecha Kucha Dundee – How homemade is homemade?

Images from Pecha Kucha Night Dundee Vol 7, held in Bonar Hall on Thursday 21s November 2013. For more info, visit www.creativedundee.com  Images thanks to SD Photography www.sdphotography.co.uk


In November I gave a presentation at Pecha Kucha Dundee and for those who are interested here is the full text of my presentation:

April 2013 saw the Bangladeshi Factory Collapse. 1,129 people died and 2,515 were injured, it is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.

When cracks began to appear in the structure whilst other businesses in the building closed their doors garment workers were forced to return to work. Big international and high street brands like: H&M, Walmart (parent brand of George at Asda), Benetton, Primark, JCPenny, Mango were involved in the collapse.

How should we respond to this? Some people reacted by boycotting these brands. Other people, in what I would loosely call the craft community, suggested the only response was to make your own clothes. Reasoning that the only worker who was harmed in the process of making that dress was you.

But a garment, any garment is only the sum of its parts. What I want to talk about is the real meaning of the phrase homemade. Before I go any further I want to say that I am not innocent in all this, I am not delivering this talk from on top of a high horse. So in the name of Full Disclosure here is a list of everything I am wearing today and where it came from. (for those reading this on my blog: Liberty dress, M&S underwear and tights, H&M cardigan, Gap vest, Kurt Geiger boots)

Finished Dress

Lets take this dress as a starting point. The fabric is cotton from Liberty, from their classic Mauvey B Tana Lawn range. Its 100% cotton and milled in Lancaster in the UK. Although that doesn’t tell us where the cotton, one of the most energy inefficient and polluting crops in the world, comes from.

This level of transparency is actually quite rare. A more common situation is to buy fabric which is labelled without information about the supplier or the location in which it was made.  This is definitely true of this polyester pencil skirt I made a few years ago, I can’t tell you where the fabric was produced or who made it.

Thread is just as important component of the sewing process, this dress was made with Coats Duet, 100% Polyester. Coats is originally a Scottish company which was founded in 1902 in Paisley. In the 1880s they moved their production base to America. Since then they have aggressively expanded becoming perhaps one of the biggest global brands that you have never heard of; “at home” in more than 70 countries and employ more than 20,000 people across six continents.

They are no strangers of controversy, in 2012 they were fined 110million euros by the for price fixing by the EU and in February 2012 were accused of forcibly detaining union leaders at a Bangladeshi factory over an industrial dispute.

They boast that one in five garments on the planet is held together using Coats thread. Which means most people in this room are wearing something made with their products.

The other leading global supplier of thread is Gütermann a German company which is also an international brand. Their website boasts they are present in 5 continents, 80 countries – Their slogan is the sinister “Gütermann is present wherever people sew”

Zips are also essential in the making of clothing. The zip in this dress is made by YKK who offer “total fastening solutions”. YKK is the trading brand of of YKK EMEA which makes fastenings and architectural fittings. The YKK Corporation employs over 40,000 people, operating in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Take a look at the zip on your clothing right now and it is likely that it has YKK stamped into the pull. And if your zip isn’t made by YKK, its probably made by Coats. Again no strangers to controversy YKK have also been fined for cartel price fixing activity by the EU, this time in 2007. They also themselves admit to a less than perfect environmental record in some of their factories.

Knitting has a similar story. I recently made my first sweater out of Lion Brand Yarn. The company was founded in 1878 and in the 1930s were one of the first companies to pioneer outsourcing production using oversees labour. Lion Brand make it difficult for you to find out where your wool was made. The jumper is made from Wool Ease, its 86% acrylic, 10% wool, 4% rayon and is made from a mix of “US and non US origin fibres”

In Britain the most popular wool brand is Rowan which markets itself as a “an ethically conscious brand, with an emphasis on creating luxury, premium yarns sourced from organic, natural fibres.”

Originally founded in Yorkshire in 1978 the brand is now owned by none other than Coats. Again look at their individual wools and outside of a few “British wool mark products” it is difficult to find out where they are made or where the fibres where sourced from.

Now I’m not claiming that Coats, Gutterman, YKK or Lion Brand have bad employment practices, simply that I have no way of proving otherwise. With the exception of Lion Brand, who are fantastically quiet on the subject, they all have statements on their website saying how ethically sound they are.

But talk is cheap. Just look at Bennetton at the same time as they ran their #UnHate campaign we now know they were also exploiting workers in Bangladesh.

