A flying visit to India

With our new collection’s imminent arrival, I made a much anticipated trip over to India recently to check in with its production at Mehera Shaw, the Fairtrade tailoring unit in Jaipur where our products are made. 

As is usually the case nowadays, any work trip I make is pretty jam packed as there’s young children at home to get home to. Eight days seems like such a long time when tickets are being booked (especially to a three and a five year old) but it quickly fills up and this was the case on this trip. I began in Jaipur in Rajasthan, one of the prettiest cities in India I’ve visited. Here I spent a few days visiting the printing and dyeing units in and the tailors in Mehera Shaw to check in with the production and prints for our new collection. As proficient Skype calls and emails are, it’s always great to visit with the production units personally to meet with and get to know the people who are ultimately responsible for our designs and prints coming to life. 

I did manage to squeeze in a day of sightseeing in Jaipur and welcomed the familiar bustle and noises of daily life (not the traffic though, which seems to have got worse). Jaipur, the Pink City, is one of the cities in India most visited by tourists and for good reason. I could easily have spent a week here but as one day was all I had, I made the most of it.

After Jaipur, I flew south to Chennai to visit my aunt for a day. I hadn’t seen her in a few years so it was wonderful to spend quality uninterrupted time with her on my own. The following day I flew further south to inspect a new factory for future products (I’m not going to say too much here but suffice to say I was very impressed with the factory and its standards and ethos so lots to think about now...). Also being in the south meant I got to indulge in some South Indian cuisine and you really can’t go wrong with that, I’m still dreaming of the masala dosa I had one of the mornings for breakfast.

After that it was back up to Chennai to spend the night before catching my flight home the next day. Honestly I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the flights, I’m serious! Watching back to back movies is rarity these days so I nestled into my seat and emerged from the flight square eyed and three movies wiser. It was great.

Fashion Revolution Week '17

As #FashionRevolutionWeek 2017 is coming to an end, we want to encourage people to continue asking companies #whomademyclothes. 

It is four years since the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh where 1133 people were killed when a building housing garment factories collapsed. The previous few days, when cracks appeared in the building walls, a number of workers in the building were evacuated. Under the pressure of completion deadlines, the garment workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t return to work and these were the vast majority of the casualties and fatalities. Unfortunately this is not a standalone occurrence, with factory fires in Pakistan, India and Cambodia having occurred since the Rana Plaza disaster.

Rana Plaza has been a major catalyst in highlighting the conditions many garment workers are subjected to with reports of gross mistreatment and abuse and working dangerously long hours in perilous conditions for exceptionally low pay. Changes have occured such as factory safety audits, workers unions being formed and confidential report lines for workers being set up. Many brands are serious about making commitments to improving social and environmental issues, setting time-bound commitments to improving things and making progress towards fulfilling them. However, transparency remains a paramount issue as big brands work with multiple factories, making it difficult to obtain definite accountability throughout.

*Our products are made in Mehera Shaw, a Fairtrade tailoring unit in Jaipur, India.

During Fashion Revolution week, people are encouraged to question and put pressure on brands to provide concrete information of the supply chain of their garments. All too often companies outsource production through an agent who seeks to get the lowest price possible for production. Fierce competition means that ultimately it is the worker that pays the price as they are overworked and forced to work longer hours for exceptionally low pay. Subsequently, the actual brand and therefore the garment wearer is left in the dark about where their clothes are being made and by whom. The chain of production, from field to production, is well and truly hidden.

Livia Firth, a staunch fashion activist and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge explains - "This is a global problem - we need to question how loyal we are to all brands to flush out sweatshops all over the world, even in developed countries, on our doorstep. If we imagine we are voting every time we buy something, and we use our purchase power, then things will change."

Research into companies policies and support for those that do show transparency is paramount as ultimately it is the buying power of the public that will bring results. Here’s an extremely informative Transparency Index, created by FashionRevolution so you can check out a brand’s policies and performance before making your purchase.

Please keep asking #whomademyclothes

The allure of the Silk Road

Many people have heard of the Silk Road, the extensive route that facilitated the silk industry for centuries, and allowed trade to grow between Asia, the Middle East and Europe. For this blog, we decided to give our #EthicalSilkCo followers a little more detail on just how significant the Silk Road was (and still is) in shaping the world we know today. 