Images from Pecha Kucha Night Dundee Vol 7, held in Bonar Hall on Thursday 21s November 2013. For more info, visit www.creativedundee.com  Images thanks to SD Photography www.sdphotography.co.uk

So when does homemade really mean homemade and is it any better than something brought at Gap? As consumers we should have a choice and should be demanding transparency. The food industry in the last few years has made some amazing improvements and we now often  know where our food comes from even if some of it is horse meat.

Supply chain transparency just isn’t there in the craft or fashion industry and more worryingly people don’t seem to be aware of the issue. You can buy local (these wrist warmers were made with handspun yarn from Shetland) but this is often difficult and expensive.

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We should be able to make a choice about where our thread, fabric and wool comes from. Right now there is no guarantee they aren’t being produced in the same conditions as a Primark vest top made in Bangladesh.

Pecha Kucha Dundee is a fantastic event put together by Gillian and Lyall at Creative Dundee, you can find out more on the Creative Dundee website.  A huge thank you to Gillian and Lyall for putting on an amazing event and inviting me to take part!

StitchLab: Masterclass

Last weekend I took part in the first ever StitchLab masterclass led by Sruli Recht at Inspace as part of the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival. The Masterclass was a 48 hour challenge, to make a new piece from scratch which would be shown at an exhibition on the Sunday evening. For me the masterclass began on Saturday morning as I had missed the opening event due to work commitments, and had to get started straight away.

The day started with a one to one session with the Sruli who explained his approach. He encouraged us to to think of fashion as interaction design and to begin each piece by thinking of a story and using the design to tell that story.

StitchLab: Sruli Recht

A wide variety of sources inspired the story behind my piece: recently I have been reading books like Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall as well as watching BBC One’s The White Queen and The Tudors on Netflix; I’ve also been following stories of corporate tax evasion and the investigations of the Public Accounts Committee with interest; Finally I’ve been fascinated by Joris Luyendijk’s Banking Blog on the Guardian Website which examines the world of finance through the eyes of an anthropologist. This has led me to think about the role of the nobility in the political instability throughout Wars of the Roses and I have been thinking about how today’s corporate world  mimics and differs from this system. Both then and now those in positions of power use money to buy influence and effect change, but when faced with a difficult or insurmountable political problem would today’s CEO consider returning to the factory floor to raise an army to overthrow a government? Would they need to do so or do they have other tools at their disposal? For sometime I have been thinking about writing a science fiction  story which examines these issues and I decided that the StitchLab Masterclass would be an interesting way to look at it from a different angle.

From ideas outlined above I constructed a simple story: A CEO who has a comfortable, and luxurious, lifestyle makes a discovery. He uncovers a form of political corruption he is deeply uncomfortable with, he knows morally that he should take action but in doing so he could lose everything. The resultant piece focuses in on that moment of indecision and self realisation: the piece is a vest or waistcoat, a traditional element of mens tailoring familiar to the world of business. The neck is high to show the comfort of the man’s status in society but also that this comfort can be stifling. The vest has a soft pleat running around the garment, which is subtly highlighted by lights hidden within the fold. There are also a series of lights within the neckline which illuminate the wearers face from below. Again these represent a moment of realisation and also the discomfort of indecision.

Stitch Lab: Sruli Recht

It’s fanciful stuff, and I don’t think it is necessarily important that you understand the story behind the vest to enjoy it. I’m really pleased with the outcome, although making it at times was a difficult process. I definitely think that unlike other items of clothing I have made this piece uniquely captures a mood or emotion which goes beyond fashion.

Stitch Lab: Sruli Recht

The 48 hour challenge ended with an exhibition which had a great atmosphere and I really enjoyed having a chance to show off my work. The other participants made some incredible work too and there are some great photos taken by Chris Scott (some of which you can see in this post – Thanks Chris!). Also a big thank you to Carrie and Mark for organising the event!

StitchLab at Edinburgh International Fashion Festival

This weekend I will be taking part in a two day masterclass with Icelandic based designer Sruli Recht as part of the 2013 Edinburgh International Fashion Festival.

Sruli Recht

Not satisfied with doing just one 48 hour making challenge in a two week period, I will be working with other Edinburgh based designers to create pieces which will be shown on Sunday 21 July. You can find out more information and book tickets at the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival website.

Culture Hack 2013

This post is fresh off the press after a blistering weekend at Culture Hack 2013 held in a brand spanking new space at The Whisky Bond. This wasn’t my first time at Culture Hack but it was my first time trying to make something.