The Silk Road itself is just under 6,500kms long and expands across much of Asia, the Middle East, into Europe and finally Africa. It became a popularized route when the Persians, followed by the Italians, joined in the sericulture industry to manufacture the much sought after material: Silk. By the 13th century the Silk Road, or Silk route as it was also commonly known as, had been widely acknowledged and fully established.

Despite the route not being officially established until the 2nd century BC, ancient remains found in Egypt reveal that Silk was traveling along its various tributary routes long before previously thought, even as far back as 1070 BC. Research maintains that some Egyptian mummies, presumably royalty, were buried with silk along with other valuable or essential items which they would need when passing into the afterlife.

However, it wasn’t just concrete goods that were traded along the Silk Road. Cultural and religious exchanges began to drift along the route, acting as a connection for a global network where East and West ideologies met. This led to the spread of many beliefs, cultures and even religions. For example the route aided the spread of Islam, with many Arab Muslims traveling along the Silk Road to China in order to spread the Islamic faith. Additionally Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorianism were all introduced to China and parts of India because of the Silk Roads’ impact.  

Knowledge of papermaking also grew through the route. This production method spread from China through much of Central Asia as a direct result of the route itself. Architecture, town planning, as well as music and art from many different cultures were transported along The Silk Road. Actors from the East performed in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Music from Eastern Turkestan and Central Asia grew popular in China, while buildings such as Timur's structures in Samarkand and Timurids tombs at Gur-Emir, have heavy architectural influences from various countries such as Iran, Georgia and India.

Even today, the Silk Road holds economic and cultural significance for many. It is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while the United Nations World Tourism Organization has developed the route as a way of ‘fostering peace and understanding’. Having visited a number of countries the Silk Road passes through (I’ll do a write up on those again), I can definitely say that taking a trip along this route is incredible and well worth the long distance travelled.

Caring for Silk

“I love silk, but all that hand-washing and dry cleaning, I don’t have time for all that extra work!” 

In my line of work, I tend to hear this a quite a lot. Luckily I’m here to share the good news! Yes, mulberry silk from The Ethical Silk Company requires just a little bit of love, but it Is strong as well as beautiful and surprisingly easy to care for. Silk is the strongest of natural fibers. This wonderful material needs to be looked after like any other, in order to maintain its strength and durability.  There’s a reason why we call our beloved baby crib sheet the ‘gift for life’, we know it can last a lifetime. 

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Our 100% natural, eco-friendly silk can be easily washed, dried and ironed. Just follow our easy guide to getting the best from your silk products and you’ll have family heirloom to pass on to future generations.

  1. You can machine wash your silk on a low-temperature, gentle cycle.  Use the time-reduction setting on your machine, (if you have it).
  2. Wash like colors together.
  3. Use a silk / wool detergent like Woolite, or Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid.
  4. A mesh bag will protect your silk from any possible snagging in the machine.
  5. Avoid the fabric conditioner / softener – please!  It’s so unnecessary for silk.  In fact, it leaves behind a coating on your laundry, that with repeated use makes it impenetrable to water and detergent. Same goes for your sports gear by the way. 
  6. Silk dries very quickly. Hang to dry, out of direct sunlight.
  7. For best results, iron from damp, on reverse, using low setting. Trust us – it gives the nicest finish and is the easiest way to dry.
  8. Tumble drying is not recommended (or needed as silk dries so quickly)

If you’re still not convinced, you can of course hand-wash your silk.  Use lukewarm water and again, a mild detergent.  A good alternative is a non alkaline soap or even baby shampoo! Do not soak. Wash your silk gently through the soapy water for a just a few minutes.

Rinsing can take a bit of time, but adding a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the water is advisable as it neutralizes alkali traces. Do not wring it out afterwards as this can damage the fibers. Roll your garment gently into a towel to extract the water. And continue as before to dry.

Love your silk laundry and it will last forever!

Simple Love

Valentine’s Day - I don’t want to shun it completely, what’s the harm in being reminded to express your love for your nearest and dearest? But it sometimes feels too contrived, as if you simply must receive a card, roses, chocolates and an expensive dinner out or there’s something up with your relationship! 