Culture Hack is a 48 hour making challenge, where programmers, designers, artists and producers get together and try to make something useful and/or creative using data which has been released by arts organisations. Having looked at the data I decided to try to make a Twine game/choose your own adventure story which explored a series of paintings owned by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As there weren’t many paintings in the set, I used data released by Tramway, Away with the Birds and Scottish Music Centre to add more depth to the project. I also added available online resources such as newspaper obituaries, youtube videos, library records and buildings data.

My final story is called the Forgotten Portraits. On one level it’s a simple walk through a gallery with label information, but if you explore more closely your character will be reminded of childhood events, images and music. It’s by no means a polished game but if you are interested in checking it out you can play it here.

Other Exciting Hacks

23 projects were finished in time for the show and tell on Sunday afternoon. Here are some of my favourites:

A sewing machine powered by songs from Away with the Birds.

An interactive map of the island of Canna which played bird song as you walked across it. Other exciting hacks I don’t have pictures of included a bicycle which let you explore data and a Creative Scotland Quiz made by Yann.

Workshops

I also got a chance to take part in a workshop learning to code Arduino led by the guys from MAKLab. Here is a short video of my flashing LED switch triumph!

It was an absolutely amazing weekend, a massive thank you to Suzy and Rohan from Sync for organising a brilliant event. I learnt absolutely loads, met some great people and I’m going back to work really inspired to take on new data challenges!

Apps for your Commute

Do you take your commute seriously? Then this is the post for you! First featured on the Lucky Frame Blog, this post discusses the best games for commuters with contributions from myself and Jonathan Brodsky.

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Apple are really loving Wave Trip these days…after featuring in Apple Stores worldwide and in the WWDC presentation, Wave Trip is now featured in the UK App Store as an “App For Your Commute”!

We certainly agree that Wave Trip is brilliant for commutes – short levels, non-punishing creative gameplay, a dash of level building to add creative spice to your morning – but we thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about some of our favorite commuting games.

First up, press and marketing guru Kristina, who you may remember from the “Hope With Added Strategy” blog post, or perhaps from the Lucky Frame stand at GDC this year. Kristina has another day job which makes her something of a commuting expert…


Kristina:

I have been a serious commuter for almost two years traveling from Edinburgh to Dundee and back again everyday (about an hour and twenty minutes each way). My experience isn’t unusual, new research shows that the average worker in the UK spends 41 minutes commuting daily and almost 2 million people spend over 3 hours commuting everyday.

Commuting isn’t always fun, especially when you have so far to go, but it does present you with a fantastic opportunity to do new things and spend time for yourself. Having an extended period to try out new games uninterrupted is one of these advantages. So with that in mind here are my recommendations for games designed for the serious commuter:

Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery

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So much praise has been heaped on this game that it may seem like an obvious suggestion but it’s worth pointing out why this game is particularly suitable for a serious commuter.

The storyline is complex and mysterious, and the writing is really excellent. It manages to keep you entertained, giving you something to think about in those moments at work when you find your mind less actively engaged. When I was working my way through this game I actually found myself looking forward to getting onto the train to play the next installment.

The levels can comfortably be completed in 40 minute segments. Just enough time to get settled in play it through and have time to put your makeup on and check your email before you arrive at your destination.

Other reasons to love this game: It has a female protagonist who isn’t a sex object. The game arc is time sensitive so you can only play certain elements on certain days of the month – delayed gratification just makes that commute all the more rewarding. Oh, and the artwork is beautiful. Negative points: after a while I got really bored chasing sylvan sprites and the musical element is a little too self aware, but the overarching story kept me coming back. Continue reading

Signs and Signage

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Donor Wall - Close upDonor Wall - Close upInformation Signage - Mobile phone policy"No Peeking" Closed for installation signage"No Peeking" Closed for installation signageRooftop Exhibition, Information
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Garry Winogrand, Exhibition SignageVisitor Information - "Do Not Block"Garry Winogrand, Exhibition DesignDonor RecognitionGarry Winogrand, Interpretation, Wall textGary Winogrand, Donor Recognition, Wall text

SFMOMA Signage, a set on Flickr.

Recently I have been spending a lot of time looking at signage. It’s a fascinating subject, but when I started to look into it I realised that there are very few images online of signage at visitor attractions. Whilst you can read about best practice, seeing an example in person or in a photograph is a far more powerful tool.

So when I last visited San Francisco I decided to document as best I could the signage at SFMOMA using my mobile phone. I have tagged all of the photographs by type (eg donor recognition or visitor information) and material (eg vinyl, glass etc.) to make them easier to search.

Over time I hope to add to this sets with more examples including ones from where I work.