But we can enjoy Valentine’s Day without feeling like we are doing it for the sake of it.  How do you really want to spend the 14th February? How can you make it special? As ever, it’s the little things. You can spoil your loved ones in memorable, meaningful ways and have a really special evening by delighting the senses without succumbing to the expensive trappings. So stay in on Tuesday night and keep it cozy!

1) Cozy up
The weather is beyond cold at the moment, and nothing is more cheering on these dreadful evenings than a cozy fire. It’s my favorite thing. For those of you who don’t have an open fire or stove, using lots of candlelight will help create that relaxing, flickering glow.  Very ‘hygge’ altogether!

2) Get your taste-buds tingling
Make this spiced-chocolate aphrodisiac mousse from the fabulous Susan Jane White.  I love her decadent yet healthy sweet treats and this one is fabulous. A perfect Valentine’s treat, and so easy you’ll be making it again and again http://susanjanewhite.com/spiced-chocolate-mousse/.  This will get your heart racing!

3) Dump the digital distractions: 
Turn the TV and all your digital devices off! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the digital stimuli around us and it plays havoc with our personal relationships.  It’s great to play some of your favorite music, and give your partner some time and attention, away from social media.

4) Get some scents
The inhalation of aroma triggers varying emotional and physical responses in people and there’s nothing as pleasing to my nose than some wonderful essential oils.  Many essential oils have aphrodisiac qualities such as rose. (if it’s good enough for Cleopatra..) neroli, sandalwood, vanilla and jasmine.  The easiest way to use essential oils is to heat the in an oil burner, but if you’re up to creating a massage lotion or oil - go for it! 

5) Go to bed!
Or at least, get to bed earlier, snuggle up together in freshly laundered sheets, and silk pillowcases, and feel the glow the next morning knowing you got your beauty sleep. That is, if you get your sleep ;) 

Happy Valentine’s xx

All wrapped up and ready for gifting

Christmas is just around the corner, and if you are stuck for original gift ideas for the ones you love, there is nothing more thoughtful than the gift of silk. Especially when that gift comes packaged beautifully and ready for gifting! Here is The Ethical Silk Company’s guide to the perfect gifts, delivered to your door.

Gifts for her
If you’re unsure of sizing or it’s difficult to choose what pattern your favorite lady would like, we recommend our mulberry silk scarf as an excellent introduction to the beauty and feel of mulberry silk. Wrapping this beauty around their neck, the receiver will immediately experience the quality and simple sophistication of silk. It’s difficult to take off once you’ve tried it on. And don’t forget mums and grannies too – its heat regulating properties are a perfect practical gift for those who feel the cold!

Gifts for a new Mom and baby
With its numerous uses, our 100% mulberry silk crib sheet is the perfect welcome to the world; for a new baby. A mulberry silk eye mask will help Mom make the most of those precious hours of sleep. The crib sheet is the natural (undyed) ivory color. Numerous uses include using as a swaddle, sheet for Moses basket / crib and a breathable, lightweight cover in hot weather - a true Gift for Life.

New Moms can enjoy a wonderful night's sleep with our mulberry silk eyemask. 100% eco-friendly mulberry silk on front & reverse with organic cotton filling for extra padded comfort, our eye masks are perfect for use at home and while traveling. 

A unique gift for your fashionista friend
We are so delighted with our newest product, our silk-sleeved top. 100% mulberry silk, French-seamed with stitch details at the sleeve trim, available in natural (undyed) ivory, lunar grey, coral/teal and grey/teal combinations. It’s the year-round perfect top for comfort, style and elegance. 

Gifts for him
Him? Really? Will he be interested in silk? Well you’ll be surprised to learn that our best selling product is our silk pillowcase, and many of our customers are male. Hot flushes and night sweats are often associated with females, but in reality men get night sweats too, for a range of reasons. And while sleeping on a silk pillowcase will not cure these conditions, male customers regularly feedback to us that using our silk pillowcases give them a far more comfortable night’s sleep. That’s because silk is a natural thermo-regulator, keeping you warm when cold, and cooling you down when it’s hot.