The Ethics of Craft

Kristina:

A recent post I wrote for the Crafty Foxes blog on the Ethics of Craft.

Originally posted on Crafty Foxes:

In light of the Bangladeshi factory collapse there has been renewed attention on the manufacturing of mass-produced, high street clothing. Brands like Gap and Bennetton have come into the firing line for producing their clothes under poor working and pay conditions. This has resulted in moral condemnation and a few op-ed pieces on sustainably and ethically sourced clothing, with an outcry for better regulation and legislation to protect garment workers.

Made in Bangladesh

Meanwhile those who make their own clothes have sat on the sidelines, comfortably assured of their position on the moral high ground. If you make your clothes yourself then you can be sure that the conditions under which they were produced, right? The only worker who was harmed in the process of making that dress was you, as you battled to finish it before that all-important wedding or party.

But can we in the crafting community be so sure that…

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Hope with Added Strategy: DIY Marketing and PR for Indie Games

This post was orignally written for the Lucky Frame blog, and was subsequently featured as a guest post on scottishgames.net and Develop.

The other day I had two dramatically contrasting experiences: In the morning I attended Digital 2013 where I watched Edward Rumley, COO at Chillingo, a division of Electronic Arts, give a presentation entitled ‘Games Strategy: Publishing Indie Mobile Games in Today’s Competitive Marketplace’. His impressively bleak presentation championed the idea that in an ever-crowded marketplace mobile indie game developers can never achieve the publicity levels needed for success without the help of a publisher.

That afternoon, with Rumley’s forbidding words echoing in my ears, I visited the Apple Store in Glasgow to check out their new billboard marketing campaign which features the independently produced and self-published app Wave Trip from Scottish independent studio Lucky Frame. What my experience at the Apple Store shows us is that Rumley’s dismissal of self-published indie games is baseless.
wavetrip glasgow 2

Stepping over the obvious irony of asking a major publisher to talk about indie games, and some of his more outrageous comments (“Just because I publish my book on Kindle that doesn’t make me a published author” – tell that to EL James), I found his presentation to be profoundly negative in its outlook, implying that if you work on your own you have simply no chance of finding an audience. It inspired me to dispel some of the myths around PR and Marketing of indie games (or in fact any artistic product). This is not a comment on whether or not you should use a publisher, Chillingo or anyone else for that mater; it is just designed to give you a starting point to promote your work.

I have been working as a PR and Marketing Professional for just under 10 years. I began my career working at a private art gallery and from there have worked for a range of public and private arts organizations across the UK including New Media Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and most recently as Head of Marketing at Dundee Contemporary Arts. In addition to this, since 2008 I have worked with Lucky Frame as a Communications Consultant to help them plan and implement their PR and Marketing strategy for games such as Pugs Luv Beats, Bad Hotel and Wave Trip. Experience has taught me is that if you have a great indie game, and you want to self-publish, then you can get the publicity you need to be successful.

Hope is not a Strategy
One of Rumley’s more chilling statements was the most accurate: hope is not a strategy. This isn’t ‘Field of Dreams’, you are not Kevin Costner, if you build it they will not come. The App Store is littered with the dead corpses of apps that were never downloaded and whose marketing strategy was built on a wing and a prayer. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to get your work out there.

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From Doodles to Digital – Independent Cinema Office

A postcard from Discovery Film Festival 2012

Last month I was asked to write a guest post for the Independent Cinema Office blog after taking part in their Creative Digital Marketing Course which ran from September 2012 – February 2013. We were asked to undertake a project which found a new way to engage audiences by using digital marketing in a new way. I chose to develop a project for Discovery Film Festival 2012 which mixed online and annalogue engagement using postcards – you can read all about my experiences here:

From Doodles to Digital – Independent Cinema Office.

Kristina:

An exciting oportunity for Scottish Makers…

Originally posted on Crafty Foxes:

Mini Maker Faire is coming to Edinburgh this April! The event is being run by Edinburgh International Science Festival and applications are now open for people to take part.

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If you make awesome stuff this is a great opportunity to show off your work and meet other people excited about making things. A couple of years ago my beloved and I showed some work at the Maker Faire in California (check out the awesome picture!).  We had an amazing couple of days and met some really interesting people. It really inspired me and gave me new ideas for future projects. I would absolutely recomend taking part!

Maker Faire

The event will be held on the 7 April at Summerhall and the deadline for applications is the 1 February 2013. Applicants can make anything from knitting, weaving and sewing to electronics, games and wearable technology. You can find out more at the official

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