We’ve had many a skeptical male customer becoming one-men ambassadors for silk pillowcases, recommending them to friends who have similar sleep problems. If you have a partner, relative or friend who suffers with this condition (honestly you might be surprised if you ask them the question), a silk pillowcase is your only man!

Gifts for that special someone
It’s the ultimate ‘Christmas Wrapping’ for that most special of people – you! Feel the joy of being wrapped in silk and lounging around in style this Christmas with a 100% silk robe from The Ethical Silk Company. Happy Christmas, you know you deserve it! 

Any excuse for an early night

At The Ethical Silk Company, it’s an understatement to say we are obsessed with sleep.  By that we don’t mean being lazy and unproductive, but rather giving yourself the time and preparation for a quality sleep that that will allow you to be energized, focused and prepared for the day ahead.  As Arianna Huffington says in her book The Sleep Revolution “sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are.  And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away”

We cannot underestimate the importance of sleep. Anyone who has experienced sleep deprivation (hello all new parents everywhere!) will know how it affects all aspects of day-to-day life; your emotions are all over the place, your memory is shot, you have difficulty making decisions, and let’s face it, you look wrecked. 

We have enjoyed such a beautiful golden autumn, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system when the evenings get shorter, daytime light levels start to decline, and temperatures start to drop quickly. With the transition from autumn to winter, many men and women start to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  Symptoms associated with SAD include a loss of concentration, cravings for stodgy food, a lack of energy and motivation, changes in sleep patterns, and excessive sleepiness and lethargy. 

But SAD can be treated, and improving your sleep quality is just one step to helping you overcome your low feelings and embracing the winter months. Here are some tips to help you on your way:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings; sad feelings are temporary and seasonal and being aware of your emotions and feelings will give you the power to make simple changes to your day.
  2. Get outside and walk, run, move, anything to maximize your exposure to natural daylight (while it’s still here!).  If you lack the motivation to get outdoors, promise yourself a little treat as an incentive.  You’ll feel better for it.
  3. Set regular sleeping and waking times and stick to it – this includes weekends!  Keeping your sleeping and waking rhythms constant will help improve overall energy levels.
  4. Prepare for sleep.  Take time to relax before bedtime, turn off the TV, have a herbal tea (no caffeine), put away all your digital devices and concentrate on yourself and good sleep habits
  5. Make sure your home sleeping environment is clean and season appropriate.  Ban electrical devices from the bedroom, keep it well-ventilated, and treat yourself to some good quality bedding.  Our fairtrade, 100% natural silk pillowcases are luxuriously soft and also have thermo-regulating properties, keeping you cool in warm weather, and cosy when the temperatures drop.

We hope you can incorporate these sleeping tips simply into your day to improve sleep quality and help combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder at this time of year.  But please consult your G.P. or health professional if your symptoms become more severe. 

Having fun with the camera

While the photoshoot was taking place for our mulberry silk loungewear range, we decided to try out a few videos of the pieces. Twirls were practiced (curtseys even at some stages) and giggles were had. Even our model Caoimhe couldn't keep a smile off her face - see if you can spot it!

The incessant desire for the 10/10 nap

Tips for a successful nap

1. Find a quiet, dark place where you can lie down and use a blanket if the room is chilly (We also recommend sleeping on a silk pillowcase but you may draw unwanted attention if you're trying to slip away in the office with a pillow under your arm).

2. Keep it short and set your alarm - a nap of up to 20mins is enough to enhance alertness and concentration, as well as boosting your mood. Longer than this means the deeper sleep cycle you go into can lead to grogginess upon waking.

3. Make a nap part of your schedule - you’ll look forward to it and a well-timed nap can make you more productive (stress this to your boss), so plan ahead.

4. A caffeine wake up - take a nap after a coffee as the caffeine takes 20mins to have effect leading you to have the benefit of a nap and a caffeine hit upon waking. 

5. Don’t go napping too close to your usual bedtime – Simply put, it will make it harder to fall asleep at night. The ideal time? Researchers have found that between 1 – 3pm approximately is when were most likely to feel sleepy (not at all because of that big lunch with a glass of wine, not at all), so it’s a good place to start. 

So there you have it, go ahead and enjoy a snooze!

Fairtrade tailoring @ Mehera Shaw in Jaipur, India

From the start, ethical tailoring has and continues to be an integral part of The Ethical Silk Company, the alternative is just not an option. Having worked with other Fairtrade and Federation run units, I felt that to expand into loungewear I needed a unit with exceptional experience in garment production and found Mehera Shaw, a Fairtrade unit in Jaipur.

The brand, Mehera Shaw began in 1999 with the Fairtrade production unit becoming a private limited company in 2007, priding itself on being a transparent, vertical supply chain using fair labour standards. The fact that Mehera Shaw’s production unit was already familiar with ahimsa silk and value it as highly as I do was a huge plus as silk can be a bit trickier to work with than other materials. With the loungewear range in mind, I knew that it’s not enough to offer sustainably made clothes, they must also be of exceptional quality so in January ’15 I visited the unit in Jaipur to meet Shari and the team and we took it from there. 

"We believe that good design can and does go hand-in-hand with beautifully made, hand-crafted textiles, that sustainability, small-scale artisan production and good design are a good fit and the way of the future. We see it as a continuous cycle--on the production end, we believe in the fair trade model of people being able to help themselves and their success coming from themselves. The role of artisans and of everyone in the supply chain is important.  Everyone has a voice and a significance. I would also call this slow fashion --meaning, for me, that there is a story behind the production. It is a dialogue across cultures and brings people together through art, craft and understanding." --Shari

Shari and the team at Mehera Shaw

Shari and the team at Mehera Shaw

Mehara Shaw have also founded a non-profit foundation, Mehera Shaw Foundation Trust, whose mission is to support artisan development projects with a philosophy of emancipation through work, self building and dignity. Projects include women artisan micro-enterprise skills training programme making upcycled fashion accessories from post production scrap fabric. We’re working on future products that can be made through the Foundation Trust so watch this space for updates. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, or drop us a line to stay up to date with the goings on. 


Thanks for reading
Eva

Where it all began - Ahimsa Silk

As a bit of background to The Ethical Silk Company and what we're about - I'm posting here about the particular type of silk we (only) use. Back when I was researching about silk, I watched a documentary on silk production that showed the silk worms being boiled alive in order to extract the silk. I thought this was just horrible and began looking for an alternative. Eventually I found Ahimsa Silks, whose methods of raw silk extraction ensures we have access to the most eco friendly mulberry silk available on the market today, so you can rest easy when using any of our products.

Kusuma Rajaiah established Ahimsa Silks in 2001.  Kusuma has over 40 years experience in the silk production industry and struggled for many years to create a process where no harm would come to the silk worm. After years of research into developing new methods, he made a breakthrough in 1991. This developed into the creation of the commercial entity, Ahimsa Silks.

This eco-friendly silk is extracted after the silkworm has completed metamorphosis, and has emerged from the cocoon as a moth. Each cocoon is then checked individually to ensure that the moth has emerged before the silk thread is spun. This piercing of the cocoon results in many pieces of yarn instead of one continuous thread, which must be spun together to make a single thread. 

This is a laborious process, making it more costly than regular silk (hence we only sell direct to our customers). The amount of silk is also reduced, as in comparison with the traditional method where a single cocoon yields 500m of continuous yarn, this non-violent method produces only 60-70m of broken yarn from a single cocoon. The quality of ahimsa silk is softer and fine than regular silk, with a more subtle pearl sheen.

I fell in love with this eco-friendly silk as soon as I saw and felt it - it's natural sheen and texture is just fabulous so there's an extra plus aside from the eco-friendly factor. 

I leave it there for now, I hope you enjoyed reading and don't forget to follow us & engage with us on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter, we love a natter.

Eva

 

 

A new start across the pond

Hi folks,

I'm delighted to say that The Ethical Silk Company is expanding and dipping our toes into the lovely USA.
As a result of the huge support we've received, in particular from our US customers, we've decided to have a dedicated USA ecommerce store with free shipping with Fedex on orders over $100.

So take a look to keep up to date with what's happening with us. 
We love to hear from our customers so don't be a stranger and feel free to drop me a line at eva@theethicalsilkcompany.com.

Best,
Eva